Home composting

Recycling garden waste into home-made compost is easy - and good for the environment.

Composting is when plant material is collected together to rot to produce compost.

It is a great way to make use of your garden waste – you can recycle everything from lawn clippings to weeds, hedge-trimmings or faded flowers.

You can also add plant-based kitchen waste, such as veg peelings, along with paper and cardboard.

Although these can all be recycled via the SKDC Garden Waste collection service, it also makes sense to reap the benefits of composting in your own garden. This avoids environmental costs in terms of transport or industrial processing, and results in a free sustainable compost that will benefit your soil and plants.

Here are some useful videos to help you get started – and below some information on home composting.

Garden waste can be broken down over time in a compost bin or heap to produce a crumbly organic matter that can be used as a mulch, soil conditioner or part of your potting compost.

Doing this process at home is good for garden biodiversity, because many kinds of fungi and soil micro-organisms contribute to the process. Worms, woodlice, slugs and other invertebrates also feed on the decaying material. These in turn provide food for birds, hedgehogs, toads and other valuable wildlife.

(All information from the RHS)

Why make your own compost?

Home-made compost adds valuable organic matter that improves the soil’s structure, aeration and biodiversity.

All you need to do is spread it over the soil surface or lightly fork it in.

It can boost moisture retention in fast-draining sandy soils and aid drainage in heavy clay soils.

When used as a mulch, it helps to hold moisture in the soil and slow down evaporation in summer.

Garden compost can also be used to make potting compost, when combined with other ingredients such as soil – see our guide to making your own potting compost.

You could either pile up your garden waste in a heap, although it’s more efficient and space-saving to use a specially-designed bin. You can build your own from wooden pallets or recycled planks, or buy a purpose-made container. There are options to suit all sizes and styles of garden.

If you have a garden too small for a compost heap or plastic composting bin, or you lack enough material to fill it and would still like to recycle garden waste, you could consider worm composting instead.

How to start composting: Setting up your compost area or bin

Find the right site - The best location is a sheltered spot in partial or full shade, to avoid extremes of temperature and moisture. The micro-organisms (bacteria and fungi) that convert the waste into compost work best in constant conditions.

Start to fill it - save everything from vegetable and fruit peelings to teabags, toilet roll tubes, cereal boxes and eggshells.

Never compost cooked food, meat or fish.

Place all of these “brown” items, along with garden waste (your greens), into your compost bin (see the next section for more details on the content). A 50-50 mix of “greens and browns” is perfect.

You can start a new compost bin at any time of year, but it’s useful to begin when your garden is producing a lot of suitable material, usually from spring onwards. It’s generally quicker, tidier and easier to make compost in a bin, although an open heap will compost eventually. A successful bin should exclude rain, retain some warmth, allow drainage and let in air.

Sit back and wait - it takes up to 12 months to mature and become ready for use. Keep adding those greens and browns to top it up.

Is it ready? When it’s turned crumbly and dark, like thick, moist soil and gives off an earthy, fresh aroma, it's ready.

Using the compost - If it looks a little lumpy with twigs and bits of eggshell, this is perfectly normal. Use it to enrich borders and vegetable patches, plant up patio containers or feed the lawn.

Types of composting material

There are two main types of composting material:

Green – soft, leafy material, including grass clippings, sappy green plants (such as annual weeds), crop waste, old fruit and vegetables and kitchen peelings. These are all rich in nitrogen.

Brown – mainly dry woody waste, such as prunings and hedge-trimmings (shredded, chipped or chopped up), and other dried materials such as dead stems and straw, as well as torn-up or shredded paper and cardboard. These are rich in carbon.

Avoid letting any one material dominate – especially grass clippings, which are best mixed with brown materials when you add them to the bin.

Chop up or shred any long stems or prunings before adding them, as well as any paper or cardboard, to help them break down more successfully.

No need to add extra ingredients or products to improve the process.

There are also products, variously called compost accelerators, activators or starters, that claim to speed up composting, but the process will generally run smoothly without them if you ensure a good balance of green and brown ingredients and sufficient aeration.

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