A basic black plastic compost bin is an easy way to start, it will reduce 3-4 times or more of its own volume of garden waste into compost in a year

garden compost

Compost Maker Bins

Easily available and ready to go with minimal set-up, the ubiquitous "council dalek" can be made to work better by a few small simple actions.

Other composting pages: Making compost heaps | Composting | Q and A's

The best place to buy one of these is from here, put in your postcode and see the prices as agreed with your local authority, they will almost certainly be cheaper than any online retailer, local garden centre or DIY store.

I have three of these bins, one in my garden and two at the allotment. The garden one was free from my local council when they gave them away to encourage people to recycle at home. The two allotment ones were from someone in my village who gave them away on the local FaceBook page. So it could be even cheaper to look closer to home.

A single large bin of 200-300L is a good way to start making compost. If you are serious about making compost and your garden supplies enough fresh organic material, it will be more efficient to have two or preferably three compost bins/heaps. If you start to produce more than the single bin can cope with, the overflow can go into the relevant council refuse collection bin while you decide to increase your home capacity for compost making. I have three garden heaps but I still put anything very spiky or woody into the council refuse collection green bin as it would take too long (and therefore more capacity needed) for me to break it down at home.

Design and set up

    The better ones have the main part in a single piece. Older designs such as mine came in two parts which clip together cleanly when new but not when they get older which is why they have all been repaired with 3 or 4 fixings made of a short strip of builders band inside and out joined by 2 short bolts each, expect another decade or more of use after the repair.

    The small door is useless, it gives the idea that you can add raw material to the top and scoop out crumbly compost a short time later in a continuous process. It NEVER works like this, just ignore that it's there at all.

   I add an insulating "floating lid" inside any compost bin that sits on top of the compost itself inside the actual lid, I use something fairly heavy so it weighs the compost down as it rots.

    Ground anchor screws, these might be of some use when the bin is virtually empty, but they add another job when moving the bin, I haven't used them for years and it makes no difference at all.

    Position - If possible and if there is a choice place it in a position where it gets at least some sun during the day to heat it up, also choose a black rather than the green one for greater warmth. This will speed up the rotting down of contained material.

    Place the bin on soil, it will allow worms to get inside and yucky compost juice to drain away.

This bin is about 25 years old and still going strong, the repair with metal strips to hold the top and bottom together was made over ten years ago, there are three strips around the circumference.

The "floating lid" inside my bin, this is a heavy rubber lid that went on top of a large plastic drum. If you don't have anything like this to use, a circle of thick plywood will do the job with some further insulation such as a double layer of old carpet (synthetic so it doesn't rot) or similar nailed onto the underside.

How to use the bin

   Don't worry about it not getting hot. If you are adding anything plant based to the bin in dribs and drabs as most of us do it will still rot down well. It will only get hot if the heap is very large, several cubic metres, or if a lot of material is added in one go, at least 1/3rd of the heap AND if it is the right balance with lots of green matter, preferably shredded.

   Cut the things you add to the heaps into small pieces, this is the best thing you can do to speed up the composting process, it will still happen if you don't, but more slowly.

   Have a compost bucket by the back door. Put all organic waste into this, fruit and vegetable peelings, dead cut flowers etc. and empty it onto the compost heap when its full.

   Grass cuttings can be a blessing and a curse. In too big an amount on their own they become slimy and rot slowly. However, they have lots of nitrogen and are great for helping speed up the rotting of other things. I coincide hedge cutting with lawn cutting so I can mix both together as I add them to the heap. If I have a lot of grass clippings and nothing else I keep them in a large tub (with a makeshift lid) until I have other material to add to the heap and then mix the two, you can keep them for up to about a month like this.

    Don't let the compost dry out, the rotting process will stop if it does, pour a full watering can over them if this happens to get things moving again, excess water will drain away.

    The small door in the bin is useless. If you open it and dig the compost out it will collapse after a couple of shovelfuls, ignore it.

    Mix green (high nitrogen) and brown (high carbon) materials together so there's not too much of either in a lump, it will speed up the rotting of both.

plastic compost bin Don't bother with the useless little door at the front, access the compost by lifting the bin off the compost.

Ending the process and using the compost

The good news is that when the bin is full it will still go down for a while allowing more space for more material, eventually however this will end. Ideally this will happen after the growing season in the autumn or early winter when there will be a few months of little to add to it.

Remove the ground anchor screws if you have used them, take the lid off, wiggle the bin loose from the contents and remove it from the pile which will stand on its own. The top of the heap will be more recently added and less rotted than the bottom.

If it is the end of the season and it needs more time, use a garden fork to put the contents of the heap back into the bin in its now slightly new position, this will turn it upside down and mix the contents up which will get it going again. Put the lid on and leave it as long as you can before you need to fill it again. You don't HAVE to do this and can just leave it but the results will be better if you do.

If you still have a lot of material to put into and there is more to come for another couple of months or more, put the unrotted top 1/3 to 1/2 into a big tub or wheelbarrow and use the rest in the garden as soil improver. Put what is in the tub/wheelbarrow back into the bin and carry on adding to it.

garden compostGarden compost ready to be used, here it's about to be dug into the planting hole for a climbing rose.

Don't expect what comes from your heap to look like the compost you buy from the garden centre. To make it uniform and crumbly, you'd need to shred all of the material initially and then compost it in huge (many cubic metres) heaps that are turned regularly and then sieve it before use.

This is unnecessary to produce soil improver however. When ready to use it should be fairly uniformly dark brown and have no identifiable things other than small twigs, it can be used to dig into planting holes, to dig into a bed prior to planting vegetables or ornamentals or simply spread on the surface as a mulch. If you can time the spreading for the autumn, much will be taken down into the soil by worms saving you the effort. It will add slow release nutrients to the soil and help improve the soil structure.

There may well be some larger pieces in your compost, larger twigs, pieces of stem, root balls etc. that are too big to spread on the garden. Take these out and put them back onto the heap for another go, if they are very large and very woody, they really need chopping up more or maybe dealing with in some other way.

two composting binsComposting goals - two bins.

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