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Hints And Tips On Successful Composting

How to get the optimum mix of waste and what to do with it!

The great British scientist Charles Darwin of 'theory of evolution' and 'natural selection' fame spent 3 full years on his famous and revolutionary book 'The Origin of the Species'. However and less well known, before this seminal work, he spent 10 years full-time studying and researching the activity of worms, invertebrates and micro organisms in what he called 'the fermentation of vegetable matter' - or as we call it, composting.

Composting is quite simply nature’s way of recycling dead organic matter.


  • Has understandably been described as black gold.

  • It returns nutrients, vitality and structure to the soil.

  • It is a valuable resource for garden crops & flowers.

  • It's entirely natural and produces a valuable product

  • It's good for our environment - landfill; collection; transport etc (and we are running out of space)

  • It can reduce your Council Tax! (well, reduce the rate of increase) - collecting, transporting and disposing of household and garden waste is very expensive.

  • It's free and saves you buying someone else's waste - neatly pre-bagged but expensive.

  • It helps break up clay soils.

  • It improves water retention (less evaporation).

  • It improves drainage.

  • It increases worm activity (which is good for every part of the garden except, perhaps, the lawn!)

Composting is easy - and easy to get wrong!

All you need is a little knowledge and the right ingredients. We all have our own ideas of how to compost, some are successful and others are not. If you are happy with your method, then do not change. However, there are some BASIC PRINCIPLES which can help ensure success.

It's all about the right ingredients!


  • Grass clippings

  • Leaves

  • Weeds

  • Dead Plants

  • Food scraps (vegetable and fruit)

  • Straw/hay

  • Tea/coffee grounds

  • Twigs/chopped wood

  • Herbivorous pet waste - the small furies - guinea pigs, rabbits etc

  • Cardboard

  • Hair, dust waste, newspaper.


  • Weeds gone to seed - they may germinate.

  • Meat

  • Grease

  • Bones

  • Dairy products

  • Dog/cat waste - unpleasant / risk of toxicara virus

  • Thick branches

  • Diseased material

  • Pernicious weeds - bindweed/cooch or twitch grass/ground elder

Now we know what can easily be composted what do we do?

The materials we can compost can be split into two lists: -


  • Food scraps

  • Grass clippings 'sappy'/'green' waste

  • Rotted manure

  • Weeds


  • Woody twigs

  • Wood chips

  • Sawdust

  • Straw 'dryer'/'brown' waste

  • Newspapers

  • Leaves

  • Cardboard



To get trouble-free compost it is best to have about
2 parts nitrogen
1 part carbon
They COMPLEMENT each other. Carbon traps the air (physically not chemically).

How to compost

Many gardens in summer have 99% grass clippings (i.e. Nitrogen).

What can be done?

Newspapers/cardboard scrunched up.
Twigs/woody stuff
Keep adding kitchen waste.

ADDITIVES - Are they necessary?

This is a common question and there are several reputable products. A compost activator is simply a rich source of nitrogen. Don't bother if you have a good mixture of waste. A good heap will build up micro-organisms quickly on its own - this can be helped by mixing the heap.

The cheapest and most highly effective natural additive is, believe it or not, human urine. That said how you get it into the compost bin is up to you!

So, now we've got the ingredients, what do we do?

There are two main ways to make compost at home:

The easy method (the lazy way - my way!)

  • Add as you go

  • Maintain 2 parts sappy/nitrogen

  • 1 part woody/carbon

  • Keep adding until the bin is full and well settled. Finished compost is at the bottom. Better still have 2 or more compost bins. When you start composting it's amazing how much you can actually compost. I have a small garden but run 7 composters and a Wormery.

The quicker method

  • Build up pile of material all at once (same Carbon / Nitrogen mix)

  • Fill the bin all at once

  • After 1 week, turn pile

  • After 1 more week, turn pile again

  • Cover pile with black polyethylene or 2 and composter then start again

  • Compost will be ready in 3-4 months.

Why use a composter?
Because it's quick, simple and tidy (nature works to its own timescale).

There are 4 key stages of composting: -

  • 55F to 70F bacteria called psychrophiles (sack-ro-files)

  • 70F to 90F mesophiles come in to do the REAL work, They eat everything in sight. They can increase the temperature to 100F then die out.

  • 90F upwards thermophiles do the really hot work. They last 3-5 days - the heap gets very hot! Too hot to handle! This helps to kill any weeds and seeds etc...

    This will pump more air (oxygen) into it and gives a better mix.
    When it cools down, there is still much improvement to go.

Worms, woodlice and other invertebrates move in (the worms can eat their own weight each day). All these beneficial creatures help to break the compost down to finish the job.

With all this going on, the heap needs a little protection - a Compost Bin.

Key features to look for:-

1) Size - The bigger the better - but it's better to fill a small bin than to only half fill a larger one.

2) Colour - Dark is the best to absorb & retain heat.

3) Shape - Conical = good drainage and good air circulation.

4) Solid - no air holes - weather. Aeration is critical but comes from having the correct mixture of compostable waste - the Carbon & Nitrogen mix. External vents in a compost bin serve only to aerate the outer layer of waste and in so doing cool and slow down the whole process. So although they may superficially sound like a good idea - so do not be fooled by marketing gimmicks.

5) Doors - Not necessary, not better, not easier to use, but popular - personal preference.

Don't expect your compost to look exactly like the compost you can buy unless you are prepared to take the final step.

You are producing a truly excellent soil conditioner rich in nutrients to use as a top dressing, mulch or dig into your garden.

If you want it to look just like what you can buy from the Garden Centre - simply dry it out and run it through a garden sieve of griddle - on the other hand why bother - unless your planning to sell it at the local car boot sale!

The Art Of Composting - Make Great Leafmould

A surfeit of leaves?

If you have several large deciduous trees in or near your garden you could well have a considerable leaf fall to collect and deal with each autumn. This is a valuable annual harvest to be utilised not just a mess to be cleared up! Whilst the odd few handfuls of leaves can just be added to your garden composter with other waste not so for large quantities. Tree leaves tend to be tough and rather fibrous for easy conventional composting.

The answer is to make leafmould. It takes a little longer than conventional composting but the beautiful crumbly soil conditioner produced is worth the wait. For modest quantities of leaves punch a few small holes in a black plastic bag or two fill them with leaves tie them off and put them behind the shed for a couple of years. For larger quantities pin some chicken wire to four posts and make a leaf cage. Fill with leaves (pushing down well as you go) and put something on top to stop the leaves blowing away. If you'd rather buy something to do the job, have a look at our Leafmould Composters.

To speed up the process you can chop up the leaves first. The simple way to do this is to spread them on the lawn and run over them with a mower with a box. Then mixing in about 10% fresh grass cuttings and watering well with a nitrogen rich activator (believe it or not urine is ideal!) will make things go faster.

Whilst garden composting harnesses microbes and bacteria and then worms, woodlice and the like to do the Job, Leafmould is made by the leaves being processed by naturally occurring fungi working on the leaves and believe it or not there are many thousands of fungal spores in every few square metres of air from ground level up to about 25 metres or so.

The Art Of Composting - How To Make The Best Compost

I am often asked this, but before replying I always ask the questioner if they already have a good system for their composting needs. If the answer is yes then I do my best to avoid the topic and to move the conversation on to far less controversial areas like politics, religion and quantum physics.

As I am meant to be reasonably well up in the area of composing, why the diffidence? you may well be thinking.

Well experience has taught me that many keen gardeners have sussed out their composting needs, ideas, systems and preferences in some detail and set considerable store by their particular methodology. In religion it is said that there are many roads to God, so in gardening there are many routes to good compost and if yours works that's excellent and as the saying goes if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

This said there are some useful tips and pointers for those who have not quite found their way to getting 'black gold' out of their garden compost heap or bin every single time.

The first consideration is one of size and quantity. If you are a farmer or have acres of garden then you will have serious quantities of organic waste to deal with. Several tonnes of organic waste piled together will soon get hot and the main issue to achieve good composting is adequate aeration. This can be achieved by frequent turning or on a commercial scale by structures, pipes and tubes and even large scale tumblers.

All well and good but for 99.9% of us gardeners who have far more modest volumes of waste to deal with, the need for aeration pales into near insignificance compared to the need for initial rapid heat generation (the thermophilic phase of composting). This is best achieved by enclosing the waste in a solid non aerated structure whether of wood, metal, plastic or stone.

Now I am not saying that aeration is irrelevant on the garden scale but the simple truth is that the air, or more accurately oxygen is needed within the heap not at the outside edges which serves only to cool the heap and thus slow down the whole composting process.

OK so you have a bin, container or structure preferably with a lid but no base to contain the waste. Site it level directly on soil as this will be rich in microbes and bacteria to kick start the whole process.

The need now is to fill it with a good mix of materials roughly a half to two thirds soft green nitrogen rich waste such as weeds, lawn cuttings and vegetable waste and one third to a half of the brown carbon rich more fibrous waste such as twiggy wooden waste or prunings, cage waste from herbivore pets and cardboard (from toilet roll cores to cereal packets and from small boxes to egg boxes all are excellent).

You need to build up your heap with a thorough mix of these material types. This will get the 'chemistry' right and by the inclusion of the twiggy fibrous and scrunched up cardboard throughout the heap internal aeration should be excellent. If you are particularly keen you can mix round the contents occasionally. Fill the bin sit back and nature does the rest!

Confused? Which Composter Is Best For You?

These days there are numerous composters available; from home made to purchased and from large to small; from wooden to metal or plastic and from static to tumbler the choice can be a touch confusing to the uninitiated. Not to mention price, aesthetics and design feature options such as bases, aeration vents or holes and access hatches.

Additionally there are now related products such as Wormeries (The Original Wormery and the multi-tray Tiger Wormery), digesters (the Green Cone) and hot composters (the Green Johanna) to consider.

If you have acres then large dual bunker designs (e.g. the New Zealand box) are perhaps ideal and for convenience this can be supplemented by a couple of conventional bins located for convenience. You can also buy large (600 Litre+ capacity) tumblers but they will set you back several hundred pounds.

If your garden and pockets are slightly more modest then you still have an excellent range to consider:-

The prime needs to consider are:-

  • Protection from the elements (wind sun and rain)

  • Permit the access of worms and other beneficial invertebrates

  • Keeps heat in (dark colour /insulated/location)

  • Easy to fill up and to access the compost.

  • Size appropriate to your garden.

The simplest and perhaps easiest option is to go for a plastic compost bin (like our Rotol and Garden Kings). Usually conical, they are simple, durable and lightweight (make sure the plastic is UV treated so it wont go brittle after a year or two in the sun). Many sizes are available but one much smaller than 220L capacity is going to struggle to get any decent heat generation going so may take considerably longer to produce compost. If you generate sufficient kitchen and garden waste having two or more composters makes life easier. One finishing off the composting whilst the other is being gradually filled up.

A word on access hatches and doors. Whilst popular and selling 10 times more than models without doors they are not perhaps quite as beneficial as they first appear. The principal is a simple and attractive one. Put the waste in at the top and extract the compost via a hatch at the bottom. So far so good and essentially this is what happens. However as the compost will be moist so it wont simply drop down easily as you take the first spadeful out - you will have to prod around or push it down from the top. No real problem just not such the easy-task one might assume.

Wooden composters and Beehive Composters tend to cost more but do look good and are often of a modular (and thus extendible) design. Choose one with a lid and preferably no spaces between the slats. You can add to the heat retention properties by putting a rectangle of old carpet, bubble wrap or similar on top of the compost. Wooden composters usually have at least one side with removable slats or a wide lid so accessing the finished compost is easy.

You can of course nail a few old pallets together or do away with any container at all and just have a heap or pile. To be frank there is nothing wrong with this at all, but composting will take at least twice as long (and probably more) as it would in a decent container. Still if you have the space, the time and don't have an obsession with everything in the garden being neat and tidy and just so why not - the choice is yours.

But what about these compost tumblers?

Compost Tumblers range in price from C.£70 to, well, thousands of pounds and they can swing, pivot, roll, be turned by hand (or powered) and even geared for easy and smooth working.

However, I will concentrate on the more common and thankfully cheaper simple hand operated tumblers on an aluminium frame and rollerballs (like the CompoSphere). Frame, mounted hand turned tumblers are good at the first phase of composting, their design facilitates good mixing and aeration. They rapidly and efficiently turn mixed organic waste into a useful and usable mulch. They are not as good as static bins in achieving a fine friable finished compost and this is simply because as they are suspended in air so worms and other invertebrates can't easily colonise the unit. Still what they lack in achieving a fully finished compost they make up for in process speed. The ideal might be to have a tumbler and a static bin and to transfer over after a few weeks. A minor note of caution is that once a tumbler fills up, so it becomes heavier and harder to turn. When two thirds full of partially rotted and wet compost it is quite heavy to tumble.

A rollerball composter like the CompoSphere combines some of the advantages of a tumbler (speed, mixing and internal aeration) with some of the advantages of a static bin (contact with the ground so access for worms and other beneficial insects and invertebrates. However once much over half full it can be a little more difficult to roll easily.

Which Worm And How Many?

Which worms are the best and how many should you start with?

This is a subject which has come up over recent months as new entrants to the Wormery market have caused some confusion about the best types of composting worm to use and the quantity required to start up your Wormery successfully.

I should start by saying that, as the inventors of the Wormery and as suppliers of nearly half a million Wormeries to end users - we do, in all modesty, think we know quite a bit about their needs, features, designs, processes and their optimum running conditions! Perhaps even that bit more than many of our newer competitors!

When it comes to worms, a plentiful amount of quality worms is better than a big quantity of larger, cheaper worms. We supply all of our Wormeries with an appropriate plentiful initial stock of small-medium sized young (and therefore hungry) Tiger Worms (Eisenia Fetida). After lengthy research and trials by ourselves and others (including the sponsorship by us of a PhD University Student) these have proven to be noticeably the best native species of worm for use in a Wormery and in over 20 years of using them, they continue to be our species of choice. Tiger Worms breed exceptionally well, are hungrier, and are more tolerant of a wider temperature, moisture and acidity range than their close cousins Dendrobaena which seem to be preferred by our competitors (probably because of their wider availability and lower cost - due to their use as bait by anglers). Tiger Worms will eat around twice as much (per body weight) than Dendrobaena.

We are not worm breeders and we don't have a surplus of worms to shift. We insist on only the best quality Worms from the independent worm farm we have worked closely with for a number of years. In supplying tens of thousands of Wormeries to users every year - startup problems are rare and indeed if they really were an issue we certainly wouldn't choose to offer a 30-day 'no-quibble' moneyback guarantee.

We are the Wormery experts and have held this position for almost 20 years and it is disappointing that newer entrants to the Wormery market have tactically attempted to muddy the water. This kind of practice only results in consumers being even more confused about what is a new concept already to many people, when they really needn't be.

When it comes to worms only the best will do, so don't settle for second best!

Benefits Of Rotational Moulding

We manufacture our Classic Rotol and Garden King composters by the process of rotational moulding rather than the more common technologies of either injection moulding or blow moulding. This gives us two main types of benefit, namely: environmental and product quality.

Rotational moulding is a slow, gentle, process. A measured charge of plastic powder (100% recycled) is introduced into the mould. The mould then rotates at about 5 rpm and gently rocks up and down whilst being heated. Powder particles adhere to the mould and other particles to them in a slow, even, process. The mould is then cooled, the plastic contracts and the composter and lid is removed.

Each cycle takes approximately half an hour. But with 12 dedicated machines and a shift production system we can produce upwards of 200,000 composters every year. In addition to this, new moulds and machines can easily and speedily be added to rapidly meet additional demand.


FSC Accredited Wood Supply

Using only FSC Accredited Wood is important to us - and it should be important to you too!

What is FSC Wood?

The Forest Stewardship Council's (FSC) Principles & Criteria
It is widely accepted that forest resources and associated lands should be managed to meet the social, economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual needs of present and future generations. Furthermore, growing public awareness of forest destruction and degradation has led consumers to demand that their purchases of wood and other forest products will not contribute to this destruction but rather help to secure forest resources for the future. In response to these demands, certification and self-certification programs of wood products have proliferated in the marketplace.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international body which accredits certification organizations in order to guarantee the authenticity of their claims. In all cases the process of certification will be initiated voluntarily by forest owners and managers who request the services of a certification organization. The goal of FSC is to promote environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world's forests, by establishing a worldwide standard of recognized and respected.

Principles of Forest Stewardship
The FSC's Principles and Criteria (P&C) apply to all tropical, temperate and boreal forests. Many of these P&C apply also to plantations and partially replanted forests. More detailed standards for these and other vegetation types may be prepared at national and local levels.

The P&C are to be incorporated into the evaluation systems and standards of all certification organizations seeking accreditation by FSC. While the P&C are mainly designed for forests managed for the production of wood products, they are also relevant, to varying degrees, to forests managed for non-timber products and other services. The P&C are a complete package to be considered as a whole, and their sequence does not represent an ordering of priority.

This document shall be used in conjunction with the FSC's Statutes, Procedures for Accreditation and Guidelines for Certifiers. FSC and FSC-accredited certification organizations will not insist on perfection in satisfying the P&C. However, major failures in any individual Principles will normally disqualify a candidate from certification, or will lead to decertification. These decisions will be taken by individual certifiers, and guided by the extent to which each Criterion is satisfied, and by the importance and consequences of failures. Some flexibility will be allowed to cope with local circumstances.

The scale and intensity of forest management operations, the uniqueness of the affected resources, and the relative ecological fragility of the forest will be considered in all certification assessments. Differences and difficulties of interpretation of the P&C will be addressed in national and local forest stewardship standards. These standards are to be developed in each country or region involved, and will be evaluated for purposes of certification, by certifiers and other involved and affected parties on a case by case basis.

If necessary, FSC dispute resolution mechanisms may also be called upon during the course of assessment. More information and guidance about the certification and accreditation process is included in the FSC Statutes, Accreditation Procedures, and Guidelines for Certifiers. The FSC P&C should be used in conjunction with national and international laws and regulations. FSC intends to complement, not supplant, other initiatives that support responsible forest management worldwide.

The FSC will conduct educational activities to increase public awareness of the importance of the following:

  • improving forest management;

  • incorporating the full costs of management and production into the price of forest products;

  • promoting the highest and best use of forest resources;

  • reducing damage and waste;

  • avoiding over-consumption and over-harvesting.

The above information was taken from taken from The Forest Stewardship Council's website www.fsc.org. If you require more information on FSC wood, we recommend you visit their website.
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