October 4, 2008

More Than One Route to Perfect Compost ; GARDENING Go Green, Get Composting. KATE HODAL Explains How


Anyone who's ever tried to compost and ended up with nothing but soggy lettuce and banana skins, or a Bokashi bin that smells like Freddy Krueger's underwear, knows that being green isn't always easy.

But with a bit of knowhow, you can avoid some of these pitfalls and reap the benefits you thought were out of your reach. Because home composting, whether it's a wormery, a Bokashi bin, or saving fruit and veg scraps to put onto your compost bin, doesn't just give you nice, enriched soil to feed back into your plants.

It also cuts down on your waste, clears our air, and keeps our planet from overheating, says Carl Nichols, head of home composting at Recycle Now.

"When food waste is taken to landfill, it breaks down without oxygen because it's buried," explains Nichols.

"That means that it decomposes into methane instead of compost, a greenhouse gas that's damaging our atmosphere.

"One-third of all household waste can be composted at home," he says.

"And 90 per cent of Brits have access to open space - that could be a balcony or a backyard or a garden - so there are lots of different places where you can use the compost and keep your composting system."

Explains Heather Gorringe, founder of the UK's first wormery- selling company Wiggly Wigglers (wigglywigglers.co.uk, 01981 500 391) "If you're trying to eliminate kitchen waste, a wormery or a Bokashi bin would both be good ideas.

"Wormeries are perfect for someone who produces daily food waste, whereas a Bokashi bin is better for people who don't want to bother and only have some food scraps sometimes."

While wormeries and Bokashis can both take cooked food, they differ from compost bins, which can only take raw fruit and veg for food waste. Recycle Now's website (recyclenow.com) has a step-by- step guide to help you figure out how to compost, where to compost, and what kind of home composting system is best for you.

Bokashi is Japanese for fermented organic matter, and that's pretty much what's happening in your Bokashi bin.

You add cooked and uncooked food waste, sprinkle some Bokashi bran (filled with bacteria, yeast and fungi) on it, and watch your food ferment odourlessly.

It will not turn into compost but look like slightly pickled food scraps instead, which can be a bit confusing at first.

"Bokashi is great because you can be completely blase with it," says Gorringe.

"You add the waste into your Bokashi bin, it gets fermented, and when you put it out into your garden and compost heap, it breaks down faster than you can say rot."

Bokashi bins are good for people with little space (the bins are tiny), small amounts of food, and some outdoor space where they can compost the fermented food waste.

All in all, says Gorringe, "if you don't want to put any effort into your home composting system, Bokashi bins are all forgiving."

Just keep in mind that the fermented scraps have to be disposed of - usually buried or composted - so some outdoor space is needed.

Wormeries are raised up off the ground and have a few tiers - either square or circular - with a tap on the bottom that lets out excess water and wormcast. You add cooked and uncooked food into the top tier, and the worms (you can get as many as 1,000 to 1,800) work their way up to the food, producing wormcast (liquid fertiliser) and compost as they break down your food - they can eat and digest up to half their own body weight each day.

"Worms are the world's fastest natural composters," enthuses Gorringe.

"They're incredibly efficient but people generally think things can go too wrong with a wormery."

A bit like a compost bin, wormeries cannot be too dry, or the worms will suffocate, and they can't be too wet, or they'll drown.

Keeping a good balance of wet food waste - such as fruit scraps, coffee grindings, and veg peelings - with dry waste - such as loo roll cardboard and shredded newspaper, will keep your wormery going strong.

"But," says Gorringe, "wormeries are not good when you only have occasional bits of waste."

The wormery also has to be kept outside, so is ideal for those with a small outdoor or garden space or for those looking for an alternative to a compost bin.

Unless you're a raw foodie, it's unlikely that a compost bin will take care of your kitchen waste. Compost bins can't take any cooked food, bones, meat, dairy products, diseased plants or weeds, but are perfect for green thumbs with loads of garden waste and lots of raw fruit and veg peelings.

"Compost is incredibly easy," says Nichols.

"All you do is add brown and green ingredients to it and 9-12 months later you have compost. You don't have to stir or mix it, but if you add too much of one material, like too much grass, your compost can get soggy, dense and wet."


Lift, split and replant clumps of perennials which have become congested.

Cut back the tallest stems of quick-growing shrubs such as lavatera and buddleia by a third n Aerate your lawn with a fork to encourage air flow and drainage and deter moss.

Continue to harvest beetroot, sweetcorn and onions.

Plant broad beans directly into the soil.

Pick any unripened fruit from outdoor tomatoes and compost the plants.

Take cuttings of conifers and evergreen trees and shrubs and root them in a propagator.

Protect tender plants such as gunnera with a layer of straw

Sweep up and stack fallen leaves to rot down into leaf mould n Stake large Brussels sprout plants.

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