How to begin a compost heap

  • Posted: Jan 18, 2017
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How to begin a compost heap

The New Year is an excellent time to turn over a new leaf – or an apple peeling… a potato skin … or even
a carrot top. It’s an ideal time to resolve to start a compost heap and make your waste work for you. By starting a compost heap you will make the greatest organic matter you can ever add to your soil. Recycle your garden and kitchen waste and watch nature’s most basic process unfold in your garden.

What you’ll need to start a compost heap:

• Chicken wire or wood
• Side cutters
• Nails
• Hammer
• Garden fork
• Green garden debris (grass clippings, old annuals)
• Brown garden debris (dry leaves, soil)


1. Start a very basic compost heap simply by piling up leaves and grass clippings. If you do nothing else, you can dig out compost after about six months of warm weather.

2. For something a little thought-out, start by finding a good place for your heap – somewhere that is handy for the garden and kitchen, yet not prominently in view.

3. Enclose that compost with a simple frame – loosely roll 2 metres of chicken wire to make a ring. Use side cutters to cut the excess wire off. Leave three cut ends of wire exposed to secure the ring to its self and stand it up.

4. Build a more permanent compost bin from odd pieces of wood or recycled pallets. Leave it open on one side for access – adding, turning and digging out compost from the bottom – and do not cover the top.

5. Understand the two basic elements that make compost: green (grass clippings, old annuals) and brown garden debris (dry leaves, soil). Try for a balance of one part green debris to two parts brown debris, until the mix is damp, but not wet.

6. Put a layer of leaves 10 cm thick in the bottom of your heap, then 2.5 cm of good quality garden soil. Next add 5 cm of grass clippings or old plants, then more brown and green debris in alternate layers.

7. Turn with a garden fork one week after constructing the heap. Begin burying coffee grounds, eggshells, and green kitchen waste into the heap and turn it weekly. You’ll have compost in about 2 months.

8. Make another ring or bin and turn the compost from one into the other to neatly mix it up and aerate the heap for fastest results. You can start another heap after yours has grown to 1 cubic metre.

9. You can begin using the compost from the bottom of the heap when you turn it over and can’t recognise the component parts any longer. Dig out spadefuls of brittle brown compost to use in your garden and use the partially composted matter for mulch or to start another heap.

Don’t compost animal waste, meats, oils, diseased plants or plants treated with weed killers. Healthy compost smells pleasantly earthy – turn it more often and add more dry soil and dry leaves if yours smells bad. Water your compost heap only during dry months and then only enough to moisten it don’t drench the heap.

Tip: Many excellent compost bins of varying sizes are available ready-made at different prices.

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