Not only do they develop their own community of minibeasts who help the decay process along; they can also become a sheltering place for small animals such as mice, hedgehogs and even nesting grass snakes. This is partly because of their warmth, but also because they contain and generate food. To a hedgehog, a tasty worm, fat slug or juicy beetle is irresistible. Compost itself is great for garden plants. It improves soil structure, increases beneficial fungi and helps retain water. A 2002 study by the Waste and Resources Action Programme looked at data from 70 municipal authorities. It concluded that the only factor which significantly reduced waste sent to landfill was home composting.

Buying a compost bin

In an attempt to reduce landfill, many local councils offer compost bins at discount prices (sometimes as little as £12). There are all kinds of designs but the most important factor is to place your bin on soil rather than concrete. Bins with a door at the bottom look clever but don’t really work; it’s more practical to let an entire heap rot down, then remove the bin and barrow it away. For this reason you really need two or more heaps. That way, one’s cooking whilst another is ‘work in progress’. If space is tight, you’ll find a square bin better than a round one. For some reason, these are often more expensive. Building your own bin is straightforward: all you need is something to contain the composting materials, and a lid to keep the rain off. If you’ve got a few pallets, a crowbar and a hammer and nails, you can do it in an afternoon.

How to make compost

All that is needed for successful compost is waste organic material, air and water. Any organic material can be composted and a good mix of high nitrogen materials (greens) and high carbon materials (browns) needs to be achieved. The smaller the material, the faster it will compost.

Greens:

  • Kitchen waste (teabags, fruit & veg peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds)
  • Grass cuttings
  • Weeds
  • Soft prunings
  • Old plants & flowers
  • Animal manure

Browns:

  • Straw/hay
  • Wood shavings
  • Soiled paper
  • Woody prunings
  • Dry leaves
  • Card, cardboard & shredded newspaper

Having the mixture right, will ensure that compost has sufficient moisture and air. However, if it does seem dry, water it.

A compost heap that is made primarily of grass cuttings, will often become slimy and smell unpleasant. To avoid this happening, add some shredded newspaper or cardboard as you put the grass on the compost heap. This helps retain air in the mixture and balances the wet grass cuttings.