Gardening: ‘Composting saves money and the earth’

Phyl Boyce

Reporter:

Phyl Boyce

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With all the talk of water charges it is easy to forget some of the other services costing us money and how we can reduce them. Most households pay to have their waste collected but by recycling more, use of bring centres and composting it is possible to eliminate a lot of this cost. Over one-third of household waste is suitable for compost. This reduces the amount of material going to land-fill sites and saves you money. All plants benefit from regular applications of compost to promote strong growth.

With all the talk of water charges it is easy to forget some of the other services costing us money and how we can reduce them. Most households pay to have their waste collected but by recycling more, use of bring centres and composting it is possible to eliminate a lot of this cost. Over one-third of household waste is suitable for compost. This reduces the amount of material going to land-fill sites and saves you money. All plants benefit from regular applications of compost to promote strong growth.

Compost Heap

The size of the compost heap will depend upon the amount of material you have available for composting. The minimum size of a compost heap should be 3 feet square. For the small garden, buy a compost cone, these are available from garden centres. Add the waste at the top and remove the compost at the bottom. If you are worried about attracting rodents place a layer of fine mesh wire at the bottom of the cone and turn it up around the edges. Place the cone directly on the soil so that useful earthworms can move in and out.

For the larger garden, construct a compost bin using planks of timber or wooden pallets or build one using concrete blocks or bricks, leave plenty of air gaps between the blocks. The advantage of concrete blocks is that they will last a long time and you can grow climbers up the sides to conceal the compost bin. A bin measuring 5 feet long, 4feet wide by 4 feet high will suit the average garden. The bin should be constructed directly on the soil. Ideally you need two compost bins, while one bin is been filled, the material in the second bin is breaking down. Place a removable front to the bin to remove the organic-rich compost when you need it.

Filling the compost bin

The ingredients for the compost bin can be divided into two types: green and brown material. The green material is full of nitrogen and includes grass cuttings, vegetable peelings, flowers and leafy hedge trimmings. The brown material contains a high percentage of carbon and is slow to break down. The brown material is made up of bark or wood chips, autumn leaves, straw, shredded newspaper, cardboard and eggshells. As a rule of thumb, roughly equal amounts of green and brown material should be mixed together. Materials like fish, dairy products, coal ashes and magazines should not be added to the compost heap.

Branches and strong stems, collected after pruning, can be shredded using an electric garden shredder. Do not add diseased material to the compost heap to avoid spreading the disease. Avoid the roots of perennial weeds like couch grass, bindweed and dandelion.

Begin your compost heap by placing a layer of brown material at the bottom and then add alternate layers of green and brown material. The more varied the ingredients are, the better the process will work. The material in the heap is broken down by bacteria which will thrive if given sufficient air, water and heat. Keep heat in and rain out by covering the heap with a sheet of plastic or carpet.

Wormery

A wormery is used to break down household waste such as cooked food. The easiest way to start a wormery is to buy a flat packed unit available from a number of suppliers who will post the kit to you. It costs about €170 plus postage. The kit comes with complete assembly instructions. The kit contains a collecting tray with a tap, three working trays, a lid and a bag of worms.

Place the bedding block supplied in the lower working tray and empty the worms onto it. Spread a thin layer of household waste on top of this. Slowly over the next few weeks add small amounts of waste until the first working tray is full. The worms like a mixture of about 25% fibre and 75% food waste, such as cooked or uncooked vegetables, tea bags, pasta, rice, and bread. Use shredded newspaper to provide the fibre. The kit is designed for household waste so it is not suitable for grass-cuttings. Do not add citrus fruits or glossy paper. The liquid fertiliser produced is collected from the tap. This fertiliser is diluted ten parts to one with water to produce a valuable liquid fertiliser for plants.

If you’d prefer not to see the worms in action there are plastic food scrap composters which are designed to deter vermin but still provide benefit of composting nearly all household food items but lacks the steady elixir from a good wormery.

Flower and Garden Club

The Limerick Flower and Garden Club will host a demonstration by Mary McKee from Ennis at the Greenhills Hotel at 8pm on Tuesday February 10.