Making compost: a beginner’s guide

Making compost: a beginner’s guide

Easy composting at home

A step-by-step get started guide

Compost is a must-have for any garden. This nutrient-rich soil feeds your plants, helps retain moisture and keeps weeds at bay – and to top all that off, it’s a great way of recycling house and garden waste and easily made at home. Of course, big bags of compost can be bought from shops and garden centres, but why part with cash? If you’ve got a little bit of spare space in your garden, you’re halfway there – and the rest just comes from materials you’ll easily find about your home and plot. With a little bit of tender loving care you could be creating your own nourishing ‘black gold’ in as little as six months!

Late summer or early winter are the prime times to get started with composting, but in truth you can begin year-round. You’ll need to select a well-drained and level location in the garden (think by a fence, at the end of the garden… not next to the back door, ideally!) where a compost heap can be assembled, or a bin placed. If you must place the bin on concrete or a non-draining surface, put a spadeful of soil in the bottom of the heap.

Seedlings in a tray in the garden

A simple compost heap can be assembled using planks of wood and there are plenty of tutorials online, but if you’re not too handy big plastic bins can be found pretty reasonably at garden centres or online. Now, it’s time to get started! Here are some tips to follow.

Compost a mixture of green and brown materials

Your mixture should be about half-and-half. Just start piling it on! Great green bits to compost are grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peelings from the kitchen, eggshells (great for calcium), annual weeds and other leafy plants. Your brown portion can be made up of plant stems, sticks and branches (broken up), dead leaves, woodchip and even scrunched up card and newspaper. Try to mix the green and brown up, as the soft greener bits can easily become compacted, excluding air and slowing down the composting process. Don’t compost: human or pet waste, diseased plants, meat or dairy products or perennial weeds.

Welcome worms to the heap

The humble tiger worm (our stripy garden friend) is one of the most effective composters there is. They munch their way through waste and turn it into liquid feed and compost. If your bin isn’t accessible to worms, why not place a few in there yourself? You can even buy packs of garden worms online if you’d really like to kick start the process.

Katie Rushworth in her potting shed

Turn your compost heap regularly

This is really important! Without air, the breakdown of waste can’t happen as quickly, so it’s a good idea to turn your compost heap about once a month. Use a garden fork to separate the mixture.

Keep the heap dry

A soggy compost heap will lead to a slimy, stinky end result that just won’t have the desired effect Make sure your heap is covered during times of bad weather, or your bin has a lid to keep the inside dry.

Feeling impatient? Use an activator

It can take as long as two years to achieve the perfect compost, so if you like you can use a compost activator, a formula containing high levels of nitrogen or carbon to kick-start the decomposition and breakdown of matter.

Give it at least six months, and keep an eye on proceedings. When you see a fine, black, crumbly layer of rich soil at the bottom of the bin or heap, the compost is ready. You can use it to spread on your beds to deliver a shot of nutrients to your plants, and you’re sure to see a difference almost straight away!

Happy composting!