We currently waste one-third of all food and then go and buy harmful chemical fertilisers and pesticides to grow our crops. Seems a bit silly, right?
By reframing waste as something useful, we can help save money and the environment. Let me introduce you to composting.
What is compost?
It's the end product when organic matter decomposes naturally. Most organic matter will break down into compost, but you can speed up the process with some simple techniques below.
First, what're the benefits of composting?
It improves soil structure
Aids microbial activity in the soil
Attracts earthworms and beneficial insects
Retains soil moisture levels (less watering!)
It provides slow-release, organic nutrients
This benefits us because:
It increases the nutrients within our food
It makes our food taste better
It helps to protect our plants
We can spend less on water, fertiliser, and pesticide
It supports nature and biodiversity
What can I compost?
When creating garden compost, it is generally just plant-based materials used. While meat scraps and pet excrement can, and will, eventually break down, it's not good practice to include these animal-based materials in regular compost heaps as they may contain disease-causing pathogens and parasites. However, if you would like to compost meat and pet scraps, Bokashi (Japanese for 'fermented organic matter') is an excellent method to look into.
Three great options are conventional composting, worm composting, and the bokashi system. They're effortless to set up and use, and you can choose whichever suits your living space.
The classic. In this case, the bigger, the better, but you can still compost in small spaces. This method is best if you have an outdoor space to add to. This is very straightforward. All you need to do is add roughly a 50:50 mix of green and brown items and wait until it breaks down into a smooth brown compost.
What can you put in conventional compost?
Green material: Coffee grounds, garden trimmings, prunings, grass clippings, hair, kitchen scraps, rotted manure, seaweed, and tea leaves.
Brown material: Cardboard, corn cobs and stalks, leaves, newspaper, shredded paper, pine needles, sawdust, straw or hay, and wood ash.
You can also add eggshells, which are neither green nor brown, but add some calcium to the mix.
What are the benefits of conventional composting?
Reduces the need for chemical fertilisers
Increases the success rate of your plants
Reduces your food waste and saves money
I've grown to love this and like to take the worms' dinner of scraps after meal prepping. The worms eat through food matter, progressing through the bin's trays, leaving incredible vermicompost behind. You also get a liquid which can be fed to plants (tomatoes love it) and compost, which can be used on the soil.
What can you put into the worm compost bin?
Fruit and vegetables
Waste paper and cardboard
Be aware that you can't put cooked food, meat or dairy in the worm compost bin. You also can't put citrus or alliums in as the worms will not like their acidity. It's also worth periodically checking that your worms are happy; if they're clustered in the corners, something is wrong – possibly the pH balance. And if you see any slugs, get them out of there ASAP; they are not the worms' friends.
The benefits of worm composting
The nutrient-rich fertiliser compost is fantastic for the soil – your plants and lawn will thank you.
The 'worm tea' is excellent for house plants and vegetables.
It's fun for kids – healthy vermiculture is incredibly interesting to observe.
Cheap to set up, and you're helping save the planet.
The Bokashi composting system
Bokashi is an anaerobic composting system, usually made up of two bins, each roughly the size of a waste paper basket. It uses an inoculated bran to ferment kitchen waste into a rich liquid compost for your plants. When you add a layer of waste, sprinkle it with bran, flatten it down and leave it alone; it might smell a bit pickly when you remove the lid. Otherwise, it shouldn't bother you; if it does, something has gone wrong. Occasionally you'll need to drain off the juice it produces, but that's it.
What can you put into the bokashi system?
Raw food waste – peelings, vegetable cores, fruit peel
Cooked food, including meat and bones
Onions, garlic, chilli
Fat and oil
The benefits of having a bokashi system
Its compact size – you don't need a huge garden.
It can be kept indoors; surprisingly, the bokashi doesn't smell when the lid is on. You might get a slight pickle-esque smell when the bins are nearly full.
Make your compost – once your bin is filled, make sure its lid is secure and leave it for at least five weeks to work its pickling magic. After that, neutralise the acid by sprinkling it with garden lime, then dig the contents into your garden soil.
Why not consider starting composting at home? You'll be surprised at how little ends up in the black bin, and with all that nutritious compost to hand, your plants will envy the street.