A Quick Guide to Composting

Nikki Rollins

If you’re looking for a way to add minerals, nutrients, and soil-enriching microorganisms into your garden, let us guide you on composting. 

There’s often a lot of confusion surrounding the composting process though. There is a misconception that composting is dirty or smelly. In addition, the seemingly difficult maintenance of turning your compost heap can put people off before they’ve even begun. 

But composting is actually pretty straightforward. When done properly, will reward your plants with everything they need to grow strong and healthy. 

Below, we’ve created a quick guide to composting. This will tell you everything you need to know about the composting process and how to do it properly. We’ve also covered the basics of what can and cannot be composted to help get you off on the right foot.

What is composting?

Put simply, composting is the decaying process of organic materials, including leaves. Adding kitchen waste, grass clippings, and even cardboard into a compost bin, naturally occurring bacteria and microorganisms will break them down. They are transformed into nutrient-rich compost. 

This compost can then be added to your existing flower beds by working it into the soil. It can also be used as a mulch to protect your tender plants over winter. You can even use it to fill containers and raise beds. 

Composting is a fantastic way to reduce your carbon footprint and manage your household waste more sustainably too. Not to mention, homemade compost is much cheaper than purchasing large bags of it from your local gardening store, leaving more money in your pocket and less food waste in your kitchen bin!

Guide on Composting materials

Creating your own compost is fun and easy, but before you start it’s important to know what can and can’t be added to your compost pile. 

The best compost is a mixture of biodegradable materials (such as vegetable peelings and grass clippings), and soil. So, to help get you started here’s a list of just a few of the things you can add to your compost bin.

  • Tea leaves 
  • Crushed eggshells
  • Cardboard
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Coffee grounds
  • Fruits Scraps
  • Vegetable peelings
  • Plant and flower cuttings
  • Grass clippings
  • Straw

There are certain materials that you need to avoid adding to your compost pile. These are harder for microorganisms to digest and, in some cases, can attract unwanted pests such as rats to your garden. These include:

  • All meats
  • All dairy products
  • Bones
  • Pet manure
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Any organic materials treated with pesticides

Composting Guide: Methods

If you’d like to start composting, the first thing you need to do is decide what kind of composting method suits you and your garden best. There are a few options to choose from here.

The most common composting method is to use a compost bin. These are widely available and are particularly useful for smaller gardens. The organic matter is fed into the top of the bin and, once it’s been transformed by the microorganisms living inside it, comes out of the bottom as ready to use compost.

Compost bins also tend to include lids. These are useful for preventing your compost from getting soaked by the rain, and for keeping any inquisitive wildlife out of your bin!

Creating a compost pile is another popular method of composting. Much like a bin, the organic material is added to the top of the pile, however, it does require a little more maintenance. This is nothing more than a quick turning-over with a garden fork every few weeks though.

Vermicomposting is one the rise as an effective composting method too. This uses the power of worms to digest your food waste and produce worm castings, which are highly nutritious for the soil and absolutely loved by plants. 

You’ll need a worm bin to begin vermicomposting, and these are also widely available. Worm bins work much like compost bins but tend to be much smaller in size. This makes them a fantastic choice for anybody with a small outdoor space or a balcony, as they can be subtly hidden away in a corner. They can even be placed in a kitchen if you’re really short on space. 

Guide to Composting Best Practices

Placement

Once you’ve decided which method of composting is best for you, it’s time to think about where the best place for your compost bin is in your garden. This will depend on the composting method you’ve chosen.

Most compost bins come with an open bottom and this allows you to place it directly on top of an open patch of soil. This gives the microorganisms that are already living in your soil easy access to your organic waste.

If you’ve opted for the compost pile method, then you’ll also need to build it directly on top of open soil.

If your garden is fully paved, however, look for a compost bin with a sealed bottom. These can be placed directly on concrete and will keep everything contained. There are even some that are small enough to place underneath a kitchen sink, making them ideal for anybody with limited outdoor space.

Drainage

You also need to make sure that there is adequate drainage at the bottom of your compost bin or pile. Straw is the best material for this so, before adding any organic waste, apply a thick layer of straw to the bottom of your compost bin.

This will prevent water from collecting and going stagnant, leading to bad smells and slowing down the composting process. If you’re unable to use straw, a layer of thin sticks or twigs will work just as effectively. 

Layers

Your bin is in place and your drainage is sorted. Now is the time to start adding your organic waste materials to your compost bin. To get a good quality compost and to help speed the process up, try adding alternating layers of wet and dry materials. 

For example, put down a layer of vegetable peelings and then top it with a layer of shredded newspaper or cardboard. This isn’t a necessary process, but it’s certainly one that will help you get compost quicker!

Green Manure

Materials such as grass clippings and fresh plant cuttings are known as ‘green manure’. Adding some of these into your compost between your alternating layers is a fantastic way to introduce even more nutrients to the mix and will feed your soil and plants with goodness once composted. 

Water

Whilst it’s important to keep your compost from getting drenched by rain or snow, it also needs to be kept moist. The living microorganisms in your heap need warmth and moisture to survive, and a completely dry compost pile will never do what you want it to.

In particularly hot weather, give your compost pile a gentle sprinkle with water. Ideally, you should use any rainwater you’ve harvested in water butts as the microorganisms will prefer this. 

Remember to keep your compost moist all year round too. If your compost bin has a lid, remove it for around thirty minutes a couple of times a week during wet weather and allow the rain to do the work for you!

Cover

The warmth the microorganisms need to survive will be provided by covering your compost. This will help prevent it from getting completely soaked as well. 

Covering your compost pile is easy, especially if your bin has a lid. However, if you’re using the open-pile method, a simple sheet of plastic secured across the top will be more than sufficient to keep the compost warm and at the right moisture level.

Turn

The most important thing you need to do when composting is to turn your pile. This provides the microorganisms with the oxygen they need to keep producing your compost, and keeps the whole miniature ecosystem living in your pile strong and healthy.

This is a very low maintenance job and only needs to be done every two or three weeks. Simply insert a garden fork or a spade straight in the center of your compost pile and flip everything over. It’s really that simple!

Some compost bins even feature a special turning-handle built into them. This makes it even easier to turn your pile and produce houmous-rich, nutritious compost. 

Final Word on Composting

Creating your own compost is super easy and comes with so many rewards. Your plants and vegetables will grow healthier as you feed the soil, and your carbon footprint will be significantly reduced. 

It can even help save you some money and you’ll never have to purchase bags of compost from your gardening store ever again!

If you’re interested in composting and would like to learn even more about the process, check out our ultimate guide to composting