Home composting advice and tips
How to compost
A compost bin works well if the material you add is a mixture of organic materials.
Common household waste items suitable for composting include tea bags, vegetable and fruit peelings, crushed egg shells, scrunched up newspaper as well as grass cuttings and weeds from the garden. Avoid adding cooked kitchen waste* and ensure there is air in the mix, so add old cardboard egg boxes and toilet rolls to help create air pockets.
If the contents get too dry it won’t rot down, so either add water or water rich items such as vegetable peelings or grass cuttings. If the mixture is too wet it will be anaerobic and start to smell, so add dry materials such as twigs and cardboard.
For more practical advice on setting up and using compost bins plus the answers to some frequency asked questions please visit the Recyclenow home composting pages.
The Garden Organic website also provides a wealth of information on all aspects of composting.
*In Somerset you can use the food waste collection service to recycle cooked food waste, for more information on food waste recycling, visit our food waste collections page.
Compost can be used for all soils; it makes light soil retain water, and heavy soils easier to work with. It can also give substance to sandy soils.
It can be spread on the surface and used as ‘mulch’; this then releases the nutrients back into the soil, it will retain water and also helps prevent weeds from growing.
The compost can be bagged up and stored for later use.
Good quality compost can be sieved and used as potting compost for window boxes and hanging baskets. However; if the compost has been produced mainly from green waste (grass, hedge cuttings) it is best to mix it with other forms of compost.
Grow bags can be made with well-rotted compost by filling up bags and taping the ends; cutting holes approximately 45cm (18inches) apart and watering well (but do not saturate).
Compost material feeds soil with nutrients and can reduce or remove the need for artificial fertilisers.
If your compost is too dry (it should feel like a wrung out sponge), add some water and turn with a garden fork.
It the compost becomes too wet and slimy, mix in woody materials and straw.
Strange looking compost? Don’t worry if your compost is fine and crumbly, lumpy or stringy – all types can be used.
How often do I have to turn the compost? The more frequently the compost is turned, the quicker the composting process.
If your compost smells bad it is likely that it is composting anerobically. When vegetation decomposes it is only natural for it to smell slightly; however, if this becomes too unpleasant, turn the material around to add air. Adding materials such as leaves, straw, dry grass or wood matter can also reduce the smell.
When will I know that the compost ready? When the compost is ready, it will smell sweet and looks like a rich dark soil. This will take between six months and 18 months.
It is important to get the mix right of tougher, drier materials (like straw, hay, plant stems) and soft, green, sappy growth (like weeds and grass cuttings).
Mix the different materials up as much as you can. The easiest way to do that is to make layers. Don’t make thick layers of any one material, especially not fresh grass cuttings as they quickly reduce to a slimy mess. Small amounts of soil help – a thin dusting throughout is a good idea.
Very tough materials, like branches, will eventually break down, given time, in a compost pile. So they either need a special long term heap, or they need crushing, chipping or shredding.
Gardening is a healthy activity and good compost makes for a healthy garden. When handling compost, follow some simple hygiene rules: wear gloves, keep cuts covered, wash hands before eating, avoid inhaling dust or particles, and ensure your anti-tetanus protection is up to date.