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Interview with Garden Organic's 'Master Composter' Louise Lomax

If you are fortunate enough to have a garden, one of the most useful activities you can carry out is to start composting your organic waste. Unfortunately, only about one in four of us compost household waste and it is estimated that 30-40% of the average household rubbish bin could be composted.

The benefits

  • Compost is a great soil improver, lightening clay soils, and giving water retaining properties to sandy soils.

  • It reduces the amount of food waste going to landfill

  • It saves you money, and it’s good for the environment.

  • A compost bin stops about 150kg of waste a year going to landfill.

What sort of compost bin is best? It depends on your circumstances. Most people start with a ‘dalek’ type (pictured), which are effective and don’t take up too much space. Wooden bins are more expensive, but are usually larger and are more pleasing on the eye. I’m currently using pallets, which are robust, and can be picked up for free, though they don’t look too beautiful. Ideally they should be sited in a sunny or semi shady position, for the quickest results, but usually those spots are also the most popular for sitting areas and flower and vegetable beds in most gardens. Try to place it fairly close to the house - otherwise there is a temptation not to use it if the weather is bad.

How the process works Composting is the process of aerobic decomposition of biodegradable organic matter performed by microscopic organisms and larger creatures like ants and worms. In other words, your compost bin is alive! Heat, water and air are necessary to make an effective compost. Compost decomposes more quickly in the warmer weather, and will slow significantly in the winter. A sunny position helps with the warmth, as does adding a layer of grass clippings. There is usually no need to add water to a compost bin unless it is very hot. As a rule of thumb, if your compost seems too dry, add some green material, and if it seems - too wet, add cardboard or paper. Many people turn their compost regularly, and this puts plenty of air into the heap, and will ensure that the finished product is achieved quickly. However this is hard work, and I prefer to

make sure that I put plenty of corrugated cardboard onto the heap, and give the compost a stir from time to time. I estimate that I will have reasonable compost in about a year. The best compost is achieved by the addition of around 50% of ‘green’ material, and 50% of ‘browns’. Green material consists of, for example, grass clippings, annual weeds, vegetable peelings and coffee grounds. These are nitrogen rich and decompose easily. Brown material consists, for example, consists of cardboard, paper, hay, and wood chip. These contain carbon, which will take a long time to decompose on their own. Other materials, which can give beneficial trace elements are things like eggshells and wood ash. Animal products, such as meat and dairy should be avoided, along with cooked food, as these can attract vermin. Pets’ bedding can be added if the animals are herbivores, but not waste products from dogs and cats, which can carry disease.

Frequently asked questions Why is my compost smelling unpleasant? This could be because there is too much kitchenwaste. Try adding cardboard or straw to balance it out. Nothing seems to be rotting down. What am I doing wrong? Be patient! You could try adding an activator, such as grass clippings, comfrey leaves, or human urine! Alternatively, some soil could be added, but not too much. You don’t need to add a commercial activator. The finished compost isn’t uniformly fine and crumbly. Is this right? Yes - some twigs will not have finished rotting down. You could sieve the compost and put the woody remains back in the compost heap. For further information on composting, you might find the Garden Organic’s website useful.

Louise Lomax has been one of Garden Organic’s Master Composters for about 10 years. She lives in Coalbrookdale, Telford, where she gardens organically - mainly prioritising wildlife and food production.

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