Composting for Beginners

Get ahead of the game for next year by composting old plants and foliage as you harvest and prune this season’s crops. All being well you should have a good supply of compost to use next autumn which will improve your soil. For those of you that are just getting started, this is a quick guide to get you going.

It is incredibly easy to turn your garden waste (grass clippings, weeds, pulled up veg plants, fallen leaves etc) into good quality compost, and you don’t necessarily need a huge amount of space to do it. Below are three simple systems that you can use with minimal effort. Whichever system you use, remember to include a good variety of material in your compost – you want to have lots of dry matter (like woody stems, twigs and cardboard) mixed in with wetter materials (like fallen autumn leaves, grass cuttings, veg scraps/plants and weeds)


What can I compost?

  • Any old veg plants that you pull up
  • Grass clippings
  • Weeds
  • Fallen Leaves
  • Coffee Granules
  • Cardboard/egg cartons
  • Straw
  • Twigs
  • Uncooked veg scraps (peelings etc) from the kitchen
  • Eggshells (uncooked, and cleaned out to avoid attracting rats)

Don’t add meat or cooked food to your compost pile. Try to avoid rampant weeds (like bindweed) or weeds that are full of seedheads too. Finally, we find it’s best not to add raw potatoes as they will happily start growing again!

Cold Composting

This is simply piling all your garden waste (prunings, weeds, pulled up veg plants etc) and kitchen vegetable waste (raw fruit and veg peelings/scraps) into a big mound in the corner of the garden and letting it all break down over a period of around 12 months.

Pros: Great for wildlife (will encourage slow worms, hedgehogs, toads etc), easy to manage, no need to buy compost bins (or build them!)

Cons: The compost is relatively slow to break down. The pile can be a bit untidy looking.


Single Compost Bin

This is not much different to cold composting, but involves using a purpose made “bin” which could come in any shape, size and material. We love the Wiggly Wigglers beehive composter, but there are plenty of plastic compost bins on the market (visit any garden centre) that you can use. In our humble opinion, they are all much of a muchness, so simply choose one that works for you in terms of size and aesthetics.

Pros: The compost breaks down a little faster as the contents are kept warm and moist. Produces compost that is clean and crumbly.

Cons: It can sometimes be awkward to extract the finished compost. Can be quite appealing homes to rats and mice!


Double Bay Compost Bins

These tend to be 2 adjoining square, wooden bins (often constructed out of pallets). The idea is that you fill one before covering it. Then, while that bay is busily composting away, you are busy filling the other one. By the time the second is full, you can expect to have compost to use from the first. You can add a third bay as well, which gives even more scope for producing compost from each bay at different times.

Pros: Can manage larger volumes and turn out more compost.

Cons: Takes up more space. You have to either build it yourself or buy one off the market.