Compost can be made by leaving material in a heap or in a bin. The method you choose may depend on the size of your garden, the amount of material you have to compost or the amount of compost you need.
A compost heap should be at least one metre square and one metre high. It should be enclosed with brick or timber and covered to keep the rain out. Space should be left at the front, giving room to turn the heap.
Compost bins are a better option for smaller gardens. Your local council may offer them at a reduced cost. You can also buy compost bins from garden centres and DIY stores. The bin is open ended to allow earth worms to enter the material and help speed up the process.
What you can and can't compost
You can compost:
- fruit and vegetable scraps
- tea bags, coffee grounds
- egg shells
- grass cuttings, prunings and leaves
- small amounts of shredded paper and soft cardboard
- animal hair
- vacuum dust (only from woollen carpets)
- garden and pond plants
You can't compost:
- cat or dog excrement
- meat and fish
- dairy products
- diseased plants
- disposable nappies
- shiny card
- hard objects
The composting process
Three types of organisms – fungi, bacteria and actinomycetes – begin to grow all over the material and break down the waste. This produces heat, further increasing the activity of the bacteria.
Once the bacteria have used up all the starch and sugars, the temperature falls again, creating a better environment for the fungi, which then begins breaking down any woody material.
Composting can take weeks or months depending on how much air and moisture are present.
The compost is ready to use when it is crumbly in appearance and has a slightly earthy smell.
Animals and kitchen waste
Generally, keeping domestic pets doesn't prevent you using composted kitchen waste in the garden. However, animals like pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, deer or other hoofed animals mustn't be allowed near kitchen waste, as they could catch diseases from it. If you keep poultry, you must compost using an enclosed container so that the poultry doesn't come into contact with it.
Composting or disposing of pond plants
Some pond and water plants can damage other plants and animals. For example, the floating pennywort can grow 20 centimetres a day, blocking out light and reducing the oxygen for other plants and animals.
When it’s time to thin out your pond, dispose of your plants by composting them or putting them in your council’s garden waste collection bin. Don’t dump plants in the wild as they could get into ponds or streams and start spreading.
Find out how to stop the spread of aquatic plants on the following nidirect page:
Green garden waste collection schemes
As well as kerbside recycling of garden waste, councils collect garden waste from your home. Find out more from your local council.
You can also take garden waste to your local household waste and recycling centre. You will find skips for garden waste, which is taken to composting facilities and either sold on or re-used locally as a soil improver.