Composting for beginners

As autumn floods your garden with thousands of rusty leaves, there is no better time to start your own compost heap. Nature itself provides plenty of essential ingredients and with tons of household waste items available, creating your compost heap at home is easy and completely free!

What is compost and why it is useful?

Compost is organic matter made up of recycled materials that has decomposed over time and can be used as a fertilizer for growing plants.

Where do I start?

There are two ways in which you can start your own compost heap. Most people tend to use a compost bin as it retains the warmth and moisture needed to create the ideal environment for decomposition and it also stops any unpleasant smells arising from the heap. There are plenty of online selections or your local garden centre will provide a great choice of compost bins. Alternatively, you can dedicate a section of your garden for your compost heap to be located, position it on a high raised, well drained areas to combat those bad smells, cover the heap with a tarp or other sturdy materials.

What should I include in my compost heap?

Once you have decided whether to use a compost bin or an area of your garden, it’s time to start adding to your heap. You’ll need to use ingredients which input high levels of nitrogen, fibre, carbon, calcium and minerals which may seem like a complicated task, but these ingredients can be found right under your nose! Did you know that almost 50% of the content of the average house dustbin can be used as effective compost ingredients? That means a home compost not only offers a cheap alternative to fertilizer, it also reduces the amount of waste in landfill sites and is therefore beneficial to the environment. Waste items such as egg shells, tea bags, newspaper, vegetable peelings, fruit skins, and coffee grounds are all useful elements that are accessible from home. Simply have a separate bin in your kitchen for these specific waste items and when it comes to bin collection day, instead of taking it to the front of your house (which I am prone to forgetting), add it to your compost heap. Your garden is also a haven for compost materials as fallen leaves and plant clippings are perfect for adding to your compost heap.

This is a photograph of a composter and shovel filled with dead leaves.

What shouldn’t I include in my compost heap?

As well as knowing what to include in your compost, it’s also worth familiarising yourself with items that should be avoided when it comes to home composting. Meat, fish and dairy products should be kept away from your compost as they don’t contribute to the quality and will attract unwanted rodents and garden pests. Weeds and diseased plant cuttings are also items that should be thrown away as you risk spreading them around other parts of your garden when the compost is used. The obvious plastics, glass and metals should be recycled separately and definitely no dog poo, cat litter or babies’ nappies!

Sustaining a compost heap

You’ve got a position for your heap, you know what ingredients to include, now all that’s left is to maintain a balanced compost. A successful compost heap requires regular turning. Using a fork or aeration tool will make the job a lot easier. Cardboard is a helpful way to create air pockets within the mixture as this produces air flow which is vital for effective decomposition. Adding cardboard cuttings and regular turning will ensure air is throughout the mixture leading to a healthy compost. Your compost heap should be kept nice and moist, adding an appropriate of water now and then can help with this, but be sure not to drown your heap as you don’t want to cause swamping, just a small amount to dampen the mixture is perfect.

Add worms! They are the perfect waste disposal unit turning waste products into liquid feed. Finally, you can add compost accelerator products which add extra microbes and enzymes, speeding up the breakdown process.

What should my compost look like?

Compost can take between six months and two years to mature. Your compost should have a dark brown colour, spongey yet crumbly texture and have an earthy/woodland smell. There are plenty of examples online you can compare your compost to and if it matches, you’re good to go. The RHS have some helpful tips and guides for composting.

close up hand holding soil peat moss

Using my home compost

You can add your compost to potted plants, fork into the soil surface as a soil conditioner or use the mixture as a mulch cover. Each of the methods mentioned will allow your plants to access quality nutrients from your home grown slow releasing fertiliser.

With these helpful steps, we hope you have the necessary guidelines so you can go and start your home grown compost. Be sure to share your composting tips and pictures to @best4hedging twitter and our Facebook page.

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