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The Art Of Composting - How To Make The Best Compost

I am often asked this, but before replying I always ask the questioner if they already have a good system for their composting needs. If the answer is yes then I do my best to avoid the topic and to move the conversation on to far less controversial areas like politics, religion and quantum physics.

As I am meant to be reasonably well up in the area of composing, why the diffidence? you may well be thinking.

Well experience has taught me that many keen gardeners have sussed out their composting needs, ideas, systems and preferences in some detail and set considerable store by their particular methodology. In religion it is said that there are many roads to God, so in gardening there are many routes to good compost and if yours works that’s excellent and as the saying goes if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This said there are some useful tips and pointers for those who have not quite found their way to getting ‘black gold’ out of their garden compost heap or bin every single time.

The first consideration is one of size and quantity. If you are a farmer or have acres of garden then you will have serious quantities of organic waste to deal with. Several tonnes of organic waste piled together will soon get hot and the main issue to achieve good composting is adequate aeration. This can be achieved by frequent turning or on a commercial scale by structures, pipes and tubes and even large scale tumblers.

All well and good but for 99.9% of us gardeners who have far more modest volumes of waste to deal with, the need for aeration pales into near insignificance compared to the need for initial rapid heat generation (the thermophilic phase of composting). This is best achieved by enclosing the waste in a solid non aerated structure whether of wood, metal, plastic or stone.

Now I am not saying that aeration is irrelevant on the garden scale but the simple truth is that the air, or more accurately oxygen is needed within the heap not at the outside edges which serves only to cool the heap and thus slow down the whole composting process.

OK so you have a bin, container or structure preferably with a lid but no base to contain the waste. Site it level directly on soil as this will be rich in microbes and bacteria to kick start the whole process.

The need now is to fill it with a good mix of materials roughly a half to two thirds soft green nitrogen rich waste such as weeds, lawn cuttings and vegetable waste and one third to a half of the brown carbon rich more fibrous waste such as twiggy wooden waste or prunings, cage waste from herbivore pets and cardboard (from toilet roll cores to cereal packets and from small boxes to egg boxes all are excellent).

You need to build up your heap with a thorough mix of these material types. This will get the ‘chemistry’ right and by the inclusion of the twiggy fibrous and scrunched up cardboard throughout the heap internal aeration should be excellent. If you are particularly keen you can mix round the contents occasionally. Fill the bin sit back and nature does the rest!