How to make a compost heap: 10 top tips
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.
Watch tips from our expert gardener Catherine Cutler in the the video below.
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 lots in our online shop.
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.