How to set up a compost heap at home

By taking small steps to reduce your environmental impact, you can make a big difference for our planet. Why not start at home by setting up your own compost heap or bin?

A pair of hands cupping soil in a field in the sun

Compost is made by adding certain types of food or garden waste to a heap or bin, allowing it to decompose and break down into a soil-like substance. This compost is full of nutrients that will help more food grow when used in your garden.

When organic matter such as food waste and garden waste is sent to landfill, it produces a greenhouse gas called methane. Cutting methane emissions is vital in tackling the climate crisis.

The problem with shop-bought compost

Unless we have been home composting for a long time, most of us will rely on using shop bought compost in our gardens. However, much of the compost sold in stores contains peat. Peat is a nutrient-dense resource that is fantastic for growing plants, but it’s also fantastic at trapping carbon in the ground – provided that it is not disturbed and stays in the ground. By using peat compost we are releasing carbon into the atmosphere when there really is no need to.

Thanks to campaigns such as Peat Free April, which have been backed by many in the horticultural industry, stores are now beginning to stock more peat-free compost options. Make sure that you check the compost ingredients carefully before making your purchase, and avoid peat where possible!

The benefits of composting at home

Project Drawdown, a research organisation that identifies potential solutions to climate change, estimates that if composting levels worldwide increased, we could reduce emissions by 2.1 billion tonnes by 2050. It is also estimated that composting at home for just one year could save emissions equivalent to all the CO2 your kettle produces annually, or your washing machine produces in three months! 

Not only this, but composting at home can save you money, by creating a free fertiliser for your garden. Healthy soils can help you grow your own vegetables, help plants and animals thrive, and create a thriving natural environment in your back garden!

The composting process can also create a fun and educational activity for adults and children alike. As food and garden waste is transformed into nutrient-rich compost for the garden, you can see the positive impact that you are having on the environment by keeping a valuable resource out of landfill.

A child's hand holding a small spade scooping soil into a yellow bucket
Top tips for making your own compost
  • Setting up your compost bin

You can buy compost bins at your local garden centre or general household shop, but you can also make your own using what you already have – for example, a large bin with a lid can work as a compost bin, as long as you can access the compost when it is ready.

The composting process works best if your bin is placed in a sunny spot, directly onto soil. If you only have concrete in your garden, it is fine to compost here as long as there is some drainage.

  • If you don’t have a garden

If you want to compost, but don’t have a garden or outdoor space for a bin, you could see if a friend or neighbour will take your waste for their compost. You could also contact your local allotment, as compost is always needed there! 

  • What can go in the compost bin?

A healthy compost heap requires a mixture of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’, which basically means a balance of materials that are rich in nitrogen and materials that are rich in carbon. Greens are fresh, uncooked fruit and vegetable peelings and garden waste, such as a banana skin or grass clippings. Browns are bits of cardboard (such as empty toilet rolls or egg boxes!), dried leaves and small woody prunings from the garden.

For the quickest composting process, you need an even mix of browns and greens. If your compost is looking too wet, add more browns. If it is looking too dry, add more greens!

Cooked food, meat and fish, cheese, oil and grease are some foods that shouldn’t go in your compost bin! If in doubt, check online before chucking something into the compost.

  • What happens next?

Now that you’ve started your compost heap, sit back and relax! All you need to do is continue to add browns and greens to the heap, and to turn and mix the heap occasionally. Compost happens even if you do nothing, but prime conditions mean that you should have compost in 3-6 months, depending on the time of year – it’s much quicker in the summer!

We’d love to see your composting photos and hear your stories. Use the hashtag #candosouthyorkshire on social media to share your composting tips to inspire others! 

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