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!
I started composting in March this year… Was always worried about bad odour, critters etc. But I bought a 50 litre bag of compost from a local seller and was very disappointed with the quality of the compost. It was dry, coarse and just didn’t look like it had any goodness that compost claims to have. So I decided to try. I watched a few YT videos, researched a lot and gave it a go in a ten gallon grow bag.
And since I’ve seen my first results I was amazed that our trash has turned into something absolutely beautiful.. now I’m hooked to composting, very confident and very proud that our compostable waste isn’t ending up in some landfill.
I have already made I think about 80 litres of compost since March…
Still got some more in the making… 🙂
I also tried composting prawn waste separately after watching a video on YT and that too has turned into a beautiful soil amendment in less than a month that I was pretty amazed to see. There was not a single remain of the prawn waste… Just amazing!!!
It’s an amazing way to recycle! Almost no organic waste leaves our house!
How long does it take from starting till having compost ready for use?
Hi! There are a lot of factors which can affect how long it takes. It can be made in as little as 6 weeks if managed correctly, or take as long as 6 months to a year if just left to do its own thing.
After the information on what to compost, will you be writing another post on how to compost? I hope so 😀
Hi Frederic, Im so glad you enjoyed it! We will definitely be following up with lots more composting information later on!
Hi Jamie, thanks for this super helpful tips on compost making. I will do it in this time, but how will I do it properly, should I just add the trash everyday? How will I know that it is ready to use? Thanks again. Regards, Elu
Hi! Yes just keep adding the waste and make sure to give it a good mix every few weeks. It will be ready when the waste you put in is no longer recognisable, is a dark brown colour and should smell nice and ‘earthy’
I would love to get some tips how to actually take care of the compost. Like do you just throw anything in which you have or is there a system? Do you need to mix it and how do you do that if the bin is full? And what do you do with the bits and pieces remaining from the sifting? Do they go back to the compost? Thank you so much for your great posts and inspirations…
Hi Jamie, thanks for the helping tips. Regarding the pasta you mentioned under the greens, I hope you referred to the cooked pasta. If so, is it ok to add pasta mixed with sources and chees as well? I’m thinking of dumping the leftover food to the bin 🙂
Hi there! I think you should consider using the bokashi method – it is suitable for cooked food, including most of the items on the ‘do not compost’ list.
Hi. As I understand, you just start with a suitable bin and then organic waste from home, DO you need to add any soil to it?
Hi, No you dont need to add soil to get started!