How to Compost

Improve soil quality in your garden by applying these composting basics, and learn how to make a compost bin with materials from around the house.

Composting

Composting adds to soil quality.

Photo Courtesy DK

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Packed with hundreds of gardening projects, from planting herbs in pots to creating a vegetable garden to feed the family, How to Grow Practically Everything (DK, 2010) gives complete beginners the confidence and know-how to grow almost anything. Each project is a complete package, with step-by-step photographic details and sumptuous end shots to ensure great results. Composting — a great way to improve your soil — is one of the many topics addressed; learn how to compost in the following excerpt. 

You can buy this book from the GRIT store: How to Grow Practically Everything. 

More from How to Grow Practically Everything

How to Plant a Tree
How to Take Care of Your Lawn 
How to Grow French Beans 

How to Compost

Composting conveniently disposes of your garden cuttings and trimmings, while at the same time creating a free, and wonderful, soil improver. It can be as simple as throwing all your waste into a pile and forgetting about it, but you will get better results if you follow a few simple guidelines.  

Choosing a Composting Bin

Bog standard plastic compost bins are functional, rather than attractive, but do hold lots of garden and kitchen waste. They are also the most inexpensive, and can often be bought at a discounted price through your local council. If you are concerned about how your compost bin fits in with the rest of the gardens, there are more attractive options, including wooden bins designed to look like bee hives that can be stained to suit your garden design. These are a good choice for smaller gardens where the bin would be on view. Impatient gardeners may prefer “tumbler” bins. These allow you to make small batches of compost in weeks, not months, by turning the bin to increase airflow, which naturally speeds up the composting process.

Composting Ingredients

To produce good compost it is important to have the right mix of ingredients. If you add to much soft, green material, such as grass clippings, the heap may turn into a slimy, smelly sludge. Put in too much dry, woody materials, and it will rot down slowly, if at all. Ideally aim for a ratio of about 50:50. During most of the year, it is likely that you will be producing more green than dry material, so you will need to search around for dry waste to add. Woody prunnings are best, but brown cardboard, crumpled newspaper and even the insides of used toilet rolls all make suitable alternatives.

Speeding Up Compost

Air is essential to the composting process, so the contents must be turned regularly to ensure good airflow throughout your bin or heap. Turning also allows you to check how things are going, to wet the mix if it is too dry, or to add dry material if it is too wet. This task is easier if you have two bins, but if you only have one, simply empty it out onto a tarpaulin, mix the contents well, then refill the bin.  

Bokashi Composting

Cooked foods, meat, and fish should never be composted in an ordinary bin as they attract rats and harmful bacteria. Instead, compost this type of waste using the Japanese bokashi system. This involves using a special sealed bin that you fill in layers, each one sprinkled with bran dust, inoculated with micro-organisms. The content of the bin then effectively pickles, and after about two weeks, it can be emptied out and buried in the garden or added to the compost heap. This method also produces a liquor that can be diluted and used as liquid feed.

How to Make a Compost Bin

A home-made bin is just as good as a bought one, and you can make it whatever size and shape that best suits your garden, and the quantity of the material you want to compost.

Time to complete: 1 day

You will need: 4 posts about 1.5m (5ft) long, mallet, chicken wire, fencing staples, cardboard boxes, old carpet

1. Attach wire to post

Set the posts 75cm (30in) apart in square and drive them 30cm (12in) into the ground, using a mallet. Wrap the chicken wire around the posts and attach it with fencing staples. Snip off excess wire, and make sure that no sharp strands are left sticking out.

2. Add cardboard sides

Flatten the cardboard boxes and put several layers on each side, slotting them between the posts and the netting. Put a layer on the base then start filling your bin. Place a piece of old carpet on top of the waste; replace it each time you add more. This helps keep out the rain and insulates the bin, speeding up the composting process.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from How to Grow Practically Everything by Zia Allaway and Lia Leendertz and published by DK, 2010. Buy this book from our store: How to Grow Practically Everything.