How to make compost

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.

Monty's compost recipe

What should you put on your heap? 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.

Very few plants contain the right balance of nitrogen and carbon on their own to make perfect compost. Most piles 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.

Nitrogen typically comes from lush green material and carbon from woody stems. 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.

You will need

  • A corner of the garden
  • Organic waste
  • Storage container

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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. Start adding organic waste, aiming for an equal mix of green and woody waste (see Monty's compost recipe above). 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.

When the mixture turns brown and crumbly, and very slightly sweet smelling, the process is complete.

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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.

Discover more ideas and inspiration

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