For the truly organic gardener sustainability must be the watchword. You may think that a bag of compost is nothing more than a quick trip to the garden centre, but behind the ‘friendly gardener’ packaging is the hidden shame of peat bog destruction and hundreds of carbon-emitting road miles.

However redemption can be at hand by learning how to compost in your very own garden. Not only is it guilt free, it can help to recycle your household and garden waste. What’s more important is that it’s produced using a completely organic process requiring only air, moisture and naturally occurring microorganisms.

It all begins with the ‘compost bin’ and this can be as elaborate or as simple as you please. Any good garden centre can supply a wide range of purpose built models starting from the humble wooden ‘crate’ to the more exotic ‘tumbling bin’ design that turns upside down on its own axis – the reason for this will become clear later.

Alternatively you could always knock one up with a few old pallets, making sure that the top has some sort of rain protection. A good size to aim for would be approximately 1 cubic meter.

The type of waste that is generally used in a composting is split into two categories. The first is green compost – which has the higher nitrogen content of the two and includes grass clipping, annual weeds, vegetable kitchen waste etc. The second category is brown compost which is usually composed of hedge cuttings, dead leaves, plant clippings and discarded branches and other such woody material.

Composting is an aerobic process meaning that it works in the presence of oxygen, and has the useful side effect of releasing energy in the form of heat. In fact a healthy compost can achieve temperatures of between 55 and 65 degrees Centigrade.

These high temperatures also have the added advantage of killing off some of the weed seeds that may have inadvertently got into to your mix. If your heap is too wet or becomes too compacted oxygen levels can fall dramatically and this will show up as a drop in the core temperature. Don’t worry though, as gently forking the compost over will raise the oxygen levels starting the process over. However with a tumbling bin all you need to do is turn it over a couple of times.

In order to maintain a good balance within the compost heap you would typically aim for around 1 part green compost to two parts brown compost, making sure that they are well mixed together. If for whatever reason that isn’t practical then apply them in layers of no more than an inch or so. However if time is of the essence then faster composting can be achieved by increasing the percentage of green matter. Too much though and anaerobic decomposition will occur which can bring with it a variety of unpleasant odors.
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