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Composting is an important part of a growing project, especially if you plan to garden organically. Compost is so good for enriching soil it will help your plants to grow well without the need for any artificial fertilizers.

During and after the project you will have weeds and old plants that can usefully be turned into compost which in turn goes back into your soil ready for next year. This is a good way of demonstrating the cycle of nature.

We have included some details about why it is good to compost, how to start composting, what can and can't be composted, how to look after your compost bin and suggestions for using your finished compost and useful contacts/resources.

Why is it good to compost?


helps to grow healthy fruit and vegetables

helps our environment by reducing the amount of green waste going to landfill sites which contribute to the build-up of methane (a greenhouse gas)

reduces pollution because compost improves the soil so much it reduces the need for chemical fertilisers

provides an alternative to peat; the use of peat causes huge destruction of fragile habitats

Saves you money! Making your compost means you don't have to buy it

Saves water as compost in the soil retains moisture and reduces the need to water

How to start Composting

Compost is a soil-like material which is made when plant or animal waste is broken down by microbes, which include bacteria and fungi. In order for these microbes to live they need food, air, moisture, warmth, just like us! So we just need to consider what is going to make them happy and work hard!

Getting Started:

1. Choose a container for making compost; there are many shapes and sizes.

To buy compost bin contact the Waste Management Department at your local Council, they will know of cheap offers on compost bins, or you can buy one at garden centres and DIY stores. However, you don't have to buy one, it is easy to make your own compost bin. Here are a few suggestions:

•  for a small compost bin get an old dustbin, cut the bottom off turn it upside down and place the lid on the other end.

•  to make a larger bin you could use four old wooden pallets, pallet crates are easy to find as many warehouses or storage depots are happy to get rid of them. Tie the pallets together in a square and stuff the cavities with straw, newspaper or cardboard so that the structure is solid and has no open gaps. Use an old piece of carpet as a cover or black plastic.

•  you can make a 'carpet bin' by wrapping a piece of old carpet round a circle of wire mesh.

•  buy four wooden posts, place them in the ground in a square and wrap chicken wire around the posts. To ‘insulate it' attach cardboard or a piece of carpet around the inside of the chicken wire.

2. Choose an area for your compost bin. It is best to put your bin on bare soil or grass in a sunny spot, this makes it easier for worms etc to get in and allows liquid from the compost bin to drain out into the soil.

You can place a bin on concrete but it would be a good idea to stuff newspaper round the edge to stop the liquid coming out and you may need to add some worms yourself! You can do this buy either asking someone who already has a compost bin if you can have a handful of worms or buy some from a fishing shop. The type of worms you need are called Tiger or Brandling worms.

3. Once you have your bin in position you can start filling it up. To make good compost it is important to put in a mixture of materials for the microbes to get to work on. Some materials will be ‘wet' and some will be ‘dry' and if you have too many wet materials the inside of the compost bin will become wet and slimy and smelly and if you have too many dry materials then the compost process slows down and you will find that not a lot is happening in your compost bin! The idea is to have a good mixture of what is called the ‘greens' and the ‘browns'.

The Greens!

These are wetter materials and include vegetable peelings, fruit waste, teabags, plant prunings, grass cuttings and weeds.

Greens are quick to rot and add nitrogen to the process.

The Browns!

These are drier materials and include cardboard e.g. egg boxes, toilet/kitchen roll tubes and other small pieces of cardboard, shredded paper, a few leaves, pet bedding and small twigs.

Browns are slower to rot and add carbon to the process.

Top tips:

If your compost bin is too dry then you need to add more greens and if it is too wet you need to add more browns.

If you have a lot of leaves it is better to compost these separately to make leaf mould because leaves take longer to rot and can slow down the compost process in the compost bin.

We have provided a yes/no list for what can go into the compost bin:

What can be composted?


Fruit and vegetable / peelings

Tea bags/coffee grounds

Grass cuttings

Paper towels

Most weeds

Plants and flowers




Leaves (a few)

Newspaper (shredded or scrunched)

Other shredded paper

Hair - human and animal

Toe and nail clippings


Pet bedding

Egg shells

Wood Ash

Wood shavings

Hedge clippings

Cotton/wool items

Feathers (from pillows etc)

Fish and meat

Cooked food


Perennial weeds

Diseased plants

Thick branches

A lot of leaves

Dairy foods


Glossy paper

Dog/ Cat Manure

Disposable nappies


Tin cans


The composting process can be speeded up by including some of the materials listed
below which add nitrogen:


Urine (diluted human urine is very good!)

Comfrey leaves



What to do next…..

To help the composting process and to encourage your microbes to work well try and make sure your compost bin has:

a)  Air - add scrunched up paper or toilet roll tubes to make air pockets within the heap, or fork over the compost lightly within the bin or prod a broom handle in gently.

b) Moisture - good compost will be like a damp moist sponge! If it is too dry add some greens or you could add a little water with a watering can.

c) Warmth - put your bin in a warm place and keep the compost covered with a lid.

Once you have established your compost bin it is good to check it every now and then to make sure it is not to dry or wet. It is a good sign if you have lots of creatures in the compost bin.

Using Your Compost

When your compost is ready for use it will be a dark brown colour, quite crumbly and have a nice earthy smell. If it doesn't look exactly like this don't worry, if it has some lumpy bits such as twigs and bits of eggshell it will still work as well. You can sieve compost to get the larger bits out - especially if you want to use it for sowing seeds. Below are some suggestions for how to use your compost:

1)  Put the compost around trees and shrubs in a 5-10cm layer.

2) Spread a 5cm layer over your vegetable beds, it can be lightly forked in or left for the worms to take into the soil.

3)  You can mix some ordinary soil with the compost to fill up your containers ready for planting; about a third of the mixture should be compost.

4) Compost can be used with regular soil as a mixture for sowing seeds, because germinating seeds do not need rich compost you only need to mix a small amount of compost with ordinary soil. Make sure it is well rotted because unfinished compost can sometimes hinder seed germination.

Useful Contacts & Resources


www.farmgarden.org.uk Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens has produced the Schools Started Compost Education Pack
www.schoolsorganic.net Henry Doubleday Research Association has the schools organic scheme where any school can join for free and then get free advice from them
www.portsmouth.gov.uk/living Portsmouth City Council have some useful websites on their site for Recycling information for schools, go to the site and look on educational websites
www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/worms The Adventures of Herman the Worm

Environ – has lots of advice and ideas for activities in the classroom to encourage schools to start composting

www.recycleforhampshire.org.uk Hampshire County Council have produced an education pack which has been sent to all its local schools. It contains information and some compost games. For info call 01962 845771 or email recycleforhampshire@hants.gov.uk or go to the website.
www.compost-it.org.uk offers a comprehensive guide to composting
www.wen.org.uk Women's Environmental Network produced a report called Green-Fingered Monsters which looks at composting and waste prevention in schools. It can be downloaded from their site
www.recyclenow.com/compost has two downloadable teacher's packs called Creative Composting for Key Stage 1 and 2.

Useful Publications:

Women's Environmental Network has posters on composting. www.wen.org.uk

Compost by Charlie Ryrie, Garden Organic, Gaia Organic Basics ISBN 1-85675-117-1

Recycle with Earthworms by Shelly C. Grossman ISBN 0-914116-32-0

The Rodale book of Composting, Rodale Press ISBN 0-87857-991-5

Worms Eat our Garbage by Mary Appelhof ISBN 0-942256-05-0

©2006 Portsmouth City Council