Simple composting brings such rewards

Comfry is an effective accelerator for the composting process. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Comfry is an effective accelerator for the composting process. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Garden and kitchen waste comes in many forms, but if it once had an animal or plant connection there is every chance it will make good composting material.

Whether this is processed in your own garden or collected as part of a communal recycling process, soil improvement is the winner.

Despite national efforts to promote recycling, we, as a nation, are still sending organic material to landfill that could easily be transformed into a soil enrichment item.

This garden produces far more waste than our composting system can deal with. It comes from shrubs, vegetable beds, lawns, greenhouse and ornamental borders.

Thank goodness there’s a green waste recycling facility, organised by Northumberland County Council, to cope with the excess. You can either take garden waste to the unit or have it collected. For an annual fee, the contents of two grey bins are emptied fortnightly and go to a processing plant, where they’re transformed into soil conditioner.

Composting is a relatively simple process. It involves bringing a balance of green and brown items of kitchen and garden waste together in an air-rich environment.

Green waste is rich in nitrogen, brown is mainly carbon. An excess of green results in a foul-smelling, mushy substance. Add too much brown and decomposition comes to a standstill. You can buy a proprietary activator to speed up the process, but adding a natural green item works just as well.

Kitchen greens, such as fruit, coffee grounds, tea bags and vegetable peelings, are valuable to the process. Vegetable garden debris, spent bedding plants, weeds and lawn mowings (used sparingly) are too. The most effective accelerators are comfrey and rhubarb leaves. They decompose quickly, and although the latter contains oxalic acid, which is poisonous when ingested, it’s safe for composting.

Natural carbon-rich brown waste can be shredded tree or shrub branches, but the majority can be traced to household use, natural products once connected to a living organism, cardboard and paper, for example.

Shred or screw-up the paper and cut cardboard into sections. Lint from a dryer, woollen or cotton garments can be used, and vacuum cleaner bag contents if the carpets have natural fibres. Hay, straw and hedge clippings can join the process, also wood ash from a fire.

Cheese, fish and cooked food are best avoided, unless you have a totally enclosed system. The litter of carnivores, such as dog and cat, should be avoided, but that of herbivorous pets, like rabbits, helps the process.