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Natalie Swan

February 14, 2023

Composting 101: Sounds complicated, actually isn't

Ever made dinner and looked, dismayed, at all of the vegetable peels and ends that you’ve had to throw away? Yep, it can feel pretty wasteful as you fill up your bin with organic matter. This is where composting at home comes in.

To help you get started, we’ve brought together everything you need to know to begin to compost at home, even if you have limited outdoor space.

Firstly, what is compost?

Composting is the process whereby organic matter (e.g. our vegetable scraps) decomposes to form nutrient-rich soil that can then be used to help grow plants and enrich the soil in your outdoor spaces.

Why compost?

There are plenty of benefits to composting at home, both to you personally and the planet. According to a 2017 report by the WWF, around 90% of waste in South Africa ends up in landfill, including an eye-watering amount of food waste that once there turns into carbon dioxide and methane gas. Composting, therefore, both redirects waste from taking up space in a landfill, as well as reducing the amount of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere.

So that’s what composting avoids. What you gain is a free source of rich soil, full of organic materials and micronutrients that provide a fantastic food source for your plants as well as increasing biodiversity in your garden. Lastly, and without wanting to sound too dreamy about this, few things can beat the magic of seeing your waste turned into nutrient-rich compost. You've basically created something from nothing and seen nature do its work right on your doorstep. It’s incredibly rewarding.

So what can be composted?

Technically, any organic material can be composted. However, for home-based composting it's recommended that you use a mix of the following sources:

  • Vegetable and fruit scraps
  • Other food scraps like eggshells, used coffee grounds and tea leaves (if the bag contains plastic, just open it up and put the leaves into your compost bin)
  • Shredded newspaper, cardboard, printer paper
  • Wood shavings and sawdust
  • Garden waste
  • Manure from animals who do not eat meat (e.g. rabbits, hamsters, horses)

Things not to compost are:

  • Any food waste that contains meat, fat or bones as they can be both a health hazard and attract pests
  • Diseased garden waste (e.g. blighted tomato plants).

Getting the mix right

A really healthy home compost pile contains three key components.

Sources of carbon: Should make up the bulk of your compost pile to give the end result a light fluffy texture, and includes brown garden waste, coffee grounds, eggshells, shredded paper, sawdust.

Sources of nitrogen: provides the raw materials for making the enzymes your heap needs, and includes green garden waste, food scraps, kitchen waste, manure.

Aeration: A compost pile needs oxygen for the decomposition of waste to take place. A simple 'turn' of your compost- basically churning it around a bit- every couple of weeks should be enough.

Finding a solution to fit your space

If you have a large-ish amount of outdoor space, you can simply start a compost pile on bare earth in a corner of your garden, the contact with the earth allowing for worms and other insects to enter your heap and speed up the decomposition process. If you’re looking for something more contained, there’s a wide range of compost bins of varying sizes and sophistication on the market. Particularly convenient, especially if you only have a balcony and so no contact with the ground, are these tumbler bins that can be rotated whenever your compost mix needs its oxygen fix. And if you fancy a project, check out this 'how-to' article on making your own DIY tumbler compost bin. Lastly, starting to compost requires getting into new habits and having to go outside every time you have waste can be a bit of barrier to filling up your compost bin. Having a small food bin in your kitchen that you fill up and take to your compost bin when it’s full is a good way to start.

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