Learn how to make your own compost, and you free yourself from lugging home heavy bags of soil, often from endangered peat bogs. Making your own compost is watching nature in action. Turn leftover food into beautiful black fertile soil, to grow your own food and flowers. All you need is a good compost bin (don’t use ‘Green Cone’ composters as they ‘cook’ garden creatures that fall in). And leave wormeries to experts, as some die when transferring to soil (they are not earthworms – and many die if sent through the post).
Although compost is a great way to recycle garden waste, keep compost away from pets (they like the smell but it contains mould and toxins). Ensure your compost bin is securely covered and supervise, when adding items to your compost bin. Also do not use cocoa mulch, pine or rubber mulch near pets.
You can buy good compost bins from Even Greener (made from recycled plastic, with base plates to deter unwelcome creatures). It also offers large sizes and discounts with some councils. Or for the kitchen, All Green (Dorset) makes ceramic caddies to store fruit & veggie peelings, ready to tip in your bin, when you go outside.
All Green Compost Caddies (Dorset) are ideal to keep in the kitchen, just transport food to the garden, when you’re passing. They come in various pretty designs, with filtered lids to reduce odours, and hidden rings to hold compostable liners inside. Handmade from English terracotta clay, the rustic glaze is made by dipping in two glazes, which melt and react in the kiln, for a unique surface finish. One spare filter is included.
How to Make Compost
Just add roughly the same amount of greens and browns (too many greens will make compost slimy, and too many browns will make it not break down and attract unwelcome visitors like mice. Site the bin near footfall, as mice are shy.
- Grass cuttings (for lots, use a tumbling composter)
- Fruit & Vegetable Peelings (remove plastic stickers)
- Apple cores & citrus skins
- Used tea leaves or teabags (no nylon string)
- Used coffee grounds & filter papers
- Dead flowers & houseplants (no weedkiller)
- Nettles & ‘healthy organic weeds’
- Shredded paper & cereal boxes
- Feathers found in the garden
- Egg boxes & crushed egg shells
- Corn cobs & stalks
- Used toilet & kitchen roll tubes
- Clean tissues (no kitchen fat, butter etc)
- Natural string or raffia
- Dry leaves, hay, straw, small twigs
- Sawdust (not chemically-treated)
- A few pine cones (not many)
Things Not to Compost
- Anything not biodegradable (nylon string etc)
- Animal foods (meat, fish, dairy, eggs)
- Glossy magazines (due to chemicals)
- Dog/cat poop & cat litter
- Plants treated with chemicals
- Diseased plants
- Coal or charcoal ash
- Fat, lard, oil, grease
- Rhubarb leaves & black walnut tree leaves (these contain toxins that could harm insects: just bin them and they will break down naturally)
Once ready, add compost to your plants (leave a little gap around soft stems). Know toxic plants to avoid near pets and use humane safe slug/snail deterrents & no-dig garden methods. See safer alternatives to netting for wildlife, if used. Many plants (inc. yew & oak trees) are toxic to equines.
More help for Composting
Perfect Compost is a beautifully illustrated book by a former Head Gardener at National Trust. It covers basic and advanced composting, including how to build brick compost bins and make liquid feeds and compost tea.
- Compost City is a nice book by a former New York fashion journalist who is now the ‘composting queen’. Rebecca shows how to make compost in any size space, with little effort, no smelly mess or creepy crawlies. Ideal if you compost one tea bag, or whole honking barrelfuls of scraps at a time.
- How to Make & Use Compost is a nice little book on recycled paper, with an A to Z of what you can and can’t add, along with tips on making soil for your community.
- If you have a lot of trees in your garden, use a jute leaf sack to collect fallen leaves in autumn. The bag and leaves rot over winter, to produce beautiful leaf mould.
- Compost Teas for the Organic Grower is by permaculture orchardist Eric Fisher who offers an in-depth history on the soil needed to grow healthy compost teas. You can use plants to make the teas and this encourages beneficial insects for healthy ecosystems.
- Brighton Community Compost Centre collects garden waste from local people, and sells the beautiful compost back to residents, at less cost than the DIY store. It’s a good idea for anyone to do.
- Another method is to use a Kobashi Bin that ferments food with a bran/molasses mix (use one while the other is fermenting). You can then drain off the liquid as plant feed. Ensure this is fully fermented before use, to avoid pets or wildlife digging up bones). Read Bokashi Composting.