How to make compost

By Ellie Reeves | 8th February 2024 | 6 min read

Composting is cool: feed your garden for free

Composting. It may not be a subject that fills you with excitement, we get it. But did you know that composting can transform your waste into nutrient rich food for your garden for free? Composting greatly reduces the amount of waste you send to landfill. Almost 50% of the contents of the average dustbin could be composted!

This guide will show you how to start composting. It’s time to turn all that waste into sustainable food for your garden. You don’t need any fancy, expensive equipment. You just need to provide the ingredients – and nature will do the rest!

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Compost bins vs. compost heaps – which is better?

You can choose from a compost bin or a compost heap, both have their advantages, so it depends on what works best for your space. Both composting methods take up about the same amount of space in your garden.

Compost bins generally work better for small gardens. They’re not meant to be moved, and they can be placed anywhere in your garden. A compost bin is specially designed to give you the warmth and moisture necessary for good compost. They’re easy to clean, and you’ll be able to keep control of the odour by shutting the lid. We have a wide range of compost bins available in-store and online, or why not build your own? Watch our video guide to find out how to build your own compost bin.

You can start a compost heap on bare earth anywhere in your garden and cover it with a tarp. Worms will be able to get in and aerate the pile, helping the materials to breakdown. A compost heap works better if you have a large outdoor space. Bear in mind that it can emit a foul odour – so make sure that it isn’t near a neighbour’s window or anywhere that could disturb anyone.

How to use a compost bin

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Step 1: Find a location for your outdoor compost bin

The first step in creating your own compost is to find the perfect place for your compost bin. We suggest choosing a sunny spot, ideally not too close to your house (as it can emit unpleasant odours). A compost bin works best when placed on soil, however it can be placed on other outdoor surfaces.

compost caddy

Step 2: Get a compost caddy for your kitchen

After mealtimes, scrape any leftover food that can be composted into your kitchen compost bin. Keep adding to your bin until it’s full. If you’re not sure what you can put in your compost bin, check out our composting guide below.

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Step 3: Empty your compost caddy into your outdoor compost bin

Once your compost caddy is full of leftover food and vegetable peels – it’s time to empty it into your outdoor compost bin. Add any garden waste such as small twigs, grass cuttings and dead leaves. Refer to our compost guide below to learn more about what you can and can’t compost. You want a 50/50 mix of green and brown waste, as this creates the best compost.

Brown items include egg cartons and cardboard, twigs and sticks, dried grass, and old leaves. Hay and straw, sawdust, hair from hairbrushes, pet fur, tumble dryer lint – and newspapers. Cut up big items to help them break down faster.

Green items include egg shells, fruit and vegetables, tea leaves and coffee grounds, old flowers and plants, bread, freshly cut grass. Don’t add too many grass cuttings – as they can become compacted and upset the balance.

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Step 4: Wait 9 to 12 months

Ordinarily, compost can take around 9 to 12 months to break down to a usable level, and even longer if you have a lot of fleshy fruit peels or other large items in there. Turning over the compost with a pitchfork every 10 days will help speed the process along. We also have a range of compost accelerator products available which add extra microbes and enzymes to the mix, encouraging faster breakdown.

When it’s ready, the mature compost will be dark brown with a crumbly soil-like texture. Lift the lid on your composter and use a small garden fork to mix the soil mixture around. Now it’s time to proudly add a layer of your very own compost to your beds and borders. What wonderfulness will you grow with your waste?

A beginner’s video guide to composting

Watch our video guide to composting for everything you need to know – we’ll show you how to get started!

What can I compost?

The following table will help you with what can and can’t be composted.


Waste Material Value Tips
Waste water/drinks Neutral Your compost heap should be kept nice and moist at all times, topping up with water every now and then can help with this; although with too much water you'll end up creating a swamp.
Cardboard Carbon Small quantities of cardboard can be good for a compost heap, if you have a large amount; however, it's best to recycle rather than compost.
Corn cobs or stalks Carbon These are best when shredded, as they'll break down a lot faster.
Coffee grounds and filters Nitrogen Great treat for the worms!
Fruit and fruit peel Nitrogen Fleshy peel like banana peel can take longer to decompose, bury in the middle.
Tumble dryer lint Carbon Great for moisture levels.
Egg shells Calcium Crush shells as they break down slowly. Great obstacle course to keep the slugs and snails away.
Hair Nitrogen Sprinkle evenly across pile.
Dry or Green Leaves Carbon Avoid using diseased plants or bushes.
Manure (chicken, cow, goat, horse, pig, rabbit, sheep) Nitrogen Great for speeding up the composting process.
Newspaper Carbon Similar to cardboard, only use in small broken down amounts. Consider recycling large amounts.
Pine needles and cones Carbon Slow break down and acidic finish, use moderately.
Sawdust and wood shavings Carbon Very high carbon content so avoid using lots unless you can balance with a lot of nitrogen. Use untreated wood only.
Vegetables Nitrogen Bury deep to speed up break down.

What can't I compost?

Most types of kitchen and garden waste are fine to throw on the compost heap, however; there are a few things you'll definitely want to avoid.


Waste Material Effect
Ashes from coal or charcoal Coal ash is an alkali and can throw off your compost's PH balance. Some brands of charcoal contain paraffin, wax or other chemicals you wouldn't want in your garden, as well as the grease that dripped down from your barbecue.
Dairy (cheese, milk, yoghurt) These won't add much to the compost but will make it more attractive to pests.
Diseased plants If you use diseased material for composting you risk spreading that disease further around your garden.
Fish scraps and bones Builds unpleasant smells and attractive to unwanted rodents.
Lemons and limes While they are OK in small amounts, citrus fruits are highly acidic and may stop the composting process.
Manure (bird, cat, dog) May contain diseased organisms.
Meat, fat, grease, oil or bones. These are very slow to decompose and don't contribute very much to the soil quality.
Treated wood The varnish or oils used to treat wood often contain chemicals which aren't much good for your soil; even naturally treated wood is likely to be too strong an alkali to benefit your composting.
Weeds Weeds tend to be highly persistent species that could come back even when removed and placed in compost, best to destroy them yourself or put in the bin.

Why should you compost?

Roughly 11 million tonnes of organic material (such as vegetable peelings, tea bags and food scraps) are produced each year by homes in the U.K., much of which ends buried in landfill sites. Organic materials in landfill are a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming.

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