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Types of composters

garden-compostersThere are different ways to make good compost. Depending on the space you have available and the types of materials you want to compost there is a composting system for you.

Before you choose, it is important to remember that composting requires effort to do properly so the best method is always the one that is most convenient for you. There are many different systems to choose from – from the home made pallet bin to expensive electronic composters. The most common methods are outlined below with information about the system and the types of materials (food or garden) it suits best.

This might help narrow things down a bit for you.

Compost Bins and Compost Heaps

hc-system-1This is the most common form of composting in Ireland with many local authorities supplying these compost bins at reduced prices.With this form of composting materials are simply added to the heap, composting area or bin as they are generated. Generally, materials that are added in one season are ready as compost for the next. The speed of composting and the quality of the end product can be improved by chopping and mixing materials as they are being added, monitoring and maintaining the proper moisture levels, operating more than one heap or bin at a time and turning the compost regularly. This type of composting works best if given plenty of air pockets and space for air to flow through so adding twigs, woodchips, straw, and cardboard helps. And always remember: try for a good mix of greens and browns – these are the essential ingredients.

Suitable Materials: Soft landscape materials to start with, e.g. grass cuttings, weeds, leaves, old plants, flowers, etc. Vegetative food scraps can be buried into the composting materials once the compost heap is well established.

Main Advantages:

  • Simple, low maintenance system. Better if turner regularly – it will compost faster.
  • Ideal for homes with small gardens and for people who do not want to spend a lot of time working on their compost.
  • Can also be used to compost turf/sod or leaves on their own.

For more information check out our information sheets:

Tumblers and Turning Systems

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Turning systems can be multi-bin, tumblers or rolling spheres. The best way to operate these is to make a whole batch at once and then turn it every 5 – 0 days, depending on the system used. Batches of compostable materials are mostly made up of a combination of green and brown garden materials (make sure they are chopped up). Some food scraps can be added when the batch is made or when the materials are turned for the first time. For multi-bin systems, the heap is turned every week or two and then allowed to mature for a month or more. Compost can be ready to use in less than weeks, but remember to keep it covered from the rain and check regularly for moisture levels during dry, hot weather. For tumblers and spheres, materials can be added as they are generated but making up a batch of materials is best. Through regular turning of the barrel or sphere materials are mixed thoroughly and compost quickly.

Suitable Materials: Soft landscape materials to start with, e.g. grass cuttings, weeds, leaves, old plants, flowers, etc. Vegetative food scraps can be incorporated into the mix at the start or can be buried into the composting materials once the composting has started within the first week or two.

Main Advantages:

  • Produces high-quality compost in as little as weeks when done properly.
  • Multi-bin systems are ideal for the avid gardener with lots of outdoor space who doesn’t mind the work and wants all the compost the system can produce.

For more information check out our information sheets:

Food Burial and Trenching

hc-system-3Burying vegetative food scraps is an ancient practice and has been in use in Ireland for many years. The traditional methods used are food burial (where food is buried in holes) and trenching (where food is buried in trenches). Once you have your hole or trench dug, a batch of food is then added. The key is to chop up your food wastes into small pieces and then mix them with the soil at the bottom before covering over with the remaining soil. This is then allowed to break down in the ground and, because it is buried, will not attract any pests or animals.

Suitable Materials: Vegetative food scraps – remember, the smaller the pieces the quicker they will break down.

Main Advantages:

  • Simple way to deal with food scraps.
  • Decomposes in – months.
  • Enriches soil over time.
  • Ideal for allotment gardening. Can be done in conjunction with a rotation system in a veggie patch.

For more information check out our information sheets:

Food Digestion Cones

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These look like regular compost bins but have an extra buried chamber under the ground. They use heat from the sun to speed up the composting process. Digesters have tight fitting lids and holes or mesh screens in the bottom which provide access to the soil.When digging these systems in always try and place them in a well drained sunny spot. With these systems you simply add in your food scraps which gather in the underground chamber and decompose out of harms way. Some systems use additives, such as inoculants, enzymes, or nutrients to accelerate break down and stimulate the composting process.

Suitable Materials: All food wastes can be added but make sure to chop them up so they will decompose faster. These do not handle garden wastes or grass.

Main Advantages:

  • Can handle consistent supply of food scraps.
  • Only need to empty system every – years.
  • Can be used to compost or digest meat, fish and pet wastes.

For more information check out our information sheets:

Bokashi

hc-system-5Bokashi is a good way to deal with your food scraps, especially if you have limited garden space. In an airtight container EM, which is a combination of naturally-occurring bacteria and yeast, anaerobically ferment organic wastes. All kitchen wastes including cooked food, bread, cheese and uncooked meats can be composted in this way. When finished in the Bokashi system, the fermented or ‘pickled’ materials are buried in your garden where they break down very quickly. The materials can also be mixed and buried within your compost heap but it is best to bury them in the garden soil.

Suitable Materials: All food wastes (if chopped up into small pieces they will decompose faster).

Main Advantages:

  • It can compost all domestic food waste, though you will need some garden space to bury the ‘pickled’materials.
  • Because the system works under airless conditions there are few smells so it can be used indoors – though any warm and dry place will do.
  • It is a compact system that can be put anywhere, including your kitchen.

For more information check out our information sheets:

Wormeries

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Worm bins can be a great way to manage food scraps and they produce the highest quality compost. Trays, cans, plastic bins or boxes can be used to house the worms – but remember to keep the lid on as the worms like a dark and moist environment. Food is then buried into a moist carbonbased bedding – usually made of shredded paper, cardboard, leaves, straw, rotted manure, wood shavings and/or sawdust. Once the worms eat the food scraps,the compost can be harvested as often as every few months but more usually once or twice a year. In addition, you can collect the worm tea and dilute it down to use as a liquid fertiliser.

Suitable Materials: Vegetable food scraps and paper.

Main Advantages:

  • The worm castings are rich in nutrients and contain hormones that stimulate plant growth. The stuff is magic plant food but should be diluted if placed directly onto plants.
  • These systems produce the highest quality compost but require some attention to get the most out of them.
  • It is easy to make your own, especially if you have access to some well rotted manure for your worm supply!
  • They are a wonderful opportunity to teach children about the wonders of life.

For more information check out our information sheets:

High Tech Systems

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When people think of composting they usually think of large gardens and green compost bins. Recently, new high tech systems have been developed for city living. These usually consist of an insulated and airtight container that speed up the composting process and keep odours to a minimum through using a filter system. Some use small amounts of electricity to speed up the composting process and do all the mixing for you. To ensure that a good quality compost is produced, sawdust pellets can be added along with the food scraps to ensure that a good green/brown mix is maintained. Two examples are the Naturemill and Biolan 0.

Suitable Materials: All food wastes though the larger pieces should be chopped up first.

Main Advantages:

  • They can compost all kitchen scrap materials, though they are expensive to buy.
  • Because these units are sealed, and use filter systems for any odours generated, they can be used indoors – though any warm and dry place would be ideal.
  • Some are fully automated systems that heat and turn the composting materials for you.
  • They are very compact and are ideal for those with no garden or limited space.

For more information check out our information sheets: