A good compost bin is one of the most vital parts of composting, and although compost bins come in all shapes and sizes, it is important that you buy one that is well ventilated, with enough air holes or gaps to ensure the box is breathable and the compost will get enough air circulation.
You should invest in a fairly big compost bin. The process requires a certain volume of material in order to create good compost and although smaller bins can get the job done, smaller batches tend to require a more precise mix of materials.
There are a number of construction materials to choose from, each with their own pros and cons. Plastic compost bins tend to be cheaper, more resistant to rot and degradation but tend to be less structurally strong.
Wooden compost bins look great but require more maintenance.
If you want to build your own, one tried-and-tested design is a simple wooden box, constructed with slats spaced at least an inch apart to allow air circulation.
You’ll want to place your compost bin somewhere that gets a fair bit of sunlight and heat and preferably on bare soil. Although you can place the bin on concrete or patio tiles, you should place a layer of organic material like paper or wood underneath it.
Choose somewhere that’s easily accessible, as you’ll need to add material and regularly stir the heap, so you don’t want to place it somewhere that is a hassle to get to.
Nearly everything that is organic can be recycled and provide the heap with nutrients, however balancing the ratio of different materials is important. You don’t want to use too many “wet” materials, such as cut grass and vegetable waste, and equally you don’t want to use too many “dry” materials such as plant prunings and shredded paper.
You also need to be careful not to add any diseased materials or anything infested with pests. Adding too many woody or large plant prunings can also be problematic as they take so long to break down. Meat and meat waste should also be avoided as they can unbalance the nutrient structure of the compost and attract too many rodents, maggots and generally smell terrible.
If you’ve included enough green material in your compost, you may not even need to use an activator, but if you want to give your compost heap a real kick start it’s well worth investing in a batch of activator. It’s inexpensive and you only need to add a small amount to get the heap going.
You don’t need to mix the activator in particularly well, just add a shovelful, give it a quick mix and the natural process get to work.
While decomposition will do 90% of the work for you, there are still a couple of simple chores you should do to help it on its way. You should regularly add new material, being careful to maintain a good balance, as this gives the bacteria more to feed on and keep the process going at a faster rate and generating heat during the winter months.
Every week or so, you should thoroughly stir the heap with a pitchfork or use a dedicated compost aerator to make sure all the components are blended together and all the material is decomposing at a similar rate.
During summer months especially, compost heaps can become too dry, which significantly slows the bacteria at work. As you’re probably well aware, bacteria thrive in moist conditions, so maintaining moisture in your compost pile is essential.
However, if too much green material and moisture is added, you’ll be left with a sludgy mess!
As a good rule of thumb, your compost should be slightly damp to the touch, but not sodden. Getting moisture levels right can be a bit tricky at first, but after your first batch you’ll get a good feel for what is right.
It takes anywhere between 6 and 12 months for the process to fully take effect, you’ll know then the process is complete as you’ll be left with a dark, moist soil that smells like freshly dug earth.
Don’t be concerned if your compost is a little lumpy and still has some materials, like twigs and bits of eggshell intact, this is to be expected as different materials have different rates of decomposition.