Top tips for making compost

Information sheet

Follow these simple tips to make the best compost in your school garden.

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s):

Top tips for making great compost

  • Cut or break up compost ingredients into small pieces before adding them to the compost bin.
  • The idea of having 3 compost bins is that one can be filled, one to be used on the garden and leave one to rot down.
  • Make sure the compost is full of air by turning it and mixing it regularly.
  • If the compost feels dry add water or some ‘Greens’ such as grass clippings or vegetable peelings.

Golden rules for making compost

  • Make sure there is a mixture of ‘Greens’ and ‘Browns’ in your compost heap
  • ‘Greens’ are things like grass clippings, dead flower heads, annual weeds with no seed heads, uncooked kitchen waste, fruit and vegetables, leafy plants
  •  ‘Browns’ are things like twiggy prunings such as hedge clippings or small twigs from a bush/shrub, woodchip, leaves, plant stems, paper (including shredded paper), card and straw
  • Keep a cover over the top of the heap to help control the amount of water entering the bin so it does not become too soggy
  • Please replace lid. Do not add perennial weeds that have fleshy roots as they may survive and regrow e.g. dandelions
  • If the compost is too wet, mix in some scrunched up newspaper, paper towels, cardboard or twiggy prunings to restore a good green/ brown balance
  • Do not add cooked food such as meat or dairy produce as this will attract vermin

Top tips for speeding up the compost process

1. Shred and chop.
Shred or chop materials as finely as possible before mixing them into the pile. For example, chop fallen leaves by running a lawn mower over them. The same strategy applies to kitchen scraps - “the smaller, the better” is the rule for compost ingredients

2. Mix dry browns and wet greens.
The two basic types of ingredients for making compost are those rich in carbon and those rich in nitrogen. Carbon-rich materials, or “dry brown,” include leaves, twigs, hay, and straw. Nitrogen-rich materials or “wet greens” which include kitchen peelings and grass clippings. Aim to keep a fair mix of these materials throughout the pile.

3. Strive for size.
Build the pile at least 90cm x 90cm x 90cm so materials will heat up and decompose quickly. (Don‟t make the pile much bigger than that, though or it will be hard to turn.) Having a critical mass of materials this size helps the compost pile to get „cooking‟. Check the pile a couple of days after it is built up. It should be hot in the middle, a sign that microbial decomposers are at work. Try to add lots of organic matter in one go when filling the compost bin.

4. Add water as needed.
Make sure the pile stays moist, but not too wet (It should feel like a damp sponge). Add water if too dry. To prevent the compost becoming too soggy, cover with a tarpaulin. Having a lid on the compost will insulate it and allow more accurate control of the moisture content.

5. Keep things moving.
Moving the compost adds air to the mix and means microbes can work harder. Air circulation can be improved by emptying the container and refilling it. This will also mix the browns and greens. Alternatively consider using a compost tumbler which is a container that moves the compost materials for you when you turn it.

Remember – composting is a faster process in the warmer months and putting the compost bin in a warm position will also speed up the process.

There are two different styles of compost bin

Plastic 

A top loading plastic compost bin (cone) or a rotating compost bin.

Wooden

These can be homemade and take a variety of forms.

When moving composted material from one compost bin to another, it is best to have three compost bins in a row for this process, moving to the next one when each becomes full. When emptying the final compost bin, slatted, wooden sides make this job a lot easier!

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