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Getting Started with Your Compost Heap

Why Compost?

Homemade compost is a fantastic soil conditioner for Irish gardens. It can be used as surface mulch around existing plants or mixed into the soil before planting. Adding organic matter to your soil improves its quality, acting as a moisture-retaining sponge for sandy soils and breaking down heavy clay soils. Compost also releases plant nutrients as it decomposes, and it's an eco-friendly way to recycle organic waste.

Here are some tips to help you kickstart your own compost heap:

Choosing the Right Location

  • Select a level area for your compost heap, ideally with a firm foundation like paving stones or compacted earth. This stable base is essential.
  • Opt for a sheltered spot to protect your compost from excessive moisture during wet Irish winters.
  • Place your compost near the kitchen for convenience in adding kitchen scraps like vegetable peelings and fruit.

Selecting a Compost Bin

  • Many compost bins and kits are available in local garden centers, or you can build your own.
  • If space allows, having two bins is advantageous for easy transfer of compost from one to the other.
  • Bins with removable wooden slats at the front are ideal.
  • Consider keeping a small bin in the kitchen for easy collection of scraps.

Getting Started

  • Position your compost bin.
  • Start collecting suitable materials for composting.
  • Add materials to the compost heap as they become available.
  • Layer materials, beginning with coarser items and followed by finer materials like vegetable peelings and grass clippings.

What Can You Add to Your Compost Heap

  • Grass clippings not treated with weed killer or lawn 'weed and feed' treatments. Mix these with coarser materials to aerate the mix.
  • Soft weeds without seeds.
  • Fruit and vegetable peelings, as well as eggshells.
  • Farmyard manure, horse manure, chicken and bird manure.
  • Chopped garden prunings (shred or finely chop larger woody pieces).
  • Cardboard and newspaper.

What to Avoid

  • Exclude certain items for hygiene, compost quality, and pest control reasons:
    • Cat and dog feces, as well as cat litter.
    • Weeds and annual plants that have gone to seed.
    • Diseased leaves and diseased plants.
    • Glossy magazines.
    • Cooked food scraps, including meat and fish.
    • Man-made materials like nylon and plastic, as they won't break down.

Maintaining Your Compost Bin

  • Cover the top of your bin with wood, old carpet, or a plastic sheet to prevent excessive moisture during the wet Irish winters.
  • Keep in mind that the contents of your bin will continuously break down, so it may never fill up entirely. After the first six months, consider turning the contents to speed up the composting process.
  • Leave for an additional six months, and your compost will be ready to use as a valuable soil conditioner for your Irish garden.