Between now and late November is a great time for getting up to speed with how to compost. Pile yours high with clippings, cuttings, prunings and bits of shredded cardboard to get the optimum mix. Get a good combination of these, and next year you will be rewarded with bags of gorgeous rich, dark, crumbly goodness that you can use as a soil enhancer, mulch or potting agent. Even better, it's right there in the garden so no lugging back sacks from the garden centre.
Although it's a good way to make use of food waste, there is more to making compost than simply throwing on your peelings and letting them rot down. If too much of one ingredient goes on at the same time, the mix will be uneven and decomposition may even grind to a halt. Too many grass cuttings, for example, will lead to your compost dissolving it into a dank mass that's unusable.
Don't worry though, as we've rounded up the key things you need to know to make sure your compost heap is a success this autumn! And if you want to put all your autumn leaves to good use too, head over to our guide on how to make leaf mould.
1. Choose the right bin
Plastic ‘Dalek’ bins have an open base, a fitted plastic lid and a sliding front access hatch. They work well for small gardens and are easier to use than traditional wooden ones. They can also be used for ‘continuous composting’ where you add green waste at the top and dig rotted compost out at the bottom. Make sure you have a good mix of materials at all times for best results. You'll find all the top buys in our guide to the best compost bins.
2. Position your compost bin in the right place
Choose a site for the bin that's away from the house but in a place where it’s still easy to access from the kitchen. Stand the bin on soil so that any liquid from decomposing waste can drain away. It won’t be able to do this if the bin is positioned on a hard surface.
3. Add the right ingredients
The best way to create good compost is with a wide range of woody and green waste materials. Layer up green material (grass, deadheadings, kitchen peelings, soft prunings) with brown waste such as shredded cardboard and paper, and woody prunings cut as small as possible. Ash from the BBQ is good too but it should be cold and not contain food scraps.
4. Turn the compost regularly
You will need to turn the compost regularly, whether you have an open heap in a traditional wooden bin or a closed 'Dalek' bin. Every few weeks, get a garden fork, dig it in, and lift and mix the plant material as it rots down to aerate it. When turning the compost in autumn and winter, watch out for hibernating garden wildlife that may be sheltering there, attracted by the heap’s warmth.
5. Keep the compost moist
A lack of moisture will slow down or stop the decomposition of the compost, so during very dry spells, irrespective of what time of year it is, remember to add a can or two of water every now and again. Getting the moisture level right can be a fine balance. If it becomes too wet try adding some chopped woody material and shredded cardboard or paper. Fresh vegetable and fruit peelings and fresh grass clippings are another good way of adding moisture. Follow these 5 tips and you will be well on the way to success!