Don’t waste your kitchen and garden scraps, toss them in a compost bin and make fertiliser for your plants
A spadeful of compost for each plant a few times a year does the trick.
Australian households throw away more than three million tonnes of food a year, most of it fresh fruit and vegetables that end up rotting away in landfill.
A better way of dealing with food waste is to set up a compost system at home, turning your scraps into rich food your garden soil and plants will love.
The creation station
A three-bin compost system ensures you’re never without nutritious soil conditioner for the garden.
The simplest method is to just create three piles near each other, but this can look very messy.
Instead, use star pickets and chicken wire to make three-sided pens with open fronts, each measuring one metre square.
These will create neat piles, while allowing lots of air in from the sides. They are directly on top of the soil, so earthworms can move in and out, helping to speed the process.
Three bins gives you one to fill, one to mature, and one with compost all ready to be used.
Keep it contained
If you don’t have the space for an open bin system, there are plenty of products to suit your needs.
A tumbler bin makes aerating easy so it’s generally a shorter process from waste to compost. This type of bin is, however, the most expensive to buy.
Standard compost bins come in all shapes and sizes, with different types of lids and air vents.
Start your compost with kitchen scraps and garden refuse, such as grass clippings, pruning offcuts and leaves. Make sure any tough or large scraps are finely shredded, then water it until it is just damp.
Turn the compost weekly. If it’s too dry or cool, add more scraps or sprinkle with blood and bone. If it’s too wet, add dry leaves or twigs, shredded paper or garden soil. Aim to keep it as moist as a damp sponge.
For a small garden or flat, choose an indoor benchtop composter, which turns waste into liquid fertiliser.
TIP If the mix is smelly or contains lots of fruit waste, add a little lime.
What to compost
Only use biodegradable waste in the compost bin. The better the variety of materials added, the better the end product.
Some organic materials, like corn cobs, take too long to decompose. Diseased plants, weeds with seeds or runners and chemically treated items should never go in the compost.
- Fruit and veg peelings and cores
- 4 Cooked scraps
- 4 Coffee grounds
- 4 Small amounts of citrus peel
- 4 Tea leaves
- 4 Old bread
- 4 Eggshells
- 4 Shredded newspaper
- 4 Garden waste, grass and leaves
- 4 Non-woody prunings
- 4 Timber shavings
- 4 Hedge clippings
- 4 Cut flowers
- Fats and oils
- 8 Meat
- Dog and cat poo
- Corn cobs
- Weed seeds
- Walnut shells
- Dairy products
- Disposable nappies
Rodent proof bins
Open bins often attract rats and mice, so bury fresh waste in the centre to minimise this risk. If rodents are a problem, choose an enclosed compost bin, which can be rodent-proofed.
Use fine metal mesh at least 200mm deep and as long as the bin is round. Dig a trench just inside the edge of the bin and stand the mesh in the trench. Place the bin on top of the mesh before adding material.
Nature's little helpers
Worms punch well above their weight when it comes to the contribution they make to composting.
These greedy little creatures help break down decomposing organic matter and in the process neutralise soil pH. This happens when the wriggly critters release a thick, black, paste-like substance called castings. In a word, poo.
But not all worms are the same nor do they enjoy the same habitat.
Composting worms for farms, such as red wrigglers, live and feed in the top leaf litter layer while earthworms are burrowers who love cool, dark, moist and aerated environments.
Worm farms usually come with an outlet tap so you can drain the nutrient-rich liquid directly. Leave the tap open in case of rain and give the worms a sprinkle of water on hot days.
Get more out of worms
The worm farm will thrive in a semi-shaded area but not full sun as worms do not like excessive heat.
You want these wriggly hard workers doing overtime so they can produce loads of rich, healthy organic compost ready for your garden in as little time as possible.
TIP Dig a handful of worm castings into the soil before planting seedlings to aid root development and help the earth retain moisture.
Your worms should have eaten 80% of their food scraps before you add more.