How to make compost

Find out how to make great garden 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 invaluable in the garden - it is a great soil improver, mulch and growing medium. 

Discover where to mulch with homemade compost.

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 such as grass clippings. Carbon comes from brown material, such as woody stems and cardboard.

For every bucket load of green material, you need to add the same volume of brown. Shred woody stems before adding them so that they break down more easily. Scrumple paper and leave egg boxes or loo rolls intact - these help to keep the compost aerated. 

Most compost bins have too much nitrogen, especially if the main source is from grass cuttings - the result is smelly sludge. If you have too much carbon in your bin, the composting process will be very slow. 

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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Stand your compost bin directly on the soil - worms and other micro-organisms will speed up the composting process. Find out which compost bin is best for you. Chicken wire at the base will keep rodents out. Add an equal mix of green and brown materials (see our guide below). 

Speed up the process by turning your heap occasionally with a garden fork to aerate it, mixing the outside ingredients to the inside. Cover your bin to keep the rain out. Watch Monty's video guide to turning compost.

When the mixture turns brown and crumbly and slightly sweet smelling, the process is complete. This will take around six months if the heap has been turned regularly, but can take much longer. 

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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
  • Nettle leaves
  • Teabags

Carbon-rich waste (brown):

  • Prunings
  • Hedgetrimmings
  • Paper or newspaper (loosely scrunched up is best)
  • Cardboard
  • Straw
  • Sawdust
  • Pet bedding
  • Paper towels
  • Paper bags

Also add: 

  • Eggshells, natural fibres (wool or cotton), wood ash (not too much)

Don't add:

  • Diseased plants
  • Perennial weeds
  • Cooked food
  • Citrus (slow to rot and very acidic, which reduces worm activity)
  • Raw meat
  • Dairy products
  • Gloss or colour-printed paper
  • Ash from coal fires
  • Cat or dog faeces
  • Autumn leaves - these are best used to make leaf mould

Discover more ideas and inspiration

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How to collect autumn leaves

Can I compost woody stems with no shredder?

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