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How to Start a Compost Bin and Reap the Rewards

Have you thought of starting a compost bin but are unsure where to start? You’ve come to the right place.

Depending on past experience, you may associate the humble compost bin with flies and nasty odours. However, the reality is quite the opposite. By using the right organic materials, correctly layering them, and staying on top of maintenance, you will find composting to be a surprisingly pleasant and rewarding experience.

Follow this handy guide to start your own compost bin and reap the fruits of your labour.

Benefits of starting a compost bin

Aside from being inexpensive and easy to maintain, a compost pile will help your garden thrive like never before. On top of this, it’s a fun little project to keep yourself entertained, and you can even get the kids involved for a family-bonding experience.

Here are a few other benefits to starting your own compost pile:

  • Enhance the moisture content of soil … A regular dose of compost is a great way to keep the soil moisture-rich. Thus, helping the garden thrive yet also drive away pests and disease.
  • Reduce greenhouse gases … Instead of ending up in landfill to decompose and produce harmful methane (which, according to research, is 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide), your kitchen scraps will be transformed into eco-friendly compost.[1]
  • Encourage production of beneficial bacteria and fungi … Which helps break down organic matter into humus, a black ‘jelly-like’ substance that keeps the nutrients together and traps oxygen, which is essential for root development.
  • Reduce the need for chemical fertiliser … Which has been known to kill the very microbes that make soil fertile.

Where to put your compost bin

There are one of two ways you can start a compost mixture, either: make a pile in the garden or use a compost bin.

Generally speaking, a compost bin is recommended, as it is easier to layer and stir the compost materials. As you will soon discover this is crucial to keeping the compost aerated and healthy.

To purchase an outdoor compost bin, head to your local nursery or hardware store. Almost any of these places will give you a range of compost bins to choose from, so as to accommodate your needs and budget.

Once you have a compost bin, place it somewhere that is easy to access yet far away enough from the outdoor living areas – so as to avoid odours.

Best ingredients to use

You can choose from a range of green and brown organic materials to place in your compost bin.

What’s the difference between the two? Green materials are usually high in moisture and rich in nitrogen, while brown materials are often dry and rich in carbon. This is important, as you need to get the ratio of brown/green materials right in order to yield the best results.

According to Sustainable Gardening Australia, the fastest way to produce fertile, sweet smelling compost is to achieve the desired C:N ratio of 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen (25-30:1).[2]

Here’s a quick breakdown of the different materials to place in your compost mixture:

Recommended brown (carbon) materials:

  • Dry leaves, branches, and stem
  • Coffee grounds and coffee filters
  • Bark dust, sawdust pellets, straw, and shredded brown paper bags
  • Egg shells
  • Corn stalks
  • Wood ash
  • Peat moss

Recommend green (nitrogen) materials:

  • Food scraps
  • Manure
  • Green lawn clippings
  • Kitchen waste
  • Green leaves

Avoid these materials:

  • Fish and meat scraps
  • Glossy or coated paper
  • Dairy products
  • Baked goods
  • Diseased or invasive plants (i.e. weeds)

How to layer your compost mixture

Now you have chosen the ingredients, you need to layer them in a specific way in order to promote air circulation.

To do so, first start with a layer of brown material on the bottom. Some recommend a mixture of twigs, sticks, and dry leaves. Then follow up the second layer with green material. From there, alternate between brown and green layers until you reach the top. Finally, make sure the top layer is a brown material, as the dry and carbon-rich material will help fend off odours.

Maintaining the compost

Now the magic begins!

During the composting phase, microbes start feeding on the materials you’ve provided, and your bin will naturally rise in temperature. To keep the compost aerated and avoid sludge, use a long metal object (i.e. pitchfork) so you can reach the bottom and thoroughly stir the mixture.

Try to stir your compost every three to four days. This way, the microbes will be able to breathe and continue to decompose.

When is the compost ready?

Curing can take anywhere from 1 month to a whole year depending on your materials and personal preference.

Technically, in most cases, you can collect the compost in a matter of months. But some people choose to wait long so as to ensure a higher quality yield. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making compost in smaller batches.

How do you know the compost is ready? Ideally, the original organic materials should be no longer recognisable. The pile should have shrunk by at least half in size and emit a pleasant, earthy aroma. Finally, the topsoil should appear to be quite dark, with an almost crumbly texture.

Once the compost is ready, you have the freedom to collect and use it whenever you like!

What to do with finished compost

Here are just some of the many things you can do with compost to benefit your garden:

  • Use as mulch to feed your garden plants – You can add mulch to plants at any time of the year without fear of burning the plants or polluting the water.
  • Transform into liquid fertiliser – Combine 1 part compost and 3 parts water into a large tub, mix, and leave for three days. Then apply the liquid as food for plants. This is a great solution if you don’t have enough compost to feed an entire garden on its own.
  • Turn into potting mix – Need soil for your potted plants? Use compost. Simply combine 4 parts compost with 1 part shredded sphagnum moss and 2 parts coarse river sand together. You can purchase these ingredients at your local nursery or hardware store. Once combined, the potting mix can serve as the foundation for new or existing potted plants.
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