It's International Compost Awareness Week and Ruth talks about the glory of making your own

One of the most common questions we are asked is How can I make good homemade compost? Ours is all sludgy/smelly/dried out’.

This week is International Compost Awareness Week – I know, who knew such a week even existed!?! – so it seemed the ideal opportunity to talk about lovely decomposition.

Once you get it right, making your own compost is easy as pie, not to mention easy on the wallet. If you tot up how much you could potentially spend a year on compost, the resulting figure will make your eyes water.

Turn your compost to make sure the ingredients are evenly mixed

The homemade compost I’m talking about in this post is a replacement for multi-purpose compost  made for general use, not specific composts such as the John Innes range, seed compost or ericaceous compost for acid-loving blueberries, rhododendrons etc.

Here at Hayes Towers we are lucky enough to have a two-section compost bin, allowing us to fill up one side with peelings and cuttings and grass clippings while the other side rots down.

Plastic ‘Dalek’ bins are also hugely efficient, and if you have space for two, so much the better to give you a constant supply of compost.

Dalek bins are ideal for composting in small spaces

Depending on the weather and what’s in your heap, it will take anywhere from 3-12 months for the contents to break down into lovely rich and crumbly compost.

Site your heap somewhere sunny and where it isn’t likely to flood. They aren’t the most attractive of things, so round the back of the shed, down the side of the house or in a tucked-away corner is ideal.

Composting is a great way of using up green kitchen waste, garden trimmings and lawn clippings. For the best results, chop items into small pieces – this is particularly important with harder stuff such as woody prunings – and make sure you don’t add too much of one element at any one time.

So although you can pile your grass clippings onto the heap after mowing the lawn, fork them into the mix as you do so so they don’t just sit there in one large clump (grass can be prone to drying out or turning into a sad, smelly sludge).

Raw kitchen peelings are perfect fodder for your compost heap

Ash from the fire or wood burner is also good as it contains potassium, which is so important for flowering and cropping. Avoid adding it to the compost in wet weather, as water will leach out all the important minerals. You can also use barbecue ash as long as it isn’t contaminated with pieces of food.

Fork everything over regularly to mix them together and let in air, which accelerates the composting process. Don’t let your heap dry out. You can speed things along further by covering the pile with old carpet, removing it when rain is due so moisture can get in.

Do be careful when forking through your heap, especially in winter, as it might ben home to a hedgehog, toad or slow worm, all of which are great allies in the fight against pests.

Cut up woody pruning before adding them

If you are using plastic Dalek bins, take the lid off occasionally to let the rain in and remove the finish product from the bottom while the top stuff continues to rot down.

Things that shouldn’t be added to your heap include pet waste and litter, cooked foods, meat and fish.

Avoid adding ripe seedheads of perennial weeds such as thistles and dandelions as they will rest easy in the nice warm compost then come back to life when you spread it all over the garden.

We used to compost teabags, but since the disturbing news that most major brands use plastic in their bags, they now go into the food waste bin.

Your finished compost should be rich and crumbly with an earthy smell

Loose-leaf tea can be composted, as can plastic-free, fully degradeable bags such as those made by Pukka and Teapigs.

Homemade compost can be used for several gardening tasks and the proportion used, mixed with other

  • For seed sowing. 1 part compost: 2 parts leafmould
  • Pricking out: 1 part compost: 1 part leafmould
  • Final planting (tomatoes, peppers etc): pure compost


Spread your finished compost onto your beds to feed and improve the soil


We are here for you

Although many people are coping well with self-isolation, others are really struggling and feeling completely forgotten and alone.

Here at AG we are doing our best to keep connected to our readers though the magazine, this website and also through social media.

Our gardening ‘agony uncle’ John Negus is also still working hard. Send him your problems and questions, with pictures if you can, and he will get back to you with an answer withing 24 hours, as he has been doing for decades. Contact him using the AG email address at:

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