Sustainability

Waste less, grow more: how to make compost at home

Wondering how to make compost for your garden? It’s easier than you think – reduce food waste and give your flowers a helping hand with these tips!

If you’re committed to living a more sustainable lifestyle, chances are you’ve considered the problem of food waste at some point. In the UK, 7 million tonnes of food are thrown away every year from households alone, so thinking more carefully about what you throw away and how you do it is a great next step for any aspiring eco-friendly household. For example, did you know that you can use a lot of food scraps to make your own compost? It’s a great way to reduce the amount of food waste your house produces, and you’ll feel the benefits in your own back garden! Read on to find out how to make your own compost for your garden.

How to Make a Compost Heap

It’s easy to get started making compost – all you need is a suitable spot for your compost bin and enough materials to kick off the process! Here’s how you set up a compost heap:

  1. Pick your location. Ideally you want a quiet spot, a good distance away from any exterior household walls, that gets plenty of sun. Situating your compost heap a little away from your house will help prevent any insects it attracts from checking out your home as their next hangout spot, and the heat from the sun will help the compost “cook” faster. It’s best to set up your compost bin on soil, too – this will make it easier for worms and microbes to access your heap and help break it down, as well as making it easy for any liquids produced by the decomposing matter to be absorbed. If there isn’t a convenient patch of earth you can place your bin on, you could try creating a raised bed filled with soil on some pavement or decking instead.

  1. Collect your materials. Set up a caddy or other container in your kitchen that you can fill with compostable materials. The waste you use is a key thing to consider when you’re thinking about how to make your own compost: you want a good balance of “green” and “brown” materials. Green materials are things that rot quickly, such as teabags, vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds, plant clippings and even cut flowers. These give moisture to your compost, as well as providing minerals like nitrogen. Brown materials are slower to rot and add fibre to your compost, as well as allowing air pockets to form in your heap. These are things like eggshells, cotton wool, torn-up cardboard – even the content of your vacuum cleaner!
    Remember: Wondering how to make compost for your garden? Keep in mind that not everything is suitable for the compost heap. Meat, fish, dairy products and anything oily, fatty or greasy are not suitable for composting – these should be disposed of separately.

  1. Wait and see. Your materials could take up to a year to start turning into compost, so now all you need is patience and more compostable waste. If your compost bin allows it, you can occasionally turn the compost to help discourage unwanted insects like cockroaches and speed up the composting process a little.

What Can You Put in Your Compost Heap?

Making compost requires a number of different materials, but how can you be sure that you’re putting the right things into it?

Roughly, you want a 50 / 50 split of green and brown materials. Here is a quick summary of the sort of materials that make up these groups, as well as a list of items you shouldn’t add to the compost heap.

Greens

  • Fruit and vegetable peels and pulp
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Grass and hedge clippings
  • Weeds (be careful to remove the roots!)
  • House plants
  • Cut flowers
  • Fruit seeds
  • Livestock manure (this does NOT include cat and dog droppings!)

Browns

  • Leaves
  • Evergreen clippings – yes, your Christmas tree is compostable!
  • Cotton, including cotton wool and old towels
  • Cardboard
  • Paper bags and newspaper
  • Compostable corn starch bags
  • Wood ash
  • Eggshells
  • Hair
  • The contents of your vacuum cleaner

Some things are not safe to compost in most compost bins, as they could contain harmful bacteria, produce foul smells as they break down, and attract vermin. As a rule, you should avoid putting these things in when you’re making compost:

  • Meat scraps
  • Dairy products, like sour milk or cheese rinds
  • Fish and fishbones
  • Oil, grease and fat
  • Cat litter
  • Dog waste
  • Bread
  • Disposable nappies
  • Plastic
  • Used tissues

There you have it: how to make a compost heap in your own back garden! All that remains is to repeat steps 2 and 3 until you start to see some results. There are some things that can affect the speed your compost develops at and the texture of your compost, so if you do have any concerns it’s worth checking out troubleshooting guides like this one.

Your compost bin will have a window or hatch at the bottom that you can take out the finished compost through. You’ll know it’s ready to use when it’s turned brown and crumbly and looks and smells like a rich, moist soil. Scoop it out through the bottom of your composter, and it’s ready to use. Happy gardening!

Key Steps:

  1. Think carefully about what you’re going to add to your compost heap and opt for half “green” material which is fast-rotting and rich in nitrogen and moisture, and half “brown” material which is slow-rotting and adds bulk and air pockets
  2. Pick a suitable location for your compost heap – a quiet spot away from the walls of your home
  3. Get the kids involved in learning how to make your own compost. It’s a great way to teach them about the environment and the importance of reusing waste products.

Top tip


Patience is key to making compost, especially at the start! You’ll need to feed, turn and maintain your pile for at least a year before you see results.