Com­post­ing in small spa­ces

Joe Swift shares how you can turn waste into a vi­tal, nu­tri­ent-rich soil booster – in even a tiny plot

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

Joe Swift shows how to make free com­post in even the small­est plot

What­ever the size of your gar­den it will cre­ate biodegrad­able waste – grass clip­pings, fallen leaves, prun­ings and the like. If you com­bine this with the house­hold waste, such as veg­etable peel­ings, tea bags and old news­pa­pers, it can all be trans­formed into a rich, crumbly com­post for your plot. Com­post­ing con­nects you in­ti­mately with your gar­den, and it’s sat­is­fy­ing to know that you are en­rich­ing your plot and putting waste to good use – all for free, too. When added to your plot year on year, com­post builds up to make it more fer­tile, mois­tur­ere­ten­tive and nu­tri­ent-rich – the very ba­sis of a healthy soil. Us­ing com­post also helps to cap­ture car­bon and put it back into your gar­den. Mak­ing your own re­duces the num­ber of trans­port miles needed for the coun­cil to pick up your waste.

What can you re­al­is­ti­cally achieve with a small com­post bin?

Com­post­ing in a small space isn’t as fast, ef­fi­cient or pro­duc­tive as com­post­ing on a larger scale – the high tem­per­a­tures in big com­post heaps speed up the break­down process con­sid­er­ably. But in my ex­pe­ri­ence it’s well worth do­ing. It takes a lit­tle longer but it’s pos­si­ble to gen­er­ate good quan­ti­ties of high­qual­ity com­post, even in a small space. The ideal is to have two com­post bins or bays, but if you don’t have space, one will do. You will just need to be or­gan­ised, prac­ti­cal and dili­gent about what you put in­side your bin. Also en­sure that you sit­u­ate it where it can be turned and emp­tied eas­ily with­out mak­ing too much mess.

What is the best type of com­post bin for a small space?

There are many off-the-peg com­post prod­ucts that work re­ally well in a small space. You can buy com­post bins and bays online that are very easy to set up in your gar­den. They tend to be made of ei­ther wood or plas­tic, and some plas­tic bins have been de­signed to be able to feed in waste at the top, with an opening at the bot­tom. This means they don’t need reg­u­lar emp­ty­ing or turn­ing, which is handy in tight spots, but it can mean the com­post is slower to pro­duce. I like the tum­bler/ro­tary bins that you can spin, as they take up lit­tle space, break down the waste pretty quickly and evenly and are easy to use. Many lo­cal coun­cils are keen to en­cour­age home com­post­ing and sub­sidise the cost to res­i­dents by pro­vid­ing re­duced price bins, so keep an eye out for them. It is also pos­si­ble to make your own, but en­sure the sides are closed to help keep in the heat.

Where should I po­si­tion my com­post bin?

You will prob­a­bly be lim­ited with places to put it in a small gar­den, but any com­post bin is bet­ter than none at all. Full sun can make a heap too hot dur­ing the sum­mer, es­pe­cially so with the dark plas­tic bins, while per­ma­nent shade may be too cool. A spot in par­tial shade is ideal for keeping the tem­per­a­ture even. If you opt for a bin that is bot­tom­less and po­si­tion it on soil it can then drain away freely, which will stop the com­post liq­uid that is pro­duced from stain­ing paving or hard sur­fac­ing. Com­post liq­uid will also quickly at­tract worms, which can then

be able to ac­cess your com­post and get to work break­ing down the heap. Ro­tary mod­els can be placed on any hard or soft sur­face as long as it’s sta­ble. Wher­ever you put your bin, make sure there is de­cent air cir­cu­la­tion around it as oxy­gen is needed for de­com­po­si­tion, so don’t po­si­tion it too close to cor­ners or where two walls meet.

Is there a way you can dis­guise an ugly com­post bin?

Com­post heaps are rarely things of beauty, and in a small space they can or dom­i­nate a plot. For­tu­nately they are easy to hide from view with sim­ple struc­tures such as a piece of trel­lis placed at a right an­gle to the bound­ary or a frame strung with wil­low or heather screen­ing (avail­able to buy on a roll) and planted with climbers. It’s best if any ma­te­rial you choose is al­ready used in an­other el­e­ment of the gar­den so that it blends in nicely. It doesn’t have to be too high ei­ther. A strate­gi­cally placed shrub or two or a small sec­tion of hedge can work just as well.

What’s the best thing to do with ex­cess com­postable waste?

There will most likely be cer­tain times of the year, or af­ter a gar­den blitz, when your com­post set-up won’t be able to cope with the vol­ume of waste cre­ated. Or per­haps you have dug up per­ni­cious weeds or cut twigs and branches that you can’t com­post your­self. This is the time to use your lo­cal coun­cil green waste ser­vice, which will ei­ther pick it up or you can take it to the lo­cal re­cy­cling cen­tre.

Wher­ever you put your bin, en­sure there is air cir­cu­la­tion around it as oxy­gen is needed for de­com­po­si­tion

What­ever you do, don’t see it as a fail­ure. This is the re­al­ity of city and small-space liv­ing. Coun­cils do com­post­ing on a huge scale, and what­ever they pro­duce is of­ten sold or de­liv­ered free to al­lot­ments and com­mu­nity gar­dens – you may even be able to get it back in bags to use your­self. This green waste is great as mulch, a gen­eral soil con­di­tioner or as part of a mix in pot­ting and con­tainer com­post.

Will the smell be over­pow­er­ing in a small space?

Lots of peo­ple are con­cerned about the smell of com­post, es­pe­cially in a small space. But good-qual­ity com­post made of the right blend of ma­te­ri­als that are break­ing down evenly should not have a foul smell; it should just smell a lit­tle earthy. If your com­post smells, it’s an in­di­ca­tion that some­thing is wrong with the in­gre­di­ents, aer­a­tion or mois­ture level. Too much green ma­te­rial may give it the smell of am­mo­nia or sewage, so add some brown ma­te­rial (see above). If it’s com­pacted it may smell sul­phurous, like rot­ting eggs, so you may need to empty it out and turn it and then add some lighter, brown ma­te­ri­als.

Is a wormery as good?

Some city gar­den­ers have a wormery in­stead of a com­post heap while oth­ers have both, although the former is no sub­sti­tute for a com­post heap. A wormery takes up much less space but it will only turn a small amount of waste into com­post through the year. It does how­ever pro­duce a con­cen­trated liq­uid fer­tiliser that is great for feed­ing plants. A wormery has two com­part­ments: one for the com­post­ing and one that is a sump for the liq­uid. Com­post­ing worms are dif­fer­ent from earth­worms and usu­ally come with the kit.

How do I deal with any ver­min or pests that are at­tracted to the heap ?

The key to de­ter­ring ver­min is to avoid putting any cooked food, es­pe­cially meat and fish, on the heap – un­less you opt for a closed-bin sys­tem de­signed to cope with all kitchen waste, which uses heat or ad­di­tives to break down meat, fat and bones or even pet poo. Pests and ver­min will still turn up and some en­joy the warmth in win­ter (rats are par­tial to potato peel­ings). They don’t like be­ing dis­turbed, or damp, so turn the heap, and wa­ter it, if there’s a prob­lem and give it an oc­ca­sional hard bang on the sides to dis­turb them. Make sure lids and side pan­els fit well and check reg­u­larly for signs of in­fes­ta­tion.

Com­post should not have a foul smell when it is break­ing down; it should just smell a lit­tle earthy

Rich, crumbly com­post makes a great soil im­prover Use a mix of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ ma­te­ri­als Put your com­post bin in a par­tially shaded spot

Two bins is ideal, if you’ve only space for one, you need to be or­gan­ised

Dis­guise bins be­hind a screen but make sure you have ac­cess

Kitchen waste be­ing com­posted in a wormery Wormery worms are typ­i­cally ‘bran­dling’ types not earth­worms

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