How to make compost

Learn how to make compost in five easy steps and help reduce waste

how to make compost
(Image credit: Getty)

Want to learn how to make compost? Perhaps you want to reduce the amount of waste you put in the bin, or you're keen to make an all-natural fertiliser for a burgeoning kitchen garden. Composting is easy and fun and can be done in even a small garden, so long as you're rigorous about what you put in your compost. Find out how to do it correctly below.

No garden? This same method can be used to make compost on a smaller scale using a kitchen compost bin. Try to pick one that's metal rather than plastic to reduce odours. 

Check out more garden ideas at our dedicated page.

How to make compost


1. Layering: make sure you layer your compost heap or bin correctly: line the bottom with straw, twigs, or even old newspaper, then alternate green and brown (or wet and dry) materials. Veggie peelings, tea bags, and food scraps count as wet, whereas leaves, twigs, and wood ash or pellets count as dry.

2. Feed: your compost will be more nutrient rich and will mature quicker if you add a nitrogen-rich feed or well rotted manure. 

3. Water: yes, you should 'water' you compost – rain water is fine, or you can lightly hose it. Just make sure that it's not soaking wet.

4. Cover: always cover your compost heap or, if using a compost bin, cover with the lid provided.

5. Turn: For best results, turn your compost regularly, about every week. This introduces the air needed to speed up the composting process. 

Tip: Avoid putting non-green food waste onto your compost heap. This means no dairy, no meat or fish, and no bones. Putting this type of food waste is likely to attract rats or mice. Use your food caddy for those.

If you do find you have a problem, use our guide to find out how to get rid of rats and how to get rid of mice.

How to make compost: what can go in

The main ingredients for compost are:

  • Green waste: Between a quarter and half of your compost should consist of organic waste, primarily from vegetables and fruit. Cut grass from your lawn and weeds are also great sources of green waste for your compost. 
  • Brown waste: This is the dry waste that is going to help aerate your compost, and prevent it from getting too wet and rotting as opposed to composting. Use dead, dried plants, shredded paper and cardboard. If you have too much brown waste in your compost, you won't get the rich, soil-like compost texture in the end. 

How to compost: what can't go in

Compost bins shouldn't include meat, fish, or dairy waste – you won't get the right balance of nutrients.

Compost accelerator: do I need it?

The answer is, 'not really', so long as you have the right balance of green and brown waste in your compost mix. Compost accelerators are rich in nitrogen and are meant as a substitute when there isn't enough green waste, but they don't accelerate the process as such, and you shouldn't need them if you are composting correctly.

Compost bins: how to choose the right one 

Choosing the correct compost bin is crucial to correct composting. Ideally, you want a bin that's made from metal or wood, not plastic. A proper garden compost bin should have ventilation and drainage (think a slatted construction), and contact with the ground, because the soil will activate the composting process. It should have a cover to protect your compost from the rain, or you'll end up with a mixture that is too wet.

If you are using a kitchen composting bin, again try to use a metal or ceramic one, and keep it away from direct sunlight – under the sink is a good location. Line the bottom of the bin with garden soil to aid the composting process. 

For both indoor and outdoor compost bins, the larger the size the better. You can also do without a bin and use a shady corner of the garden instead, but it's best that the area is covered by a tree or some sort of canopy to protect it from the rain.

Garden Trading Compost Bucket in Clay

Compost Bucket in Clay, Garden Trading

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

Turning compost: how and why

Turning compost is important because it adds air to the mixture, which is essential for the chemical processes that make the compost. Not enough air can result in a compost that is compacted, slimy, and/or rotting. This is often the case in small-scale home composting, when you're adding a bit of waste infrequently. For best results, turn your compost as often as you can with a pitchfork – or, if you're composting in the kitchen, with whatever kitchen utensil with a long handle you can find. For larger compost bins, you can also use a compost aerator, which pumps air into your compost.

If you really don't want to bother with turning, try layering your compost, making sure that there's ample brown waste between layers of green. This should prevent your compost from going too soggy.

How long does compost take? 

Depending on the average temperature, and materials you're using, and how well the compost is aerated, it can take anywhere between several months and over a year for compost to mature enough to be ready to be used in your garden. How will you know it's ready? Garden compost should have a rich, crumbly texture, a uniform brown colour, and a smell of damp earth. You may find that not all the compost in your bin/heap will mature at the same rate, or that you may end up discarding some of it. 

Buy compost online

Can't/don't want to make your own compost? Buy it from these online shops instead:

GoodHome Pots, planters & hanging baskets Compost 50L | £4.87 at B&Q
This compost is ideal for growing plants in hanging baskets and pots. It's free from peat,View Deal

Miracle Gro Premium Cactus Succulent Bonsai Compost With Vital Minerals 6L Bag | £8.99 at Amazon
Hoping to re-pot a Bonsai tree soon? This special compost will help with the process. And, it's only £7.99 for 6 litres. A bargain!View Deal

Carbon Gold BioChar All Purpose Compost | £9.95 at Harrod Horticultural
This all-purpose compost is 100 per cent peat-free and organic too. Back in stock by the end of April.View Deal

Premium Professional Compost Blend 80L | £16.99 at You Garden
This is some of the best compost you can buy for perfect results every time. It's made from high quality ingredients and will be delivered straight to your door.View Deal

Growmoor 10 litre multi purpose compost | £12.99 at eBay

It's pricey, but it is a good quality compost and will be delivered for free. Be quick, though – they're selling like hot cakes and there only a few of these left on Ebay.View Deal

More garden know-how