There’s nothing quite as satisfying as opening up your home composting bin or heap and finding some beautiful deep brown rich compost at its heart. At a time when climate change is coming more and more to the fore, there is no doubt that making your own compost is one of the most environmentally friendly things you can do in your garden, and not only this, but it helps your garden to improve to boot! What’s not to like?
Where to put your compost bin or heap
When you’re thinking about siting, a pretty sunny spot is best as it will help the compost to warm and so give a head start to the processes and organisms that help your garden and kitchen waste to break down into your very own lovely dark, rich blend (i’m sounding like a coffee ad!).
It’s also best if you can site the bin directly on to soil rather than a hard surface, but if you can’t, pop a few spades of soil from your garden into the bottom of the bin as this will contain the naturally occurring micro-organisms you need to get the process started.
Filling your compost bin
In order to make good compost, it’s important to balance the proportions and the distribution of what you put in your compost bin or heap. You need to have around a half and half mix of what I think of as green material and brown material and they need to be well mixed – try to avoid layers.
Green material is nitrogen rich – this tends to be lush green material like grass cuttings, fresh weeds.
Brown material is carbon rich – this tends to be brown and woody, like chipped or chopped branches, cardboard or shredded paper, dried grasses, or fallen leaves.
As well as the type of material, I find it really helps to try to chop everything down a bit in size. Lots of fibrous dry intact material won’t rot quickly, but damaging the material you put in by chopping increases the surface area and helps gives the bugs that break it down a head start! More on this below.
Preparing your ingredients
If i’ve got really fibrous or woody material like branches, twigs, dry grasses etc, I use a shredder. A shredder is a great tool for reducing large volumes of stuff that’s difficult to handle, into a very manageable quantity and quality to add to your compost heap. After an initial investment for the electric shredder, it begins to pay you back by saving you trips to the green waste tip with stuff that you otherwise couldn’t easily get rid of, plus it helps you create really lovely compost quickly which can save a few pounds in that you need to buy less.
If you’d prefer not to fork out (excuse the pun), then you can manually chop up more difficult material with sheers, secateurs or loppers. It takes a bit longer, but it’s also a great work out! Bear in mind though that thick woody material will take a few years to rot through.
Maintaining your compost bin or heap
To get a really good finished compost, you need to keep an eye on your bin or heap. It will need turning periodically with a fork, to mix it up, moving the outside material to the inside. This distributes the bacteria and fungi that do the breaking down throughout the heap, and it also reintroduces oxygen which speeds the breaking down by increasing the activity of the bacteria which in turns heats things up and further speeds up the process.
The moisture content of your compost heap is important too. If the contents are too dry, the material won’t rot. If it’s too wet you risk getting a smelly sludge that lacks oxygen for the bacteria you need to break things down. When i’m filling my bins, I make sure that if things are quite dry I water it as I fill it up, ideally using rainwater from my water butts. To stop things getting too wet, I make sure there’s a good mix of brown and green material as I fill it up, adding things like shredded paper and cardboard if there’s a lot of lush, green plant waste to go in there. Also having a lid on your bin or covering your heap will also stop too much rainwater saturating things.
When the mixture turns brown and crumbly and slightly sweet smelling, the process is complete. This will take around six months if the heap has been turned regularly, but can take much longer if not.
Top Tips from my experience:
Buy a compost thermometer – this helps you get used to how the process works – seeing things heat up after filling or turning your heap will help you know if the mix of what you’ve put in is right or if the contents need turning.
Watch out when shredding paper/card – when you’re shredding or adding packaging materials, make sure it’s not plastic laminated – if it is you’ll end up with lots of small pieces of plastic in your finished compost that won’t rot down. Also, glue strips on packaging remain too so I remove any affected bits of card before I shred it, and just put these in my clear paper kerbside recycling bag.
Tea bags – make sure they’re plastic free – if they’re not, you’ll end up with little tea bag plastic skeletons in your finished compost. In terms of mainstream brands, I know PG Tips tea bags are plastic free now.
Re-use your bought compost bags for storing your homemade blend – plastic compost sacks will last for a long time if you open them neatly. You can then refill them with your home made compost to store it until it’s needed . It’s worth making a few extra holes in the bottom of the bag with the prongs of your garden fork to allow any excess water to drain away, particularly if you’re storing your homemade compost for a few weeks or months.
Above all, enjoy the process – feel good about recycling your own green waste!
Products we sell that can help:
States of Guernsey Compost Bin & Caddy
Ecomax Recycled Plastic Compost Bin
Vitax Compost Maker 3.5kg
Vitax Compost Maker 10kg