How to start a compost heap
Homemade compost is a great soil conditioner to use as surface mulch around existing plants or for digging it in to your soil before planting. All soils benefit from the addition of bulky organic matter, which will act as a sponge to hold moisture in light, sandy soils and help break down heavy clay soils, making them easier to work. Compost also contains plant nutrients that are released as bacteria break it down during the rotting process – and it’s a great way to recycle.
Here are our top tips to get you started on creating your own compost heap:
Choosing your site
When choosing where to place your new compost heap, make sure that the base is level. Paving stones or hard earth make a great foundation. A sheltered site is best so that the heaps do not get too wet in winter. Also try to choose an area where the heaps will not detract from the main garden, for example near your garden shed, greenhouse or bonfire site. An area near the kitchen is handy to add vegetable peelings and fruit.
Types of compost bin
There are many compost bins and kits available from your local garden centre or you may want to build one yourself. It is an advantage to have two bins if you have the room so that the compost can be moved easily from one to the other. One made from wooden slats that are removable at the front is ideal.
You might find keeping a small bin in the kitchen handy – you can then empty into your composter outside.
- Site your compost bin
- Collect suitable material to compost
- Add suitable material as it comes to hand
- Build up layers with coarse material followed by finer material such as vegetable peelings and grass clippings
What can be added to a compost heap
- Grass clippings that have not been treated with weed killer or a lawn ‘weed and feed’ treatment. These are best mixed with coarser material to aerate the mixture
- Soft weeds that have not set seed
- Fruit and vegetable peelings, egg shells
- Farmyard manure, horse manure, chicken and bird manure
- Chopped prunings from the garden. Shred or finely chop large woody pieces first
- Cardboard and newspaper
What should be avoided
If something will rot it can be composted! Certain items should, however be avoided for hygiene reasons, because they don’t make good compost or because they can attract vermin. You shouldn’t include:
- Cat and dog faeces and cat litter
- Weeds and annual plants that have set seed
- Diseased leaves and diseased plants
- Glossy magazines
- Cooked food scraps, including meat and fish
- Man-made materials such as nylon and plastic as they will never rot down
Maintaining your compost bin
Make sure that you cover the top of your bin with wood, old carpet or a sheet of plastic to stop the compost becoming too wet in the winter.
It’s worth keeping in mind that your bin may never fill up because the contents are constantly rotting down. After the first six months the contents can be turned. The lower layers may have rotted enough to use or you can turn the heap into another bin so that the newest material is on the bottom and the oldest on the top. This will speed up the composting process.
Leave for another six months and the compost will be ready for use as a soil conditioner on your garden.