Compost 101

Compost 101

Low waste expert, Max La Manna, explains why composting is better for the environment and how to do it.

Compost is one of my favourite ways to reduce food waste.  Food that is composted brings nutrients back to the soil for regenerative health. Giving soil new health, provides healthier plants which makes us healthier too.

What is compost?

“Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow”, according to the EPA. That means bigger produce, prettier flowers, and a healthier garden can come at no extra cost to you once you start saving your food scraps and turning them into "plant food."

Composting is the natural process of organic material breaking down into a soil that can be used in your garden for a nutrient-rich fertiliser. People are more interested than ever in embracing this sustainable practice and creating their own compost heap at home by recycling the food waste and scraps that would normally just be thrown away. Being more mindful about food waste is leading to a composting revolution!  Are you ready to get involved?

Why does it benefit the environment?

The process of composting is hugely beneficial to the environment, not only because it reduces the amount of food and garden waste thrown away, which in turn reduces the amount of methane greenhouse gas, but it’s also a crucial part of the nitrogen cycle. Our plants need nitrogen-rich soil to grow fully, and build protein, so soil from a compost heap will add to the natural nitrogen cycle by returning enriched soil to the ground. This also means you’ll need fewer artificial chemical fertilisers to feed your plants with, resulting in much healthier produce. 

Healthy soil = Healthy plants
Healthy plants = Healthy people

How to set your at home compost?

Choose an outdoor space for your compost - you’ll need at least 3 square feet of space for your compost.  A closed bin is a better choice if you’re worried about the way your compost pile will look or smell! You can easily start by using an empty container you have at home or buy one at your local hardware or gardening shop.  Look for a bin that is about 3 feet in diameter and not much taller than your waist. Use fencing to protect your bin from raccoons, foxes or even the neighbours dog.

Once you have your container in place, you need to place it on the soil in a sunny spot as you want to encourage worms and use the natural heat to help the organic material break down.

Make sure to add lots of nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials like grass-cuttings, green waste, food waste and sawdust and wood chips, and to mix it regularly with a spade to let the air in. Avoid adding any meat or dairy to the pile as this just attracts pests. 

The trick is to aim for equal amounts of "green" waste and "brown" waste to keep your compost healthy. Maintaining a balance is important is because "brown" materials are rich in carbon, feeding the organisms that break down the scraps and "green" materials supply nitrogen — key for building the cell structure of your new soil.

Your compost also needs oxygen and moisture. Without air, your pile will start to rot and smell. Moisture helps break everything down; sprinkle the compost with water every now and then, unless your scraps are wet enough on their own. With the right mixture, your compost should smell like nothing but earthy dirt.

Composting Basics

1. Chop materials 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 inches for rapid composting.
2. Mix equal volumes of carbon-rich dry brown and nitrogen-rich green plant materials.
3. Keep compost only as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
4. Turn every few days to fluff the pile so air can penetrate.
5. A hot pile composts quickly, a cool pile takes much longer.
6. Finished compost should smell earthy, never rancid.

Why Compost?

• It saves water by helping the soil hold moisture and reduce water runoff.
• It benefits the environment by recycling organic resources while conserving landfill space.
• It reduces the need for commercial soil conditioners and fertilizers. 

Compost provides many benefits. 

• adds nutrients and beneficial microbes, holds water, and improves plant growth
• provides a supplemental amount of slow-release nutrients
• increases soil organic matter
• encourages healthy root structure
• attracts and feeds earthworms and other beneficial soil microorganisms
• helps balance pH (acidity/alkalinity)

DO Compost

most sawdust
chopped woody prunings pine needles
fallen/dried leaves
dried grass
shredded paper shredded cardboard shredded newspaper
old potting mix

tea bags
citrus rinds
coffee grounds
coffee filters
shrub and grass clippings 
fruit waste
vegetable waste
wilted flowers
young weeds

Do NOT Compost

ashes from a stove, fireplace, or barbecue
animal products (meat, bones, fish, grease/fat)
dairy products
sawdust from plywood/treated wood
diseased plants
seed-bearing weeds 
manure or human waste