Composting allows you to reuse organic waste from your kitchen and garden, thereby reducing the amount of material going to landfill, while producing something useful to help your garden grow healthier.
Compost can be made simply by piling up a heap of organic material, so you don’t really even need a container, but you’ll get better and faster results if you use a compost bin, and most people prefer to have some way of enclosing the heap.
The compost bin
The easiest option is to buy a compost bin. These are generally made of wood or recycled plastic. Compost bins may be available at a subsidised price from your local council – check out your area in this postcode search – or you can buy them from garden centres, or online from specialist sites or from Amazon. It’s generally better to buy two small bins rather than a single large one as you can then be filling one while the other is composting down.
Another option is to make your own composter. For a very simple version you need four 1.2 metre (4 foot) fence posts, wire netting, nails, and some galvanised hooks and eyes. Clear an area of about one metre square and flatten down the soil. Hammer in a fence post at each corner. Then tack wire netting to the posts. Use the hooks and eyes to attach the netting at the front so it’s easily opened. Or:
- Gardeners World have instructions for building a compost bin from old pallettes;
- There is an idea for a really easy tumbling compost bin here;
- Garden Organic has plans for a moveable stacking wooden compost bin.
Filling the bin
Begin with a drainage layer of coarse materials such as straw or twigs about 10cm deep. Then put in about a 15cm layer of garden waste, and then continue building up layers of different materials. It’s good to put a little manure or soil between each layer, and fork through the mix now and then to aerate it.
To keep the mix in balance you will need to add roughly half carbon-rich ingredients such as cardboard, shredded paper, straw and sawdust, and half nitrogen-rich materials such as grass mowings, manure, soft weeds and kitchen waste. Water if too dry, add more dry waste if too wet.
When the bin is full, cover it over and leave for a few months to rot down, then open it up and turn the compost by taking it all out of the composter and then putting it back again. Cover again and leave for another two or three months until brown, crumbly and sweet-smelling.
What to compost
- Uncooked kitchen waste such as vegetable and fruit peelings, tea bags and leaves, coffee grounds, egg shells;
- Grass mowings;
- Annual weeds and the tops of perennial weeds;
- Soft green prunings;
- Dead leaves;
- Shredded paper and cardboard;
- Pet bedding;
- Sawdust and wood shavings;
- Wood ash (in small amounts only).
DO NOT compost
- Woody prunings;
- Roots of perennial weeds;
- Diseased plants or seedheads;
- Coal ash;
- Dog and cat waste;
- Disposable nappies;
- Meat, fish or any cooked food.