Making Compost – Step By Step

Composting is how I recommend anyone get rid of their garden waste; it just has so many benefits! Use it as a mulch over beds and borders in the spring, or the autumn and it will suppress weeds, help protect from frost, as well as feeding the plants. And you know what else? Its free!

So how do you make compost? You need two types of garden waste: Green material, and Brown material. This is not necessarily indicated by their colour. Let me explain.

Green material is things like grass clippings, fruit, veg, spent bedding plants, left-overs from dinner, cotton clothing and more. Material with a high nitrogen content.

 Brown material is generally things like twigs, sticks, woody material of any kind, as well as paper, cardboard and leaves. Anything with a high carbon content.

The idea behind composting is to mix both types, and put them in some sort of a pile. Try and mix them in in equal proportions. This is of course not always possible, as in spring and summer you will have so much more green waste then you will brown waste, and visa-versa in the autumn and winter.

A good idea is to shred your old newspapers, junk mail, amazon boxes, etc and add them to the compost pile as you add your grass clippings and other green material.

Mix it in as equal proportions as you can, and you are off to a good start!

Get shredding!
The smaller the waste, the faster it composts. So a great idea is to use a shredder to shred any big bits of waste and then add to the pile. Don’t have a shredder? Use a lawn mower. Blow your leaves on to your lawn and run them over with a mower! Leaves that aren’t cut up take a very long time to decompose fully. Same with woody stems and branches.
Don’t have a mower or a shredder? Secateurs will do! Cut things up as small as you can without being too tedious, or rip things up, or what-ever you like to break things in to pieces, and you will get better results!

What  should I avoid?
Okay, here’s a myth to bust immediately – you can add anything to your compost that will decompose. If it once lived, you can add it to your compost. But, there are some things you may choose to avoid. Meat, fish, fat you may not want to add as it could attract vermin, and can smell a bit nasty. Weeds that are perennial, such as ground elder, horsetail, ivy, and so on, should not be added to a pile unless it heats up to a very high temperature. Most UK compost piles do not get quite hot enough for that. Consider burning them instead, and adding the ash to the pile.
Check out this site: Can I Compost This? if you are not sure of anything.

What else does my compost need? Water and Air.
Compost is a bacterial process, and for bacteria to thrive, they need air and water.

Air should be easy enough, as most compost bins have some ventilation for this purpose. If you’ve made a compost bin out of say an old council waste bin, you may want to put a few holes in it for air to flow in as well as water to drain.

You can also, if you wish, turn your compost occasionally. More on this later.

For water, if you have a closed bin, it is worth giving it a bit of a soak with the hose every now and again. It needs to be damp not wet. If you have a bin open to the elements, this is fine too, though consider some old carpet over the top to deflect some of the rain, as well as keep moisture in during hot weather.

Too much of a good thing. And by that I mean too much of one particular waste, a good example being grass clippings. If you have masses of grass clippings, either make a pile of grass clippings elsewhere, and add it to the compost over time, or put some in your green waste bin, and some on the compost heap. Too much of one thing will just leave you with a big mess and no compost. This is true for any type of waste! Moderation is king.

What do I need to do to maintain my compost? Well, you have a few options.
1. Do nothing. It will compost in anything from 9-18 months, if you leave it alone, and it has all the right ingredients of water, air, green and brown waste. Compost will happen! But maybe you want it to happen just a little quicker…
2. Give it a bit of a stir. Get yourself a fork, or a ‘compost aerator’ and just dig it over a little, make some holes in it for air and so on.
3. Vigorously turn it regularly. This is key if you wish for a ‘hot compost’ pile. In America is this is a popular type of composting. It has a key benefit – quicker compost. You dig over or ‘turn’ the pile often, adding more air in to it, and water as needed, and you will find your compost heats up faster, which can send it up to temperatures that kill off most weed seeds, and you get good finished compost quicker.

What else should I know? Bigger piles generate more heat. A cubic metre of compost will heat up a lot more than half a black bin full of waste will.
Another thing you could do is add composting worms. They can be purchased online (though I almost guarantee, if you build a compost pile they will eventually find it) and they will love it in your bin, and help to decompose the waste as it passes through their gut.

What about ants and vermin? Lets break that down in to each individual case shall we.
People often complain of ants nests in their compost bins. The ants like it as it is warm and dry. What does this tell you? You should water your compost a bit more! Once it has more water and begins to heat up, they won’t stay long. But they are not really detrimental to your bin. I would not recommend use of ant powder. Simply wetting the pile thoroughly and maybe giving it some aeration will soon send them off.
Vermin are a different story. Meat, fish and fat will attract them. But if your compost bin is sealed that should not be such an issue. Consider putting wire mesh down underneath the bins so they cannot burrow in. My own bins have this, and are also very high, so vermin cannot get in.

Whilst this is a lot of information, composting is simple. Add green material, add brown, some water and air, and reap the benefits in time.