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Common questions asked to Master Composters
 
In this section we cover some of the questions that Master Composters are often asked during their activities. We will add additional answers to questions at regular intervals and therefore Garden Organic would be very grateful to know which are your most 'frequently asked questions' that you would like an answer to.

 

Will a compost heap breed pests?

Compost is made by a host of small and microscopic creatures. These are not pests and will not overrun your garden. Slugs are often found in compost heaps – some species feed on decaying organic matter and are a valuable part of the composting process.

Do I need any special equipment?

A garden fork is the only essential item. A compost bin keeps everything neater but it is not essential.

Will a compost heap attract rats?

Rats may visit a compost heap if they are already present in the area but composting does not generally attract the rats in the first place. If rats or mice are nesting in your compost heap, this is a sign that the heap is too dry. Add water until it has the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. 

Is compost safe to handle?

Yes, if the usual garden hygiene rules are followed. Keep cuts covered, wash hands before eating and keep your anti-tetanus protection up to date.

Does a compost heap have to get hot?

No. A medium-sized compost heap can heat up to 70°C in a few days. The heat helps to make quicker compost, and to kill weeds and diseases. But your compost may never heat up, especially if it is made over a long period. The compost can be just as good, but it will take longer to be ready for use.

Does compost spread weeds and diseases?

Some weed seeds and plant diseases will survive in a slow, cool compost heap - if you add them in the first place.

Is it true that a compost bin/heap MUST be built in layers?

No, it isn't true; however let's take a moment to consider why. It is not uncommon for gardening literature to state that a compost heap should be built up in layers, and many keen gardeners will insist that this is the correct way to build a heap. The basis for this advice is mainly to help the gardener attain the correct balance of 'greens' and 'browns', which is important in any compost bin, but especially so if you are trying to achieve a hot heap, which so many gardening books recommend. If you are aiming to put an equal amount of greens and browns in your heap, then the addition of material in equally sized layers of alternating green and brown material acts as a handy rule of thumb to ensure the correct balance is achieved. Building a heap in this way over just a few days will almost certainly result in a 'hot heap'.

In reality, the waste arisings of the average household may not be produced in sufficient quantities to allow layering to be carried out. This does not need to be a problem. Instead of using layers to measure equal volumes of greens and browns, why not just balance each bucket of kitchen waste with a bucket of cardboard or straw for example. In fact, because the bacteria in the compost need both greens and browns to prosper, the closer together these two types of material are, the better.

One other thing to bear in mind is that a layer of twigs or branches at the bottom of a compost bin or heap can be a great way of helping to achieve a vertical flow of air through the material.

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