Short of space, or just want to get the most out of your bin? Find out how to have home-made compost all year round.
The goal of this plan is to produce compost that’s ready to put on the garden every 6 months – in high summer when the soil is getting tired from all the growing and needs a boost, plus at the tail end of winter, when it’s time to get the ground ready for spring. It also provides some to dip into between these times.
The 12-month plan is based on one large bin, and ideally about half its size. This means you can decant some of the stuff that’s not quite ready and let it mature by itself out of the way. This second bin acts as a backup, from which to use small amounts in the garden as you go along.
If you don’t have a secondary bin, you could store half-finished material from the mid-layer in bags or buckets. Try to keep it all together or in big batches. As long as you make sure the worms and other organisms have enough air and moisture, it’ll keep for a month or so. You could also put it directly on to a corner of the garden and cover it with plastic or a tarpaulin until it’s ready. At this stage of decomposition – where it’s still lumpy, but nothing is very recognisable – it shouldn’t be tempting to pests.
It’s good to try and keep different ages of compost separate throughout the year. Even though we don’t use the strict green-brown layering system, it’s useful to think in terms of roughly 3 layers, 2 months apart in age. As each layer decays, it compresses and takes up less volume (see image above).
It’s good to add an accelerator and aerate around once a fortnight. If you can manage every week, that’s even better. We usually leave ours to settle over December and January – partly as the decomposition is slowest then, and partly because it’s not so much fun aerating in the freezing cold. But if you’re keen, there’s no reason not to continue all year round. Because of the heat it generates, your pile should rarely freeze solid in the UK.
When the time comes to empty your bin, you’ll need somewhere to put the newest material temporarily, so you can get down to the lower levels. An old tarpaulin is good, or old compost bags are especially handy – just open them on 2 adjoining sides to form a sort of scoop. Shovel the waste in, up to a weight you’re comfortable lifting, then you’ll be able to pick it up by the corners and drop it back in place when the bin is empty.
The finished product won’t be a perfectly even texture like the sort you’d buy. The summer batch will probably have broken down more than the winter batch, but that actually works fine. If you spread it out on the beds once winter harvesting is coming to an end, you can fairly easily break it up a bit with your hands and turn it over a bit, so it breaks down further. By the time you come to plant again in early spring, it should have had chance to settle in nicely.
So with this system, you only have serious digging to do twice a year. If you need a hand with the heavy work, you could always trade some of your newly abundant crops with a neighbour or family member 🙂 For a 500 L bin, this should take around 2 hours of work, but if you’re really fit or have some help, you might get it done quicker. Either way, if you don’t have a wheelbarrow, this is probably a good time to borrow one.
This is the system we use, but depending on the space you have, your physical fitness, and the requirements of your soil, you can develop your own schedule to suit. The best way to learn is to make a start and adjust things as you go along. You can’t really go far wrong.
Got any tips or questions of your own about the compost year? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.