Compost Mini FAQ Part 1

There are lots of people who have various concerns about compost heaps. Most of these concerns and fears can be allayed by having the composting process explained and some urban myths dispelled.

Here is a mini FAQ about compost heaps to help you to understand them better:

1. What is compost?

Compost is the end result of naturally biodegraded or broken down organic matter. This happens when organic matter such as plant cuttings, grass mowings vegetable peelings and discarded leaves, in fact anything that is vegetative matter is mixed together and piled up in a heap.

As long as the air can freely circulate throughout the pile, sufficient moisture is present and natural bacterium are present, the heap will start to rot, or degrade. As this happens the heap will heat up as the bacteria in the heap increase in numbers and break down the organic material speeding up the rotting process.

After several weeks, the material changes from it's original appearance into a brown, odourless, crumbly material that is packed full of nutrients and minerals which will enrich any soil that it is added to.

2. Do compost heaps smell bad?

A correctly built and managed compost heap will not smell of anything except a sweetish smell not dissimilar to freshly cut grass. Badly built heaps that do not allow air to circulate or are built exclusively of one material, for instance grass mowings, will not break down correctly and will smell bad.

It is important when building your compost heap that you include many different types of plant material mixed well together and aerated. A compost activator should be added and mixed into the heap.

Propriety activator pellets can be bought from garden centres and DIY stores, but a natural activator can be made by adding fresh stinging nettles throughout the pile or adding fresh horse manure. This will not make the heap smell bad, but actually make it smell good!

3. Do compost heaps attract rats and other vermin?

Firstly, it is possible that vermin will be attracted to a compost heap only if fresh vegetable kitchen waste is dumped on top and not covered. The best way to stop vermin being interested in your heap is to use a tight wire mesh cage inside the outer walls of the compost bun and to cover the heap with a heavy well fitting square of old Hessian backed carpet or, completely cover the whole bin with a square of ply or chipboard.

As long as there are air holes in the sides of the compost bin's walls to allow the air to freely circulate, the inner wire mesh will keep rats out.

Secondly, many people don't realize that wherever they live, no matter how sterile you believe your habitat to be, you are never further than six feet away from a rat. Fact! So a compost heap should be least of your concerns.

4. Can I put paper on a compost heap?

Of course you can! Remember, paper is made from pulped wood which is an organic material. So paper and cardboard roughly torn up into smallish strips can and should be added to a compost heap to aid with the variety of the mixture of organic material.

5. Can I put rotten meat or leftover bones on a compost heap?

technically, anything that once lived can be composted, but meat and bones can contain certain bacteria that might not be beneficial to the heap, so these are best disposed of. Better still, if you have a dog, you can give any leftover food to him! Don't give a dog chicken bones though, as they have a tendency to splinter.

6. What about my cat or dog's poop?

That's a definite no-no, as cat and dog faeces contains harmful bacteria. One last "however" is that as long as you're healthy, human urine is actually a good compost activator!

Just don't let your neighbours catch you "activating" your compost bin the way nature intended!