Here’s our do’s and don’ts to making quality compost. It’s good for the environment, great for your garden, plus you can save a fortune on the bagged stuff.
Do… add veggie peelings, rotten fruit, tea, coffee grounds, grass, spent bedding plants, pruning’s, sawdust, eggshells, wood ash (a little at a time), hair, shredded newspaper and old bedding hay from guinea-pig or rabbit cages.
Do… chop up woody stems before you add them – they’ll rot down more quickly.
Do… stop your bin from becoming too wet or it’ll smell. Think of compost-making as a cake with a balance of ingredients. For every few handfuls of wet (green) material try and add a handful of dry (brown) material.
Do… try and turn the contents fortnightly with a garden fork to get some air into it. This way you get a ‘hot heap’ and everything rots down more quickly. If you don’t turn your heap, it’ll still work, but just take longer. For those lucky to have a compost tumbler, simply turn the handle six times every other day.
Do… use compost accelerators like Garrotta Compost Maker to speed things up. Horse manure works in the same way; simply fork in a bucket full. Both encourage the bin to heat up like an oven. The heat kills diseases and weed seeds, so the hotter the better.
Do… have more than one bin, especially if you don’t turn the contents regularly. Whilst the compost in one is maturing, fill the other.
Don’t… add plastic wrappers, coal or coke ash, nappies or glossy magazines. Avoid cooked food, meat, fish, bones, dog or cat poo too – these might interest rats. Perennial weeds are also out – drown their roots in a bucket of water for at least a month before adding.
Don’t… tuck your compost bin in a gloomy corner; sun helps it heat up and the contents then break down more quickly. Also, the closer the bin is to the house, the more you’ll use it. Make sure it’s easy to get at with a wheelbarrow, if you’re planning on making a lot.
Don’t… worry about slugs – they’re your composting allies. Clouds of tiny fruit flies are fine, too, but might mean the compost is too wet. Add some dry ‘browns’. Ants are harmless but could mean your heap is too dry. Pour on a bucket of water and they’ll disappear.
Don’t… dump barrow loads of grass clippings in your bin all in one go – they’ll turn into a slimy mush. Alternate them with dry ‘brown’ material in 6-8cm (2-3”) layers.
Don’t… add potatoes and tomato stems, unless you turn your heap regularly to get it super-hot, as blight can survive the composting process. Take sickly plants and those infected with diseases like club root and potato blight to the local tip.
Don’t… add loads of autumn leaves. They’ll take a year or more to break down. Instead, make leaf mould. Rake, then bag the leaves (black sacks or old compost bags will do) before damping them down with water. Puncture a few holes in the sides to let air in and a year so later you’ll have the most wonderful soil conditioner.
Don’t… worry if your compost doesn’t look like the shop stuff. Expect it to be lumpy, twiggy and slightly sticky with eggshells and avocado stones. It’ll still be great. Compost is ‘done’ when it’s dark brown and crumbly. To use in potting compost or seed sowing, sieve it first to remove large lumps.
Stay safe, Matt and Polly x