Compost is the starting point to any thriving vegetable garden. In fact, compost heaps are nothing short of horticultural alchemy, turning kitchen scraps and garden waste into nutrient-rich goodness.
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If you’re not yet composting, now is as good a time as any to get started. If you are, then perhaps there’s room for improvement! There’s a lot of advice dispensed on the best way to do it, but really composting needn’t be that complicated. So stick around as we go back to basics with our guide to making beautiful, earthy compost for free – quickly and efficiently.
Where to compost?
So what’s the best composting setup? For smaller gardens, a simple enclosed compost bin like this does the job. Ingredients go in the top here, and mature compost can be dug out of the bottom here.
Compost bins with thicker insulating sides will help to trap warmth and speed up the decomposition process, while tumblers like this may be suitable for larger gardens where a lot of material is generated in one go.
Simple compost heaps work just as well, however, and the bigger the volume the better as it will help to keep the center of the compost better insulated from the cold, making the whole process so much more efficient.
This is mine. I emptied it out a couple of months ago, and the process of refilling it has now begun. The contents are kept in place by chicken wire netting secured to four sturdy corner posts.
There’s some insulation afforded by the outbuilding to my right, the wall behind me, and the hedge here. Wooden sides though would be even better. Enclosing heaps with sides made from old pallets or other repurposed wood is a great way to keep things contained and better insulated.
One compost heap is great, but if you have the space for two or more heaps , ideally next to each other, then this canmake the whole process even easier. More on why later on.
The ideal compost heap has a mixture of fresh ‘greens’ and drier, more woody or fibrous ‘browns’. Greens include grass clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps and most spent crops.
Browns include woody prunings, tougher crop residues like tomato stems or corn stalks, fallen leaves, as well as shredded paper and cardboard. In an ideal world you’ll want to add around two-thirds browns to one-third greens.
In reality though, achieving that precise mix is hard, so don’t fret about it. Better instead to add things to the compost heap as you have them,just keeping that ideal mix in the back of your mind.
Add ingredients as they’re generated. If they are dry, moisten them as you add them to kick-start the process. Cut up bulkier materials to increase their surface area, which will also help to speed up decomposition. A shredder will make short work of woodier prunings .
Cardboard is a great way to add in more browns, but make sure it’s plain cardboard – none of that glossy coated stuff – and take the time to shred or rip it up into smaller pieces before adding. Soggy heaps are a common cause of complaint.
The best way to avoid this is to alternate wetter ingredients such as fresh grass clippings with drier, more fibrous materials like wind-blown leaves, cardboard, or woodier crop residues. The resulting mix should be damp but not sodden.
You can also add small amounts of wood ash onto your heap but, importantly, it must be wood ash and not coal ash.
Something else to avoid is dumping a lot of leaves onto the compost heap all at once, which can really slow things down, so add them in modest quantities along with plenty of fresh green ingredients, or compost them separately over one or two years to make your own leaf mould.
Check out our video on this, which I’ve included a link toin the video description below. One way to really supercharge your composting is to include ingredients with a very high nitrogen content.
Animal manure or bedding from chickens or herbivorous pets like rabbits or guinea pigs is especially powerful at really firing up decomposition. Nettles are another great booster, while urine is a famously good compost activator. Add it directly or as broken up,pee-soaked straw bales.
What is not compost?
Avoid cooked food waste and animal products like meat and dairy, which can attract rats. And if rates do happen to be a problem, ease off adding potato peelings, which are a favorite snack.
Weeds are good to go onto the heapso long as they haven’t set seed, but avoid the roots of pernicious perennial weeds like bindweed.
Compost these separately, excluding all light, or drown them in a bucket of water for a few weeks until they’re definitely dead, then pour the resulting slop onto your heap.
Turning & Mixing
The composting process needs plenty of air so all the microbes responsible can breathe. One of the best ways to do this is to mix up or turn all of your ingredients once the heap has been filled.
This introduces more air and mixesup all those browns and greens. The result is a new lease of life as the compost heap heats up once more to finish rotting everythingdown in double-quick time.
This is where having more than one heap makes things easier, because you can simply dig out the ingredients into a waiting bin,leaving the newly-emptied bin ready to fill once again.
Compost heaps that have been mixed also give a finer end product, making the compost a lot easier to spread, which makes all the effort well worthwhile. Garden compost is just fantastic stuff – I mean, look at it! If you’ve been putting it off, what better time to take the plunge and get composting? You’ll feel great doing it! Or if you’re already composting, what are your tips for supercharging your compost? Tell all down below.