Getting the right mix

The one about my home composting secrets…

#30DaysWild Day24

I simply had to write one blog post for 30 Days Wild about composting. I’m a bit of a compost zealot, both in the care I lavish over getting the right mix of waste material in my compost and in what I leave out. (Strictly no cooked food waste or cereal-based stuff- it can attract rats.)

Now as many a home-composting gardener will tell you it is key to get the right mix of browns and greens. ‘Browns’ are the drier, woodier more fibrous materials. ‘Greens’ describes soft, sappy plant matter. All too often a surfeit of greens is responsible for soggy, slimy, poorly rotted compost. Grass clippings, weeds, kitchen veg and fruit peelings are all considered greens. Strictly it is the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio: greens are high in nitrogen, brown, woody or cellulose-rich  materials are higher in carbon than nitrogen. I think the accepted wisdom is twice the browns to greens i.e. 2:1, though I think I rarely do better than 1:1, I just try never to have too thick a layer of grass clippings.

My secret to boost the carbon quotient is cardboard. Lots of it. In fact most of our recycling bin cardboard (and all of the shredded paper) gets diverted to the compost, hand-torn and scrunched to make for air pockets as composting is an aerobic process. Most of our food packaging goes this way. Cereal boxes, egg boxes and tissue boxes are all excellent. Some forms of board are less easy to compost. Toothpaste boxes for example are often glossy, with a foil or plasticised finish making them harder to tear up and the outer lamina of foil or plastic does not disintegrate in the compost. Likewise some cardboard packages have a waxed surface to help them stay intact with frozen goods. These are harder to rip and often I’ll flatten these for the recycling bin instead.

I operate a two-bin system. Once filled, the first gets dug over and ‘turned’ into the second to mature a bit longer. Then the first bin is empty to start again. Materials are layered up , e.g. grass or green stuff, cardboard, kitchen scraps more cardboard or shredded paper then grass again, always in thin layers. Soft hedge clippings (privet is wonderful) interleaved with grass work well when grass clippings are profuse relative to cardboard. In the winter month it’s mainly kitchen compostables layered between cardboard, so I’m tearing up cartons all year round. (Those that my son doesn’t get to first for his construction projects – He is six and views the recycling collection as his own private feedstock.)

It may sound like a lot of effort. Well, yes it probably is, to be honest but it’s just pure habit now. Does it work? Well I just turned my compost bin this week and began layering for the next batch. The finished product is pretty decent, after one year.

How does your compost go? Do you struggle to achieve the brown and green proportions? Do you add cardboard or chipped branches? The most awesome and friable compost I ever produced was in my Dad’s metre cubed wooden bin, when using grass clippings layered with mulch from his garden ‘chozzler’. I think the official name is a garden chipper. How about you?

Author: Tim Burkinshaw

I work in ecology and biodiversity in North Yorkshire. I'm often found outdoors snapping nature and landscapes or spotting birds. Always aspiring to be a better naturalist, but I have a particular thing for wetlands. As a gardener I enjoy having my hands in the earth, and getting the perfect mix of greens and browns in my compost! As a Daddy I'm somewhere between pretty good and awesome. On a good day. If you spot me and my hat in real life or on social media do say hello!

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