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We have put together some information for those who want to home compost and for those, particularly in rural areas, who currently do not have access to a food waste collection service and would like to keep food waste out of their general waste bin.
To start off, there are various methods by which you can do this at home but let’s be clear, it is not as simple as throwing all of your food and garden waste in a pile and expecting a good compost as a result.
What is compost?
Compost is crumbly, dark, humus-like material that is the result of the controlled aerobic biodegradation of organic material—or composting.
Let’s go back to Junior Certificate geography to remind us what humus is: it is a part of soil that contains recently broken down organic material, such as plants, dead organisms, manure etc. Essentially, it is the part of the soil, which contains all the recycled nutrients from a system that can be used again.
It generally is a lot darker in colour and moister than the rest of the soil, contains a large amount of nutrients and living organisms, and is a large portion of the topsoil in a natural ecosystem.
What is composting?
Composting means the controlled decomposition of organic material such as light garden waste, vegetables scraps, wood shavings, cardboard and paper. It is a means of recovery or recycling of organic matter into compost, for soil improvement or as a fertilizer.
The compost you can make at home is rich in nutrients and full of life and when used in your garden and on your plants, feeds the ecosystem of the soil and slowly releases nutrients that plants can absorb. Using compost is the foundation of maintaining healthy soil for stimulating all plant growth and creating a beautiful garden
Why compost at home?
Home composting will help to reduce the amount of waste that goes to the landfill or incineration [if you don’t have a food waste collection service] and re-uses valuable nutrients that would have otherwise gone to waste. Food waste is a huge problem worldwide and throwing out a big portion of the food produced is a lot of wasted energy.
How does composting work?
Composting is a biological process that requires food (organic materials), water and air. The process involves a wide variety of organisms, which are naturally present in our environment.
Here is the science
Aerobic Biodegradation – Your compost will require oxygen in order to be effective as all of the microorganisms are aerobic [they require oxygen to breakdown substances]. Very simply these organisms consume the organic material for energy to build proteins and to live, by doing so this breaks down complex organic structures into basic elements along with CO2, heat and water vapour.
Organisms Involved: In the beginning of the composting process, soil bacteria are the first to start breaking down plant tissue, they are the most numerous and effective decomposers.
Other composting organisms, including protozoa, fungi, moulds, worms, snails and other insects, also take part later on in the composting process. No one organism or group of organisms are responsible for composting. A succession of creatures makes it all happen. It is a web of life similar to the ecosystem in the soil.
Thermal Phases: Your compost will go through three thermal phases before it is ready for use.
The ingredients for good composting
The main thing to realise is that composting is different from natural decomposition because it is normally a carefully controlled environment.
A good compost heap is one in which:
In order to maintain this, control of the following variables is key:
There is an optimum range for each of these elements to produce the most efficient compost.
However, in general, a good compost heap simply has a good mix of materials (woody, dry material and rich, organic material), is kept moist, is aerated, and is maintained at a size and shape that is sufficient for the process to occur but is not so big as to stop oxygen from reaching the centre.
How do I know when it is ready?
Use your senses to tell when compost is ready:
If the composting material is hot, smells strong, or you can recognise the raw materials in the pile- then it is not ready to use and will need more time. Just let it rot a while longer.
How Do I Use Compost Around My Home?
Where there are plants, there is a need for compost. Compost has so many uses you will never run out of ways to use this black gold.
Compost can be used as a:
|Variable||Ideal range||Why It’s important||How to maintain|
||>40 – 65 ºC during thermophilic phase
->70 ºC to sanitise
|Moisture||45 – 60% by weight||
|Oxygen||5% oxygen at least||
|Nutrients (C:N P,S, and more)||High organic content.
C:N = 20-25:1 but 50:1 can work
|Size of Particles||(difficult to measure)||
Porosity of Substrate
|Size and Shape of Heap||In a non-insulated container = Min. of ~3.8 L (10 gallons).
Larger amounts =more mixing.