Making Compost

Every gardener should find space for a compost pile or bin. Compost turns garden and kitchen waste into a valuable source of organic matter to dig into soil or use as a mulch.
Related To:
Final Compost Pile Used to Enrich Garden Soil

Final Compost Pile Used to Enrich Garden Soil


Photo by: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Vegetable Gardening , 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Compost: The Final Product

Compost should be dark brown with a crumbly texture and pleasant, soil-like smell. The decomposition of bulky organic materials requires oxygen, moisture and the right balance of carbon- and nitrogen-rich waste, which means that careful management is necessary. However, a successful compost pile is easy to achieve.

Different Compost Bin Designs

Your first task is to find a compost bin that suits the size of your garden and the amount of waste to be broken down. It is best to have two bins, to allow the contents of one to be aerated by turning it into a second bin, which means that a new pile can be started in the first. The type of bin you choose depends on appearance, space and cost considerations, but ensure that it has a loose-fitting cover to prevent waterlogging. Place your bin on bare soil, add compostable material and let nature do the rest.

Wooden Bins: Wooden bins look good and can be bought or homemade. Choose a design with removable front slats for easy turning (Image 1).

Plastic Bins: Plastic bins are relatively cheap and simple to install, but their design means that turning the contents can be tricky (Image 2).

Wire Bins: Bins constructed from wire mesh are particularly suitable for composting fallen leaves to make leafmold (Image 3).

What Goes on the Pile?

Almost all plant waste from the garden can be composted, except for diseased material, perennial weeds and meat and cooked waste, which attracts vermin. Nitrogen-rich (green) waste aids decomposition, but this must be balanced with carbon-rich (brown) waste to open up the structure of the pile and allow air to circulate. Aim to add a 50:50 mix of green and brown waste to your pile during the year.

What to Add to the Compost Pile

  • Carbon-rich woody prunings and hedge trimmings (which usually need to be shredded), plant stems, fall leaves, shredded newspaper and cardboard.
  • Nitrogen-rich grass cuttings, herbaceous plant material, weeds, vegetable plants, fruit and vegetable peels, tea bags, coffee grounds.

Making a Compost Trench

Kitchen waste, such as fruit and vegetable peels, tea bags and eggshells can also be composted in a long trench (Image 1). The trench is best made during the fall, when large areas of soil are often bare and the waste has time to break down before planting begins in spring. Vigorous plants, such as runner beans and squashes, respond particularly well to the high nutrient levels provided by kitchen leftovers.

Dig a trench about 12 inches wide to one spade's depth and fill it with alternate layers of waste and soil. Then add a layer of soil on top (Image 2). Allow at least two months before planting over the trench. As with any composting method, do not include meat or cooked waste because it may attract vermin.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Garden Compost Bins

Learn about the many options for wood or plastic compost bins that are easy to assemble and use in your garden.

How Choose Worm Bins For Garden Composting

For successful vermicomposting, you need a good worm bin. Find tips on how to choose the worm bin that will for your garden.

How to Compost and the Different Types of Compost Bins

Learn about the different types of compost bins and what household items can be composted.

Techniques for Making Butt Joints

Butt joints are easy to assemble but require additional strengthening with glue, metal plates and fasteners, special hardware or dowels.

Kitchen Compost Bins

To turn your kitchen scraps into valuable compost, start with a handy kitchen compost pail.

Party Prep Tips: Making Space for a Crowd

Learn expert tricks for converting your space — even if it's small — to accommodate large parties.

Compost Bin Basics

Before you buy or build a compost bin, understand all the options in composters to make an informed decision.

Plastic Tumbler Compost Bins

Consider these important factors if you're planning on making a tumbling compost barrel.

Stress Rest: Make a Tabletop Zen Garden

This easy-to-create mini zen garden might help ward off stress.

How to Build a Wood Compost Bin

Before you build a compost bin, check out these tips and tricks for getting it set up and started.

Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.