Most gardeners know that homemade compost is of great benefit to the garden, yet there are still lots of people who have yet to give it a go for themselves. It’s free, easy to make and provides a handy way to dispose of most of your garden waste, besides offering benefits to your plants and soil as well as looking after some of our friendliest garden inhabitants such as worms. Here's how to make your own.

The first thing to consider when starting your own compost is what to make it in. There are broadly three choices:

  1. Pile up a heap in a corner of the garden
  2. Build your own container out of wood
  3. Invest in a modern plastic composter

For most people, the latter option provides the best solution—the bins are tidy and efficient and you might even be able to get money off its purchase through your local council.

 

What makes a good compost?

To compost, you simply need to fill your bin with a roughly even mixture of "green" and "brown".

Green waste includes grass clippings, green leaves, vegetable peelings and other soft garden matter. These will break down quickly providing most of the nutrients to your compost.

Brown waste consists of drier items that will prevent your compost becoming a mushy mess and help improve the condition of your soil.

Cardboard and paper (providing they’re not covered in ink) is a good source of brown material and you can also add sticks and other drier garden waste, although these should be broken up as best you can before adding to the bin.

You can also add the clumps of soil and root from dead pot plants, flower displays when they’re ready to discard, tea bags and coffee grits.

Weeds can also be composted, although this comes with a cautionary note—the temperature inside a plastic bin full of rotting compost gets high enough during summer to effectively kill off and rot most weeds, but we’ve found root-burrowing troublemakers such as bindweed are able to spread below the compost and up the other side before they’re properly cooked.

 

Looking after your compost

A lot of the work of composting is done by helpful garden worms, who will wriggle through the lot breaking it down and mixing it. But there’s only so much they can do, so try to layer green and brown waste as you’re adding it and mix it up with a garden fork from time to time, checking on the consistency to see if it’s too wet or too dry and compensating with your the next load to enter your bin.

Eventually, the older, good compost will settle down at the bottom of your pile—if you’re lucky you may have some after a few months, or it could take up to a year. You’ll know it’s ready when it looks like crumbly earth and has lost the aroma of rotting vegetation.

Simply dig out the bottom layer (most bins have a handy "serving hatch" for this task) and either put it straight to use on the garden or store in a tub, then give the remaining compost a fork over and continue to top it up. Your free, perpetual source of compost is under way.

 

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Nick and Rich run the website twothirstygardeners.co.uk and their homegrown booze recipe book, Brew it Yourself, is out now

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