Composting - "Rubbish" that gives back to your garden

How to compost like a pro.

Last updated

3 August 2023

Composting provides a nutrient packed soil conditioner that your plants will love. You don't need a big garden to benefit. Many of us dispose of lots of material in our waste bin or at recycling centres which could be reused to feed our garden. Here's what to do:

The container

You don’t need anything sophisticated, but using a container keeps the heat in and makes the process of decomposition a lot quicker and tidier! West Sussex residents can purchase a subsidised composter from

Alternatively, you can make something yourself. Lots of things can be reused to make a composter, from sheets of corrugated metal to old pallets, using long stakes to secure them in place. Rather than making one large one, two smaller ones can help when mixing the contents.

A solid surface can be used for a base, but earth is best to allow the worms in. Placing your composter in shade or part shade reduces the possibility of temperature extremes harming the helpful micro-organisms inside the compost.

The mix

Like a cake, you need a good mix. Also like a cake, you need wet and dry ingredients. If it's too wet it becomes slimy, too dry will stop it breaking down properly. Cover your compost so it doesn’t get too wet. An old carpet works well for this. If it gets dry give it a water.

Wet materials you can put in your composter

  • Grass cuttings.
  • Soft, leafy plants including annual weeds.
  • Old cut flowers.
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps and peelings.
  • Non-plastic tea bags.
  • Coffee grounds.
  • Egg shells.
  • Pet droppings from any healthy veg-eating pets, including gerbils, rabbits, hamsters and birds, along with any bedding made from natural material or newspaper.

Dry materials you can put in your composter

  • Prunings and hedge trimmings (ideally shredded).
  • Woodchip.
  • Leaves.
  • Paper and card (torn up or shredded).
  • Straw.
  • Plant stems.

Do not add

  • Cooked food.
  • Coal and coke ash.
  • Meat and fish.
  • Bones.
  • Cat litter.
  • Dog poo.
  • Disposable nappies or human poo.
  • Glossy paper.
  • Weeds, woody stems, or diseased plants.

Currently, packaging that states it is compostable does not decompose in home composters. They do not reach the temperatures required to break them down. These need to be put in your normal waste bin as it is not recyclable.

If you have a lot of leaves in the autumn, it is wise to create another area for storage. Leaves in big quantities can slow down a normal compost heap as it might be too much dry material for your mix. Alternatively, contact your District or Borough to enquire about their green waste collection service.

It is best not to put in too much of one sort of item. Also, try to layer the wet and dry items for a good mix using a little more dry than wet ingredients. Shredded paper, as long as it's not shiny, and cardboard can be added to dry the mix if necessary.

Mixing your ingredients

It is advisable to fully turn the compost or mix it with a fork periodically. Be careful when doing this to avoid harming animals that might be hiding or hibernating inside.

The end result

Garden compost can take between six months and two years to reach maturity. Mature compost will be dark brown, with a crumbly soil-like texture and a smell resembling damp woodland.

Composting is a perfect example of sustainability. By using our resources wisely, repurposing what would otherwise be waste, we are not depleting our natural resources by purchasing products that might be harmful in their creation and delivery.

The compost we make might at home might not be good enough quality to start off seedlings, but it is a perfect material to dig into our soils to enrich them or leave on top of our garden borders as mulch, helping your soil to retain moisture, reduce weeds and providing nutrients. You know exactly what has gone into it, have taken pride in creating it, it's free and no road miles have been wasted in its making – what’s not to like?