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How to start composting
- Activity time:
- More than 2 hours
- Difficulty level:
- Suitable for:
- Small garden, Large garden, Medium garden
- To help:
- Hedgehogs, Frogs, toads & newts, Lizards & snakes, Bees, Creepy crawlies, Small mammals, Fungi, Birds
A wildlife-friendly compost heap provides a satisfying feast for woodlice and worms, and in turn can be a brilliant place for toads, slow-worms and even grass snakes.
Compost heaps are also a great way to turn waste material from your garden and kitchen into lovely wholesome compost to put back on your garden.
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
Step by step guide
- Buy a ready-made compost bin. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Keep the heap moist but not sodden. Water it with a watering can if necessary in dry weather. Putting a cover on your heap helps keep in heat and moisture, but keeps it getting too wet if it rains. You could use an old offcut of carpet or some wood.
Turning the contents with a fork can help speed up the decomposition, but be careful not to disturb or – worse still – spike slow-worms or toads in the process.
Then you can return all the goodness of this wholesome compost back to your garden, within a year, sometimes less.
- What you'll see. Lift your carpet lid gently to look for legions of woodlice, scurrying centipedes, tiny, leaping springtails and even slow-worms.
Watch our video on making compost
Build a compost bin Old pallets make great compost bins, try a builders yard or industrial estate. You'll need: Pallets, Brackets and screws, Garden cuttings. Fruit and veg peelings and tea bags can all go in but avoid raw or cooked meat. Regular turning lets in air and speeds up the process. In a few months it will be ready to use for planting and mulching.