Good compost is the not-so-secret weapon in any keen gardener’s arsenal. If you’re wanting to grow really top-tier fruit, veg, flowers and plants then nutrient-packed compost is your best friend. In fact, so precious is compost that many gardeners refer to it as ‘black gold’. Compost is, quite simply, decayed organic matter that has broken down and is packed with loads of goodness for your garden. You can use compost as fertiliser to enrich the soil and give your growing a helping hand.
There are lots of different types of compost available for different purposes, and it’s readily available bagged up at any garden centre – but as you’ll often hear me say, doing it yourself is just so rewarding. Composting at home doesn’t take up much space, and is an excellent way to make the most out of lots of household waste such as veg peelings, eggshells and waste paper.
The benefits of making your own compost
Compost is packed with nutrients that your garden will love. It’s a perfect addition to your garden soil to make sure your plants are growing in good conditions to support their growth. I love to plant seeds in a 50/50 mix of soil and compost, and add a good handful of compost to the bottom of the hole when I’m transplanting seedlings. It’s also a great idea to add compost to your beds or veg patch in preparation for spring, and let the worms take over from there.
Given some tasty scraps and good garden waste, the microorganisms that live in your garden will set to work on breaking them down. This can take anywhere between 6-18 months, so be pre-warned that your compost won’t form overnight. But once you’ve got your compost pile going you’ll have a ready supply of gardener’s black gold!
What kind of compost bin to use
Of course, the kind of bin you might choose depends very much on the size of your plot. If you’re space-limited, a smaller space-saving option might be the most sensible, but if you’re not restricted by area then building your own out of pallets or scrap wood or metal is a great option. There are lots of tutorials online that show you how to build your own compost bin if you’re the handy sort.
Flat-packed wooden bins of varying sizes can be found online or at a local garden centre and aren’t very expensive. Lidded plastic drums are also a good option as they can be tucked into a corner, and the lid will keep in heat and moisture. Whichever option you choose, it’s a good idea to make sure you can access the bottom of the pile where the compost will be the most broken down.
What to add to your compost bin
There are two common types of composting materials, most of which you’ll produce as waste around your home and garden. The idea is to add to your compost bin a mix of “brown” and “green” materials in a 2:1 ratio.
Green compost materials are rich in nitrogen, and include:
- Lawn clippings
- Animal manure such as from cows or chickens (never dog or cat droppings)
- Coffee grounds
- Kitchen waste like fruit and vegetable scraps and crushed eggshells
- Spent plants and young weeds (avoid weeds that have flowered or seeded).
Brown compost materials are rich in carbon:
- Garden prunings
- Waste paper, card and newspaper (shred or rip up larger pieces to speed up the process)
- Fallen leaves
You can layer brown and green materials on top of each other and leave undisturbed, in which case composting will take anywhere between 6-8 months. If you’re keen to speed the process along, you can fork through your compost pile, making sure to mix it well, every month or so in order to help circulate the flow of oxygen and encourage the microorganisms in your pile to get working.
What not to add to your compost bin
It can be tempting to get carried away throwing all your household and garden waste onto your pile, but it’s key to avoid adding anything that might attract pests, add chemicals or upset the pH of the compost.
- Citrus fruit waste like lime, lemon and orange – these are too acidic
- Fish and meat scraps – unless you fancy providing a banquet for any local rats!
- Tea bags, as many brands contain plastic
- Chemically treated wood
- Coated or glossy card or paper
- Larger branches and cuttings – it’s best to keep them separate or chop them up finely before adding them to the pile.
Happy composting! Katie x