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Compost[1] is essentially organic matter which has decomposed. It can be recycled to create a great fertilizer for the soil in your garden. Compost is rich in nutrients such as nitrogen and carbon. Applying a compost mixture to your garden can work wonders for improving the quality of the soil. Instead of buying a bag of composting mixture at your garden center which can be heavy to carry and expensive in cost, making your own could be a great alternative.

If you are looking to start your own composting heap or are looking to use a compost bin, then it could not be easier to get started. In this article I will discuss the sorts of items and food that you could use to create your compost, and the ways in which you can maintain it in the long run for optimum results.

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1. Choosing A Compost Bin

To start making your very own compost, you will need some kind of container to act as a composting bin. Perhaps you have an old dust bin (or trash can) available, or you can choose to purchase a plastic container online instead. They are inexpensive to buy and the long term benefits for your garden will soon outweigh this small initial investment. Ideally, try to find a bin that is at least one meter in height. This is because if your container is any smaller then it may not be able to generate enough heat to rot down the contents thoroughly. 

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This bin is a great alternative to the stationary bins because you can simply rotate it instead of needing to turn the compost with a fork or spade.

Try to find a container that has no holes or gaps in the sides because this would mean a loss of heat. In addition, place some straw or cardboard in the sides to add extra insulation before you fill it up.

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2. Where To Position Your Composting Bin

Ideally, try to locate your compost bin over a pre-existing area of soil or in a corner of a border. This direct contact with the soil is fantastic for helping the compost to mature and develop. This is because worms and other creatures can climb up into the mixture and colonize it[2]. You would be making the job of small worms and other creatures a lot easier if you do this, rather than if you were to place the composting bin directly over concrete for example.

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3. Green And Brown Waste Products

Compost is usually made of what are called green and brown waste products. The green products include items such as grass cuttings, tea bags, weeds and other garden cuttings, vegetable and fruit peelings[2]. These green waste items are rich in nitrogen for your soil. Whereas brown waste items include wood chippings, toilet and kitchen roll tubes, egg shells, cardboard, cereal boxes and other paper and card waste products or boxes and tissues[2]. These brown waste products are rich in carbon which is also great for making compost.

Try to store these items separately from your usual kitchen bin and recycling boxes. Having a designated container can be helpful in categorizing the items and in keeping them separate. Otherwise it can sometimes be easy to forget what you wanted to compost. Never put cooked meat or baby’s nappies into the compost mix because neither are suitable for composting purposes.

Below is an informative video on how to make your own compost from the YouTube channel ‘Howdini’. In this video, Scott Mayer who is the editor of Organic Garden magazine takes you through the steps.

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4. Turning (Aerate) Your Compost

To help ensure that you get the best possible quality compost, and also to speed the composting process up, it is a good idea to turn your compost[3] over regularly with a garden fork or spade. Doing this will help to ensure that the mixture rotates and that you are getting air into the process. Air is good for composting because it contains moisture and moisture can speed up the decomposing waste process.

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In addition, it is usually within the center of your container that the decomposition is at its fastest. This is because the temperature will be highest there as it is furthest away from the sides of the bin. Turning the mixture regularly helps to get air to areas that perhaps did not have any previously. Ideally, try to remember to turn your compost as much as once a week or as little as once every fortnight.

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5. The Waiting Game

It can take anywhere from six weeks to one year for your compost to be ready to use. This is because the decaying process can vary depending on many factors such as how frequently the compost is turned over, the positioning of the compost bin and the actual items and food products which are added into the mix among other factors. Therefore, the process whereby the food and waste products are broken down can take a long time.

You will know when you compost is ready to use because it will resemble a dark and crumbly texture, similar to that of a cake. There will also be a strong and rich soil-type smell which radiates from the contents. Heat from tea bags can help to speed things up and once worms have found their way in to the composting bin, this can hurry things along too. Try to be patient and not use your compost before it is ready. Instead, concentrate on building up your composting bin and in regularly maintaining it, as is discussed in tip number four.

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6. Using Your Compost

Finally, you should now be at the point where you can apply your compost to the garden. You have diligently built up the pile of waste in the container over a period of time and your soil can now benefit and reap the rewards of this process. You will most likely find that the compost is best and ready to use at the bottom of the container.

Apply it over borders to enrich them, use it on the top of vegetable patches or fill compost into plant pots, hanging baskets and containers to grow new plants for your garden. You could even use your compost to put over the lawn to help it grow back too.

I hope that this quick six step guide to making your own compost can offer some useful tips for you to get started. Making your own compost at home is free apart from the initial purchase of a container to keep it in. Alternatively, you could even try creating an open air composting heap at the back of your garden space. It is fantastic for the soil and will save you a lot of money in the long run too.