Posted by: sweetpea | April 25, 2008

How to make good compost….

A handful of nice and crumbly compost

You see the lovely brown crumbly stuff in my hand….well that is my lovely homemade compost, made down on the plot.

I was so excited last night when I went to investigate as I hadn’t looked at it since last year sometime and wondered what it would be like.  And believe you me it is lovely stuff…with a few added bits that haven’t finished breaking down but they get thrown back into the other compost bin.  Last night I decided to use it to dig into the soil where my peas were about to be planted out, mulch around the broad beans, and I also spread a thin layer over the asparagus bed (sure I should have done that earlier in the year but I always think better late than never!).

Mulching with compost

As my compost has turned out a treat I thought I’d write a little about how to make good compost (not that I’m an expert or anything, although I was once a York Rotter volunteer).

Compost Recipe

Now as with any recipe, the end result is entirely dependent on the ingredients and the method used, however making compost is fairly flexible too, but there are some things that will help ensure success and it is these that I will enlighten you with.


  • 50% Green material grass clippings, weeds (see below for things to avoid), kitchen waste (again see below for things to avoid), green material from the garden (e.g. soft prunings)
  • 50% Brown material dry garden waste (e.g. dry grass, dead plants), hardwood prunings (best to shred if possible or cut up small), cardboard (egg boxes, toilet rolls etc.), newspaper, shredded envelopes/paper (brown envelopes decompose best)

Things you shouldn’t put in your heap

  • Perennial weeds i.e those with roots that will re-grow e.g. dandelions, docks, couch grass, bindweed, creeping thistle, nettles, creeping buttercup, Ground elder.  However you can cut off the leafy part of most of these and add it so long as you make sure you don’t add any root (I’d avoid bindweed and couch grass altogether). 
  • Annual weeds that have gone to seed…this is because domestic compost heaps don’t get hot enough to kill seeds, so when you spread your lovely compost you will be spreading any seeds that may be in it too.
  • Diseased material…again, because the heap won’t get hot enough to kill the pathogens causing the disease.
  • Cooked food waste..this will decompose, but you must bear in mind that it may attract vermin to your heap.  There are special kinds of composting bins that can be used for this kind of waste e.g. Bokashi
  • Weeds and to an extent diseased material, can be dried and burnt before the ashes are added to the compost, but I’d double check on the diseased material as I’m not 100% sure if it kills everything.


Choose a container

  • Most people use a compost bin of some kind to contain their compost in a neat way, however it isn’t essential. 
  •  There are a wide range of things that can be used as compost bins, from bought plastic dalec types through to home made wooden box bins and ones made from pallets…the choice is yours. 
  •  If you are going to be generating a lot of waste for composting it is worthwhile having two or more containers..I’ll tell you why in a while.  Below are my composting bins (still looking for a photo…sure I had one somewhere!).

Where to put your bin

  • If possible, position your bin(s) on a patch of earth, this way all the soil organisms that are going to be turning your waste into compost can easily make their way into the heap.
  • If possible position your heap somewhere that gets the sun, the more the better. this is because heat speeds up the composting process, the soil organisms are more active when it’s warmer.
  • It’s best not to position the heap under trees as this both shades the heap from the sun, but also from the rain…the heap does need to be kept moist.

Making the compost

  • This is much easier than you think, simply add the ingredients as they become available making sure that you are putting in a good mix of green and brown material.  Too much green material and you risk ending up with a soggy smelly mess; Too much brown material and your heap will be too dry.
  • It can help to add a compost activator.  You can either buy these……….or you can do it the free way like I do i.e. pee on it (or if you’re a girl like me you might want to use a bucket first!). This acts to stimulate the bacteria etc that will do the decomposing.
  • Now for the hard work…..or not depending on how patient you are, how much time you have, and how much effort you want to put in.  As with all things, the more effort and time you put in the quicker the result…but not necessarily better.  Basically a compost heap needs turning to aerate it i.e. let air in so that all the nice organisms can work (if there is no air you get bad organism and a smelly heap!).  Now how often do you turn it, that is the question?  Well you can turn it as often as you like within reason, the more often you turn your heap (e.g. once a month) the quicker it will tun into compost.  This is where the 2 bins come in, because it is much easier to turn your compost out of one bin into another. 
  • To turn the heap, the best way is to use a fork and lift it over into your second bin, giving it a good shake as you empty it into the bin so as to break it up.
  • Although I have said that the more often you turn your heap the quicker it will compost, you can still make good compost even if you don’t have the time or the inclination to put in all that effort (like me, I don’t have the time).  I simply turn my heap once or possibly twice a year, once one heap is full I think about turning it into the other bin and starting a fresh heap, that way I always have one heap decomposing and the other collecting stuff.

Using your lovely compost

  • As a soil improver – will add nutrients to your soil, improve the soil structure which in turn will help it hold onto both nutrients and water.
  • As a mulch – will help retain moisture, supress weeds, and eventually also improve soil structure and nutrients as it is drawn down by earthworms.
  • As a potting compost – can be mixed wih loam, sand, grit to make your very own potting compost.


So there you have it, composting in a nutshell!

I think I’ve covered the basics although I’m sure I’ve missed thngs out, please feel free to add comments or tips.


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