Composting at home

What is composting?

Home composting is an easy and eco-friendly way to deal with kitchen and garden waste. Waste is put into a container, where it breaks down and turns into compost, a product rich in nutrients and beneficial micro-organisms which help to support soil and plant health.

Benefits of compost:
  • Provides plants with a nutrient boost
  • Suppresses plant disease
  • Improves soil structure
  • Helps maintain moisture levels
  • Keeps your soil’s pH balance in check
  • Compost heaps are great for wildlife
2 ways to compost food waste only:
1) Wormeries/vermicomposting

Wormeries are ideal for composting household food waste and are suitable for indoors or outdoors. This method requires a special species of earthworms (normally red wrigglers). Wormeries take up very little space and the process is clean and odourless. Two high quality products are produced: a very rich compost and a strong liquid plant feed. Shop-bought wormeries cost about £100, but it’s fairly straightforward to make one at home. Find out how to make your own wormery and look after and feed your worms.

2) Bokashi

With the bokashi method, food waste is fermented using a bran that contains microorganisms. This is done in a small bokashi bin so is ideal for indoor use. It’s suitable for all kitchen waste, including cooked food, dairy and meat. It produces bokashi ‘tea’, a concentrated fertiliser. The waste organic matter can then be buried in the ground or added to a wormery (do this gradually so the worms can get used to it). Bokashi bins costs about £25.

2 ways to compost kitchen and garden waste together:
1) Cold composting

This method is most common for household waste. Kitchen and garden waste is added gradually to a bin or heap.

  • Low effort – just needs turning with garden fork or aerator
  • Slow process (6-12 months) 
  • No cooked food, meat, fish or dairy
  • Avoid perennial weeds (couch grass, bindweed etc.) or weeds with seeds
  • Avoid plants that are diseased or infested with pest
  • No dog poo or cat litter
  • Avoid egg shells- these may encourage rats!

You can do it in a plastic bin (available for £20.00), an open heap or in a DIY pallet bin. Plastics bins are good for small spaces. You’ll need a compost aerator to turn the compost if using a bin. Open heaps take more space but require zero prep and make it easier to turn the compost with a fork.

Pallet bins are quick to make and you can often get free pallets from industrial areas, supermarkets and department stores, construction sites, wholesalers and small businesses. Check out this step-by-step guide to making your own bin, or see below for how to make a 3-bin pallet system!

2) Hot composting

With hot composting, you add all the ingredients at once and turn it regularly. This results in faster growth of bacteria and fungi decomposing the organic matter in the pile – which makes it hot. It can get as hot as 60 degrees Celsius!

The main benefits are that it’s much quicker than cold composting and the heat destroys weed seeds, pathogens and insect pests. This means you can compost cooked food, dairy and meat.

You can use a hot bin (pictured) or do it in a heap. See here for how to make compost in 18 days using the Berkeley method.

Ingredients for hot and cold compost
  1. ‘Greens’ – these are quick to rot and high in nitrogen and water. They include:
  • Vegetable kitchen waste
  • Annual weeds
  • Grass cuttings

You’ll notice ‘greens’ are not always green!

2. ‘Browns’ – these are slow to rot, high in carbon and often dry. They include:

  • Prunings, twigs and hedge clippings
  • Woodchip
  • Paper and cardboard (inc. egg boxes)
  • Straw
  • Dead leaves

You’ll want a roughly 1:1 ratio of greens to browns in cold compost – the ratios can vary for hot composting depending on the method.

3. Add 10% high nitrogen ingredients – these help to get the decomposition process going, and include:

  • Legumes (clover, vetch etc.) 
  • Manure (only if organic, otherwise can be contaminated with weed killer)
  • Coffee grounds

Composting principles

Microorganisms in the compost pile need water and air to survive. Get the right balance of greens and browns will help to control the amount of air and water.

Layer it – add greens and browns in layers to control moisture levels and facilitate decomposition.

Chop up bigger bits. The more you chop, the more surface area and easier for microorganisms to break it down.

Monitor your pile:

It should be moist but not wet. If it’s too dry, things won’t break down, and if it’s too wet, it will become anaerobic and the beneficial microorganisms will die. If you squeeze some in your hand should feel like a wrung sponge. If it smells, it’s a sign that it’s gone anaerobic. If it’s too dry, add more greens or water the pile. If it’s too wet, add more browns. Turn the pile regularly with a garden fork or compost aerator to introduce air and mix up ingredients.

How to make ‘leaf mould’

Leaf mould is made from autumn leaves. Not only is it super easy to make, it is an excellent soil conditioner, meaning it helps to improve soil structure.

To make it, rake up leaves after they fall in the autumn and put them into bin bags. Add a little water if they are dry, tie up the bags and puncture some air holes. Alternatively, make a cage from chicken wire. It will take about 12 months to break down. Simple!

Using your compost

  • Add 1-2 inches to pot plants or garden beds before planting. See here for how to make ‘no dig’ garden beds using compost.
  • Use around fruit bushes and trees to help retain soil moisture and prevent weeds. Don’t place it directly against the bark as this could cause rotting.
  • Feed your lawn – dressing your lawn with compost helps young grass take root and can make your garden healthier and greener!

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3 thoughts on “Composting at home

  1. Does Oxfordshire provide a kitchen food caddy.
    Have just moved to Islip and want to start composting.
    My previous council provided one but I left it for the new owners. Thanks. Celia


    1. Yes, contact the council (01865) 249811 and they’ll put you through to the recycling department who will be happy to help you. I’m not sure which will be your local council but the town hall phone number above will redirect you if you’re not served by the Oxford City Council. You may be served by Cherwell district Council.


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