Containing your compost

However you contain your compost there are a few things you need to take into account in order to create the ideal conditions for the microorganisms which will turn your rubbish into black gold (by which we mean compost, not oil!):

  • Most importantly, you want to keep those microorganisms snuggly and warm. Large compost heaps can simply sit in the open as they create enough heat by their mass to optimise the breakdown of the material. On a smaller scale, you can help your compost keep warm by ensuring it is kept sufficiently insulated. Your container should be at least 1m³ to help the heat build up.
  • The base of the container should be open to allow air and microorganisms to enter. You may wish to fix chicken wire over the open base to prevent rodents getting into the heap.
  • The heap should be covered to keep the warmth in and to prevent it getting too wet.
  • The compost should be kept moist, although not wet. It shouldn’t be allowed to dry out otherwise the microorganisms won’t survive. An open based container should let sufficient moisture in so long as it is checked regularly and additional water added as required. Containers with permeable sides (especially wire cages) may dry out quickly in dry weather.

The types of compost containers which meet these requirements include: wooden boxes, wire cages, a pit dug in the ground and plastic containers or tumblers (so long as they allow microorganisms and air to get into the compost). A piece of old carpet is ideal to cover your heap as it allows some moisture and air in, but not too much wet (just make sure it isn’t rubber backed).

There are also some other considerations when creating your compost:

  • Location is important. While you might not want it right outside your back door, it needs to be somewhere you can get to easily when you want to put stuff in it. Having to traipse down to the bottom of the garden to deposit a few potato peelings might mean you get lazy and put them in the bin instead.
  • You should also consider that the microorganisms don’t like extreme changes in temperature, so site your heap in a relatively sheltered and shady spot and not in a frost pocket. If you have to have your compost in an exposed site, you could try lining the container with cardboard to provide extra insulation.
  • You might want to consider having two containers next to each other so you can turn the compost by forking it from one container to another.
  • Multiple compost containers allow you to have ‘complete’ piles which are composting and others which can be added to.

Alternatives to compost heaps are wormeries. These are smaller, sealed containers containing compost worms (Eisenia foetida) into which kitchen waste can be added. The worms decompose the waste and the resulting drained off liquids used as plant feed.