The miracle of compost

The miracle of compost

If you haven't started composting your peelings and food waste, there's no time like the present to get into the habit. Deco reader and interiors photographer Mike Harris has, and he's keen to spread the word as well as the mulch

Mike Harris's Kent garden is kept looking tiptop thanks to his homemade compost

If you're not already composting food scraps, don't delay. Mike Harris asserts his Kent garden looks all the more splendid since he and wife Val got the composting bug. See below for some great kitchen composting bins.

Gardens are miraculous places with their magnificent displays of colour that appear each year out of an apparently lifeless winter garden.

And within the garden, the biggest miracle for me is the compost heap: the perfect place for the useful disposal of organic household and garden waste. Did you know that up to half of all household waste can be composted? not only  vegetable trimmings and teabags but vacuum-cleaner dust, cereal boxes, shredded paper and wood ash. Alternative disposal would be landfill (with its harmful methane emissions) or incineration, which produces CO2.

What I love is that not only is it a convenient system for getting rid of waste, it produces free compost, a rich and valuable source of mineral nutrients plants need to grow.

To think, this lovely rich compost was veg peelings and fish bones not long ago
Mike at his beloved compost heap

I'm no gardening expert and I don't want to teach any grandmothers to suck eggs, but if you grimace at the thought of a container in your kitchen full of scraps, well... let me take you through the cycle.

We put fruit and veg peelings, teabags, coffee grinds, along with loo rolls, egg boxes and torn up cereal boxes into a compost bin by the sink. When full, can I say that it's NOT a putreying stinking mass, and I tip it onto the compost heap. Onto this same heap go grass mowings, garden cuttings and prunings (except if they're very woody). The heap fills up quite quickly, especially during the growing season… but this is when the miracle occurs.

Because when your back is turned, the ecosystem gets to work: millipedes, slugs, snails and woodlice shred and digest the plant materials as they decay, creating a greater surface area for funghi and bacteria to work on.

Cream compost box by Burgon & Ball from All Tidied Up
Brush steel compost bin with bamboo handle with odorsorb filters from Simple Human, £49.99
If you don't want a container, dump your peelings in these compostable paper bags from Burgon & Ball
Ceramic Orla Kiely compost pot with filter in lid, £55 from Bliss Home. Just don't confuse it with the sugar caddy
Oxo easy grip compost bin, £15, is shaped to allow for ventilation, so no need to buy filters
Judge compost pail with lid on
Attractive white ceramic compost pail with carbon filters by Judge Cookware, £27.50
Does what it says on the tin... by Garden Trading, from Amara
Brabantia built-in separator has a compartment ideal for peelings
From Kilner, a steel compost bin with filter. £26. www.kilnerjar.co.uk
Compost accelerator from Burgon & Ball for those who don't believe in delayed gratification
Black enamel-coated steel 2.5L bin, £30, from www.typhoonhousewares.com

Worms and fly larvae burrow through the heap, eating and aerating it as they go. In the process, the heap dramatically reduces in size, so when you return to add further waste a couple of weeks later, a once full heap is now only half-full. You fill it again, turn your back for a couple of weeks, and the same miraculous result occurs.

We're lucky enough to have space in our garden for two 6 x 4ft heaps, each of which rises to about 5ft. Over the space of a year, the first heap gets properly full. At this point, usually in the autumn, the second heap, which has been abandoned for the best part of a year, apart from occasional turning, is ready to have the compost dug out and spread over the flower beds as a mulch. This suppresses weeds, helps retain soil moisture and feeds plants with nitrogen and phosphorous.

Not only does this save you money from not having to buy compost and nutrients, but it helps to prevent the destruction of natural habitats through peat extraction.
 
But composting can be done on any scale. If you've got a small garden, use an outdoor compost bin, usually available cheaply through your local authority. These can be made of plastic or wood, the stacking variety being a popular option whereby you build and fill the bin a section at a time, leave it for 6-9 months, then unpack the compost by lifting off the sections of the bin.
 
And if you want some soothing bedtime reading, can I recommend Ken Thompson’s excellent book Compost, which reassuringly concludes with the words: ‘Even if you do everything wrong, you will still make decent compost eventually.'
 
Great composting bins for your kitchen
 
There are plenty of good containers on the market for kitchen food scraps, but if you want something that isn't hideous (ie those brown plastic pails from your council), check out:
  • Simple Human
  • Burgon & Ball
  • Oxo
  • Judge Cookware
  • Brabantia
  • Garden Trading
  • Typhoon Homewares
  • British Bins
  • Kilner

Online retailers include All Tidied Up, Amara and Bliss Home.  

Good compost means good tulips
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