Composting is a big and sometime unnecessarily complicated subject, but you can save yourself a lot of time and expense if you work out what sort of composter you are. ‘Utility composters’ make compost as a way of managing their household and garden waste, whereas ‘productive composters’ see compost as the end product, and take as much care over making it as they would a good soup.
Utility composters view composting as being a way to deal with some of the green waste that they produce. Every plot and every household creates green waste, but it’s only truly ‘waste’ if you throw it away. Rather than bagging this material up for the local authority to take care of, utility composters deal with it by composting as much as possible. The compost produced at the end is just a welcome by-product.
If this sounds like you, the chances are you use ‘cold composting’ – essentially just piling the waste up in a heap and allowing it to rot down. Provided you follow a few basic dos and don’ts, this is a sensible and pragmatic approach to dealing with your garden waste (and potentially some household waste too). It has the big benefit of needing very little effort, and there’s no need to buy expensive equipment to do it. But there are a few disadvantages too:
- You can’t compost anything seedy or vigorous enough to survive the composting process
- You can’t compost anything that will attract vermin, so food waste from the house has to be carefully sorted
- It can be slow, taking up to 18 months to rot down properly
For productive composters, compost itself is what it’s all about. If you view compost as an asset rather than a by-product, it changes the whole way you approach your garden. Green waste (‘greens’) suddenly becomes a raw material rather than something to be disposed of, and productive composters sometimes grow green manure crops specifically for compost-making. Dry woody material (‘browns’) are often stored under cover until they are needed, and compost bins are actively built and managed.
This kind of ‘hot composting’ needs more skill and attention than cold composting, and you also need to buy or purpose-build a suitable compost bin (or bins). Hot composting is much faster than cold, and you can compost a much wider range of material including cooked food and weeds. Hot composting can also, believe it or not, be a compelling hobby. Some people get so enthusiastic about it that they choose to become ‘master composters’, teaching friends, neighbours and local groups about composting and helping to set up community composting groups.
There are other options for composting too, including vermicomposting, Bokashi composting, leafmould making and more. Whether you’re an experienced composter or fancy getting your hands dirty for the first time, keep an eye on Farm In My Pocket over the coming weeks as we develop this section of our website.