Making great compost

There are many tips for making great compost, writes Bob Sherman, but first you need to start with your bin. 

Bins come in a bewildering array of shapes and sizes. For a good selection try the Recycle Works and Link-a-Bord

Local authorities often offer plastic bins at a discount to encourage home composting. 

You can on the other hand make your own bin. Remember bins need solid sides and a lid to retain heat and prevent them drying out.

Once you’ve got your bin sorted, the following tips should help you make great compost. 

  1. Position
    Site your compost heap ideally in dappled shade where it will be sheltered from wind, rain and sun.
  2. Pests
    To keep out rats place the bins on slabs with just a tiny gap between them to allow worms in and excess liquid out. Wrap chicken wire round the base to stop rats chewing through.
  3. Got plenty of space?
    Aim for three bins – one for filling, one for maturing and one that’s being emptied.
  4. Temperature
    Plant material rots with or without heat but a hot bin produces useable compost more quickly. Without oxygen a heap cannot warm up, so to get a hotter compost, turn over the compost with a garden fork. Alternatively turn the heap into another bin when it starts to cool.
  5. Topping up
    If you can, add plenty of material in one go, rather than in dribs and drabs. 
  6. Small is better
    For fastest results chop the feed material into small pieces and smash thick stems.
  7. Green & brown
    If your heap is dry and hasn’t rotted much it means you need to add more 'green' - ie soft, sappy material (young weeds, grass mowings, fruit and vegetable peelings). If the opposite is true, you need to add more 'brown' - ie chipped prunings, shredded paper and other more fibrous material.
  8. Keep it organic
    If you use weedkillers or insecticides, consider replacing this with organic methods. For example, some of the most popular weedkillers for lawn weeds contain clopyralid. This is highly persistent meaning contaminated lawn mowings can pass through the heap and make your compost poisonous to plants for 2 or 3 years.
  9. Use it
    Apply compost any time between February and October and work it just under the surface. One wheelbarrow load to 5 sq metres is plenty.

Bob Sherman is head of horticulture at Garden Organic


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