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How to make great compost

How to make great compost
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Recycling garden waste is good for you, your garden and the environment. Find out how to make great compost and turn those pesky weeds into something useful.

Where to start?

Making compost is easy, but for reliable results, you need to understand the ideas behind the process. Put simply, making compost is like making a cake – you need to have certain equipment, the right ingredients, the right amounts and water to mix it through thoroughly (before you can bake it).

The soil-borne micro-organisms will then do all the hard work for you. For a well-done compost, the ‘baking’ can take anything from a few months to a year, depending on the material you use, the time of year you start (rotting is quicker in summer than in winter) and the sort of compost you want at the end of the process.

What do you need?

You need a bin, a variety of organic waste materials and a little patience.

What size bin?

A bin is essential to keep the material neat and tidy and to help retain moisture and heat. Choose one to suit the size of your garden. Ideally, it should be about 200 litres which hold sufficient material to compost efficiently. Smaller bins can work well but require more careful monitoring to keep the conditions right for decomposition.

If your garden and household doesn’t produce enough organic waste to fill a bin of this size, try getting together with gardening friends and neighbours to produce a communal composting bin.

How much waste?

Aim to fill your bin as quickly as possible, because the decomposition process won’t start really until the bin is full. In practice, most successful composters fill their bin in about a month. So, in a large garden, you may need two or more bins to recycle all your waste.

What can I compost?

To get quick decomposition you need to have the right ingredients in the right proportions. A balanced diet of dry fibrous material (such as shredded prunings, newspapers or straw) and wet green material (such as grass clippings, discarded bedding and weeds) is perfect.

Can I add woody prunings?

Yes, but all woody material needs to be chopped finely before it is added to the compost bin otherwise it will take longer to decompose than the other ingredients. The easiest way to chop it up is with a garden shredder, but if you have the patience you can get the same results with a pair of secateurs.

What should I avoid in my compost heap?

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Fat Thorny pruning’s
  • Sawdust
  • Glossy magazine paper
  • Plastic-coated cardboard
  • Conifer and other evergreen material
  • Perennial weed roots
  • Flowering weeds

Why can’t I compost these?

Processed food products can attract vermin, weed roots and seeds may spread around the garden, sawdust may contain toxins, and cardboard, woody or evergreen material takes too long to rot down.

How long does it take?

Compost started in the autumn can be ready for spring planting, but most people usually leave their compost heap for a year. In ideal conditions during the summer, the compost bin you filled at the beginning of May will be ready to use by the end of July of the same year. The final compost bin filled during mid-summer should be ready to use in the autumn.