How to make compost

Monty Don shares his advice on making compost in this practical guide.

Do it:

Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec

Takes just:

15 minutes

Home-made compost is a great soil conditioner and plant food. Good compost will take about six months to produce if you turn it regularly.

Discover where to mulch with homemade compost.

What should you put in your compost bin? The simple answer is anything that has lived. But I exclude all meat, fat and anything that has been cooked, as these will attract vermin. I also avoid citrus remains because they are slow to rot and very acidic, which reduces worm activity.

To make good compost, you need a 50:50 mix of materials that are rich in nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen comes from lush, green material and carbon comes from woody stems. Very few plants contain the right balance of both on their own to make perfect compost.

For every barrow load of cut grass, you should mix in the same volume of straw, sawdust or cardboard. Ensure any woody material is broken into small pieces or shredded. Except for gloss or colour-printed paper, all packaging can be composted. It should be scrumpled up and mixed in equally with the normal vegetable waste to allow plenty of air to get in, rather than placed in lasagne-like layers.

Most compost bins have too much nitrogen, especially if the main source is from grass cuttings and kitchen waste - the result is an evil-smelling sludge. Equally, an excess of carbon will significantly slow down the composting process.

Here are three steps to creating great compost.

You will need

  • A sunny corner of the garden
  • An equal mix of nitrogen- and carbon-rich waste
  • Compost bin

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Find a sunny corner of your garden, on soil, where you can site either a plastic compost bin or build a compost bin using wooden pallets or similar. Setting your bin up on soil will allow worms and other micro-organisms from the earth to speed up the composting process; add some fine chicken wire at the base to keep rodents out. Start adding organic waste, aiming for an equal mix of green and woody waste as you go (see our tips below). Build up your heap in layers, or mix the ingredients as you go.

You can speed up the process by turning your heap occasionally with a garden fork to aerate it, mixing the outside ingredients to the inside. Make sure you cover your bin to keep the rain out. Watch Monty's video guide to turning compost.

When the mixture turns brown and crumbly and very slightly sweet smelling, the process is complete. This should take around six months.

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Kate Bradbury

Kate Bradbury says

Compost heaps are so beneficial to wildlife that you risk disturbing some creature or other whenever you turn or move it. Anything from bumblebees to hedgehogs can be found nesting and hibernating in the heap, so the ideal time to move or turn it is in April. At this time, most species will have emerged from hibernation but not yet started nesting.

What to add to your compost bin - and what to leave out

Nitrogen-rich waste (green):

  • Grass clippings
  • Annual weeds
  • Fruit and veg peelings

Carbon-rich waste (brown):

  • Prunings
  • Hedgetrimmings
  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Straw
  • Sawdust

Don't add:

  • Diseased plants
  • Perennial weeds
  • Cooked food
  • Meat
  • Dairy products

Discover more ideas and inspiration

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How to collect autumn leaves

How to build a compost bin

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