Composting makes good sense and is easy

Compost your waste in a sunny corner for best results. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Compost your waste in a sunny corner for best results. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

We gardeners are a canny lot, trying to avoid waste at all cost, passing spare seedlings and plants on to friends, getting the best from everything grown, and recycling wherever possible.

On my travels I’ve seen perfectly adequate allotment structures cobbled together from spare timber, and everything from old boots and tyres to lavatory pans and kitchen sinks transformed into containers for bedding plants.

Such industry and initiative is commendable, but don’t miss the obvious and best recycling opportunity of all – gathering spent plant materials for composting.

A few years ago, composting road shows were initiated by our council’s waste management team, and this fellow was invited to lead them.

We took examples of wooden compounds, plastic ‘Dalek’ bins, display boards and hands-on materials, and a short, formal presentation was followed by informal trouble-shooting. All this to confirm that composting garden waste makes sense and is easy.

The response from Blyth to Berwick, Hexham to Alnwick, confirmed an enthusiasm for recycling, alongside a need for advice on the fine-tuning of different composting systems.

The range of composters is considerable so choice is largely based on available space, performance and cost. It can be a simple heap in a corner of the garden, where all plant-based waste is dumped and left to the elements, or the all-enclosed ‘Hot Bin’ that retains essential warmth over winter to keep the process going.

Over time, the heap will decompose and become a useful soil conditioner, but it does have faults. It can attract rats and mice, is at the mercy of the elements and occasionally emits strong smells.

Positive steps to eliminating these problems include surrounding the heap with fine mesh chicken wire to deter pests and covering the top with old carpet or waterproof material. You could encircle it with posts and laths to create a compound, which allows access for turning-over the contents, supports a top cover and speeds up the decomposition.

Dalek-shaped plastic bins with an access flap at the base come in a range of colours and sizes. However, they require patience if you are expecting a rapid decomposition. Many of them also have an open base that allows worm access when they’re sited on soil, but is also accessible to rats and mice.

Spend a little extra on a Green Johanna composter and you have an enclosed system that comes with the equivalent of a duvet to keep the contents warm over winter.