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How To Make Your Own Compost

By Grow Your Own magazine
20th November 2023

Composting not only gives your plants a healthy medium in which to grow, it is also an environmentally-friendly way to deal with garden and kitchen waste. It doesn’t matter when you take on your plot, as composting happens year-round, but there are a few things to take on board to ensure you are creating the best compost you can, and avoiding common issues, such as the heap turning slimy and smelly, or the matter not breaking down. But luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to get the best from your garden heap.

Getting started
Before you begin the composting process, it is important to make sure your heap or bin is going in the best location on the plot. Your compost won’t thrive in extremes of temperature, so somewhere shady but not too damp will be ideal. If the base can be open this is preferred, as it allows drainage, although if you only have access to a hard surface, this is fine. It is important to have some air flow, and not to let in extreme weather, such as rain, so offering some shelter (such as a lid or removable cover) can help keep things healthy and happy.

Once you have decided on your location, your next consideration will likely be the type of bin you will go for. There are plenty on the market made of various different materials, so have a look about and see what suits the individual needs of your garden best. Alternatively, if you are handy with DIY, it is quite simple to make a compost bin yourself, which can be a money-saver if you have access to the materials, and can be built to your own specifications – this is useful if you have an awkward-shaped plot.

What to compost
When discussing composting, the ratio of materials is often the first thing that comes up – and with good reason, when using standard practises. The two categories for compostable materials are as follows:

Greens: grass clippings, weeds (not perennials), vegetable peelings, manure

Browns: wood chippings, dried out leaves, straw, paper, cardboard

The ‘greens’ should account for 25 - 50 per cent of the heap – adding more than this can make the resulting compost slimy and smelly – which is definitely not what you are aiming for! It is also worth considering the type of materials from each category. For example, if your greens are predominantly grass clippings or veg peelings, these should be combined with some of the more ‘woody’ brown materials to stop the whole thing from turning sludgy.

Similarly, not putting enough ‘green’ matter in can cause compost that is too dry, so it is worth getting yourself familiar with the textures you should be looking for so you can monitor this. There are some composters available on the market allowing you to compost a broader range of materials, and tumbling composters which can help the resulting compost to be usable quicker, so make sure you research what will work for you.

Care and maintenance
There isn’t much you will need to do to keep you heap healthy – home made compost is rather low-maintenance! However, you will need to make time to turn your compost - doing this approximately once a month helps all of the materials to incorporate in together, gets air into the material and helps it to break down evenly. This can simply be done with a garden fork, but if you have limited mobility, or aren’t able to shift it, compost tumblers are also available.

When will it be ready?
Each compost heap will be slightly different, but unless you are using a speedy composter, a standard garden bin will have usable compost inside anywhere between six months and two years. We promise it will be worth the wait! You will be able to identify when it is ready to use by the fact that it will be a deep brown colour, crumbly in texture and will have a woody but not unpleasant smell. Any material not broken down can be re-incorporated into your next batch.

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