Food leftovers to ‘never’ add to compost – will ‘attract vermin’

Gardeners' World: Monty Don gives advice on compost heaps

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At its most basic, composting is the natural breaking down of organic materials into valuable fertiliser. In order to be successful, composting experts recommend that all batches of compost contain three ingredients: brown matter, green matter and water. Knowing what’s safe to throw in your composting bin (and what should stay out) can be confusing, but this no longer has to be the case.

Angela Slater, gardening expert at Hayes Garden World, has shared her top tips on how to efficiently compost leftover food, as well as breaking down the environmental and personal benefits of adopting this practice. 

She said: “Disposing of your leftovers into a compost pile rather than your household bin reduces the amount of waste that will ultimately end up in landfills. In turn, this helps to minimise the levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

“Leftover food is also hugely beneficial for soil health, with composting encouraging the soil to hold water and nutrients for longer and improving many of its overall physical properties. 

“This even contributes towards higher crop yields, meaning that throwing your food waste into a compost heap could lead to a flourishing garden.”

“Composting is equally a great way to combat the guilt we all feel when letting our food go to waste. Knowing that our leftovers can have a purpose beyond our dinner plates will make mealtimes much more enjoyable.”

While the opportunities for items you can compost are quite extensive, there are several types of things gardeners should leave out of their compost pile if they want to have a successful and safe fertiliser in the end.

One of the biggest categories is animal byproducts, i.e meat and fish, or baked goods such as cake, bread and biscuits. 

Angela warned that “they only attract vermin” such as mice and rats in winter as they “breed bacteria and cause odour problems”.

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Cooked food should also “never be added to compost” as it too “attracts vermin” and can “go mouldy instead of breaking down into a friable mixture”.

Dairy products like milk, sour cream, yoghurt, cheese, and butter should not be composted because they also attract pests. The same goes for oils and fats. Processed foods that contain a lot of dairy or fat should also be left out.

In terms of what can be added to compost overripe vegetables and fruit and vegetables make for the “ideal” ingredients.

Banana peels are particularly great for compost, according to Angela. She said: “It makes an excellent addition to the compost heap as it adds valuable potassium. 

“Just chop into pieces prior to adding to the compost. Crushed eggshells are also valuable compost material as they inject calcium.”

Putting banana peel in compost piles will help add calcium, magnesium, sulphur, phosphates, potassium and sodium, all of which are important to the healthy growth of both flowering and fruiting plants. 

Bananas in compost also help add healthy organic material, which helps the compost retain water and make soil lighter when added to gardens.

Beyond this, banana peels will break down quickly in compost, which allows them to add these important nutrients to the compost much more quickly than some other compost materials.

When adding leftover foods to compost, the gardening guru noted that they should only be added in “small amounts”. Angela instructed: “Chop up any large pieces of fruit or vegetables and mix with other materials such as garden waste and shredded paper to create a nice friable mixture.”

When a pile is starting to form it is important to turn the compost regularly, says Angela. This needs to be done periodically (perhaps every month) to introduce air. Failure to turn the heap is probably the main cause of poor results.

Remember to keep the heap moist in dry weather – turning will give gardeners an opportunity to assess the moisture level.

For those who have a wormery, the gardening pro recommended that as the perfect plants for gardeners to dispose of baked goods, such as bread and cake. She said: “These can be fed to worms in small quantities, but larger quantities can cause them to go mouldy. Include plenty of shredded cardboard and paper with the food.”

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