A Beginner's Guide to Composting

Compost is nature’s way of recycling. Made from waste garden material, compost is an essential ingredient for creating rich, friable soil and therefore healthy plants. Find out how to make compost with our guide below and use compost throughout your garden for healthy plant growth!

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How to set up your compost system

To get started you will need a good structure or container to hold your compost. Compost bins are available from your local DIY store and garden centre, or you could build your own, for example out of plastic bins or pallets, or create a compost heap. Look online for more ideas.

Choose a sunny position for your compost system and ensure it is easily accessible for adding ingredients and regular mixing.

Prepare your compost in layers that are a blend of carbon and nitrogen. This means adding a mix of organic garden and kitchen waste materials.

  • Carbon: Leaves, sticks, twigs and newspaper.
  • Nitrogen: Fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves and sheep pellets.
  • Avoid adding: meat, dairy products or bread as these can attract unwanted pests. Don’t add any diseased plant material, to avoid spreading the disease.

A good rule of thumb is to add nothing larger than your little finger. Break up larger items like sticks, twigs and cardboard before adding them, to help them break down more quickly.

Layer materials evenly, making sure each layer is no thicker than 10cm. For every layer of backyard and garden waste, add a layer of kitchen waste material.

To help get the composting process underway you can add some existing compost to each layer. Add a little water with each layer and mix the material every few additions.

Put a lid on your compost bin to enable it to decompose quickly. Mix your compost regularly. It is compost when it is dark brown and smells earthy - it takes six to eight weeks to fully mature.

Using Compost in your garden

Compost has a variety of benefits when used in your garden. It replaces nutrients that have been removed during a growing season, improves soil structure and increases the amount of oxygen available to plants.

Compost also conditions soil, improves moisture retention, increases earthworm activity and improves fertiliser use by plants.

For best results compost should be dug into the soil. Don’t plant directly into compost as this can burn plant roots.

Tui Tips

  • The content of your compost bin should have the consistency of a damp sponge. If your compost gets a bit too wet, adding paper will help soak up excess water.

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A Beginner's Guide to Composting Comments

  • "Don’t plant directly into compost as this can burn plant roots." I am wondering about this comment. I dont agree as compost is plant material with the addition of animal waste to speed up the decomposition process if one places it in. If the plant roots could be burn then the worms who exist in the compost would also be burnt and become non existent. Worms use the plant food that has been broken down by decoposition, they ingest the decomposed matter and they live within it so the Ph has to be the same sort of Ph as for plants to grow in. I gather if chemical based starters are used then the decomposition may be more hasty but with less worms present. At present my own cold compost is sprouting ten very healthy self set pumpkins and I am very interested in the pumpkins sprouting from the municipal compost I purchased I understood this was a hot compost. Therefore that pumpkins are growing from it is rather interesting. I look forward to your reply.

    christine tuckey

    • Hi Christine, thank you for getting in touch. Organic compost is a living organism and soil microbes are continually working to break it down. As this happens the compost compacts down becoming anaerobic which starves plant roots from air pore space – it is very important for water to move through the soil and for plant roots to ‘breathe’. It can also become water logged over time. The organic matter in compost increases earthworm activity. For our bagged compost product no chemical based starters are used as the product is hot composted maintaining a temperature for a duration of time that makes all weed and other seed non viable. There can still be heat in the compost when it is bagged and this can lead to sensitive plant roots burning, therefore Tui always recommend that compost be dug into the soil for best results. It can also be used as a mulch if desired. We hear of a lot of people planting directly into compost, but at Tui we advocate best practice and recommend a specially blended potting mix or garden mix be used on pots and containers for best results and compost be dug into the garden to replenish the soil.

      Tui Team

  • I have a commercially bought compost bin which I have been layering as informed. The process started approximately 12 months with occasional watering (around every 3-4 weeks. I noticed today the bottom of the brew is pitch black throughout but very wet. I am thinking of turning the expired garden over. Can I safely add the wet compost to the turned turf and then mix it into the the soil? May I also say thank you for your site it has given me so much pleasure as up until around 18 months ago I was definitely not a gardener. Once again thank you.

    Colin Donnelly

    • Hi Colin, thank you for getting in touch and for your feedback on our website, it is much appreciated. We are pleased to hear you are enjoying gardening. For your compost, you may be adding too much water every 3-4 weeks, only add water if the compost is dry, if and when required. Make sure the compost is being built up in layers - coarse material, leaves, lawn clippings, food scraps and then another layer of coarse material. The compost has likely gone sloppy because there is not enough coarse material in there along with too much water so it is anaerobic, it needs air for the micro organisms to break down the organic matter. If it is wet it will smell as well. If you want to use the compost now then yes, it can be turned into the existing soil, you will probably get flies and it may smell for a few days. Alternatively, add some soil and drier material to the compost and turn it and leave it for another few weeks before using. Add Tui Compost and Worm Farm conditioner to speed up the decomposition process. Happy gardening!

      Tui Team

  • Hi there, we live on the side of a Bush. How can we compost without getting rats in it?

    Christina

    • Hi Christina, make sure you use a plastic bin with a tight fitting lid. Put wire mesh on the bottom of the bin before starting to build your compost heap that will stop the rats from coming up from underneath. Do not add any food scraps, only use vegetable and plant matter with sprinklings of lime such as gypsum or hydrated lime. Avoid using compost enhancers that contain blood and bone.

      Tui Team

  • Thanks for that information about the composting

    Robert peters

  • Thank you for your info about composting. We've had our compost going along nicely for 5 yrs now and use it regularly on the vege and flower garden, but suddenly (in the past 2 weeks) heaps of flies (normal household flies like you see in the height of summer) seem to be coming from it. There's no meat or anything like this in it, only all the correct stuff) and nothing has crawled into it and died so what has gone wrong? The flies are all heading for our house and it's awful! Your advice please. Regards, Marianne (Nelson).

    Marianne Palmer

    • Hi Marianne. They could be Soldier flies, which are actually beneficial. Are there elongated wrinkled castings in the compost? If house flies are present then the heap will be too wet. Maybe too many lawn clippings have been added? Add lime to speed up decomposition and reduce the amount of water or rain. Also add more coarse material to the bin eg. some garden soil and turn it over. Tui Worm Farm and Compost Conditioner is good to speed up the breakdown of the organic matter in the compost heap.

      Tui Team

  • Hi, I have no lawn therefore no clippings for my compost. What do you suggest? 

    Bill

    • Hi Bill, lawn clippings are not essential for composting. If you don't have any, add other forms of kitchen and garden waste such as fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves, leaves and sticks, newspaper and sheep pellets.

      Tui Team

  • Wow this is such an interesting start!

    Annie

    • wow it is so amazing to compost!!

      Sophie