How to make compost

A compost heap can be made by piling your garden waste in a corner of the garden. After adding the material, keep the pile covered while decomposing with an old carpet or sheet of weighted black polythene to trap in heat and help break the heap down quicker.

Commercially produced covered compost bins and tumblers make a tidy and efficient option to contain your compost pile. They take up little room making them particularly suitable for smaller gardens or when space is at a premium.

If your garden produces a lot of garden waste, three bins are ideal – one for new waste, one for waste in the process of breaking down and a third for compost ready for use. Place your bin on a level surface over open ground for the worms to gain access, in a warm, moist location within the garden.

Material for compost bins can be divided into: Green waste (nitrogen rich) and brown waste (carbon rich) material. A mix of both high carbon and high nitrogen materials must be present in the pile to provide an adequate food supply for the micro-organisms that breakdown waste and turn it into compost.

Green waste: Vegetable scraps, fruit peelings, weeds (before they seed or flower as most heaps do not get hot enough to ‘cook’ them).Comfrey and herbs are beneficial as a source of trace elements. Coffee grounds, tea bags, hair and fur. Animal manure (horse, cow and poultry). Seaweed, fish bones, spent annuals, hanging baskets and containers.

Brown waste: Shredded paper, newspapers and uncoated cardboard, lawn clippings, dried leaves, sawdust (untreated wood only), wood shavings and chips (untreated wood only), wood ash, hay or straw, peat, vacuum cleaner dust, small twigs, shredded hedge clippings, egg shells and crushed sea shells.

Do not put diseased plants, noxious weeds, cooked vegetables, meat, grease, fat, dairy products or large bones into your compost heap.

Begin with a layer of twiggy material to help aeration followed by alternate layers about 10 to 25 cm thick of ‘green’ and ‘brown waste’. Dampen with water between each layer to help keep the heap moist. A commercial compost activator can be added to speed up the breakdown process.

The average compost heap takes about three months to decompose during summer and longer during winter. When compost is ready, it will look like potting mix with a dark brown appearance, crumbly texture and a sweet earthy smell.

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