Beginner’s guide to composting

5 years ago
3 minutes

Composting isn’t just great for reducing landfill, it’s also a fantastic way to create your own enriched soil. Here is a complete beginner’s guide to starting your own compost heap.

What you’ll need

Before you begin, make sure you have the right tools. You’ll need a standard plastic compost bin, a garden fork, ‘brown’ materials (such as dried leaves, twigs, soil, straw, newspaper and shredded cardboard) and a disposable dust mask.

Getting started

Place your compost bin in a convenient location, but away from any windows or doors — you don’t want the smell drifting inside your home. Try to find somewhere that receives plenty of sunlight as heat speeds up the process.

Create a primary layer in your compost bin with the brown materials and dampen with plenty of water — this will encourage bacterial growth which helps your compost break down. Add a second layer of grass, offcuts from plants in your garden and some vegetable scraps (if you have any ready to use) so it’s about the same thickness as your first layer. Repeat this process once more, so you have four layers in total. Your compost bin is now ready to use.

What to put in your compost bin

Every time you add enough of these materials to create a layer, make sure you cover with another layer of brown materials.


What NOT to put in your compost bin

Never feed your compost plastics, metals, chemicals, weeds, diseased plants, glossy magazines, gum leaves, or treated pine sawdust. You should avoid adding large pieces of food, like half a loaf of uncut bread that’s gone mouldy. Composting is very much a living process. Your compost breaks down foods just like your body does, so if you tear that bread up into smaller pieces your compost will ‘digest’ it faster.

Foods you should add in small amounts

While these things are okay to add to your compost, you should limit the amount. Onions, lemons and acidic ingredients can be difficult to break down and will affect the pH levels of the compost. And meats and dairy products can attract unwanted pests.

Aerating your compost

To help your compost break down faster, you can turn it over or ‘fluff it up’ every couple of weeks. To do this, use a garden fork (and make sure you wear your dust mask) to flip the layers of your bin. Try to pull up the layers from the bottom, but if you don’t do a thorough job that’s okay. The key is to shift just a few layers, at a minimum, to allow the contents to aerate. Aerating will reactivate a pile which has slowed the composting rate.

After six to eight weeks, stop adding new scraps. Simply continue mixing it occasionally for a couple of weeks more and make sure it remains moist so that the most recently added waste has time to compost down. Once it’s ready, the compost will smell earthy, have a dark brown colour and a lumpy texture. You can now use your homemade compost on your garden to increase the nutrients in your soil.