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 a lovely way to recycle, and watch nature in action: turning leftover food into beautiful black fertile soil, to help grow your own food and flowers.
First of all, you need to choose a good compost bin. Forget about those ‘Green Cone’ bins (these have no soil and so will ‘cook’ garden creatures that fall in’. And wormeries are best left to experts, as some die when transferred to the soil (they are not earthworms, and can’t live in garden beds). Others die when sent live through the post. Worms and woodlice will find their way into a normal bin.
Even Greener make good composting bins made from tough recycled plastic (with base plates to deter unwelcome creatures) and offer 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.
How to Make Compost
Its a simple equation of adding greens and browns, in roughly equal amounts. If you add too many greens, your compost will be slimy. If you add too many browns, it won’t break down and may attract unwelcome visitors like mice. Site the bin somewhere near footfall and most mice etc won’t come near, as they 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)
Kobashi Bins ferment food instead. From Japan, this method uses 2 bins, so one is always in use. You sprinkle the bran/molasses mix on the food, then secure the lid and it breaks down to use in the garden. You can use the liquid from the tap as plant feed. Ensure this is fully fermented before use, to avoid pets or wildlife digging up bones of animal foods). For more information, read Bokashi Composting.
How to Make Leaf Mould
If you have a lot of trees in your garden, you can buy a jute leaf sack. Collect all the leaves in autumn, then place them in the bag, and both will rot down over winter, to produce beautiful leaf mould.
How to Use Compost
Add it to garden plants (leave a little gap around soft-stemmed plants). Fresh compost is toxic to pets as it contains mould, so keep it away from them. Also avoid cocoa mulch and pine mulch near pets: the first is toxic, the second can cause punctures). If you garden with furry friends, see make your garden safe for pets to know toxic plants to avoid (including all bulbs and sago palm). Use no-dig methods to protect earthworms.
Start a Community Compost
Brighton Community Compost Centre collects garden waste from local people, and then turns it into beautiful soil, which is sold back to residents at less cost than buying plastic-wrapped bags at the DIY store.
Books to Help You Compost
- Compost City is a nice book by a former New York fashion journalist who is now the ‘composting queen’. This fun book shows you how to make your own soil in any-sized space. You don’t have to worry about back-breaking work, 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.
This guide to Perfect Compost is a beautifully illustrated book by a former Head Gardener at National Trust. This book is truly gorgeous and will inspire to make your own compost. It covers all the basics, and advanced composting methods too.
Live with pets? Although compost is a great way to recycle garden waste, be very careful to keep compost away from pets. Dogs like the smell, and can get sick if they ingest compost either through mould and toxins. Ensure your compost bin is tightly covered and secure, and keep it out of reach of pets. And supervise pets, when you are adding to or removing compost.
Learn which type of compost to choose. For most people, a standard compost bin with a lock is best (Even Greener sells good ones). Although there are tips on solar digestors and wormeries, these are best avoided (the former can kill creatures that fall in, due to there being no soil, so they get cooked). And wormeries need expert care, as the little red worms often don’t survive being transported to soil (and what happens when people order them live, and they get lost in the post?) Just use normal compost bins, and the worms will naturally find their way. The book features info on:
- Building your bays & ‘front doors’
- Building brick compost bins
- Greens & Browns to add to your compost bin
- Things to avoid adding to compost bins
- How to transport items to your compost bin
- How to make liquid feeds & compost tea
- How to retrieve leaves to make leaf mould
About the Author
Simon Akeroyd used to oversee many National Trust gardens including Agatha Christie’s Greenway. He has also been Garden Manager for properties belonging to the Royal Horticultural Society and has written for many garden publications.