Autumn is a great time to start a garden compost. The temperature is not too extreme and you’re likely to have plenty of garden waste.
Compost is great for the garden – helping to improve soil quality, lock in moisture and keep weeds at bay. Although you can buy compost, making it in the garden is the most environmentally friendly way to deal with kitchen and garden waste. What’s more, composting is easy and it can be done in any garden that has enough space.
Choosing a compost bin
To get started, you will need a compost bin. Look for one that retains moisture and warmth, but also allows airflow and has good drainage. You also need a way to get the compost out of the bin once it is ready, so choose a bin with a removable front, gate or hatch.
PET OWNERS BEWARE! If you have pets, it's a good idea to choose an enclosed compost bin, as composting material can contain tremorgenic mycotoxins, which is highly toxic to animals.
Where to put your compost bin
The perfect spot for a compost bin is somewhere level, on soil with good drainage. A slightly shaded sheltered spot is ideal, as it shouldn’t get too hot or wet.
Ideally pick somewhere that has easy access, so you’ll be more inclined to take a trip to the garden with your kitchen waste.
Starting your compost bin - what to put in
Composts work best with an equal mix of soft green materials (like kitchen waste and grass cuttings) and woody brown materials (such as cardboard and straw). Green materials are moist and rich in nitrogen, breaking down quickly. Dry brown materials are slower to rot but contain carbon and create air pockets, essential for creating compost. For best results try to keep the mix between these two types of materials roughly the same at any one time.
Soft green material (rich in nitrogen)
- Grass cuttings
- Weeds (only annual weeds)
- Fruit and vegetable kitchen waste
- Teabags and coffee grounds
Dry, brown woody material (rich in carbon)
Break into small pieces, crumpled up or shredded.
- All types of cardboard (egg boxes, toilet rolls, cereal boxes)
- Paper (newspapers, paper bags, non-glossy magazines and leaflets)
- Wood chippings
- Prunings and hedge trimmings (shred first if large)
Never put any cooked food, dairy, meat, fish, perennial weeds or animal waste in your compost bin.
If you need to add a big batch of one type of material, for example green grass cuttings, make sure you mix it with an equal amount of dry brown material.
Compost heap maintenance
Compost heaps require little maintenance, aside from keeping the composting materials topped up at regular intervals.
Most gardeners recommend turning the heap periodically to aerate it (although some are vehemently against it!).
Your compost pile should be moist – not too wet and not too dry. If it is compacted and slimy - add more scrunched up woody material to create air gaps. If it is very dry, add more green materials or mist lightly with water when you turn it.
Using the compost
It will take between six months to two years for your compost to be ready to use. You will know it is ready as the material at the bottom will be dark brown, crumbly and soil-like with an earthy, woodland smell.
Remove the fresh compost – this is ready for use in your garden – and leave any non-composted material to continue decomposing in your compost bin.