How to start composting

Activity
Worms in compost heap
3-4 hours
All Year
Not too tricky

Make a wildlife-friendly compost for woodlice, worms, toads, and grass snakes. Compost heaps are a great way to turn waste material from your garden and kitchen into lovely wholesome compost to put back on your garden.

Worms in compost heap

Step-by-step guide

Making a compost heap video screenshot
1

Buy a ready-made wooden compost bin, or make one from pallets.

The ideal bin for wildlife is one made from slatted wood, which means that wildlife can clamber in and out of the heap. Choose one made with sustainable timber – look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo.

 

2

Build your own compost heap

Get hold of four wooden pallets made from sustainable timber (with the FSC logo).

Erect them in a square, either by fastening the corners together with strong string (known as lashing), or by nailing them together.

At some stage you will want to access the contents of the heap, so it’s good to make one side removable. As you fill the heap, it makes it easier for getting material in and out if you have a moveable side.

3

Feed your heap with a mix of green and brown materials.

This the first secret to making great compost quickly.

Aim for a mix of thin alternating layers of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials.

The green includes grass clippings, weeds and uncooked vegetable peelings. Brown includes sticks and dried grass, wood chippings, shredded paper and cardboard.

4

Shred your material thinly.

This is the second rule for making great compost.

The finer the material is shredded before it goes on, the quicker it will rot. Get this right and your heap should build up quite a temperature, killing off any weed seeds.

5

What not to compost in a wildlife-friendly bin:

Don't include meat, cooked food (bread, cooked rice, leftovers etc.), dairy products or pet waste. Avoid these, and the risk of rats using your heap are very small.

If they do visit, cut out the vegetable peelings.

6

Keep the heap moist but not sodden.

Water it if necessary in dry weather, and cover your heap with wood or woollen carpet to keep in heat and moisture without it becoming sodden. Uncovered heaps will rot slower than covered ones.

Turning the contents with a fork can help speed up the decomposition, but be careful not to disturb or spike slow-worms or toads in the process. Use plastic leaf grabbers and only turn in spring and autumn to minimise disruption.

7

What you'll see:

Lift your carpet lid gently to look for legions of woodlice, scurrying centipedes, tiny, leaping springtails and even slow-worms.

What you will need

  • Ready-made wooden compost heap
  • Or some wooden pallets and posts
  • Garden prunings
  • Kitchen waste (not meat or dairy)
  • Grass clippings
  • Nails or string
  • Plain cardboard boxes (remove packaging tape and labels), torn into pieces