There are lots of ways of making a compost heap. Some gardeners have a sort of wire netting barrel, others have wooden ‘boxes’ and there are of course the Dalek type plastic bins with a little door at the bottom. You can, of course, just make a heap in the corner of the allotment and leave nature to deal with it eventually. They all seem to work. A lot depends on on how much room you have, what materials you have lying around and how quick you need it to rot down.
I have two wooden bins, each about three feet square. I find that it generally takes me about a year to fill one bin and by then the other will be ready for use. Having three bins would be even better, with one being filled, one composting and the other being used. Unfortunately, I just don’t have the space for that many!
The general theory is that you need equal layers of green and brown material. The ‘green’ being grass cuttings, weeds, cabbage leaves, etc. and the ‘brown’ would be soil, manure and rotting cardboard. Of course, you can use kitchen waste such as peelings, over ripe fruit, and pea pods, but not cooked food leftovers which could attract rats. Also, you have to be careful with the weeds you put on the heap – perennial weeds like bindweed, should be put on a bonfire instead, as they are tough buggers to kill.
It is a good idea to ‘stir’ or turn the compost with a fork, ideally twice a year, to mix and let the air in. There are accelerators on the market, but I use an occasional sprinkling of sulphate of ammonia, which supplies nitrogen to the micro-organisms to rot down the compost. Some materials like cabbage stalks will need to be flattened and split to help to break them down in the heap.
When the compost is ready it can be used to put in a trench when you are planting potatoes, peas and beans, or, if you are a non-digger, to spread on the beds as a mulch.
In dry weather the heap may need watering and in wet weather it could be covered, the secret being that it should never get either too dry or too wet!
Thanks to Arthur Tallon, with assistance from Anna Moulson for supplying this article.