Compost Bin Facts

What is composting and what is so special about the compost bin?

What is composting?

Composting is the process whereby you help speed up the decomposition process of organic waste (e.g. food waste, garden waste like grass clippings and dead leaves and twigs, animal waste, etc), and convert these waste material into useful fertilizing material for gardens and soils.

Composting has many benefits. For one, it helps to reduce waste, by allowing for the recycling of organic matter (yes, organic matter can be recycled too!), which might otherwise end up in the waste stream and find its way to the landfills or incinerators and subsequently contribute to pollution.

Composting also provides a cheap and easy means of “re-nourishing” soil naturally, by increasing the organic matter and essential nutrients in the soil, as well as improving its physical properties, thereby improving its ability to support plant growth. Compost applied to soil surface also helps the soil better retain its moisture and temperature, reduce soil erosion and control the growth of weeds. In other words, composting is an important component of green gardening.

While composting can take place under anaerobic conditions, when most people talk about composting at home, they are usually talking about aerobic composting. This is because aerobic composting takes place at a faster rate and usually does not produce foul smells. Whereas anaerobic composting will take years (the process is very much slower) and smells are emitted as a result of ammonia and methane being produced by the rotting organic waste. In fact, organic waste that lands up in the landfills actually goes through anaerobic composting.

With aerobic composting, there must be sufficient air and moisture for the composting microbes (e.g. bacteria, fungi, etc) to perform their task in breaking down the organic waste. At times, worms might be added (vermin-composting) to the compost bin to enhance the composting process. As the worms feed on the organic waste material, they help to break them down. The excretion produced by the worms adds further nutrients to the composting pile.

What is so special about the compost bin?

A compost bin can technically be any plastic or metal bin with a lid and that is large enough to hold the organic waste you have. In fact, some even innovate and make use of plastic bags as alternative compost “bins”.

Whatever the nature of the container you are using for composting, within any compost bin or bag, you actually control the levels of oxygen, water and temperature within to allow for (aerobic) composting to take place effectively (we will explain to you how to ensure the appropriate levels of these important components below). With a compost bin or bag, you can also avoid piles of unsightly organic waste lying open in your garden or kitchen, and keep your premises tidy.

What you will need for composting

The following are what you will need for your compost bin:

  • Oxygen -- You can aerate your compost pile by turning your compost pile over once or twice per month. This will actually help you to improve the rate of composting.

    For waste materials such as grass clippings which compact easily and restrict airflow in the compost pile, they would need to be mixed with other organic waste that can help introduce air spaces within the compost pile.

  • Moisture -- You can maintain the moisture in your compost pile by watering it periodically. The pile should be damp, but not soggy. You can start with amounts of water that is half the weight of your compost pile. It should be possible to squeeze out a few drops of water from a handful of your watered compost materials, but the compost pile should not be dripping wet.

    It is important to maintain the correct levels of moisture in your compost bin – the organic waste in a dry compost pile will not compost effectively, while composting in an overly watered compost pile may become anaerobic, substantially slowing down the process and emitting foul smell in the process.

    If your compost pile is too wet, add new dry materials to the pile and give it a good turn.

  • Warmth -- You can place your compost bin in partial sunlight to provide the compost pile the warmth it needs. Alternatively, you can also use a dark colored bin or plastic bag that is better at absorbing heat.

  • Nitrogen -- Nitrogen is needed for the composting microbes’ survival and reproduction. You can introduce natural sources of nitrogen to your composting pile using animal manure. Alternatively, you can use an off-the-shelf organic fertilizer that has a nitrogen content of 10% or higher. More nitrogen would have to be added if you are intending to compost sawdust.

  • Lime -- You might need to add lime to your compost pile if you are composting large proportions of vegetable or fruit waste or if the odor coming from your compost pile is becoming substantial. Alternatives like crushed shells (e.g. clam, oyster shells or egg shells) can also help to reduce the acidity of the compost pile.

  • Soil or completed compost -- This is to ensure that composting microbes would be present in your new compost pile.

To further enhance the composting process, you can help to reduce the size of the organic materials being composted. Shred the dead leaves, large branches and twigs before you add them into the compost pile. The larger surface area of the compost materials will allow the microbes to work faster at breaking down the organic matter.

Preparing the compost pile

Here’s how to lay your compost bin to allow for effective composting.

Your compost pile should actually be comprised of several layers. Within any layer, the bottom sub-layer should be the organic waste. This organic waste should be watered till it is damp. The sub-layer above the organic waste would be the nitrogen source. And finally, the top sub-layer would be the soil or completed compost. Such layering will provide for better mixing of the various materials and enhance the composting process.

When putting in place the layers, do make sure that the materials are not packed too tightly, for otherwise, the restricted flow of oxygen would hinder the composting process.

Every half to a month, the entire compost pile would need to be turned (i.e. mixed) to loosen it and allow for better oxygen aeration.

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