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How to make Compost, for small gardens

In the small garden, you won't have room for the traditional three compost heaps, in fact you may only have room for one of those black plastic “dalek” type things, but with a little managing, you can still make good compost.

What to put in your dalek: roughly half-and-half of “greens” and “browns”:

“Greens”: i.e. grass cuttings (some); weeds, dead-headings, old cut flowers; kitchen waste - vegetable peelings (but not potato or tomato), fruit scraps, but not tea-bags (the bags don't rot!) or coffee grindings (too much tannin).

"Browns": ie shredded paper, cardboard ripped into strips, stalks of perennials, and small handfuls of fallen leaves.

What Not To Put In:

No metal, glass, or plastic; no meat, cooked or raw; no cat poo, dog poo, or nappies; no egg shells - I know everyone says to add them, but even if crushed finely, they don't rot; no citrus - that means grapefruit/orange/lemon/lime peel - they don't rot either; and no potato or tomato.

It’s hard to keep to a good 50/50 greens/browns mix, and this is where a stirrer comes in: either buy or make one. It's just a long stick with a handle at the top - a t-bar is easiest to turn - and some sort of prong arrangement at the bottom. Once a week just shove it in, and wiggle it about!

When you need compost, don't bother with the fiddly little doors at the bottom - lift the dalek up, and re-position it next to the heap. Move all non-rotted material into it, leaving a pile of good stuff for you to use.

Common faults with daleks:

1. Too wet - add more "browns" and stir.
2. Too dry - add water!
3. Too smelly - see "too wet" above.
4. Full of flies - leave the lid off to let them get out, see "too wet" above.
5. Full of red worms - that's excellent! Those are Brandlings, or Tiger Worms, which magically appear when you start a compost bin. Don’t put them on the garden with the compost, put them back in the bin.
6. Slugs! Properly speaking, they are helping to break down the materials, but I'd rather not encourage slugs, so I tend to spear them and leave their little bodies to add to the heap.
7. Rats!! This is bad: have you been putting meat, cooked or raw, out? Plate scrapings? Get the stirrer out, rats hate disturbance: and next time you empty the bin, put a square of metal mesh on the ground under it.

Finally, tumblers: plastic barrels that allegedly "can make compost in just two months". In my experience: no they don't. They do, however, make good liquid feed.... and no, I have no idea how the Tiger Worms get into the tumblers, but they do!

This is the briefest possible overview of a quite large and complex subject, but hopefully it might persuade some of you with smaller gardens to give it a go!

Comments (7)

  1. Grower

    Paul H.

    Nice post Rachel.

    • How to make Compost, for small gardens
  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Why, thanks, Paul - that's possibly the biggest thumbs-up I have ever seen!

  3. Grower

    Paul H.

    Blimey, it wasn't that big initially. Sorry.

  4. Grower

    The GPS Team

    Hi both - any photo you upload expands to fill the width, hence the size.

    We'll be introducing a 'Like' button on posts within a couple of months so it'll be easier to do.

    That said, we think this post quite deserves the big thumb!

  5. Grower


    For many years I only had a tiny patio, surface was gravel over concrete, and I so missed being able to compost! Then my mother gave me a wonderful gift - two reclaimed chimney pots. I found plant saucers to fit on top, and stood large pot plants on them. All the kitchen scraps went into the chimney pots, along with annual weeds, dead flowers and foliage from my numerous pot plants, shredded paper and the occasional dose of freshly voided urine. They made very good compost, and all out of sight.

  6. Grower

    Trish Matthews

    How about wormeries? Has anyone any experience of these? I have a compost bin that came with a grill covering the base - big enough to let worms in but keeps rats out. The good waste all goes in there along with shredded paper or dried leaves when it gets too wet

  7. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    I had a wormery for a couple of years, Trish (memo to self, must get it out of the garage and start it up again) and it was excellent, great for kitchen scraps. I only stopped using it because one winter it got too cold and the worms all died, I felt like a murderer..... and I didn't ever get around to starting it up again.

    It's worth buying a proper wormery rather than trying to make one: you really do need the whole tap arrangement, as they do produce a good amount of really strong liquid compost "tea" (horrible word for it, "soup" is more like it) which you can dilute and feed to the plants.

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