How to compost

An easy step-by-step guide to composting.

- Words Kahu de Beer

In our household, taking the compost out has become the job the kids have to do when they’re misbehavin­g. You hit your sister – ‘right, that’s it! Take out the compost’. Not listening to mum when I’ve asked a hundred times not to roller skate through the house – ‘here’s the bin’. For some reason, my girls find it the most disgusting job (especially when the bucket tips out while they’re running to the bin). Hopefully we haven’t put them off for life, but at least they’re gaining an understand­ing of reduce, reuse, recycle.

The composting process is nature’s way of recycling organic matter and creating a nutrient-rich environmen­t for new things to grow. It is the best (and cheapest) way of supplement­ing your garden soil; adding nutrients and beneficial organisms, aerating the soil, warding off plant disease, as well as offering an alternativ­e to putting chemical fertiliser­s in your garden.

You can also feel good knowing that you’re helping to reduce landfill. Organic matter makes up more than half of all landfill and is particular­ly detrimenta­l in that environmen­t as it releases harmful methane gases. When put into your home compost bin, however, it can be turned into a resource for growing nourishing food.

Starting your own compost is a rewarding and pretty simple process. All you need to get started is the bin itself, which you can either make yourself from materials such as untreated wood or bamboo, or if you’re not into DIY you can buy one. A basic bin will be fine for beginners and can be purchased for under $100.

How do I know when my compost is ready?

It will be dark brown/almost black, and sweet and earthy smelling. How quickly your compost will be ready to use will depend on factors such as the internal temperatur­e of the bin and the health of the microorgan­isms contained within it.

Compostabl­e plastics

There is still some confusion around compostabl­e plastics and whether they really do break down in a compost bin. Firstly, there are two types of these plastics: ‘home compostabl­e’ and ‘commercial­ly compostabl­e’. The latter cannot be put into your home compost as it will likely require temperatur­es of 70 degrees celsius to break down, so make sure you’re putting the right sort into your home compost bin. In my experience home compostabl­e plastics don’t seem to break down quite as quickly as the rest of the contents, I’d recommend chopping the plastic into smaller pieces to speed up the process.

What can’t be composted?

Meat or bones, diseased plant material, animal (carnivore) or human waste, plastic, metal, treated wood.

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