Compost has become a trending topic over the past few years. More and more of us have taken to the garden to grow our own. There are many reasons for doing so; as a hobby, for exercise, food security or simply trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Whatever the motivation, our thoughts inevitably turn to making our own compost.
And this is where many people seem to struggle. I’ll admit to being surprised by this; composting was always something we did in our home as children, and eventually in our own garden so it always seemed easy. Until I searched the internet. It was then I realised the minefield composting had become!
This article is the first of several composting related posts. My goal is to break down (pun intended) the composting process into something simple that you can easily implement in your own home and garden.
THE BASICS OF COMPOSTING
WHAT IS COMPOST?
Put very simply, compost is organic matter which has decayed. It’s the purest, most natural form of recycling. Compost is created with 4 main ingredients; air, water, carbon & nitrogen. By mixing these ingredients in the correct proportions, we are creating an environment suitable for the growth of microorganisms, which will break that material down into a wonderful rich compost in as little as 6 weeks!
If you take a moment to stop and think about it, it’s pretty amazing how waste such as leaves, food scraps, cardboard etc. can be transformed into something useful!
There are enough great reasons to compost to fill a wheel barrow, so I will only mention those I consider to be the main points:
- Compost is primarily used as a soil amendment. We enrich our soil by adding organic matter in the form of compost. There are low levels of nutrients which feeds plants, but more importantly the compost fuels the microorganisms in the soil.
- Soil dwelling microorganisms feed on the compost, in turn making the nutrients more readily available to plants. They also help to make plants more resilient to diseases, pests and even drought, by encouraging better plant and root growth.
- Unlike chemical fertilisers, compost can be spread anywhere and anytime without fear of ‘burning’ plant roots. The nutrients are released slowly without harming the plant or the soil.
- Compost is also used to change the structure of our soil. Here in the UAE we have a very, very sandy type soil. In this type of soil, nutrients are washed away quickly. Compost helps to prevent that from happening by improving the soil structure. It also reduces the need for additional fertilisers.
- We primarily use compost as mulch. Mulch is simply a layer of material covering the soil. By adding mulch, you are protecting the soil and roots from the extreme temperatures we experience here in Dubai. It helps reduce moisture loss through evaporation, reduces weeds and gives your garden a neat and tidy look.
- According to the FAO, the amount of food waste generated per year is a staggering 1.3 billion tons. When that food goes to landfill, it creates methane gas. By composting at home, we reduce the production of harmful greenhouse gases.
- Did you know that by adding compost to our soil, we may be helping to improve air quality? Microbes in the soil can actually absorb carbon from the air, and as they process the carbon it gets locked into the soil.
- I estimate that we produce about 600 litres of compost a year in our little garden, and each year we try to increase it. That’s the equivalent of buying 12 large bags of compost. It’s our goal to become self sufficient in compost!
- Living in an arid climate means we have to water everything if it is to survive. Cut down on water bills by adding compost. It helps retain moisture and nutrients. Lower watering requirements also helps the environment.
- This is to my mind is one of the greatest benefits; the satisfaction of knowing you have created something special from what most people would consider waste!
WHAT TO COMPOST?
Now you know why you should compost, let’s look at what to compost. Items you can compost fall into two basic categories; nitrogen rich material also known as ‘greens’, & carbon rich material often referred to as ‘browns’.
The only tricky bit to understand is that the terms greens and browns does not necessarily refer to the colour of the items.
For example, coffee grounds are dark brown, but they are in fact a nitrogen rich material. Therefore it is considered a ‘green’ when adding to the compost bin.
Below is a list of common materials which can be composted, just follow this and you’ll be fine!
I hope this post has been useful to you, and helps get you started on your composting journey! Why not check out this article on How to Make a DIY Compost Bin to take the next step!
If you enjoyed this article, or would like to share your thoughts or questions, please feel free to do so in the comments below!