My compost bin journey (Guest blog from Helen Butt of Leeds Rotters)

My first ambition upon acquiring a house with a garden was to make compost. Without even knowing it at that time, compost-making has turned out to be one of the most satisfying jobs I’ve ever done.

Collapsible bins

The first compost bin I had was one of the collapsible plastic kind that you might have seen around – unfortunately, the plastic breaks down pretty quickly, which is the last thing you want for either yourself or the environment. Fortunately, RHS Harlow Carr came to the rescue with another collapsible bin by Haxnicks, which was made with a much more durable – and breathable – material.

Oxygen is important for decomposition of your compost bin’s contents. A breathable wall therefore is one consideration. Another is your ability to turn the contents of the bin. In the case of the Haxnicks bin, this process was made easy by virtue of it being a tube which could simply be lifted off. The tube could then be moved to a new location and refilled with the compost which needed more time in the bin, whilst the finished compost could be put to good use in the garden.

Dalek bin

A year or so later, friends gave me a dalek style compost bin. This was a generous gift, which does have its advantages. The first being its large capacity at 330 litres. The other, I have found, is that being black, when placed in a sunny spot, the temperature inside the bin rises significantly, which speeds up the rate of decomposition quite noticeably.

A disadvantage of the dalek is that it is hard to turn the compost over in order to mix the contents and add oxygen. As mentioned above, oxygen is an important part of the compost-making process, but fortunately there are other means of getting it into your bin. Basically, taking a garden fork to the contents will break them up and introduce channels for air to get into the compost. As the bin also has a hatch at the bottom for removing compost, you can shift some from the bottom to the top to mix things up a bit.

oxygen is an important part of the compost-making process

Another disadvantage of the dalek is that it is not good for food waste. I used to add vegetable peelings, for example, but I was still having to throw away things such as chicken skin and the pulp left over from making preserves.

Bokashi bin

I therefore decided to try my hand at a bokashi, which is a system for creating compost by fermenting food waste using bran inoculated with beneficial micro-organisms. Once the bokashi bin is full and the contents have been left to ferment for a couple of weeks, they can be placed under soil in your garden, where decomposition finishes. The resultant compost is marvellous, as attested by the number of worms you will find, should you dig up the patch to plant or just to see.

Having a garden full of perennials, however, meant that the bokashi system became increasingly less viable for me. I still wanted to make use of all my food waste, so have now moved onto a Green Johanna.

Green Johanna bin

This looks similar to the dalek but is sealed against rat ingress. It also has two hatches at the bottom, which makes it easier to get contents out in order to mix them up a bit. And handily, it comes with a stick which has been designed to help you turn the compost from the top.

It’s early days with the Green Johanna, so I have yet to take any finished compost from it. This is in part due to not adding enough carbon matter to the bin, which is as important with food waste as it is with green garden waste. Food is full of nitrogen and might rot quickly. It will at the same time produce something which doesn’t quite resemble friable, earthy-smelling compost without the addition of more woody material such as wood ash or cardboard.

These are just a few options for making compost in your own garden. There are others methods you can use, such as a wormery or a drum composter, the one which also allows you to compost food waste and the other making compost more quickly than a static compost bin.

Some choices come down to space or the type of waste you have at your disposal. However, they will all provide you with a very pleasing alternative to throwing your waste away.

Helen Butt has been composting for over 10 years and volunteering with Leeds Rotters for over eighteen months. You can read Helen's own blog here.

Leeds City Council offer discounts on compost bins of up to 35% through their partner supplier Great Green Systems.