The miracle of compost: good eco things to do in 2018

The miracle of compost: good eco things to do in 2018

If you still haven't started composting your peelings and food waste, come on, get a grip! or a counter top caddy more to the point. And grow your own herbs, ditch the bleach and generally clamp down on waste

By Mike Harris
Grow your own herbs indoors

If you're not already composting food scraps, don't delay. Mike Harris asserts his Kent garden looks all the more splendid since he and wife Val got the composting bug. We're all being urged to cut down on waste and to conserve more, so add 'be more eco friendly' to your new year's resolutions list. Pictured above: hang your basil plants over the counter using Boskke sky planters...made from recycled plastic. 

Gardens are miraculous places with their magnificent displays of colour that appear each year out of an apparently lifeless winter garden.

And within the garden, the biggest miracle for me is the compost heap: the perfect place for the useful disposal of organic household and garden waste. Did you know that up to half of all household waste can be composted? not only veg trimmings and teabags but vacuum-cleaner dust, cereal boxes, shredded paper and wood ash. Alternative disposal would be landfill (with its harmful methane emissions) or incineration, which produces CO2.

What I love is that not only is it a convenient system for getting rid of waste, it produces free compost, a rich and valuable source of mineral nutrients plants need to grow.

To think, this lovely rich compost was veg peelings and fish bones not long ago
Mike at his beloved compost heap

I'm no gardening expert and I don't want to teach any grandmothers to suck eggs, but if you grimace at the thought of a container in your kitchen full of scraps, well... let me take you through the cycle.

We put fruit and veg peelings, teabags, coffee grinds, along with loo rolls, egg boxes and torn up cereal boxes into a compost caddy by the sink. When full, can I say that it's NOT a putreying stinking mass, and I tip it onto the compost heap. Onto this same heap go grass mowings, garden cuttings and prunings (except if they're very woody). The heap fills up quite quickly, especially during the growing season… but this is when the miracle occurs.

Because when your back is turned, the ecosystem gets to work: millipedes, slugs, snails and woodlice shred and digest the plant materials as they decay, creating a greater surface area for funghi and bacteria to work on.

Cream compost box by Burgon & Ball from All Tidied Up
Brush steel compost bin with bamboo handle with odorsorb filters from Simple Human, £49.99
If you don't want a container, dump your peelings in these compostable paper bags from Burgon & Ball
Ceramic Orla Kiely compost pot with filter in lid, £55 from Bliss Home. Just don't confuse it with the sugar caddy
Oxo easy grip compost bin, £15, is shaped to allow for ventilation, so no need to buy filters
Attractive white ceramic compost pail with carbon filters by Judge Cookware, £27.50
Does what it says on the tin... by Garden Trading, from Amara

Worms and fly larvae burrow through the heap, eating and aerating it as they go. In the process, the heap dramatically reduces in size, so when you return to add further waste a couple of weeks later, a once full heap is now only half-full. You fill it again, turn your back for a couple of weeks, and the same miraculous result occurs.

We're lucky enough to have space in our garden for two 6 x 4ft heaps, each of which rises to about 5ft. Over the space of a year, the first heap gets properly full. At this point, usually in the autumn, the second heap, which has been abandoned for the best part of a year, apart from occasional turning, is ready to have the compost dug out and spread over the flower beds as a mulch. This suppresses weeds, helps retain soil moisture and feeds plants with nitrogen and phosphorous.

Not only does this save you money from not having to buy compost and nutrients, but it helps to prevent the destruction of natural habitats through peat extraction.
But composting can be done on any scale. If you've got a small garden, use an outdoor compost bin, usually available cheaply through your local authority. These can be made of plastic or wood, the stacking variety being a popular option whereby you build and fill the bin a section at a time, leave it for 6-9 months, then unpack the compost by lifting off the sections of the bin.
Loo Blade loo cleaner won't revolt you... so put away the bleach
Make sure all your bulbs are LEDs. They last far longer than CFLs
Olio is a food sharing app that means your unwanted food can go to a needy neighbour.
Greenscents cleaning products are made from biodegradable materials and made in Somerset
The Wisp one-handed dustpan and brush. The brush has a telescopic handle so you don't have to bend down all the time.

Now more eco good habits we've been getting into and are trying to get our 20-something sons to follow suit:

1/ Cut down on use of bleach and other chemical-filled cleaning products. Switch to more eco friendly products such as Ecover, Green Scents or supermarkets' own brand eco cleaners. Oh and get a steam cleaner for floors and showers. We can't recommend our Karcher steam cleaner highly enough.

2/ Lots of us reach for the bleach when it comes to the loo but the Loo Blade - designed by Scotland and made in Germany - is terrific. It doesn't make me want to retch in the way that loo brushes do.. 

3/ Don't overbuy food. Use up what you've got before doing another supermarket shop; or if you have food you can't eat, download the Olio app and you'll find local people happy to take it off your hands. Olio is a briliant idea.

4/ Buy less stuff and you'll feel virtuous, believe me. And a less cluttered home an ensure which is great.

5/ Energy - use less. I have grown to love my 5-minute shower timer, which looks like an egg timer and is attached to the shower wall with a suction pad. Lights...well don't leave them on when you leave a room.. Kettles..yes, the boil enough for how ever many cups of tea you're making. And is your loft insulated? Go on, go and check and if it's not, can I recommend sheep's wool insulation from Thermafleece.

6/ Grow your own veg and fruit in pots and grow herbs in your kitchen. Water with water you've collected either in a water butt or from your shower if you have one of those useful window vacs. And have lots of pot plants indoors for better air quality.

7/ Use the car less, walk more and consider joining a car sharing pool if you live in a big city.

8/ Repainting? Graphenstone paint from Spain is very eco friendly and hard wearning because it contains graphene.

9/ And for quick cleaning with no electricity consumption, can I recommend something called The Wisp, a one-handed broom and dustpan that really does gather up all the stuff you sweep into it. 

10/ Do take your bamboo travel cup into your local coffee shop because you won't be using an essentially unrecyclable plastic-lined paper cup and more coffee shops are giving a discount - eg Pret A Manger's discount is 15 pence off the price of a cappuccino. 

11/ And likewise carry a water bottle with you and do your darndest not to buy plastic bottles of water.

12/ We no longer have a tumble dryer and we don't miss it. We have a washing line and an airer in the bathroom and clothes dry just fine.

Er..there are no doubt lots more things we could be doing to be more eco down here in Kent, but we're very proud of ourselves for having got to grips with the above!

And on that note, happy eco friendly 2018.