You could spend a small fortune year-on-year buying compost to use in planters and to mulch beds, adding extra nutrition to keep plants happy and healthy. Or you could make your own compost. Here are some tips about how to make your own and do an excellent job of it.Make a start now and in 18 months’ time you’ll have a supply of 100% home made compost: damp, rich, dark and full of goodness. Use a compost activator product and it’s a whole lot faster, more like 10 weeks from start to finish…
Make your own compost – How to do the best possible job
First, do you need to buy special compost bin? The short answer is no. If you buy a compost bin, make sure it’s a good quality one. But there’s no real need to lay out all that cash when a simple, traditional compost heap does the trick perfectly well, if not better. You can use old pallet wood to build a three-sided container to keep it under control and in one place, or our favorite solution: grab one basic beach windbreak and use it to create a four-sided ‘box’. It’s easy to pull out one of the pointed posts to get your mature compost out, which makes it particularly practical and convenient.
Where to put your heap
Next, you need to pick the right spot. You need somewhere level and well-drained, so water can drain away easily and you don’t drown your worms, the creatures that do most of the hard work, magically turning garden waste into beautiful compost. A worm can live out its entire life in your compost heap and have a lovely time, with an endless supply of food and a nice, warm environment even in the winter. If you want to make the most of worm-power, you can buy supplies of tiger worms, AKA Eisenia fetida, the best compost makers on the planet and available by post from places like the Eden Project.
What can you put in your compost heap?
You can compost all sorts of things:
- Vegetable peelings
- Fruit waste
- Tea bags
- Garden waste, including small twigs
- Grass cuttings
- Torn up newspaper
- Fallen leaves
- Sheep wool, increasingly used as insulating packaging by food companies who deliver frozen goods to your door
- If you live somewhere with acid soil, crushed eggshells. But if you live in a chalky or hard water area, eggshells just add extra calcium to the soil that you don’t need, so leave them out
What you CAN’T put in your compost heap
Some things are a big no-no.
- Dairy products
- Anything cooked
- Diseased plants, since it’s likely the disease will spread
- Dog poop and cat litter
- If you don’t like weeds, avoid putting seed heads in the compost
The secret is to create a good balance. Equal proportions of all the things you can put in your heap should generate excellent compost. If it gets too wet and slimy, it can just rot. Crunched up newspaper and cardboard can help, creating spaces in the mix for the air to circulate.
Mix your compost now and again
You’re supposed to turn your compost regularly to help aerate it. I’ve never bothered. It’s too messy and awkward, but even so our compost is absolutely splendid.
Instead of turning our heap I use a compost activation product, which acts as a catalyst to create dark, rich, crumbly compost faster than if you leave it to do its thing naturally. Our compost is ready in just 10 weeks, a lot faster than the naturally-occuring 18 months it otherwise takes to mature. Alternatively, pee in your compost heap. I do. It works a treat, since urine is also a powerful catalyst.
Harvest it as soon as it’s ready
I empty our compost heap from the bottom, shifting one of the four beach windbreaker stakes to create the space needed to dig it out. You know it’s ready when it looks just like the compost you buy from a garden center: spongy, very dark, finely textured. Spread it on your beds and it adds nutrients as well as keeping moisture in the soil and suppressing weeds. It also means you won’t need to use chemical pesticides and fertilisers, never a good idea in this day and age.
Compost as a home for wildlife
A compost heap makes the perfect warm winter home for cold blooded creatures like toads and slow worms, as well as warm blooded mammals like mice, voles, stoat families and even hedgehogs. Take care when digging up your heap, giving the wildlife time to get safely out before you go for it. Making your preparations should make enough noise and cause enough vibrations to warn them you’re about to dig!