As I stuck a hoe into my compost bin to give it a stir, a startled rat flew out of the top. I’m not sure who squeaked the loudest but it was the culmination of a serious of compost related disasters. I had read all the advice to mix the ‘green’ and ‘brown’ matter and obviously had decided to ignore it all as it would probably rot down ‘eventually’. Eventually turned out to be a very long time. I had bought myself a wooden beehive style composter as it had a lid to prevent vermin (didn’t work and broke within a week) and was slatted to allow air to circulate. I then proceeded to cram it with the shavings and newspaper from the guinea pig clean outs with the odd fruit and vegetable trimmings from the kitchen so needless to say, I did not have any compost. In fact, I think this bin took at least about a year to sort out. The newspaper I think went soggy and then seemed to jam into one solid mass which could then not be moved. This wasn’t even the only problem with my compost so I thought I’d write a post about my compost disasters so hopefully you can avoid them. Compost shouldn’t take too much effort, you are basically getting something for nothing and making your own compost means you also dispose of some of your waste in a useful manner.
Mistake One – not mixing ‘brown’ and ‘green’ matter properly
As mentioned I did not get the right mix to produce good (or indeed any) compost. I now have n oxo bin in my kitchen which is lidded and easy to clean and fits on the window sill. All vegetable and fruit peelings go in here along with the egg shells. I mix this in with grass cuttings and other garden waste (except weeds and anything too ‘woody’). I also mix in chicken manure and shavings and the guinea pig shavings and poo. I have found that actually lining their cage with newspaper makes not much difference and I can manage without this. Ours are out in the garden all day and only use the indoor cage at night so not such a big problem. Obviously cleaning out the chickens or cutting the grass producing a mass of one type of matter for the compost so I now have a couple of buckets on the go. This means I can clean out the animals and put half the waste on the compost heap, maybe mix in some kitchen scraps and then when I cut the grass put grass cuttings in and mix in the rest of the animal waste. This seems to work quite well although it has taken a while for the compost heap to recover my initial ill treatment of it.
Mistake Two – thinking one bin would be enough
There are five of us in our family, plus two guinea pigs and four chickens all producing products that can be composted. We also have a garden with grass and vegetable areas. One bin was never going to be enough. I have just started a second bin but I think I will need at least four bins in total to make best use of all the scraps, cuttings and manure. My second bin was a standard bin made of recycled pastic with a hatch at the bottom to collect the compost. I have looked into tumblers which are expensive and research shows these can take slightly longer to break down (as the usual bugs and insects don’t have access to a tumbler this makes sense) I also dithered over a hot composter but these seemed to take slightly more difficult to get the balance right (and I don’t have a great track record here) and were much more expensive. I wasn’t completely convinced about putting cooked food in a composter (see earlier rat trauma) although some claim to be vermin proof. I might try the cheaper end of the scale and avoid the cooked food just to see if it composts everything else a bit quicker.
Mistake Three – putting the compost bin in a shady spot
The reason hot composters work quicker than normal composters is because they are hot, as the name suggests. When I first sited my compost bin, I didn’t really think about this and put it in a very shady spot against a hedge. This is one of the other reasons nothing happened for many months. It was very, very cold, particularly in winter so nothing was broken down. I have had to resite somewhere a bit sunnier. Compost can also get a bit dry so when its really hot it also helps to water it.
Mistake Four – having the compost bin too far from the vegetable patch
The compost was mostly going to be used on the vegetable patch so it would have made sense to have the compost bin next to the vegetable patch. I didn’t. This meant a lot of tooing and froing with the wheelbarrow. The new sunny spot is also next to the vegetable patch so should make life a lot easier.
Mistake Five – Using ‘compostable’ liners for the kitchen compost bin
I thought I would make my life a bit easier by lining the little bin used for the kitchen scraps with compostable liners. These supposedly make life easier as you can just throw the bag of kitchen scraps onto the compost bin and they will compost down. Again, I think the word you are looking for here is ‘eventually’. I have half rotted bags of vegetable peelings on my heap now as they are taking ages to rot down. Just using the bin and washing it out after emptying is so much easier and one less thing to buy/consume. Hopefully they will be gone soon along with the ‘compostable’ tea bags which also seem to take and age to get rid of. Use loose leaf tea and a teapot. Save yourself the hassle. A pot of tea also lends itself quite well to a plate of scones in the same way a teabag does not.