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Compost Corner


I don’t claim to be a world expert in the field of compost, but I have had a good long discussion with people at work and for some reason I am rapidly becoming someone to ask about garden problems at work.

Compost is a fascinating process and one that is very useful for us all. I thought I would put down my knowledge on the off chance that someone out there in the big wide world can add more, or someone finds it very useful.

What can I compost?
Stick to uncooked vegetable matter.

All vegetable matter will break down in time, some quicker than others. If the things that you are composting has a woody stem then it will take longer to compost, so things like sweetcorn stems/cobs and cabbage stalks take considerably longer to compost down than potatoes and courgette plants. The presence of these woody items is not a drawback as they add extra body to the compost but it is something to bear in mind. If you want a quick compost then avoid the woody items. Eggshells also take a longer time to break down. perennial weeds do break down as well but take quite a lot of time.

It is advisable to mix what they call ‘green’ items with ‘brown’ items. The ratio of ‘brown’ to ‘green’ should be more or less equal, or at least biased in favour of the ‘brown’. So just before you put your grass cuttings on layer on some shredded newspaper or junk mail (you might as well get some good use out of it). This also helps to create more aeration as grass cuttings tend to form a big smothering blanket that does not decay very quickly.

Green items are rich in Nitrogen. They include things like
• Comfrey leaves
• Nettles
• Grass cuttings
• Urine (strongly diluted)
• Raw vegetable peelings from your kitchen
• Tea bags and leaves, coffee grounds
• Young green weed growth – avoid weeds with seeds
• Soft green prunings
• Animal manure from herbivores eg cows and horses
• Poultry manure and bedding

Brown items are rich in Carbon
• Cardboard and cardboard tubes
• Waste paper and junk mail
• Shredded confidential waste
• Newspapers and Glossy magazines – although it is better to recycle them
• Pet Bedding, but only from vegetarian pets eg rabbits, guinea pigs – hay, straw, shredded paper, wood shavings, sawdust
• Hedge clippings and prunings
• Old bedding plants
• Bracken
• Fallen leaves

Other items
• Crushed egg shells
• Natural fibres eg. 100% wool or cotton
• Seaweed
• Hair and Nail Clippings

There is some debate as to whether or not you should wash seaweed to get the salt off. If you collect it from below the high tide line it will have considerably less salt in it as it won’t have been exposed to so much salt laden air. I preferer to wash it first so I give it a damn good rinse, then you can either soak it in water to create a liquid fertilizer or put it on the compost or straight onto the soil to break down.

So how is compost made?
When you pile up your waste a natural decomposition starts that breaks the object into 3 components, gas (carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, hydrogen), liquid (called ‘runoff’), and a nice black crumbly substance called ‘humus’, your finished article. As the vegetable matter decays it gives off heat. Making sure the compost is always damp and making sure there’s always a supply of oxygen ensures that the smallest amount of gas and liquid is produced and that by the end there will be a far higher percentage of the humus.
The compost itself gives off organic residues that attract fungi and bacteria and invertebrates that feed off of the decaying vegetable matter (slugs and snail, worms, millipedes). This in turn attracts more insects to feed off the first, so that your compost becomes a complete eco-system in itself, with more struggles for life and death than the Serengeti.

In general the more you add to your compost heap in one go the more heat it will generate, and for making compost, heat and moisture is good. When it starts to cool down (after a week or two) then turn the heap and it will heat up again as it gets more air to the decaying green stuff.

It is possible to make compost in 2 months, but the finished article may not be the perfect result you want, just leave it longer. And remember the more woody things you have in the compost the longer it will take to rot them down.
If you want to use the compost then you can apply it to the soil as it is or you could sieve it and put the bigger chunks back into the heap.

Worms are our friends.
Worms do by far the most amount of work when it comes to making compost. They break down the vegetable matter and also aerate the heap as well. But worms can be fussy creatures too. There are a few things that worms don’t like to eat, namely onions and citrus. These things are fine in compost heaps, but if you own a wormery then try to avoid including them in your worm food.

Additives or not?
My Dad always used to use garotta on his compost heap, and I know of quite a few people that do as well (although it does seem to be harder to get hold of). I have been known to use it in the past when I have a lot of grass cuttings to add. Personally I don’t know of any reason why not to use it, and it does seem to help, so I’ll keep using it occasionally. If anyone knows why it shouldn’t be used then please let me know.

How do I do it?
You only need one heap, and if you keep turning it then it will react quicker and you’ll get your compost out sooner as well. Personally I compost everything I can get so I do tend to have only one composting a year and lots of turning the active compost heap..

I’ve got three heaps now so my plan is this. I have one heap that is full and merrily doing it’s thing. I’ll leave this one till next year only giving it an occasional skewer to get air into it and a water every now and then. Of the other 2 one is empty. What I do is load up the 3rd heap with all my weeds and waste items, grass cuttings, cardboard, confidential paper shreddings, scrunched up newspaper, etc. in layers. Whenever I water the allotment I make sure that the compost heaps have a good water as well. I’ll make sure that as I add stuff to the heap I give it a toss every now and then, every few months I’ll turn it over into the empty compost heap and at the end of the year I’ll leave it. Come the spring I will turn it one last time, and this will be the leaving heap for 12 months. Last years leaving heap will be spread on the allotment or used as I want it.

My compost heaps are all made from old pallets held together by green garden wire. They aren’t permanent fixtures and in time will go the way of all wood and rot down, but I have had them now for a few years and they were free when I got them, so I am not too bothered. There’s always ways of getting more pallets.

Here’s a photo taken from the last turning of the heaps.(April 22nd 2009)
My 3 compost heaps :

The turned heap, this one I will leave till Spring 2010, but doesn’t it look nice

The active heap, with added straw and brassica stems

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Thanks for that muddyknees, am new to composting so this has helped a lot.

1 May, 2009


This is a really good blog Mk, thanks so much for your time.

I wish I had room for 2 composts! The ready comp. looks lovely!

Btw, apparently, you are not supposed to use seaweed off rocks, but you can use it if it is on the sand. I read that somewhere (forget where! grrrr) That is really strange!

1 May, 2009


I have a little compost bin, had it about 9-10yrs and my garden soil is alot better than it was for using it.

1 May, 2009


nice blog mk,
we only have room for 2 heaps (about the same size as yours).one is empty, having used it on the veg patch late winter. the 2nd heap is 3/4 full and every so often i turn it into the empty bin. but only every 2 months , so should i consider doing this more often?...............steve

1 May, 2009


Thanks for this interesting and useful blog.
I 've been making compost in plastic bins into which I've driven lots of holes. I don't know what it's like yet. I'll be tipping it out later in the year when I have room to do so.

1 May, 2009


Interesting and a very informative blog......Monty Don would be so proud of you!! we have a normal council black bin, looks and smells rather horrid, so, a bit longer to wait for the good stuff.

1 May, 2009

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