How to Make Your Own Compost

Natalie Crofts

Happy soil makes for happy plants, and one simple way to achieve a nutrient-rich, nourished garden is to turn your household waste into compost. Recycling and helping your garden to thrive? What could be better!

Organic waste such as food scraps and garden cuttings make up a large proportion of what we throw out each week, but what if you could turn these seemingly useless materials into a powerful natural fertiliser for your garden? With a homemade compost heap you can do just that, recycling and reducing waste whilst increasing the essential organic matter in your soil. It’s cost effective and environmentally friendly!

There are two main types of compost to make: hot and cold. Cold compost is a much slower process in which the likes of yard waste, egg shells, fruit and vegetable scraps are gathered and confined in a pile or compost bin to decompose over a year or so. Hot compost on the other hand can be produced in just a couple of months – but not without a bit of elbow grease. To make hot compost you will need equal parts green and brown material, a compost thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature and a fork for turning. Water, air, carbon and nitrogen are all essential ingredients for a successful hot compost heap, along with daily temperature monitoring to ensure you turn the compost on time.

To keep things simple we’ve put together a guide to making a cold compost pile, ideal for starting in autumn as things in the garden begin to slow down and time is on your side.

What can I use?

  • Egg shells
  • Fruit scraps
  • Vegetable peel
  • Coffee grounds
  • Lawn clippings
  • Dried leaves and twigs
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Weeds
  • Straw
  • Untreated wood chips

What can’t I use?

  • Dog or cat manure
  • Dairy products
  • Diseased plants
  • Fish and meat scraps
  • Coal ash
  • Tea bags
  • Bread products
  • Weeds that are likely to seed
  • Sawdust or chips from treated wood

Before you start…

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Before you begin gathering materials you will need a place to put them. If you don’t have a purpose-built compost bin don’t worry, you can take a normal refuse bin and drill a series of large holes in it on each side. Alternatively you can make a compost bin from old pallets. Screw brackets to the corners of three pallets to join them together securely, or tie with strong string. Finally attach a fourth pallet using hinges and a latch – this will become a door to allow for easy access.

Layer it

When you start building your compost pile it’s important to layer any food waste with bulky material such as lawn clippings, twigs or dried leaves, to discourage fruit flies. If you’ve opted to build a pallet container then start with bulky materials such as twigs or small branches at the bottom, to allow for airflow. Layering by nutrients will also ensure a well-balanced finished compost. If you’re layering with high nutrients, such as kitchen scraps, follow it with a layer of low-nutrient material such as shredded newspaper. Covering the top of your pile with a little straw will act as a layer of insulation whilst also protecting the heap from becoming too wet in heavy rain.

What next?

While your compost is cooking up a treat you can help it along with a little extra moisture. A bit of rainfall every now and then should do the trick, but if your pile is looking a little dry then don’t be afraid to give it a spray – though be careful not to water log it, you’re looking for the consistency of a damp sponge.

Turning your compost pile over from time to time – once or twice a fortnight – will also work wonders. Use a shovel or fork to turn it from the outside in, once it’s big enough, to help expose fresh compost. This helps to speed up the process and ensures the whole pile gets the five-star treatment.

Adding to your compost heap regularly with a wealth of different materials will up the nutrient content and keep the good bacteria thriving.

The end result

Once you have your wonderfully rich compost – it should be like dark, fresh-smelling earth – you can start putting it to good use and get your garden flourishing. In spring, adding a few inches to your soil will increase its fertility and give any new seedlings a boost, whilst over at the veggie patch a fresh layer of compost will result in more productive plants, rewarding you with a bountiful harvest later down the line.

Did you know you can even turn your compost into a homemade fertiliser? Steep the compost in water for a few days, strain and keep the liquid for spraying over your plants. This is also known as compost tea!

Compost can also be used to ‘dress’ your lawn, an ideal task for autumn. Simply scatter around one inch of fresh compost across your lawn, rake it in and give it a sprinkling of water. After a couple of weeks the compost will settle in and disappear, improving the quality of the soil below and helping to keep your grass nice and green. This is a good job to do once per year.

Wherever you put your home-grown compost, you’re sure to notice a healthier garden in no time and, when you’ve used it all up, simply start again!

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