Waste not, want not: Consider making your own compost from kitchen leftovers
*This article first appeared in our Simply Green digital magazine.
God gardening starts with good soil and compost, which teems with beneficial bacteria and organisms, adds natural, healthy nutrients to soil.
Compost breaks up clay soils and improves sandy soils, and because you can use waste materials from the kitchen and garden, it enables you to recycle, cut down on landfill and irrigation needs, and reduce dependence on fossil fuel-based fertilisers and pesticides.
Most plant-based material – including fruit and vegetable scraps – can be composted at home. Watching the food you normally would have thrown away turn into nutritious soil and become part of the cycle of life is a rewarding endeavour.
Most of the composters you purchase come with instructions which you should follow for best results.
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Below are some basics:
You will need a compost bin which you can make, buy online or find at a hardware store. Ensure it is not higher than your waist and also consider fencing it off to keep rodents and pets from it.
Collect your kitchen compostables (egg shells, fruit and veg skins, coffee grounds) in a container in your kitchen – you can store them in the freezer until you need them to avoid odours.
Start your bin off with a layer of coarse materials (such as twigs) to allow for drainage and aeration. Cover this layer with leaves.
Then alternate between layers of greens (nitrogen-rich material) and browns (carbonrich material). Whenever you add food scraps or garden waste to your bin, be sure to top it with a layer of browns. If you do not add browns, your compost will be wet and break down more slowly.
When you add fresh material, mix it in with the lower layers. Materials should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge. Add dry materials or water – whichever is needed – to reach this moisture level.
Mix or turn the compost once a week to help the breakdown process and to eliminate odours. Finished compost will be dark, crumbly and smell like earth (before that it is very smelly – be warned).
You should be able to create finished compost within four to six months of starting your bin. The finished compost will end up at the top of the bin or compost pile. Ensure the decomposition process is complete before you use your compost or microbes in it could take nitrogen from the soil and harm plant growth.
Here is the secret trio of food scraps for composting
Bananas: Banana peels gives your soil phosphorus and potassium – important soil nutrients. Chop up the peels – do not use whole banana peels as they will attract rodents. You can put the chopped up pieces straight into the soil.
Tip: Soak a few banana peels in about 600ml of water for a few days. The minerals from the peels will leech into the water. You can then use this water for your plants (you don’t need to dilute it). The soaked peels can be given to your worms or put it in the compost.
Coffee grounds release nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and other minerals and essential oils as they break down – acting as a great natural slow-release fertiliser for your pants. Add them to the compost bin or sprinkle directly on to your soil.
Tip: Acid-loving plants like blueberries, carrots, and radishes are boosted by fresh grounds.
Egg shells: Rinse the shells before crushing them into small pieces. These provide much-needed calcium to the soil which prevents blossom rot – the black spots that form on the ends of tomatoes, peppers and squash caused by lack of calcium in the soil. Eggs shells can be sprinkled on top of the soil to keep creepy crawlies away and also dug in.
Tip: Tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, broccoli, cauliflower, Swiss chard, spinach and amaranth will all benefit from added eggshells in the soil or compost.
Create your own black gold by composting kitchen leftovers
Don’t add these materials to your compost: meat or fish scraps dairy products fats or oils grease pet faeces kitty litter weed seeds charcoal ash non-organic materials.
Did you now
1. Enhance your soil’s structure.
2. Improve the soil’s ability to hold water.
3. Create a habitat for beneficial soil organisms.
4. Provide a source of slow-release nutrients for plants.
5. Protect plants from soil-borne pathogens.
Trench composting is particularly suitable for growing vegetables, says garden expert Kay Montgomery.
• Dig a trench to a depth of two to three spades, placing the soil to one side.
• Place a thick layer of wet newspaper in the bottom of the trench and fill with vegetable peelings, leaves and any other plant material that is available, alternating with layers of soil.
• Plant vegetables in the filled trench.