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Everything you need to know about compost

This blog has been republished from Down To Earth Mother with full permission.

Did you know that half of what most people throw in the bin could be composted?

We've had a compost bin for four years now and it never ceases to amaze me. Day after day, I chuck in bowlfuls of stuff and just when I think it can't take any more – BOOM – the level drops right down. It's like the opposite of the Magic Pudding.

There are many methods of composting, but the simple rule I follow is this: dry stuff/wet stuff.

Nitrogen-rich things like garden cuttings and veggie scraps are the wet stuff, and soil, shredded paper,brown leaves are the dry stuff. Make sure you've got a mix of wet stuff and dry stuff going in and you should be right.

If you're new to composting or are looking for a few tips, this is a great place to start. And here is a fantastic “recipe" for a low-cost compost bin using recycled materials.

The more I compost, the more I want to compost. I'll question just about anything before I put it in the bin. Just the other day it dawned on me that the wad of snotty tissues in my hand might have a happier end of life in the compost bin than landfill, and guess what? Yes you can compost used tissues, even snotty revolting ones when both kids have a cold.

Here are 10 other things you can compost that might surprise you. Or not. If you're already a Compost Queen and you know of more, share!

  1. Hair – human or pets
  2. Cotton cloth, such as old nappies and tea towels
  3. Newspaper and shredded office paper
  4. The stuff you sweep of the floor nine times a day
  5. Plain cooked pasta and rice
  6. Cardboard packaging, toilet rolls (rip them up)
  7. Cotton wool and cotton pads
  8. Toothpicks and skewers
  9. Champagne corks (cos I know you go through a lot of these)
  10. Road kill

Okay, should probably explain the last one… There's this thing called the Berkley Method or Hot Composting, which gives you quality compost in just a few weeks. It involves a carcass, lots of urine and a big black tarp. You can find out more about it here.

[Image credit: solylunafamilia on Flickr]

Five rules for sweet-smelling, pest-free compost

Is your compost bin a little stinky? Do you feel like Pig-pen from Peanuts with all those flies buzzing about? And what was THAT you just saw scuttling away??

Fear not – with these simple compost tips your bin or heap will be pest-free and smell as sweet as soil should…

1. Cover up

Compost doesn't like to be too wet or too dry so a cover protects it from rain and drying winds. It will also reduce the number of insects and animals as the contents will break down faster. You don't need a tight-fitting lid, you can use a wooden cover or a square of hessian (make sure it's natural, not plastic!).

2. Layer upon layer

Flying bugs or a sour smell are sure signs your compost is overwhelmed in some way. The culprit might be too many wet, slimy leaves or grass clippings, or perhaps (like us) your heap primarily receives kitchen scraps. The solution is to add a layer of any of the following: shredded office paper or newspaper; dry leaves or grass clippings; soil. It's handy to have a pile of this "dry" stuff next your compost bin or heap, so you can sprinkle it on top of every bucket of kitchen scraps. You don't need loads, just enough to cover the food and get the breaking-down process happening.

3. Cut it up, mix it in

If you've got a whole lot of animal life happening down at the heap, try this compost tip. Remember, fruit flies, vinegar flies and rodents are attracted to rotting food, not compost, so the faster it breaks down, the less there is for them to feast on. Chop up veggie scraps, run over garden clippings with the lawnmower and cut down branches and plants to small pieces, then dig it all in rather than just dumping it on top. A small garden fork is ideal for this job.

4. Give it some air, man

To turn food and leaves into soil, you need heat and air. A happy compost heap with no flies or smell will be producing plenty of heat at it's core to do the job of breaking things down. Whenever you do get an attack of flying bugs or food smells, try turning your compost over to get more air circulating throughout. You can do this with a large garden fork or shovel. Our compost is in a bin and we find it effective to drive a long metal pole into it every now and them to create air tunnels.

5. Avoid meat products & oils

Unless you're a composting queen, meat, bones, egg, dairy, oils and cooked foods shouldn't go in your compost bin or heap. Composting these foods requires a more dedicated approach and this article is aimed at basic composters who chuck their veggie scraps and garden trimmings in and don't want to start working with thermometers, adding lime etc. If you are a composting queen or king, I'd love your easy-to-follow tips in the comments for a future post.

I do not consider myself a compost queen, however I am learning. If you have any further compost tips or questions to ask, stick em in the comments.

You can read more from Jo here, at the DownToEarthMother.

[Header Image: Shutterstock]

What you can do

Put veggie scraps in worm farms, Bokashi buckets or composters

The more people in your household, the more vegetable waste you will generate. Worm farming, Bokashi buckets or composting are great ways to turn waste into fertiliser and soil conditioners for your garden.

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