The Most Sustainable Compost is Homemade – 20 Tips for Successful Composting!

The Most Sustainable Compost is Homemade – Sharing Over 20 Tips for Successful Composting!

To celebrate Compost Week, I’m sharing tips to help you make top-quality compost in your garden, allotment, or neighbourhood.

Why Compost?

Making a compost heap or setting up a compost bin is such a positive thing to do.  Even if you don’t really care about getting fabulous (free) compost delivered straight to your garden, or you’re not interested in improving your garden soil, if you compost your grass cuttings, prunings,  and vegetable peelings, you’ll save yourself time and energy, and spare yourself the need to make trips to the tip to get rid of your garden or kitchen waste at weekends.  Plus, you’ll avoid the extra costs of running a council green bin or paying to have your green waste taken away.  By composting our garden and kitchen waste, we reduce the amount of materials we send to landfill.  Together we’re recycling our green waste to make something that will improve our lives, help the environment, and enrich our soils.

Composting is a wonderful activity that benefits us, our environment, nature and wildlife.  I want to encourage everyone to start composting!

Finding Ways to Make Compost in Small Gardens

If you tend a small garden you might feel as if you don’t have room for a compost heap, but I’d implore you to consider your situation before making a decision.  Please don’t rule out the idea of incorporating a compost bin in your garden too hastily – there are many ways to fit a composter into a tiny garden.  Home-made compost bins can be designed to make the most of any space you have available and can be custom fit to utilise any awkward angles or areas.  Wormeries are small and compact yet very productive and can be accommodated in the smallest gardens.

I have a small garden.  Rather than having all my compost bins together in one larger space, I have two smaller compost sites.  We set up homemade compost bins directly on the soil in one corner of the garden, and I also have an Aerobin 200L Home Composter, which is positioned on my paved path/patio.

Community Composting

Do you have a composting scheme in your area?  Why not start one?  Many people are without a garden and would love to donate their kitchen waste to initiatives for community composting that will benefit the local people and the environment.  Why not start up a compost heap at your local school and teach the children about gardening, sustainability, and nature?

I’d love to encourage restaurants to use all their vegetable peelings to make their own compost and persuade colleges to set up compost heaps in their grounds.  If you’ve got space outside your office, why not start composting the staff’s used tea bags and coffee grounds?

What Materials Can We Use to Construct a Compost Bin?

If you’re making your own composter, pallet wood is an ideal choice of material to use to create a compost bin, being widely available – usually at no cost.  To make a wooden compost bin last longer, line it with the plastic from empty compost bags.

About five years ago, I visited the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2017, where I was impressed with Juliet Sargeant’s idea of using loose bricks to build up the height of a compost bin as necessary.  Using bricks and building a compost heap yourself, also allows us to create the perfect sized and shaped compost heap for our gardens.

These brick composters were designed by Garden Designer Juliet Sargeant for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. I think this is a great idea, as you add more compost, you add more bricks. Brick built composters can fit into any available space, as you create the shape and size yourself, to your own design.

Shop Bought Home Composters

Here’s my Aerobin 200L Home Composter pictured in the snow, back in January 2021.

However, if you’d rather buy a ready made composter, a wide range of home composters are available for small gardens.  In my garden, I have an Aerobin 200L Home Composter.  The Aerobin is a fairly compact composter that has been especially designed to be placed on a paved area or an area of hard standing in a small garden.

Smaller still, a wormery takes up very little room; this method of composting is far easier to accommodate in a small garden, and is the best option for balcony gardens.  There are many styles of composters and brands of wormery available to gardeners.

Beautiful Compost Bins

These unfinished homemade compost bins have been designed to resemble bee hives.

Both homemade and shop-bought compost bins can be an attractive feature in the garden.  Compost bins can be disguised as bee hives but a compost bin that simply bears the look of being made with love will undoubtedly be beautiful.

Why not grow a climber, (perhaps a clematis or the drought tolerant, ivy – Hedera helix – which is happy growing in sunshine or shade) over and around your compost bin to enhance its aesthetics?

What Type of Composter is Best For You?

Gardeners can enjoy a wide range of composting methods, including:

  • A wormery – ideal for small gardens, patios, and balconies.
  • Aerobin 200L Home Composter – a fast-acting compost bin that doesn’t need turning – designed to be sited on a patio or area of hard standing.
  • Hotbin is a hot composter that enables high temperature composting, from 40C-60C.
  • Rotating compost bins – for any type of level ground – fast-acting but ensure you have sufficient space to be able to house the composter and turn the compost.
  • Homemade compost bins constructed from pallets can be made to fit any size or shaped space – these are quick to make and affordable.
  • Plastic dalek bins are widely available and sometimes given away – pop this compost bin in place and you’re ready to go!
  • An open compost heap is best suited to larger gardens.

Where to Position a Compost Heap?

When siting your compost heap, ensure that you can easily access your composter to add your kitchen peelings and garden prunings.  Ideally if at all possible, I’d avoid placing a compost heap too close to a door or window.  If your compost bin is nearer to your home, you may decide to make a lid or cover for your compost heap, or you might prefer to purchase a ready-made compost kit that comes with a lid.

To make the best use of the space you have available, site your compost heap in a shaded spot, on a paved area, or somewhere that’s not as good for growing crops.  I’ve created compost heaps in deep shade, shade, partial shade, and sunshine – all have been successful.

Compost bins made from pallets are traditionally sited on the soil.  However, there are now shop-bought home composters that are designed to be sited on a patio or area of hard standing.

We often site compost heaps and compost bins in the far corners or our gardens or allotments; this can work very well but take care to avoid starting an open compost heap too close to a fence.

Choose a permanent location for your compost heap.  It’s better to delay siting your compost bin and find the ideal spot than to have to move your compost bin at a later date.  Compost bins are incredibly heavy when they’re full, so dismantling and moving your compost heap to a new part of your garden or allotment will require quite a bit of time and energy.

Worried About What Ingredients are Incorporated into Commercial Composts? Concerned About Chemicals Contaminating Green Waste or Compost?

If you’re concerned about what ingredients or chemicals could be contaminating green waste, manure, or store-bought compost, avoid these risks by making your own compost and enjoying absolute certainty of knowing exactly what your compost is made from.  If you’re a vegan gardener, you can be 100% certain that your homemade compost contains no animal products and has no connection to animal farming.

What Materials Can you Add to A Compost Heap?

Prunings from the garden and vegetable peelings from the kitchen can be utilised to make wonderful homemade garden compost!

Green compostable materials include:

  • Used tea bags (some tea bags contain plastic – don’t add the plastic part to your compost heap) and tea leaves
  • Spent coffee grounds
  • Vegetable and fruit peelings
  • Grass cuttings (add small amounts at a time – if you have a large lawn that’s cut regularly, consider using some of your grass cuttings as mulches – alternatively – you may wish to leave grass clippings to dry out before adding them to your compost bin)
  • Annual weeds (not in seed)
  • Weeds (not in seed) that have been submerged in a bucket of water for a minimum of several weeks and have turned into a weed soup
  • Faded bedding plants, annuals, vegetable, and fruit plants, etc.
  • Faded cut flowers
  • Prunings from plants (or remnants of plants) that still have soft green plant material
  • Egg shells
  • Duckweed or leaves from ponds
  • Spent compost – if you’re changing the compost in your pots, don’t forget to add any old compost to your compost bin!

Brown compostable materials tend to be drier and woodier, and include:

  • The contents from our vacuum cleaners
  • Small twigs or prunings
  • Bark
  • Sawdust
  • Woodchip
  • Dried grasses
  • Hedge trimmings
  • Branches that have been shredded
  • Straw
  • Old straw or hay bedding from vegetarian animals like guinea pigs
  • Horse or cow manure
  • Dried plant material
  • Egg boxes, toilet rolls,
  • Scrunched up balls of newspaper
  • Office paper scrunched up into balls
  • Plain cardboard that has been torn and scrunched up
  • Packaging that’s designed to be compostable
  • I prefer to leave autumn leaves for insects and wildlife or to store separately to make leaf mould, but you can also compost leaves – add small quantities of autumn leaves at a time

Don’t Add these Ingredients to your Compost Heap

Please don’t add any of the following to your compost heap…..

  • Diseased plant material
  • Invasive plants
  • Perennial weeds
  • Weeds that are in seed
  • Cooked or processed food
  • Bread
  • Meat
  • Oil
  • Fish
  • Dairy products
  • Large pieces of wood or substantial branches
  • Glossy magazines or shiny paper
  • Ash
  • Cat litter
  • Faeces from cats, dogs, and meat eating animals

How to Add Compost Materials to a Composter?

Here’s a picture I took of one of my compost bins that I made from pallets at one of my old allotments. Here you can see remnants of rhubarb leaves and I’ve used the space to store willow, hazel stems, and my bean poles.

The secret to successful composting is to add alternate layers of different materials or to mix green and brown materials together before adding to your compost bin.  Do remember that adding too large a quantity of grass cuttings all at once can cause problems.  Instead, add a thin layer of grass clippings and then throw in a few prunings or perhaps some torn, scrunched up cardboard; then add more grass cuttings, followed by another layer of straw or dried leaves.  Keep going – alternating layers of grass clippings with drier compostable materials from the brown list above.

Air is a key ingredient for successful composting.  When you add paper or cardboard scrunch them up into balls, as this helps to create air pockets within the compost heap.  Toilet rolls are another useful addition and can be added straight onto the heap.

Do You Need to Add Worms to Compost Bins?

I’ve never added any worms to my compost heaps, yet worms have always found their way to my compost heaps and compost bins.  There are many species of worms that live in our gardens.  Different worm species will only survive in the habitat they have evolved to live in.  Not all worms will be happy in a compost heap, so rather than risk adding the wrong type of worm, leave the worms alone and allow them to choose their own habitats.  Worms will find their own way to your composter.

Turning Compost Heaps

Some gardeners turn their compost heaps regularly, throughout the year.  There is good and sound reasoning behind this practice, as exposing the compost ingredients to air quickens their decomposition and speeds up the composting process.  If I had a rotating composter, I would be happy to see it turned every day of the year.  However, my garden is all about nature and wildlife and my compost bins are all in situ either on my patio or directly on the soil; where I hope my composters will provide a home or refuge to as many forms of wildlife as possible.  I don’t turn my own compost heaps at all.  I recommend avoiding turning compost heaps from at least September to April (if not longer) to give wildlife a safe space to hibernate.  Our gardens are home to a wide range of creatures.  Gardens belong to wildlife just as much (if not more so) than these precious outdoor spaces belong to us.

This may sound rather silly, but I also want to say that I’d never take a fork and stab it into the compost heap – I prefer to be gentler and slower with my actions – using a tool that will be less likely to cause harm.  Frogs, toads, newts, hedgehogs, snakes, and other wildlife can visit or inhabit compost heaps and may seek refuge in your compost heap.

Some compost bins don’t require any turning – this was one of the attractions with my Aerobin – no compost turning required = much less work!

Do you Need to Water a Compost Bin?

You might need to water your compost bin if the materials inside become dry.  Compost heaps are often positioned in out of the way places, tucked away or stationed beneath the shelter of trees or walls, which can prevent rainwater reaching the compost bin.  If you have a lid or cover over your composter, monitor your compost heap and water when required.

Speeding Up the Composting Process

If your compost ingredients are too dry they will take an absolute age to break down and decompose.  Watering a dry compost heap will hasten decomposition.  Turning the contents of your compost heap will aerate the heap and speed up the composting process.  Combine turning your compost heap at regular intervals with adding smaller pieces of compost material and you’ll produce compost in a shorter time frame.  Shredding or chopping your tougher prunings and other materials before you add them to your compost heap will really speed up the composting process.  Lightly scatter the softer materials over your lawn in a thin layer; then take a lawn mower (with a collection bag attached) and whizz over thin layers of leaves to finely chop and blend with grass before adding to your compost bin.

I took this photo after I had gathered up the first harvest of apples of the season and peeled, cored, and sliced, a couple of large baskets of apples with my Lakeland Apple Master. Times like these are the perfect moments to use the peelings to start up a new compost heap!

Combine turning your compost heap with collecting and adding large quantities of (shredded) material all at once to shorten the composting time.  A good time to do this is at the end of the growing season when the crops in your straw bale raised beds have finished and you need to get rid of the straw bales.  Or after pruning clematis or Wisteria, cutting a meadow area, after batch cooking, harvesting vegetables, cutting back perennials, pulling up annuals or discarding bedding plants at the end of the season, cutting the grass, cutting comfrey leaves, etc. etc..

My Aerobin has been filled up to the top with all kinds of prunings from my garden, along with vegetable and fruit peelings from our kitchen, so many times. Having a compost heap saves countless trips to the dump. Plus, homemade garden compost makes a brilliant soil improver! Pictured in August 2021.

Using a compost bin that’s designed to create compost in a shorter space of time will truly hasten the composting process.  I’ve found that my Aerobin 200L Home Composter produces compost far more quickly than my homemade, regular garden compost bins.

Making Liquid Fertiliser

Wormeries produce a liquid fertiliser that’s often known as ‘worm tea’ and some shop-bought compost bins also have a built in system to collect liquid fertiliser.  Homemade fertiliser should always be diluted before it’s used.  Potency varies but generally these homemade liquid fertilisers can be diluted at a rate of one part liquid fertiliser to twenty parts water.  Homemade liquid fertilisers are best stored in a sealed bottle in an out-of-way location, as their odour varies from unappealing to down right alarming!

Liquid fertiliser from my Aerobin 200 Litre Home Composter, pictured on the 20th November 2021.

How to Start a Compost Heap

If I get a new compost bin or when I set up a new composter, I usually take a spade-full of compost from one of my established compost heaps to introduce beneficial fungi and microorganisms to my new composting system.  If this is your first compost heap, perhaps ask a neighbour for a small amount of compost from their compost heap?  If you can’t get any garden compost – don’t panic – the composting process will still work – it just might just take a little longer.

For each new composter I start, I usually put a handful of prunings or sticks at the base of the compost bin.  Then I’ll pop one or two handfuls of dried autumn leaves and then add a spade-full of homemade compost.  This isn’t a precise process, these natural materials are simply quickly scattered inside the base of a new composter.

How Many Compost Bins do you need?

If you’ve got a small garden you may only want to invest in one compost bin, or perhaps a compost bin and a wormery.  If you’re gardening on a larger site, you’ll find multiple compost heaps and bigger compost bins will be very beneficial.  Why not create a composting area with four or more compost bins?

Utilising your Compost Bin

Here’s a pumpkin growing in one of my compost heaps at my old allotment.

I’ve grown pumpkins, courgettes, and other plants directly in the top of my compost heaps.  It may sound mad, but the warmth from a warm (not hot!) compost bin enables the plants to enjoy a slightly longer growing season.  Naturally, if you’ve got a plant growing in your compost heap then it’s not possible to add new material to the heap, so this works best when you have a wormery or other compost heaps to use during the growing season.

This is an old picture that I just found of one of my old allotments. These two compost bins are made from pallets. I stored all kinds of supports and spare materials in and around my compost bins and I’ve got a pumpkin or a courgette planted in the full compost heap.

When is Compost Ready to Use?

Once garden compost is ready to use it looks very much like soil and is either odourless or has the scent of a woodland with a touch of sweetness.

What Can Homemade Garden Compost Be Used For?

Garden compost can be used as a mulch.  Spread your garden compost over the ground after weeding.  Seize the moment after heavy rain in spring or summertime and mulch around your plants with homemade garden compost.  Compost can also be used as a growing medium.  Combine homemade compost with leaf mould, composted bark, mole hills, well-rotted manure, and other ingredients, to create a superb compost that’s tailored to suit whatever plants you’re growing.

Why not revitalise the old compost in your containers with a mulch of garden compost?  Scrape out the top layer (and add this to your compost heap!) and then add a nice fresh layer of homemade compost.

I enjoy making compost blends. I use molehills, homemade garden compost, composted bark, leaf mould and other ingredients to form lovely peat-free growing medias.

If you’re making a seed compost, you may decide to sieve your compost to remove any larger lumps of plant remnants.  These larger fragments of plant material can be added back to the compost heap or incorporated into a mulch.

When is the Best Time to Start Up a Compost Heap?

It’s the perfect moment to start a compost heap!

Gardening Tips for March, April, & May

For gardening advice for March, please click here.

For gardening advice for April, please click here.

For gardening advice for May, please click here.

Gardening Events

To see my Calendar of Specialist Plant Fairs, Festivals, Plant Sales, Plant & Seed Swaps, please click here.

To see my Calendar of Daffodil Garden Openings, Daffodil Shows, and Events, please click here.

To see my Calendar of Online Gardening, Nature, & Wildlife Talks, please click here.

More Gardening

To see my Compost Trials, please click here.

Discover more ideas for sustainable gardening, in this article.

To see my plant pages with advice on growing houseplants, orchids, terrarium plants, herbaceous perennials, hardy plants, daffodils, roses, shrubs, vegetables, fruit, climbing plants, trees, and ferns, please click here.

Other articles you might like:

Your email will not be published. Name and Email fields are required