The Composting Process

There are two main stages:

  1. Bacteria, fungi, and micro-organisms (known as heaters) break down the softer material, causing the compost heap to heat up to over 60°C
  2. The compost heap cools. Worms, insects and other small creatures (known as chompers) break down the tougher material
Compost usually takes about 3-9 months to mature, although it may take longer during the winter months. Composted material can be taken from the bottom of the heap, allowing the partly composted and newer material to remain.

Getting started       

  1. Buy a compost bin. These can be bought at most DIY stores and garden centres. Make sure you buy a big enough composter. A 200-300 litre bin is big enough for average-sized gardens. Get one with a lid to keep out the rain
  2. Make your own compost bin out of wood. Create a timber frame and attach to posts driven into the ground. Cover with a plastic sheet or carpet to keep out the rain and keep in the heat and moisture
  3. Place your bin in a sunny, well-drained area of bare soil or grass, out of the wind. Breaking up the earth underneath will improve drainage. Warmth from the sun speeds up the composting process

What to put in your compost...

  • Hair and fur
  • Shredded paper / soft card
  • Chopped straw and hay
  • Animal bedding
  • Egg shells - crushed
  • Grass cuttings / prunings / chopped old plants
  • Chicken / pigeon / horse manure
  • Raw vegetables and fruit
  • Tea / tea bags / coffee granules

Do not add...

  • Meat or fish
  • Coal ash
  • Dog / cat mess
  • Nappies / used tissue
  • Persistent weeds
  • Dairy products
  • Cooked foods
  • Coloured or shiny paper

To speed up your composter:

  • chop or shred tough stems or prunings
  • turn the heap occasionally or add a little crumpled newspaper
  • keep it moist - add a little water in hot weather if necessary
  • keep it warm - cover in winter with a carpet, always keep the lid on
  • add large amounts of mixed material at a time - a good mix is essential

Useful Links

A composting for schools website designed by HDRA.
The community-composting network.