How to Compost: The Complete Guide to Making Compost

Compost is what you are left with when all of your kitchen scraps, garden cuttings and other organic degradable materials have completely broken down into a rich, dark, crumbly material. Throwing away all garden and household refuse which could be used to make compost is wasteful and unnecessary.

In the UK we are a very wasteful country; the Home Composting Helpline discovered the following statistics about the British:

  • 3 million eggs are eaten in the UK everyday – eggs are perfect for adding calcium to the soil.
  • Each year, on avg. each person consumes 130kg of potato, equivalent to 500 medium spuds.
  • 30% of household waste is organic and could be turned in to compost.
  • Nearly 60% of people who use peat-free compost say they did it for the environment.
  • Regular composters send an avg. 70kg of compostable food waste to landfills each year.
  • Britain spends £290million a year on carrots – perfect addition to the compost pile.
  • The avg. UK woman will vacuum 7300miles in her lifetime (Bosch Survey 2007) – dust and lint is compostable.
  • Around 43% of Britons own a pet – hamster and gerbil bedding and dry food is compostable.
  • Britain is a nation of coffee fans with approx. 70million cups drunk each day – ground coffee is perfect for attracting wanted critters to the compost pile.
  • Composting all suitable material produced by UK households could avoid the equivalent of 2million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year

There are many types of techniques to make compost, both at home with the basic equipment from your garden tool shed and on a commercial level if you don’t have outdoor space or use for compost. For those that live in an apartment or only have a concrete yard, contact the local authority to find out where the nearest composting centre is.

There are two types of popular commercial composting techniques; these are open windrow and in-vessel. Some companies choose in-vessel which is the process of using ventilated in-ground bunkers that are monitored by probes, and pipes are used to extract the air from the bunker and filter it before releasing it back in to the atmosphere. This is used more for agricultural and landscaping soil improver.

Other companies use the open window method which involves spreading the organic waste into long, semi-circle shaped piles which are mechanically turned to maintain even decomposition.

Steve Worsley from YorWaste composting centre servicing Yorkshire and Northampton advised: “We handle over 200,000 tonnes of green waste each year.

“From the areas we manage Yorkshire councils, particularly Leeds and Bradford, are the most efficient for the collection of waste and delivery to Yorwaste sites.”

At home composting is a lot less mechanical. It can be effortless or arduous dependant of the level of commitment. Below are a breakdown of the most popular home composting systems and their pros and cons:


This is as basic as the name. It is low cost and low maintenance once the whole is dug. This works well in a vegetable patch; dig the hole around 10-12 inches deep throw in your organic refuse and add a layer of soil on top. However, it is not suitable for large amounts of waste and the ground and compost may freeze during the winter months.


Again this is very basic but can take a little longer for decomposition as the temperature does not get high enough to encourage microbe activity. It is inexpensive and very low maintenance as it is a case of piling up organic household waste. Very prone to attract unwanted pests and tends to expand quickly.


There are places around where pallets can be picked up for free which also saves them from ending up in landfill. However, it can sometimes be difficult to find pallets of the same size to make a box and they can be very unattractive. The pallet box is good for large amounts of waste and is useful for the aeration process due to the slats.


These are available from most garden centres but can be relatively expensive depending on the size. Plastic bins are great for deterring unwanted pests and locking in needed moisture but they can sometimes be difficult to open especially when the compost becomes compact.

How to Compost

Virtually anything that has once lived can be put on the compost heap. Woody things like shrub cuttings should be chopped finely to encourage quicker composition. Things like pine needles and evergreen trimmings tend to rot and should perhaps be avoided.

Other things to consider are:

YES to Compost Pile

NO to Compost Pile

Coffee Beans/Filters/Tea Bags

Human/Animal faeces

Human & Pet Hair/Lint

Cooking Oil

Paper – in strips and wet if pile is too dry

Baked Good & Pastas

Garden Cuttings/Waste

Walnuts – they contain juglone: toxic to plants

Citrus Rinds

Personal Hygiene Products

Cotton Swabs (not the plastic)

Diseased Plants

Kitchen Waste

Stubborn Weeds

Vegetable Trimmings

Paint, Motor Oil etc.

Leather Products: garden gloves, wallets etc.



Milk Products

Toe/Finger Nail Clippings

Meat Products

Pencil Shavings

Treated Wood/Sawdust


for more info & ideas visit: Marion Owen “The Compost Queen”


It is important to provide a balanced diet for micro-organisms; a mixture of organic house waste and garden cuttings should help with this. It is also important to provide enough moisture in the summer and protections from the rain. The heap should always be moist but not soggy.

To keep the compost sterilised it needs to reach temperatures of 60 degrees in the centre. To achieve this temperature in the colder months use carpet on the top and pad the side with straw or corrugated iron. However, it is imperative to maintain a good circulation of airflow as airless conditions encourage anaerobic bacteria.

During the summer compost should take around 12 weeks to make and should look dark, rich and crumbly when ready to use.

Further Reading

How to Aerate Your Lawn – Euro Fit Direct



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