Notes From The Garden Path


How to Make Compost -

a step-by-step guide to the whole process

Introduction: Cultivating Nutrient-Rich Soil with Homemade Compost

As a dedicated gardener with a large garden, you understand the significance of healthy soil in nurturing thriving plants. One of the most effective and eco-friendly ways to enrich your garden soil is by creating your own compost. Composting not only gives you somewhere effective to put all your waste (prunings, deadheading, finished plants, grass clippings, leaves, etc) but also provides your garden with nutrient-rich organic matter that fosters vigorous plant growth.

For the first time this year, I haven’t had to purchase any compost for my garden.  Usually, I have had several deliveries throughout the season of a pallet stacked with bags of compost for mulching and potting up.  I have now even started to produce enough to share some with younger members of the family with their first homes, just starting their own small garden beds.

Believe me, you won’t regret starting a proper composting system in your garden.  All you need is to get organised properly at the start, then let nature do all the major work.  Yes, you will need to turn it over and shovel it in a wheelbarrow, but it's no harder work than lugging compost bags about the garden and a lot more satisfying.

In this guide, we'll take you through easy steps of how to make compost and maintain the process for a flourishing garden.

Getting Started: The Basics of Composting

Step 1: Choose the Right Location   Select a suitable spot in your garden for your compost pile or bins. This should be well-drained and accessible, allowing you to easily add materials and turn the compost. Make sure you can get a wheelbarrow or trailer up close, so the pathway should be wide enough. Obviously, you probably don’t want your composting area on show, so tucked away in your ‘working’ part of the garden is fine.   I have mine in a dark corner of the garden, three-quarters under trees, which seems to aid the speed of decomposition.

Step 2: Build Your Compost Pile   There are many clips and instructions online showing how to physically build the structure of compost bins, so it doesn’t really matter how you corral the compost, use pallets, wire or even just have individual piles with no boundaries. The most important thing is that with a large garden, you will need more than one so that you can turn each year’s clippings until you get the perfect compost.

I will explain my layout as an example:  I have three penned-off compost piles, mine are penned off with posts on the corners holding up wire stock fencing as the sides. The front of each pen is open of course.  The size of these pens depends on the size of your garden, don't skimp, you'll get annoyed if they are too small and you have to rebuild.

So, the basics are:

Pen 1: put all of one season’s clippings etc into one pen.

Pen 2. Then in the spring of the next year start turning this compost into the next pen.  So, you have now turned your compost and left the first pen ready for this season's clippings.

Pen 3.  Then finally, at the end of that season, I turn the compost from pen 2 into pen 3. So now I have turned the compost twice and this pen is now full of compost ready to use.

Step 3: Gather Composting Materials. Collect a balanced mix of "green" and "brown" materials.

"Green" materials include kitchen scraps like fruit and vegetable peels, grass clippings and green prunings. Do not use anything that has been cooked on your compost like meat, potatoes etc.  These will attract vermin.

"Brown" materials consist of dry leaves, plants that have finished, straw, paper, and cardboard (if you put cardboard on your compost, cut it up into strips first). Remember do not put twigs or branches in your compost, they take too long to break down.  I keep a separate pile for these, either to use as stakes, burn on the open fires both indoors and out or use to make hedging.

Aim for a 50/50 ratio of green to brown materials. Layer the materials in your chosen composting area, starting with a layer of brown materials followed by a layer of green materials. Repeat this layering process until your pile is about three feet high. Turning the pile occasionally will help aerate it and speed up the decomposition process.

Step 4: Maintain the Right Conditions

  1. Moisture: Keep your compost pile moist, resembling a damp sponge. Water the pile occasionally to ensure decomposition occurs efficiently.
  2. Aeration: Turn the pile regularly using a pitchfork or compost aerator to introduce air. This encourages beneficial microorganisms to break down the materials faster.
  3. Balance: Maintain a balance between green and brown materials. If your pile starts to smell, it might be too wet or have too much green material. Adjust accordingly.

Step 5: Patience and Monitoring.  Composting is a gradual process. Over time, the materials will break down into dark, crumbly compost. Monitor the pile's temperature (it should feel warm), texture, and smell. When the compost looks and smells like rich, earthy soil, it's ready to use.

Using Your Homemade Compost

Once your compost is ready, it's time to reap the rewards in your garden:

  1. Soil Enrichment: Mix the compost into your garden soil to enhance its structure, water-holding capacity, and nutrient content.
  2. Mulching: Spread a layer of compost around your plants to act as a protective mulch, conserving moisture, and deterring weeds.
  3. Planting Mix: Create a planting mix by blending compost with potting grit to provide your plants with an excellent start.  I sieve my compost to provide a very fine potting compost for seeds etc.
  4. Compost Tea: Make compost tea by steeping compost in water. Use this nutrient-rich liquid to water your plants.

Conclusion: Nurturing Your Garden, One Compost Pile at a Time

Creating and maintaining a compost pile is a rewarding journey that transforms your kitchen and garden waste into "black gold" for your plants. As a gardener with a large garden, you have the opportunity to make a significant impact on your landscape's health and vitality. By following these easy steps and staying attuned to your compost's needs, you'll be well on your way to cultivating a thriving and sustainable garden paradise. 


The Team @ Grand Garden Life

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