Composting can improve the environment. Our modern lifestyles involve a very high rate of consumption of goods which are heavily packaged. Over 1 million tonnes of waste are generated in Northern Ireland each year; this equates to 1.75 tonnes per person. Materials suitable for composting account for up to half of household waste - by composting these we would reduce reliance on landfilling of waste and nutrients would be recycled back into the soil. Compost can: help your garden/potted plants; increase yields of fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs; reduce reliance on the use of toxic chemicals and pesticides; make an ideal soil conditioner and surface mulch; provide a free soil conditioner; help soil to retain moisture, reducing water consumption.
Composting is a natural process which converts organic waste into an earth like mass by means of bacteria and micro-organisms. The composting process is supported by larvae, wood lice, beetles, worms and other such creatures. Moisture and oxygen are the other important factors in the composting process. Heat is generated during the composting process. As a result, the temperature in the composter may rise to about 50 degrees celsius. Micro-organisms flourish at this temperature, enabling the composting process to proceed more rapidly. The aim of the following section is to provide householders with simple guidelines around how to compost easily and successfully.
The container you use will depend on the size of your household and the amount of compostable material being produced.
Most householders use the standard compost bins available at garden centres and some recycling centres. These bins have a capacity of about 300 litres. Alternatively, home made compost bins can be constucted from old wood such as old pallets.
Some households are opting for home-made compost bins. They have been successfully made from pallets, wood, bricks, blocks, etc. These bins often have a removable front panel and will need a cover to protect the heap from heavy rain (canvas-backed carpet is often used). If you have a large garden with plenty of grass clippings, you are probably better off having a separate pile of grass and shredded paper/cardboard layers - cover from heavy rain is necessary.
This method uses worms to carry out the decomposition and does not heat up during the process. A wormery is a fully enclosed container which is populated by Tiger Worms (earth worms not suitable - soil content too rich), and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are very popular with children but need a lot of care just as a pet would! Small quantities of cooked food can be put into your wormery - 1kg of worms can produce ½ kg of compost. Add about 1.5kg of food the first week - this can be gradually increased to about 7kg over a period of six months. Wormeries produce an excellent quality compost material and also a liquid feed called “worm tea”!
Wire mesh and wooden stakes are very suitable for leaf mould. As leaf mould doesn’t require sunlight, the leaves can be placed in black plastic bags/fertiliser bags pierced with a fork for air. Leaf mould takes about two years to produce compost and as it is low in nutrients, it makes excellent potting compost. It can also be used very effectively as a mulch to keep down weeds and retain moisture.
See Belfast City Council's information on composting at home and the Rethink Waste site for information on community composting.