How to make a compost heap: 10 top tips

September 15, 2011
Author: admin

At Eden we believe passionately in composting: we compost over 150 tonnes of waste each year, which is used to improve the soil in our Biomes and on our gardens across the site.

One of the large compost heaps here at Eden

For anyone new to composting, or those who simply want to improve their existing compost heaps, we’ve prepared a round-up of top tips and great stuff that will help you get on top of your compost.

1. Buy a decent compost bin
If you don’t fancy building a compost heap like the large ones we have at Eden, try a compost bin. They’re compact, so they’re perfect for smaller gardens and yards.

We’ve tested the Aerobin at Eden and found it to be one of the best domestic composting bins we’ve tried. It’s especially good at producing decent compost in a relatively short time. We’ve been so impressed that we now use the Aerobin as part of our training programmes where we teach gardeners how to make good compost.

2. Pick the perfect spot for your compost heap or bin
It’s best to site it on a level, well-drained spot, which will ensure that any excess water drains away easily. This also helps worms to get in and get on with the job of breaking down the content.

3. Let the worms do the hard work
Nature has provided us with the perfect waste disposal unit in the humble worm. They can live their whole lives in the dark and love the moist atmosphere of a wormery or compost heap, eating the waste material you put in and converting it into liquid feed and compost. The brilliant tiger worm (Eisenia fetida) is the most efficient little worm we know, and loves nothing more than eating its way through organic waste. We post them out from our shop in worm-friendly pouches so they get to your compost heap ready for action.

4. Put the right stuff in
Good things to compost include vegetable peelings, fruit waste, teabags, plant prunings and grass cuttings. These are fast to break down and provide important nitrogen as well as moisture. It’s also good to include things such as cardboard egg boxes, scrunched up paper and fallen leaves. These are slower to rot but provide vital fibre and carbon and also allow important air pockets to form in the mixture. Crushed eggshells can be included to add useful minerals.

5. Don’t put the wrong stuff in
Certain things should never be placed in your bin. No meat or dairy products unless you’ve opted for a digester. No diseased plants, and definitely no dog poo or cat litter, or babies’ nappies. Putting any of these in your compost will lead to unwanted pests and smells. Also avoid composting perennial weeds (such as dandelions and thistle) or weeds with seed heads. Remember that plastics, glass and metals are not suitable for composting and should be recycled separately.

6. Get the balance right
The key to good compost lies in getting the mix right. You need to keep your ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ properly balanced. If your compost is too wet, add more ‘browns’. If it’s too dry, add some ‘greens’. Making sure there is enough air in the mixture is also important. Adding scrunched up bits of cardboard is a simple way to create air pockets that will help keep your compost healthy. Air can also be added by mixing the contents.

7. Give it a good airing
A well-cared-for compost heap requires regular turning, which can be a tricky job without the right tools. The Eden Project aeration tool is great and with the help of its long handle, you’ll make light work of the job. Turning your compost helps to aerate and mix up the waste and cuttings, which leads to faster composting.

8. Boost to the system
You can encourage the correct enzymes in your compost by using a compost activator. It helps to turn your grass, leaves and garden waste into dark, rich, crumbly compost in less than half the time. You mix a small amount into water, pour it onto your compost and after 10 weeks of rotting your compost is ready to use. It can also be used to revive partially composted or dead heaps.

9. Turn fallen leaves into compost too
As autumn seems to have come early to many of us you can use fallen leaves as a good source of compost. It’s fine to add these to your compost bin but if you have large amounts of leaves, these large biodegradable leaf bags are perfect. Once you’ve gathered up your fallen leaves they can be left to turn into a brilliant source of moisture-rich soil improver that’s great to use for potting mixes as an alternative to peat. The leaves will be kept neatly in one place and the sack will biodegrade, leaving you with a rich pile of wonderful compost.

10. Getting the best out of your compost
When your compost is ready you’ll have a dark brown, almost black soil-like layer at the bottom of your bin. It should have a spongy texture and will be rich in nutrients. Spreading the finished compost into your flowerbeds greatly improves soil quality by helping it retain moisture and suppressing weeds. It also reduces the need to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

We really believe that composting is the easiest way to make your garden grow more beautiful.

For all these products and other composting accessories take a peek at our full range of composting accessories in the shop.

Gardening, How to, Potting shed, Recycling and waste, Shop
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24 responses to How to make a compost heap: 10 top tips

  1. Stephen Tilley says:

    And the greatest of these is No.6 – Get the Balance Right.

  2. Angela Painter says:

    My compost heap is slowly rotting down, but I have noticed loads of ant nests. Are they a good thing to have in compost??

  3. Hannah says:

    There isn’t a problem with ants’ nests. What our gardening team does recommend is turning the heap once every few weeks to speed up the composting process. You should also make sure that there is plenty of green material going in, as opposed to woody material. Also, it’s a good idea to put a cover over it in wet weather to prevent it from getting water logged. We’re running some short courses on composting if you’re interested.

  4. Lucas says:

    The compost heap is a great degisn. I can fill it up with as many of the 5 sections as I want, then remove the sections one by one, turn over the compost and resite it. It’s so much more effective than my plastic bins. Thanks Tony.

  5. Gill Morris says:

    For the last few years I’ve got very dense clumps of ginger coloured roots (very fine) in my compost heap which are a pain. I don’t know how they started or how to get rid of them. Should I dispose of the contents of my 2 bins and start again? Do you think they are coming up from the soil and should I put a base in the compost bins? Any thoughts appreciated! Thanks.

  6. Hannah says:

    Hi Gill, our composting specialist in the gardening team suggests that you do in fact get rid of the compost and start again. You should also put the bins on a hard base and try and increase the temperature by including more green material in the heap.

  7. Gill Morris says:

    Thank you Hannah, I was afraid that might be the case!

  8. Chris Halloran says:

    I noticed that you suggested a hard base for a compost heap, does that mean I could site it on a stone slab please?

  9. Hannah says:

    Yes a stone slab would be ideal.

  10. Jenny Tomlinson says:

    My compost heap is full of earthworms. If I add this compost to a bed I am preparing for potatoes, will the earthworms eat my potatoes?

  11. Hannah says:

    You don’t need to worry about earthworms in your potato plot, as they don’t eat living plant tissue, and so don’t hurt plants. Instead, they eat organic waste, soil and minerals and excrete castings daily, which makes compost and enriches the soil. They also dig burrows, which loosen the soil, admit air and water and help roots grow.

  12. mybigtoe says:

    £275 for a composter? Crikey!

  13. snowmoonelk says:

    Can I use old carpet for the base?

    And what should I do with perennial weeds that I cannot put onto compost heap?

  14. Hannah says:

    We have heard of people using carpets. We imagine foam-backed ones would disintegrate, but better quality carpets should last and allow water to percolate. Perennial weeds can be tricky. It’s best to allow them to dry off, then burn them. Otherwise put them in the general rubbish.

  15. Garry says:

    I have a compost heap which is mainly grass cuttings and is placed on field grass. When it decays, it turns into a dark sludgy material. Admittedly, I have not turned the heap. Can you suggest how to prevent the heap from becoming like as I have described? Should I build a segmented compost heap?

  16. Hannah says:

    It sounds like your compost heap is getting too wet and doesn’t include enough dry/’brown’ materials. This guide from Recycle Now is really handy, offering not only a step-by-step guide, but a full list of green and brown materials to include (each of which should make up 50% of your compost materials).

  17. Trisha says:

    It’s taken me a week but I’ve finally finished building a two section compost bin! It’s big, on hard base using concrete blocks left by previous owner; a top for rainy weather; lined with durable plastic so wood sides don’t rot too; and already a third full with brown/green waste! Hard work yes but the accomplishment well worth the effort. Now to order tiger worms! The only problem is fighting the blackbirds for earthworms!

  18. Hannah says:

    Well done Trisha – good luck with the blackbirds…

  19. Cheryl Peers says:

    We have a lot of nettles growing out of the top of ours – what should really be done with these?

  20. Michael Halliwell says:

    Thanks for info,i am going to make our gardens compost heap,which will be our compost, better than our sandy soil,is the Tiger worms like animal worms,cat worms?,ive never had a cat,i dont know if they get worms or not,as not forking out for Tiger,the Indian government should help tiger worming,i was thinking of plunging for on line tiger worm order but how do I know there from tigers?, not happy about all the elaborate problems,cancelled order, thanks anyway

  21. Heather Walker says:

    I have been told that rhubarb leaves should not be put into compost as they are poisonous – is this true?
    Also, can I compost potato plants (the dead leaves) and broad bean plants?

  22. Hannah says:

    Hi Cheryl, our gardening team suggests you remove them before they go to seed. You could use them to make a liquid feed. If you turn your compost heap regularly and keep it up to a temperature of 65 degrees, weeds will not grow on it.

  23. Hannah says:

    Heather, our gardening team says that the rhubarb leaves and the other plant material you mention are fine on the compost heap. Remember to turn it regularly to maintain a temperature of 65 degrees.

  24. simon says:

    We started our compost a couple of months ago but a jug full of salty water was poured in by accident. Is this a problem? Should we start again? Thanks

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