Of all the many ways to be both environmentally conscious and proactive, learning how to start composting is easily one of the most viable first steps for any household to take.
Viable because, according to the New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority, the average Australian household’s wheelie bin is comprised of 35% food waste.
Nationwide that equates to over five million tonnes of food dumped into landfills per year.
What do five million tonnes of food look like? Incredibly, enough to fill 9,000 Olympic sized swimming pools.
Types of Composting Options
The first concept to grasp in learning how to start composting is learning how many options you actually have at your disposal.
Quickly, here is a quick list of options.
- Ventilated outdoor bins
- Indoor or benchtop composters
- Vermicomposting (ie. Worm farming)
- Open enclosures
Regardless of the method you choose, you’ll be taking a big first step in removing methane-producing green waste from your local landfill.
But that said, this post will focus on the last option from the list above; open enclosure.
Open Enclosure Compost Bins
Open enclosure bins can be constructed of all shapes and sizes. Materials used to build them can include corrugated tin, chicken wire, timber, logs and even discarded pallets.
At the SBCG, our compost bins are approximately 1.5 metre square and have been constructed using extremely sturdy timber. And to help provide easier access for turning and aerating the pile, one side of each compost bin is comprised of removable slats.
Once you’ve decided on the size, building materials and location of where to situate your open enclosure bin, you’re ready to start loading it.
How to Start Composting with your Open Enclosure Bin
STEP 1. Use bare earth as the base of your compost bin. Not only will this allow your compost bin to breathe and drain properly, it will also allow beneficial organisms access to the waste.
STEP 2. On top of the bare earth, line the base of your bin with a generous amount of shredded paper, dry leaves, twigs, or straw. This layer will
further help to aid in the proper drainage as well as provide an inviting place of residence for the organisms that end up calling your compost bin home.
STEP 3. Start adding your green waste in layers remembering to alternate between wet and dry. Wet ingredients include any of your kitchen scraps such as vegetable peelings or tea bags. Dry material can include materials such as leaves, straw, coffee grounds, woodchips or sawdust.
To eliminate strong odours and pests, avoid adding such items as meat, fish, poultry, dairy products and fats such as grease and oils.
STEP 4. Add a nitrogen source to speed the composting process up by activating the compost pile. Green manure is ideal but this can also include grass clippings.
STEP 5. Keep your compost pile damp. Too dry and the contents of your pile won’t break down. Too wet and things will start to smell. Aim for the moisture content of a wrung-out sponge.
STEP 6. Cover your compost pile as needed. You can use wood, scraps of carpet or even a tarp with the goal of retaining the pile’s moisture level and, more importantly, heat.
STEP 7. Periodically turn the pile. Use a pitchfork or shovel every two to three weeks, depending on the size of the pile. Turning the pile aerates it and allows oxygen to work its magic. This oxygen infusion allows an increased number and variety of micro-organisms into the mix and ultimately aids in speeding up the composting process.
How Much Time Does Open Enclosure Bin Composting Require?
How long will it take for your compost pile to be ready to utilise on your garden depends on a few factors.
Factors such as:
- The size of you compost bin
- What material you put in the pile
- How meticulous you are in tending to it
Assuming you’ve followed this list closely, three months is a realistic target for when you can expect your compost to be ready to use.
And by ready, this implies a rich, humus matter that is dark, crumbly and smells like a handful of soil scooped out of a bag of gardening mix.
All of which is a far cry from the alternative of a pile of smelly, methane-producing scraps rotting in your local landfill.