Composting in the Garden

Composting is a simple but effective way of reducing your household organic waste – which otherwise would need to be disposed of elsewhere. Quite an amount of your household waste is composed of organic material, and most of this can be turned into compost by using a compost bin / compost heap.

Who does the work?
You only need to keep adding to the compost heap / bin (in the correct mix), and the worms, bacteria, beetles will do the rest.

How does it work?
Composting is going on around us all the time, when leaves fall from deciduous trees in the autumn if left uncollected they will rot back into the ground. A compost bin speeds up the rotting process. Composting is defined as the breakdown of organic material such as garden or kitchen waste by organisms that feed on waste and convert it into a mulch which can then be used as a soil conditioner / compost in the garden – and it’s free. If you follow a few simple rules you should not have problems with flies, rodents and foul smells.

When is it ready for use in the Garden?
Your compost is “ready” when it appears crumbly like soil, has a neutral odour and is a dark brown colour. Compost is a soil conditioner – not a fertiliser, dig it well into the soil around your flowers or vegetables, alternatively, it can be used as a mulch to suppress weeds around the base of trees and shrubs.

Where do I put my compost bin?
Position on a flat piece of ground – on soil (not concrete), in a sunny spot but sheltered from the wind, with reasonable drainage, the bin needs to be open or “holed” at the bottom as this will allow earthworms to work their way into the composting material.

Place the bin reasonably close (but not too close) to the Kitchen, as you will need to have easy access to the bin during the winter.

How to use the compost bin?
For best results ensure that coarse materials is shredded or chopped into small pieces before being placed into the compost bin. Build the compost material in layers of about 6 to 9 inches, layering grass, woody matter, and kitchen scraps to ensure there is a good mix of materials. From time to time it may be necessary to moisten vegetable matter if it is too dry (be careful here as excessive water will lead to odours from the bin).

It us a good idea to mix the content of the bin by turning / mixing the composting materials from time to time – use a garden fork to turn the material at the edge of the bin into the centre – if you leave it unturned it can take up to two years to compost. Mix “browns” which are rich in carbon and “greens” which are rich in nitrogen:-

  • Greens include tea leaves, teabags, coffee grounds, fruit / vegetable peelings, grass cuttings (in moderation), dried flowers, old plants, crushed egg shells etc.;
  • Browns include light cardboard, egg boxes, kitchen roll tube, kitchen paper, newspaper (not glossy) – paper should be torn into smaller pieces. Browns also include wood ash (but not ash from coal/peat), light hedge clippings (best shredded / broken into smaller pieces), and sawdust or wood shavings;

What should I put in the Compost bin?
It can be useful to have a small container in your kitchen where you can collect your organic waste for composting (this will also reduce the number of trips to your compost bin).

Kitchen:

  • Tea Leaves / Tea Bags.
  • Uncooked Kitchen Waste, such as vegetable peelings, fruit, washed and crushed eggshells can also be added to your compost bin, but cut vegetable peelings and fruit waste into small pieces to aid the composting process – avoid citrus peelings.

Garden:

  • Grass cuttings – however don’t add grass cuttings to compost bin if you have recently treated the grass with week killer, only add grass cuttings in layers of approximately 6 to 9 inches at a time;
  • Flower cuttings / dead flowers / vegetable patch waste;
  • Leaves from deciduous trees / flowers and shrubs will compost nicely, though some will take a long time to decompose;
  • Weeds / nettles will compost, but try to avoid putting the seeds / bulbs into the compost bin, as this could result in spreading the weeds when you use the compost later;
  • Paper / cardboard, sawdust / wood shavings slightly dampen and shred to small pieces, limited quantities, same for cardboard egg cartons;
  • “Woody” materials such as tree and bush pruning’s can be included but only when shredded and in small quantities, these can help aerate the composting material;

Anything I should NOT place in the Composting bin?

If you are in any doubt, leave it out!

Kitchen:

  • Meat or Fish cooked or uncooked if placed in your compost bin will attract pests & vermin, disposal of cooked / uncooked meat products in your Brown Bin;
  • Cooked Food if placed in your compost bin will attract pests or vermin, disposal of cooked food waste in your Brown Bin;
  • Cooking oil or grease will also attract pests or vermin;
  • Dairy Product waste does not compost effectively and may attract vermin;
  • Avoid citrus fruits such as lemons, limes etc.;

Garden:

  • Avoid Conifers and Evergreen plants / leaves / shrubs as these are not really suitable in the general composting bin because they are too acidic (put these into your Brown Bin though);
  • Thorny material such as rose clippings etc.;
  • Dog / Cat / Pet faeces may contain disease and should not be added to your compost bin;
  • Garden Waste treated with weed killer / pesticides shouldn’t be included, wait for at least two cuttings after application of garden chemicals;

It might sound obvious but plastics / metals / glass do not decompose;

Problem areas:

  • Odours – prevent odours by spreading a thin layer of soil on top of the composting materials alternatively cover the composting material with damp shredded newspaper (not glossy paper);
  • Vermin / pests should not be a problem once you do NOT place cooked / boiled kitchen waste or dairy products / grease into your compost bin;
  • Flies can sometimes be a problem – particular “fruit flies”, solutions can include spreading a light layer of clean soil or leaves, straw, newspaper even sawdust (if available). Turning the composting material would increase the heat being generated in the bin and will kill fly larvae / eggs;
  • Don’t use insecticide in the bin as these could kill the insects and earthworms needed to compost;
  • Where material is not breaking down try dampening the material, or cut materials into smaller pieces prior to placing it in the bin;
  • For best effect the bin needs to be approximately 75% full.

Alternative Composting Methods :

Wormery: An alternative to the Compost Bin would be a Wormery, not for some but this method of composting is equally effective….the worms are kept in a specially designed container, into which you deposit ordinary kitchen waste such as peelings, cooked / uncooked scraps, tea bags, eggshells etc. The worms then feed on the waste and convert the waste scraps into a liquid organic compost feed; this liquid is collected in a container, and when diluted with water can be used as an excellent organic plant food for your house plants, garden flowers, shrub bed, vegetable bed or it can even be used as a lawn feed. The liquid does not have any unpleasant odours;

Your Brown / Composting Bin: Most garden waste, such as grass cuttings, hedge clippings, old plants, weeds, garden cuttings, fallen leaves and vegetable waste can be composted in the Brown Bin. Kitchen waste like fruit and vegetable remains, tea bags and coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, flowers, newspaper and light cardboard can also be composted. Cooked food waste, including meats….where a Brown / Compost Bin is supplied you should ensure that it is left out for collection regularly, even if it has little contents;

Civic Amenity Centres: If you have too much green waste or do not have sufficient space in your garden to home compost green waste materials can also be brought to civic amenity centres to be composted, , you can take the waste to an authorised waste facility at Silliot Hill Civic Amenity Site near Kilcullen. There is a charge for using these facilities to cover the cost of composting the waste;

Also look out for Christmas Tree recycling facilities which are organised by Local Authorities in January each year;

Still have questions?
Kildare County Council – Composting
Irish Peatland Conservation Council Website (Composting)
Cré Composting/Anaerobic Digestion Association

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