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How to open a bag of compost

  • How to open a bag of compost

Who would have thought that there was a “correct” way to open a simple bag of compost?

There are certainly a couple of “wrong” ways - the “slit across the middle” style, as per the picture above, is wasteful in at least four ways. (“Four?” I hear you say. More of that, at the end.)

And just making a partial rip across the top is less than satisfactory.

The correct way to open a bag of compost is to stand it up on one short end, and shake it until it transforms from a flat, grow-bag-like shape into a proper rounded bag. Then cut all the way across the top, quite close to the seal, using scissors or a knife, and throw away the narrow strip which you cut off.

To use it, roll down the sides of the bag until you can easily reach the compost inside.

Scoop out as much as you need, then when you are done, roll up the sides and fold them over. If necessary, put a stone on top, to stop it flapping open.

Repeat these steps until the bag is empty, at which point fold it neatly and store it safely until you need it.

If you've read many of my articles, you'll know that I am dead against “faffing about” and that I like to do things as simply as possible - so why the detailed instructions, for a simple job such as opening a bag of compost?

Let's start from the top: why shake the bag? Inevitably, compost is stacked by machine on pallets for ease of transport, making the contents horribly compressed. So the first job is to get some air back into them, to break up the “slab” of material. It's much easier to do this while it is still inside the bag. It also means that the bag can then sit up on its bottom, instead of wilting in the middle when you try to get at the contents.

Why cut all the way across? If you only cut off one corner, you will constantly be spilling bits of compost, as you try to manoeuvre each handful out. This is wasteful. By cutting all the way across the top, you can reach inside smoothly and easily, you can use your hands or you can use a scoop, without the ragged edges catching at the pile - and that's also the reason for using scissors or a knife, rather than just ripping it across. (OK I'm also slightly compulsive about neatness!)

Rolling down the edges makes it easier to see what you are doing, and to get the compost out without, again, it catching on the edges of the bag and spilling all over the place.

When you are done, rolling up and folding over the edges keeps the moisture in. I'm sure we've all found old bags of compost in the shed, haven't we: bone dry and as fine as dust - and completely useless. If you just take a second to fold over the top edge, the remaining compost will stay moist and usable for months on end.

Conversely, if you leave your bags of compost outdoors, folding over the top will prevent too much rain getting in: and this is good, because too much water makes the compost sodden and often smelly, which is unpleasant to work with. It also encourages a fine colony of slugs and snails to take up residence in the wet flaps of the plastic: and where two or more slugs/snails are gathered together, there will be breeding, so your “new” compost will have a burden of slug/snail eggs in it, before you even use it.

So what are the four reasons mentioned above, for not merely slashing across a bag? Firstly, a lot of the compost will spill out, which is wasteful. Secondly, slugs and snails will lay eggs in it, rodents will scratch around in it, thus wasting even more of it, and stray cats might even poo in it. Thirdly, leaving the surface of the compost exposed within the slash will allow any local weeds to take full advantage - after all, compost is a very good growing medium, so they'll leap upon it with cries of glee. And fourthly, if you take the trouble to open the bag at one end, then at the end of the day, you then have a useful thick, strong, plastic bag, instead of having a messy flap of dirty plastic which has to go in the bin. I believe that's called win-win!

Comments (3)

  1. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Hi Rachel - having been a rip, tear and regret man, I shall follow these instructions to the letter. Makes perfect sense!

  2. Grower


    I'm glad to know that i've been doing something right (for a change) all these years :-))

  3. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    "...having been a rip, tear and regret man..." LOL, as the kids say!

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