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Composting & Recycling: How to Compost

How to Compost

"Composting is a great way of reducing the amount of refuse that you have each week and homemade compost is great for your garden."

What Is Composting?
Composting is the biological decomposition of organic waste by bacterial, fungi, worms and other organisms under controlled conditions in the presence of oxygen.
Sound confusing? Well the good news is composting is now really easy and you do not have to be blessed with the gene for green fingers in order to make successful compost. The other good thing about composting is that it is a great way of reducing the amount of waste you will need to put in your weekly refuse bin. If you have never tried composting, you should give it a go. It's good fun and is something that can be easily set up at home or at school.

What can you compost?
As a basic rule you can compost anything that once was a plant. All plant materials contain nitrogen and carbon. Materials high in nitrogen are called "greens". Materials high in carbon are called "browns". There are a few things that can be composted that fall outside the description of a plant. The table below gives a summary of what you can put in your compost bin. Before adding materials to the compost bin, chip or shred items so that they are no bigger than 2-3 inches in size.

Composting Table

Coffee grounds Manure from vegetarian pets
Egg Shells

Tree prunings and woody materials (chopped)

Tea leaves and tea bags
Green Leaves Kitchen towel Hay and straw

Fruit and vegetable waste (uncooked)

Sea weed or garden pond cleanings
Newspaper, (in very small crumpled and shredded amounts)
Saw dust or wood shavings
Grass clippings in small amounts Old plants
Brown leaves

Cones of kitchen towels/toilet rolls
Cut and dead flowers   Wood/peat ashes
(no coal ashes)
 Light cardboard such as egg boxes

*Do not add meat, fish, fats, septic tank or toilet waste*

Getting Started:
A few simple tips will help you to get your compost heap started and will lead to perfect compost. A compost bin is an easy and cheap way to start composting.

  • Place your compost bin in a sunny level spot.
  • Please the bin directly onto grass or earth, so that the worms and other organisms can get in to their food!
  • Secure your bin so it won't get blown over.
  • Remember when it comes to composting the important thing to remember is that decomposers are not much different than people in their basic needs, so be sure to provide them with all of the basics.

Food: Carbon and Nitrogen, (Greens and Browns). Remember it is important to get a good mix of brown and green materials. About half-and-half of each will make good compost. So check the composting table to make sure you are getting the balance right. Keep a caddy or special bin near your kitchen bins and place all compostable waste in it. This will save on trips to the garden.

Water: Composting will take place quicker, if the pile is kept moist and not soggy. Add water or dry materials to your compost bin as needed to keep the balance correct.

Air: Make sure your compost pile gets plenty of air by stirring and mixing the contents regularly.

When is the compost ready to use?
The compost is finished composting and ready to use when it has a uniform look (like soil), dark colour, small particle size, and an "earthy" odour. Most of the materials you put in will no longer be recognizable. Use finished compost as a mulch, soil amendment, or potting soil.

Trouble shooting!

When carried out correctly, composting should be trouble free. If you do run into problems check out the troubleshooting guide below.

Composting Problem


Compost is dark & Soggy Add new fresh materials. Avoid putting grass clippings in at once as these will make the heap wet. Make sure the bin is situated in a warm sunny spot.
Compost Heap Smells Smell is an indication that air is not getting in to your heap. Turn the material each day and add soil or woody material to add air pockets.
Compost pile is not doing anything Composting will slow down in cooler weather. Add a special accelerator which can be got from garden centres.
Slugs in bin Slugs do help the composting process, but you can remove them by hand if you want.
Weeds growing in compost bin Make sure not to add plants with seeds to the compost heap. High temperatures will kill off seeds. To increase the temperature finely shred the materials that you add .This will make the mix hotter.
Vermin Compost bins are vermin proof, ensure that all the parts are clicked in tight and that the lid and door are kept closed.  Avoid placing cooked food in the compost bin. If you have seen vermin in your garden, it is better to place the compost bin in a central location away from walls and hedges. Plant lavender around the base of the bin to deter rats and mice.
Flies Add in a layer of soil to the bin or cover fresh kitchen waste with a layer of wet newspaper.

For further information please contact Sharon Cameron, Environment Awareness Officer, Mayo County Council. Telephone: 094 90 24444

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