Wildlife Gardening for Beginners: Compost

Image by Shutterstock 

Un-green-fingered Rebecca Neal, Communities and Wildlife Officer, took a website dive into wildlife gardening advice to research for a presentation, and wrote a series of blogs based on what she found.

Whilst meandering the internet for information about wildlife gardening, I spent quite a bit of time reading about compost. It has never been something I have thought much about before as I have mostly just put stuff in the council collected bin, and there has always been this kind of mystery surrounding it, like there’s some secret science that only a few chosen people know about. When you dig down though, it’s actually not that complicated. Here’s what I learned:

It’s good to create your own compost because:

  • It reduces your reliance on shop-bought compost which costs money and might have peat in it
  • It’s great for wildlife
  • It increases the fertility of your soil
  • It increases the water-retention of your soil
  • It’s a good way to recycle waste
Compost caddy by Sophie Baker

Compost caddy by Sophie Baker

Tips

  • Site your heap in a shady area and cover it with a tarpaulin or bit of carpet
  • Compost needs nitrogen, carbon, oxygen and water
  • Nitrogen comes from “green” stuff (eg fresh cut grass, veg peelings) , carbon comes from “brown” stuff which is woody (eg dried leaves, newspaper) , oxygen is introduced when you turn it over, and water comes from moist things you add (or you may need to add some in hot weather)
  • You need a mix of stuff on your compost, a bit more brown than green
  • The more you turn it, the hotter it will get and the quicker things will break down

Yes to these things

No to these things

"Green":

  • Grass
  • Fruit and veg
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea leaves
  • Egg shells
  • Flower heads

"Brown":

  • Dead leaves
  • Shredded plain cardboard
  • Shredded prunings
  • Veg-eating pet poo and bedding
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Weed seeds and roots
  • Large woody stems
  • Glossy paper/card
  • Nappies
  • Dog poo
  • Cat litter
  • Coal ash
  • Treated wood

No unless hot composting:

  • Bones
  • Meat and fish
  • Cooked food

 

 

Composting a mix of green and brown by Sophie Baker

Composting a mix of green and brown by Sophie Baker

Hot vs cold composting

I spent ages trying to work out what this was all about. I will happily stand corrected, but the difference simply seems to me, to be the amount you turn your compost. The more you turn it, the more oxygen it gets, the hotter it gets, and the quicker things break down. You can put meat scraps and cooked food (which are likely to contain fats) on a hot compost heap.

 

Hot

Cold

Advantage

Can compost more kitchen waste like meat and cooked food

Less disturbance to wildlife

Less work

Disadvantage

More disturbance to wildlife

More work

Can’t compost cooked food or meat

 

Alternative compost methods

When I lived “up north”, our council was very strict on what could be put in our green waste bin, so we bought a home composting bin for the garden through a scheme linked to the council. Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire all have a similar scheme where you can buy bins cheaply. We chose a hot composting bin called Green Johanna (or Johanna Vert as we called her!) which meant we could put all of our kitchen waste in it, including cooked food (we are both veggie, but in theory, you can add meat and bones to this type of bin). You get an aerating stick to allow you to keep turning the compost. We found this didn’t get anywhere near full, even with two people adding to it for more than a year.

My mum has a Bokashi composter. She collects her kitchen waste as normal in a small caddy, and then adds it to her bin outside with a handful of magic bran. The bran contains bacteria which ferment the waste (break it down without oxygen). She has two bins and rotates them. The compost makes a liquid you can drain off and use as fertilizer, and then after a few weeks you can use the compost as it is, or add it to your compost heap. Apparently, it doesn’t smell!

I have never seen a wormery in action but have heard they are good for small amounts of kitchen waste. You need a special container with two layers, one for the worms and kitchen scraps and one that collects a liquid that can be used as a fertilizer. You buy special worms! This method requires you to think more carefully about what goes on and how much, and you need to keep the bin in a place that doesn’t get too hot or cold. But isn’t it worth it to have your own army of worms?!