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Composting Frequently Asked Questions

Back to Composting Guide

Should I get a Bokashi bucket or a compost bin?

A Bokashi bucket is only for kitchen scraps. If you want to process garden materials, you need a compost bin or tumbler. If you live in a flat and don't have a garden, a Bokashi bucket would be adequate, provided you have access to land where you can bury the fermented scraps. Worm farms can be used also for converting many kitchen scraps (not meat, fish and dairy products) into useful organic products and liquid fertiliser.

Using both a Bokashi bucket and a compost bin is probably the ideal combination for everyone with a garden who wants to make good use of kitchen scraps, while also

What is the difference between a Bokashi bucket and a kitchen tidy?

In a Bokashi bucket you can collect all organic kitchen residues, including meat, fish and dairy products without them becoming putrid. The addition of desirable microbes ensures fermentation and minimal (bad) odour [***] the Bokashi bucket. The kitchen tidy has to be emptied more often (at least once or twice per week) to prevent development of bad odour. Meat, fish, and dairy product are often not collected in kitchen tidys due to odour problems. The Bokashi bucket on the other hand is more expensive to purchase, and use of Bokashi mix will incur ongoing costs, regardless whether you purchase it or make it yourself.

Do I need more than one compost bin?

If you do not have a lot of stuff to compost, then you can probably manage with one bin. Regularly remove the lower layers of finished compost, and put the uncomposted material back into the bin to carry on composting. Many people like to have two bins or two tumblers. That way one can be filled whilst the other is left for the compost to become ready.

Do I need to mix the heap?

You can make perfectly good compost without mixing or turning the heap, especially if you have mixed up the various types of material before adding them to the bin. If your compost tends to be rather too dry or too wet (or you are not sure how it is going), mixing the contents of the bin now and again gives you the opportunity to adjust the balance of materials. It can also speed up the process if the heap was short of air. Simply lift the bin off the heap. Mix everything up - adding extra material to make it wetter or drier if required then put it all back into the bin.

Turning and mixing is made easy with a compost tumbler. However, material in a tumbler tends to dry out, and you need to make sure it is sufficiently moist (not wet) for composting.

How do I get rid of the ants in my heap?

Ants are just one of the many types of creature involved in the composting process so there is generally no need to try and get rid of them. If they are stinging ants, which are annoying you, mixing the contents of the bin regularly may get rid of them. The presence of ants can also indicate that the heap is too dry. If this is the case, mix in wetter materials or water the heap cautiously.

Why isn't my compost composting?

If you are new to composting, you may just need to be a little more patient. Composting is a biological process that does take time and slows down in cold weather. It will also be slower if the heap is too dry, or the contents are all rather tough. Adjust the moisture level, and speed up the process, by mixing in grass clippings and other materials that are quick to rot. Chop up chunky items.

Can I make compost in just a few months?

Yes, if 'Greens' and fine 'Browns' (e.g. shredded leaves and dry herbaceous plants) are composted in a tumbler that is kept moist and turned regularly (weekly, in summer it is possible to generate compost in two to three months.

To make compost quickly in a static bin you need to fill it completely in one go, using a good mixture of materials (chopped up or shredded if chunky). The contents of the bin will get hot in a few days, speeding up the process. When it has cooled down, re mix the heap. Often the volume of composted material is insufficient (700 to 1,000 L is needed) to heat up properly and for any length of time. External temperatures influence the rate of breakdown in small piles, which is why composting is faster in summer than in winter.

Do I need to buy a compost activator?

A compost activator is simply something that gets the composting process started. Grass clippings or other fresh green plant material will work as well as any activator that you could buy. People, who don't have access to natural activators, may find the ones you can buy useful.

Can I put autumn leaves on my compost heap?

Autumn leaves are a useful 'Brown' material, to balance out too much wet stuff in a heap. Store some dry in the autumn to use over the following months. Large quantities of autumn leaves will slow down a compost heap – so they are better kept separate. Simply stuff them, wet, into black plastic sacks (or into a simple wire mesh container) and leave them to rot for a year. They turn into 'leafmould', which is a good soil conditioner and potting compost ingredient.

What can I do with all my lawn clippings?

Lawn clippings can be composted if you have plenty of 'Browns', such as autumn leaves, tree & shrub prunings, or paper / cardboard to balance the mixture. If you still have too many grass clippings for the compost heap, just leave them on the lawn in summer. They will soon disappear back into the grass. This works best if your mover has a 'mulching' mode. Grass clippings can also be put on the soil as mulch around your garden plants, but it tends to form a dense mat that restricts water infiltration.

How can I prevent rats getting into my compost heap?

Signs of rats or mice are generally only seen in a compost heap if they are already in the area. If you live close to fields, livestock or have a creek close to your house the chance of rats being around is higher – but they are increasingly common these days. If it is a concern then avoid putting meat, fish or cooked food scraps in your compost bin. It is difficult to make your compost bin 100% rat proof. You can deter rats by lining the base of the bin with a heavy-duty metal mesh, and also the sides and top if you have an open bin. The mesh holes should be less than 1.5cm in diameter. Chicken wire is not suitable. The most effective mesh is the type used by builders to strengthen concrete. There are bins which have bases available designed to prevent pests [***] entering. The compost bin should also have a tightly fitting lid that can be clamped on, and some even have a closed base. Compost tumblers might also be a solution as they are off the ground, and fully enclosed.

I have seen slugs in my compost heap. Will they harm my garden?

Slugs are a useful part of the composting process and will stay feeding in the bin. When you finally spread the finished compost any slug eggs that might be present are likely to dry out before they can hatch. A compost bin will also harbour other creatures that eat slugs - so keep composting.

Can I put weeds in my compost heap?

Annual weeds are fine to compost. If they have gone to seed they will still compost well, though you are likely to get seedling weeds growing in the compost when you apply it to the garden. These can easily be hoed off, or you can dig the compost into the soil to reduce germination. Persistent perennial weeds that spread easily, such as Madeira vine, couch grass and bindweed are best kept separate. Put them in a black plastic sack with some grass clippings and leave them in the sun to rot for up to six months. Once all signs of the roots have disappeared, add the sludge to your compost heap. Alternatively put perennial weeds into your organics collection bin or take them to your local green waste collection site. Large-scale commercial compost heaps heat up to high temperatures (> 60? C) that will kill them off.

Is compost safe to handle?

Yes, as long as you take the usual hygiene precautions. Keep any cuts covered, or wear gloves when handling compost. Wash hands well after handling any compost. Don't breath in dust [***] dry compost always keep it damp. Keep your anti-tetanus jabs up to date if you are gardening.

Can I compost orange peel?

Yes. There seems to be a common misconception that citrus peel shouldn't be added to a compost heap. It will compost, mixed with other ingredients.

Does a compost heap breed pests?

When you open the lid of your compost bin, you may notice all sorts of little creatures in the compost. These will simply be getting on with the composting and will not fly out to attack your garden plants.

How can I get rid of the tiny black flies that appear in a cloud when I open the lid of my compost bin?

These are fruit flies and are harmless. They tend to appear in warm weather, especially when there is lots of kitchen organics on the compost heap. Try to cover kitchen organics with a layer of something else when you add it to the bin. If you keep the lid of the bin ajar the flies will not build up in such numbers, although this may give access to other animals.

Do I need a shredder?

Tough and chunky items will compost much more quickly if chopped or shredded. A powered shredder is great if you have lots of woody prunings and evergreen hedge clippings to deal with. Small home shredders are often not powerful enough to be efficient – so it can be more cost effective to hire a shredder now and again, or to share a larger shredder with neighbours and friends.

Can I use my homemade compost to sow seeds in and pot up my plants?

You can use compost as one of the ingredients in a home made seed or potting compost, but on its own it would be too rich. Two-year-old leafmould makes good sowing compost on its own.

Can I compost hedge clippings?

Fresh clippings (whole or shredded) can be used for mulch on pathways or under mature trees. Otherwise they should be composted before use. As they usually come in large quantities, it is best to make them into a separate heap. Put the prunings through a shredder. Fill a compost bin with the shreddings. Water the material as you fill the container. Add alternate layers of grass clippings, manure, blood & bone, or use a nitrogen rich liquid to water the prunings. Cover the heap. Within a few days the heap may heat up. Leave to compost for 3 months or more. By this time the contents of the heap will not have turned into compost, but it should be a dark brown colour. It can now be used as mulch on shrubberies and other established plantings, or it can be composted longer until it is finished compost.

Can I compost diseased plants?

Don't compost plants with persistent diseases such as white rot, sclerotinia, wilts and clubroot that can survive for many years in the soil. Many diseases only survive on living plants, so they will not survive in a compost heap.