Frequently a consideration in a domestic garden, a compost heap can be a valuable feature.
Providing there is sufficient space and a suitable location all gardens will benefit from having on site composting as it is often awkward to get rid of kitchen and garden waste, besides why purchase peat based compost in plastic bags when we have the raw materials available.
Whether you use a purpose built container or make one from old pallets or scrap timber, the location is important. Ideally position somewhere accessible but out of sight and in shade/semi-shade with the base open to the ground below. Keep the rain off, allow air in and hopefully the conditions will be right to produce the required warmth. Micro-organisms (bacteria and fungi) don’t work well in extreme conditions and they will be converting all the waste into compost. Aim for a heap/container at least 1 metre cubed in size, larger if you have space and two or three containers will give the ability to keep materials separate then add to the main heap as required.
In order to produce good compost the balance of materials added is crucial for the micro-organisms. 25-50% soft green nitrogen rich content such as grass cuttings, weeds, vegetable peelings and or manure with the rest woody brown carbon rich content such as wood chippings, tree and shrub cuttings, cardboard, fallen/dead leaves.
Turn the heap around once a month to mix the materials and introduce air. If possible add lots of varied material in bulk and insure it is not too wet, too dry or compacted.
The smaller cuttings are the more quickly they will become compost. A garden shredder can be useful for this, or if you have a hedge trimmer run it through cuttings prior to adding to the compost. If you have loppers or even just secateurs to do this it will also speed up the process.
Although kitchen waste including animal products will compost, its best not to add them as they will attract unwanted visitors such as rats. Egg shells, bones, fruit stones won’t do any harm but tend not to rot down quickly enough and look unsightly when spread on plant boarders. Coffee grinds are ok in moderation but too many will raise the acidity of the material.
Between 6 months and two years the compost will be ready to use, it should be dark brown and crumbly. Getting the first batch of home made compost is very satisfying and don’t be disheartened because it doesn’t look like the bagged stuff from the garden centre, it will contain all the elements the soil and in turn the plants need to thrive.