Advice on making compost

I wish to encourage you to discover the fun and interest of making compost!

Compost varies enormously, and homemade compost is the most variable and interesting, thanks to the seasonally-changing ingredients. Making compost is a fascinating hobby and if you never tried it yet, do have a go. You are turning wastes into something valuable.

Facebook 13.8.18 Richard Loader on UK Here We Grow:

Since visiting Charles Dowding garden and seeing his composting system we have started to see our compost heaps very differently. Previously weeding, trimming, mowing seemed like chores but now these activities have become harvests of food for what we now call ‘The beast’. We gather the ‘browns and greens’ and blend them so as to satisfy the appetite of the beast and enjoy monitoring the process of decay and heating with a long probe thermometer. It’s like having a new pet to care for.

A compost heap transforms even persistent perennial weed roots into food for soil organisms and plants. Don’t believe everything you may read about what you “Can and cannot” compost – see this from Stringfellow in forum topic, horsetail 16/06/18:

I had a lawn of Horsetail covering my plot. Being a total beginner back then, and paranoid about horsetail growing through concrete bunkers etc. we mowed the top growth and skipped the lot. Now wish I’d composted it all. Just keep an eye on the heap, you’ll get little if any regrowth – I’ve found they quickly wither and die. It all ends up back on your plot to help grow veg.

For further advice, see my You Tube video on how to make compost.

I had this lovely comment to the video in August 2019, from Devdas:

I have been collecting coffee grinds from petrol stations cafes etc. Waitrose Morrison all give it away for anyone wanting it. I used to throw away grass clippings now I am growing it for compost😁. Before mowing was a chore now I am looking at it in a totally different manner.

Plus there is a lot about making and using compost in my no dig, online course.

Why compost, not just a mulch of undecomposed matter?

Compost is organic matter that has decomposed, from leaves and manure to weeds, wood and paper. Compost feeds soil in a slow and steady manner, allowing soil to feed plants. In gardens, a compost heap speeds up nature’s process of decomposition, resulting in less slugs than from mulches of undecomposed matter, and stronger plants.

  • Organic matter enables soil to aggregate into crumbs, for stability and aeration, and is food for soil’s billions of mostly unseen inhabitants. Organic matter is carbon, and more in the soil means less in the atmosphere.

Fresh manure is organic matter, so far so good, but compared to compost it contains less living organisms such as fungi, and its nutrients are more water soluble. Hence the worries over nitrate leaching from slurry (pure and fresh cow poo), which confusingly have been transferred by legislators to include compost.

I write ‘confusingly’ because in compost, nutrients are not soluble in water, so they do not leach in rainfall. And compost is about way more than nitrates/fertiliser/plant feeding.

Compost quality

Ripeness means that a heap’s warmth has mostly gone, because the processing is finished. Often brandling worms arrive at this point, and heaps become wormeries of reduced quantity, increased quality. It can take up to six months before worms appear in my heaps at Homeacres, which are too warm for worms until that point, except in winter.

Contrast this with municipal compost which looks fine and “finished” after just a few weeks, from being shredded and then turned, regularly. However its blackness is from carbonisation caused by high temperatures, up to 80C, because huge numbers of thermophilic bacteria are encouraged by the regular turning and introduction of air.

I take deliveries of such compost and measure temperatures of 60C, even though the appearance is ‘like compost’, black and crumbly. I have tried spreading this compost and then planting through it, with poor results compared to when I spread it after six further months of fermentation.

You can plant/sow into green waste compost once it has cooled down and ripened. Check its heat when delivered, perhaps your supplier has kept it for enough time that it’s ready to use.

In 2016 I invested in a shed for my composting area, to keep the rain off. In the UK, water is often changing aerobic composting to anaerobic, by excluding air. Anaerobic compost is black rather than dark brown, more smelly and less crumbly. Hence a polythene sheet over heaps is worthwhile to keep rain off – to keep air in, not for preventing leaching!

(some of the below are extracts from my article in Which? Gardening July 2017)

Ingredients, green, brown and moisture

    • Green ingredients are soft, leafy, high in nitrogen, usually moist, and are low in fibre. Kitchen peelings and food wastes are mostly green. They lead to high temperatures.
    • Brown ingredients are fibrous, drier and more woody than leafy.
    • Some materials are both green and brown.
  • Some green ingredients such as coffee grounds and horse poo (both 3% nitrogen) look brown.

Why differentiate? When you achieve the desired balance of about 50:50, or a perhaps a little more green than brown, this contributes to a correct level of moisture, warmth and structure/aeration.

In the British climate, air is often damp and so are the materials we add to the compost heap. As they decompose, their moisture becomes free to seep into the heap and if it cannot either drain out, or be absorbed by drier materials, the compost becomes soggy and airless, or anaerobic. This slows or halts the process of breakdown: adding paper, soil and other brown ingredients is a remedy.

In contrast during the dry summer of 2018, I actually watered the compost heaps. Especially when we were turning them and many dry pockets became visible. Moisture levels are hard to assess.

Photos below are Homeacres October 2018, the year’s fifth heap 1.5m/5ft2

Good to compost

    • Weeds (green) include some soil (brown) on their roots, so you can make fine compost from them alone. You can compost perennial weeds too: I add roots and leaves of bindweed, docks, nettles, buttercups, dandelions and couch grass. They break down even in winter’s cooler heaps, and regrow only if left exposed to light. You can save much time by not separating out perennial weeds.
    • Fresh leaves are green and older leaves become more brown, so autumn tree leaves are mostly brown.
    • Rhubarb leaves and citrus peel are good to compost, I know from experience. Eggshells bring structure to a heap but decompose slowly, often ending un mulches on top.
    • Diseased leaves are good to compost, such as mildewed courgette and lettuce leaves, rusty garlic and leek leaves, blighted potato and tomato leaves and also tubers/fruits with late blight. Blight spores for example need living plant tissue to survive in, hence they die in a compost heap, and likewise in soil. I spread compost which was made with blighted leaves, around tomatoes in the polytunnel, with no ensuing problems. Likewise blight spores do not survive in soil and there is no need to empty greenhouses of their soil.
    • Most shredded materials are woody (brown), and their speed of composting depends on size, and whether crushed or simply cut: crushed is best. I keep a pile of shredded branches near to the summer’s compost heaps, for adding to any large additions of grass mowings and fresh leaves.
    • Other brown materials are paper, best crumpled, cardboard which you can add in large pieces, wood ash (in winter my heaps are up to 10% wood ash), soil, and straw, which gives good structure and aeration.
    • Fresh manure from any animals is green and is excellent for speeding decomposition. Should you have large animals such as a cow or horse, their manure and bedding will ‘take over’ the compost heap, volume wise, meaning your compost heap has become more of a manure heap. Old manure is compost, just of a different quality.
  • Beware adding too much wood-flake bedding, often kiln dried and very slow to decompose. Not the end of the world, but your finished compost risks looking woody!
Compost thermometer
12 inch thermometer shows good breakdown is happening

Choice of bin: solid or open?

A bin with plastic or wooden sides keeps materials together, increases warmth and moisture, plus you can keep rain out if there is a lid or cover. It’s said that wooden bins need slatted sides to allow entry of air but I find this makes little difference: my heaps with plywood sides make great compost: they conserve both heat and moisture. I screw them onto corner posts, then it’s simple to unscrew them when turning and emptying heaps.

Plastic bins from the council are smaller and this restricts the heat they can maintain. My trial with a Rotol “dalek” bin saw temperatures rarely exceed 45C, and many weed seeds survived the process. Nonetheless it was good compost, and the sides are easy to lift off when you want it.


Soil is best, for drainage, and for organisms to enter from below as heat subsides, or before it happens.

Building a heap

Add your garden waste as it happens, in level layers rather than a mound in the middle, to have uniform spreads of different materials as you add them. Sometimes you need “balancing materials” in terms of green and brown.

In much of the growing season there is a surplus of green, so keep a pile or some sacks of paper, autumn leaves, cardboard and twiggy materials, especially when adding grass mowings. In winter there is more brown, and some fresh manure or coffee grounds make for a good balance.

When to stop adding more material

    • Small gardens generate less material and may struggle to fill a bin, even over a whole year: use the smallest bin you can find because a fuller, small bin makes better compost than a half empty, larger one. After perhaps a year of filling, lift off the bin to a spot adjacent and fork the undecomposed, top part into it, then use the compost in the bottom part.
  • In large gardens, heaps may rise to four or five feet high within a month. Continue filling even after this for another 2-4 weeks as the heap will keep sinking, then cover with straw/carpet/polythene, preferably polythene to keep rain out, while you make a new heap. For best results, turn the finished heap after 1-3 months and leave another 2-4 months.

Turning compost: is it necessary?

Turning is worthwhile for larger scale compost-makers with several heaps, to mix and aerate. You need an empty space or bin next to the heap you are turning, and results will repay the time taken. Use a manure fork with long prongs, be sure to shake out any dense lumps: turning involves mixing, shaking and also allows you to check a compost’s quality. If you discover many dry lumps, add a little water, or conversely add some dry paper if it’s soggy.

For a small heap that perhaps barely fills up in a whole year, turning is not worthwhile.

The law of diminishing returns applies to compost turning. I never do a second turn as gains are much more marginal, compared to one turn.

Finished compost

Within a year you should find a crumbly texture of variable quality. If there are large lumps they need breaking up with a fork while loading your wheelbarrow. A dark brown colour is better than black, which would suggest some lack of air and too much wetness.

Sieving compost before use is not worth the effort and time needed. Simply pull out larger pieces of undecomposed materials, including roots of perennial weeds which are white and noticeable. There is nothing to fear from such roots because even if you missed them while spreading, you have another chance later when you see them start to regrow. Such visibility and easy removal are advantages of no dig with compost on the surface, instead of incorporated.

  • A quality of mature/ripe compost is that carbpn/organic matters has been transformed into humus, now known as glomalin. 


This was discovered only in 1996, by a scientist Sara F. Wright while working for the USA Agriculture Research Service. She discovered how to extract this sticky material which binds soil particles together, giving structure and tilth. It accounts for perhaps a quarter or more of soil carbon and exists for decades in undug/untilled soil, unlike most of soil’s short lived, non-mineral constituents.

It transpires that glomalin is almost certainly produced by mycorrhizal fungi, as Sara Wright describes:

“We’ve seen glomalin on the outside of the hyphae, and we believe this is how the hyphae seal themselves so they can carry water and nutrients. It may also be what gives them the rigidity they need to span the air spaces between soil particles”.

During plant growth, as roots extend further into soil, fungi close to the original roots die off at the same time as new fungi colonise and work with the developing root extensions. The decaying fungi shed their glomalin, and it remains in soil as a glue-like sheath around nearby particles.

This raises the intriguing point that plant growth helps build soil organic matter, as long as soil remains undisturbed.

“In a 4-year study at the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Maryland) Agricultural Research Center, Wright found that glomalin levels rose each year after no-till was started. No-till refers to a modern conservation practice that uses equipment to plant seeds with no prior plowing*. This practice was developed to protect soil from erosion by keeping fields covered with crop residue.”

“Glomalin went from 1.3 milligrams per gram of soil (mg/g) after the first year to 1.7 mg/g after the third. A nearby field that was plowed and planted each year had only 0.7 mg/g. In comparison, the soil under a 15-year-old buffer strip of grass had 2.7 mg/g.”

It’s reckoned that brassicas and beets* do not increase glomalin levels, since they do not work with fungal threads in order to grow. But most of our food crops, including cereals, do cooperate with fungi and scientists are now looking at fungal encouragement as a way to reduce dependence on phosphate fertilisers.

*Charles says, I doubt this. On my dig/no dig comparisons, I observe how the no dig brassicas and beetroot consistently outperform the same plantings in dug soil. I remember how in the early eighties I would read that mycorrhizal fungi were used by trees rather than vegetables. The ‘scientific’ view keeps changing because it’s a ‘snapshot’ of current understandings.

Compost and fungi

The new knowledge about glomalin ties in with older work by Albert Howard ninety years ago, on the value of compost. He taught farmers his recipes developed at Indore Research Station in India, and then he discovered how small applications of compost could transform the soil of tired tea plantations, enabling plants to rediscover their vigour. Howard had trained as a chemist and initially thought of compost in terms of chemical foods such as NPK, that it was recycling nutrients.

Then the results from using it, coupled with his knowledge that nutrient levels had barely increased because he was adding so few, helped him to see compost as a broad game changer. That was when he acknowledged the role of soil fungi, and the ability of compost to help fungi multiply.

At this time, in the 1930s, mycorrhizal fungi were being noticed and appreciated by scientists such as Dr Rayner who worked for the Forestry Commission, on Wareham Heath in Dorset.

Which brings us to the value of transforming manure and other wastes, into compost. I notice at Homeacres how crops grow better where the compost applied is fully ripe. It is dark, crumbly and the smell is sweet, not the ammonia or sulphur smells of manure stacked in an airless state.

Then to use your precious compost most effectively, the best method is surface mulching. Soil organisms are waiting, even in mild, winter weather, to incorporate surface organic matter: when you give them high quality compost, the results are wonderful.

96 thoughts on “Advice on making compost

  1. Hi Charles, you website is brilliant, as are your videos and advice.
    I have one question, is it necessary to cover a compost heap from rain? In some of your videos you mention that the rain does not leech the goodness from the compost. Any advice is very gratefully received.

    Thanks again, Roisin a complete NEWBE to compost and no dig

    1. Hello Roisin and I am heartened that you are having a go, as a beginner.
      Yes it’s good to keep rain off a compost heap (except in dry summers like the exceptional 2018) because too much water in a heap displaces air, and makes it anaerobic/smelly/swamplike and soggy.
      A few nutrients might wash away but this is mainly not to do with water leaching goodness: you can spread compost on the ground, rain washes through and nutrients are held in water insoluble state.

  2. Hi Charles. I saw your article on interplanting and I was surprised to see that it is possible to plant so close without competition. Is it due to the immaturity of the newly planted seeds? So in general interplanting is done about 1.5 to 2 months before we crop the first planting? I read about it before but I misunderstood and interplanted from the begining… about 8 weeks after the first planting.


  3. Huh… I am amazed at your experience! My 2 year experience in gardening still can’t help me in learning how to deal with rats on the allotment. No cats allowed unfortunately. I am baffled… the traps did not catch anything and the poison got just 2. They went deeper in the ground and are still there. I worry about the newly planted trees and their unprotected roots.

  4. Pity we cannot pay for downloading the Calendar. Postage to Germany is about 6.5£. I would rather pay a download version if possible

  5. I have 4 square plastic compost bins (750 ltr), using 2 for garden,kitchen,paper and cardboard, 1 for horse manure and the last for leaves. Having read your article on composting, it occurs to me that I shouldn’t be keeping the horse manure separate. What about the leaves, they’ll eventually break down to become leaf mould so should I keep them on their own?

    1. Good. For tree leaves it just depends how many you have: if enough to fill a whole bin, yes leave to become mould. If less than say a quarter of other ingredients, add to the main heap.

  6. Hello! I started my very first compost today in the US. I have a smartpot bag. I have been saving all my raked leaves, cardboard from christmas packages, poo from my chickens and all kitchen scraps. Today i layered as best i understood, added water. My thermometer arrived today also. The bag is almost 6 ft tall and i would say i was able to load it up about 5ft. I am asking when do i stop loading it up and cover? I was REALLY hoping to have compost by spring. Do you think it will be ready in under a year..such a long time. I also just got a delivery of woodchips and continue to watch videos to understand how to use them. Thank you so much!

    1. Lovely to hear your enthusiasm Daphne, and your heap sounds promising. However it is winter and in the cold (unless you are in Florida) there will be less heat, making it slower to decompose. Tree leaves are slow also.
      Up to one third chicken manure is possible and would increase heat. Coffee grounds do that too. I think it unlikely to be ready by spring and hope you prove me wrong! More likely by say June.

  7. Hi Charles,
    Thank you for creating such a beautiful, informative website. You are an utter inspiration. After seeing yours working, I have just created a hotbed in my greenhouse. It’s a cubic metre in size and is full of fresh horse manure with a layer of compost on top. After six days the internal temperature is already 70℃. I was rather hoping it would last at least two months but this seems very fast and I’m anxious that it might ‘run out’ much sooner. How can I reduce the temperature and slow decomposition a bit? I’m in the south of France, but outdoor daytime temperatures are barely above 8℃ and about -3℃ overnight.

    1. Thanks Lizzie.
      Length of hot time depends on heap volume, I suggest 1.2m square, or more.
      I suggest making the heap mid February when more can be sown, to get more from that precious heat.
      Keep adding fresh manure is my way of maintaining heat.

  8. Hi Charles. I’m a newbie gardener, keen to just get stuck in and have a go – but have a quick question for you. I’m trying to make my own compost – veg peelings/ garden waste/ coffee grounds etc. I have access to horse manure/ and potentially cow manure (both not rotted down, very fresh). Do I add these on to my compost heap as they are? Or put them in a heap separately until they have rotted down? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    1. Victoria, I would add the horse manure, because it brings heat, and keep the cow manure separate to compost on its own, more slowly and for perhaps a year.
      Or if you have just a little cow manure, fine to add it.

  9. Hello Charles
    Great web site and video thank you for taking the time to get this all on line to help us.
    I have a question about horse manure. i herd it could contain weedkiller from the hay which could affect the veg. If it does would putting this on the compost for 3/4 months kill this off and be safe to use on the plot.

    1. Cheers Stephen and no, the aminopyralid does not break down in a a compost/manure heap, only in contact with soil microbes

  10. Hello Charles.

    I am an organic market farmer in Hokkaido Japan with 25 years growing experience. I converted my farm into no-till raised beds two seasons ago. Used 2 year aged cow manure with sawdust and hot composted steer manure to mulch the beds. Direct seeding of beets gave a very spotted germination. What could have been the problem?
    Also last season i tried out the multiseeding technique for beets and onions (3 per plug) Very few grew at the same rate as I see on your video. Mostly one or two grew faster and suppressed the others which then didn’t grew large before the end of the season. Any comments?
    Thanks ,

    1. Hello Joan
      Thanks for writing and sorry to hear this.
      I wonder if it could be to do with the sawdust, hard to say without seeing how much you used or the kind of wood, but it sounds like the nutrients are not getting to your beetroot, and seedlings are somehow compromised in their growth, which should be fast.

  11. Hi Charles, we love your website!

    We have just inherited a new garden down in Cornwall close to the coast. Half of our garden has previously been let go for almost 10 years and is now overrun with weeds, one of the most rampant and annoying is the alexander plant. This seems to have cropped up all over the place including in the beds we wish the grow produce in. We love the idea of just mulching our beds with compost to retain soil structure however we wonder what will happen to the carrot like roots of the Alexander. They currently take up a lot of soil space and we can’t imagine how other produce will grow around. Hence we feel we have no choice but to dig them up, and begin no dig once we have removed them including the carrot like root. Do you have any advice for us regarding this? We have some other particularly persistent weeds also that seems to grow up through any compost we mulch with, again, would these digging up?

    We look forward to your reply and hope to visit your garden in Somerset in the future,


    Kate & Alex

    1. Your vigorous Alexanders sounds worth digging, in the same way as big dock plants: use a sharp spade to cut and remove roots about 15cm/6in down. The root which is left in soil will regrow but weakly, can be mulched.
      It sounds like you need a year of polythene to tame all the weeds. Spread compost/organic matter frost then polythene, maybe plant some squashes in May, see Start no dig tab on this site.
      You could get free polythene from local farmers perhaps, after they have used it for silage clamps.

  12. Thanks for the great videos and website.

    I was wondering wrt compost: How much of the ingredients are sourced from the gardening operation itself (kitchen waste, etc), and how much is imported percentage-wise?

    Greetings from Austria,


    1. Hi Neven, and for my homemade compost about one third is imported, varying through the year, I am always looking for wastes

  13. Hi – I started to get my compost organised a couple of years ago and I agree with everything you have said. My only slight quibbles are (a) – I think small pieces of cardboard are better than large pieces, and (b) – I find it useful to turn a hot pile more than once (sometimes adding some new ingredients in order to ensure the re-starting of the process – I usually add a mix of green cuttings, coffee grounds, shredded paper, cardboard, straw and brown leaves. Sometimes I gather a bagful of comfrey leaves and nettles which grow in profusion alongside my nearby canal and river). I find I can get three piles finished in a year and maybe four. I accumulate layers of greens and browns in what I call my starter bin and when it is full I turn it into my hot bin.

    I’m looking forward to looking at your online course. Best wishes, Ken

    1. Thanks Ken and I agree with your methods, as long as one has time.
      My recommendations are about a middle way that is within reach to most. You are a premium compost maker!

      1. Thanks for the compliment!

        I think that there is a general lack of awareness that composting, like gardening, requires quite a lot of management. A pile of kitchen waste, however large, is unlikely to become much more than a slimy mess. Your own activities depend upon importing a significant quantity of ingredients for your composting needs.

        I like your comments about moisture content. Most online advice simply says that your compost should have the consistency of a squeezed-out sponge and I think that this is a pearl of wisdom which is much easier to repeat than to explain – a compost pile contains different ingredients and goes through different stages – its consistency will change consistently.

        I never add water to my ‘starter’ bin (and I never turn it) but it usually heats up very nicely, albeit unpredictably. I think you are correct to imply that air supply is more crucial than moisture levels but, above all, it is the balance of browns and greens which is most important.

        If in doubt, I would always recommend adding more browns – nitrogen:carbon ratios are anybody’s guess. By volume, 70% browns and 30% greens will probably still produce useful compost. Many gardeners will baulk at the idea.

        All of this depends on having a pile of around one cubic metre or slightly more. Smaller piles are likely to lose their heat and larger piles are likely to squeeze out the air. Turning the pile is most worthwhile if you can move the centre of the pile to the edges and vice versa. Corkscrew aerators are also useful. Ken

        1. Ken these are helpful tips and yes, every year I increase the browns a little!
          And yes, compost does not just happen, usually.

  14. Hello !
    I’ve been following your “no-dig” methods for about a year now on a my new garden.
    Initially the garden was completely smothered in bindweed, ground elder and various other weeds. Having gardened for many years using traditional weeding methods my experience led me to believe that I had little chance of getting it back to any manageable state for at least a few years.

    I had a brief attempt at digging out the bindweed but soon discovered the roots were a solid mass of about a foot thick so realised I was wasting my time.

    Having read your various articles on “no-dig” I decided that if I could smother everywhere in cardboard (obtained from a very friendly local furniture shop who were pleased to get rid of it) then at least I might halt the weed growth, before I could start adding compost on top.
    The long hot summer of 2018 meant that the cardboard dried out as fast as I wetted it. Coupled with the fact that I had no homemade compost (and to cover the garden in bought in compost would cost me a small fortune) I nearly gave up.
    However in the end I just covered the (still dry) cardboard with anything green or brown I could lay my hands on.
    My neighbour is a contract gardener so he willingly gave me all his grass clippings and hedge clippings, branches etc. Apart from roughly shredding the branches I didn’t do much else – just piled everything on top in a deep layer and added more cardboard layers as and when I could.
    I am amazed to say that now in February the base layer of cardboard is now well rotted and teeming with worms, the weeds have virtually all gone and the plants look incredibly healthy !
    The few weeds that have emerged can just quickly be hoed off and I have a top layer of almost pure (albeit rough) compost !

    Thank you so much – you are a complete inspiration !

    PS If anyone is interested….
    I made some of the very big cardboard boxes I obtained into makeshift compost bins and they have worked brilliantly. I just filled them, covered the top contents in old plastic compost bags, closed the lids and left them until the rain eventually rotted them. I then turned the contents into new cardboard boxes and started again. Not as aesthetic as a wooden bins I know but cheap and easy and you can move them anywhere!

    1. Sara great comment thanks, and very helpful.
      You improvised brilliantly, showing how the principle of no dig has many applications!
      Amazing compost heaps too.

    2. Sara, the furniture/appliance box as a self-decomposing compost bin is a great idea! Thank you for sharing that.

  15. Hi
    I have the opportunity to get some spent hops with 10%straw. Do these go direct on the allotment or do I need to compost first? We have just taken on an allotment but compost is currently proving quite costly!!!
    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Lisa, Great and I compost spent hops with some straw along with other ingredients. They could also be used as a mulch but only around larger plants like courgettes, brassicas etc. Not before sowing and planting.

  16. Hi Charles, After attending one of your no-dig courses and being immediately impressed with that experience I am now at the stage of trying to increase the amount of compost I can create. So, I have scrounged some 8’x4’ sheets of heavy duty shuttering plywood in order to create 3 adjacent bins about 4’x4’x4’. I have also got some 100mm thick insulation boards, same size sheets as the plywood. I thought that I would use this to line at least one bin and even use a piece for a lid, basically an insulated cube. My question is : Do I need to be concerned that this idea will be excluding air circulation?

    1. Hi David, nice to hear and this all sounds good. It’s the structure created by woody bits that holds air, or air is added when turning. Your compost will happen, same as it does in a hotbin/hotbox for example.

  17. Hi Charles,

    You are amazing – my husband and I love watching your videos – beautifully done!
    We have a beautiful spot on the Sunshine Coast of BC, Canada.

    I have a question about raised beds.
    We have an intricate terraced raised bed system already in place, is there a possibility that I could do a no dig in them from your experience?
    It seems doable to me but thought I would ask you your opinion..

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge freely 🙂
    We are deeply grateful!

    1. Hello Verena
      Thanks and nice to hear from you.
      Yes for sure if you have beds already, just stop tilling, weed to have a clean surface then mulch the surface with 1-2in compost and you are underway.

  18. I am curious if you do any soil amending after the compost is spread? For example, I added horse manure to my garden last year, which was mainly composted, but some fresh was in there. My uncle suggested to ad lime due to the sawdust bedding they use for the horses, but I never got around to doing so. I had issues with blossom rot with my early tomatoes. (Luckily I was able to recover they others by adding calcium.) But I’m just curious if good quality compost will ad all nutrients needed for my garden? or are there specific plants that the soil will need extra mending? I’m aware certain berries like acidic soil. I’m just looking to make my garden as easy as possible! I’d rather not worry about adding extras.

    1. Meghan there are plenty of people who will worry you and sell you stuff.
      I find compost has always worked on it’s own.
      Blossom end rot is caused by lack of water, which restricts calcium uptake. You needed to water more not buy calcium.
      I never found manure or compost to be acid.
      Yes keep it simple.

  19. Hello Charles,
    We’re about to move to a new house with a huge vegetable garden (so lucky!), which I’d like to convert to no-dig immediately. I’ve been researching compost to buy (current state of beds is dug and weeds have been kept in check well, so won’t need plastic/cardboard) and one that’s not going to break the bank is labelled “blend of compost, well rotted manure and top soil“. As a beginner I’m unsure if that’s the right thing to go for. Any tips? Many thanks indeed.
    Thank you for sharing all your knowledge so freely, I’m especially enjoying the youtube channel.

    1. Thanks Carolin and yes forget mixes like that, the soil is to be avoided. Buy and of mushroom compost, old cow manure and PAS100 green waste compost, in that order of preference. The initial large amount of compost is a good investment for years to come.

  20. Charles, your sharing heart is as bountiful as your garden. Big Cheers to you for that. Here is both my question and my desire. We have about a quarter of an acre (or more) of open land that we would love to compost and and change over to a no-dig garden. We have done some of it with traditional gardening to date. Anyway, without winning the lottery, how might we best accumulate that much compost to cover all of this size of an area and thus a) smother out the weeds and grass, and b) wonderfully feed all the planted and desired vegetables? Here is our only known availability of quantity items, we are surrounded otherwise by trees and so can accumulate large amounts of leaves … otherwise, I would surmise, we could find some fair degree of cardboard from local businesses in the area. Yes, and though there would be some grass clippings (for the green) but nothing of any quantity to match the leaves or amount needed for the area mentioned and desired. Also, kitchen scraps from just my wife and I would be far short of what needed for this size plot. Now, on our 12 acre plot, roughly 11 acres is woodlands (leaf trees and pines) if anything is of use there? Any ideas of no-cost or low-cost avenues of developing the amount of compost we would need to cover if not the 1/4 acre then at least a 50 by 100 foot area? So, greatly appreciate any and all thoughts on this specific area because, as I am sure you could guess, this is an initial break-point solution needed to even get started with a no-dig garden? Thanks so much, Charles!

    1. Frank I would hope you find a local farmer with old manure, often sold cheaply.
      And a quarter acre would be market garden (I sell £20k from that area), so unless you plan to sell, start smaller.
      Compost is an investment, the initial dose sets you up for years. It may be cheaper to buy than to make but yes your woodlands could afford you great fertility without taking too much leaves etc.

      1. Such good information and advice, Charles, including the specific monetary result (for you, anyway) of your quarter of an acre. Don’t mean to tax your good time but … what would be the best first book of yours to buy. I would be looking for that book which will give me the best overall “No-Dig” method, knowledge, and approach. Thank you for all your time!

  21. Dear Mr Charles,
    I saw that you put leeks leafs in compost pile.
    What about garlic leafs ,is it ok for compost?
    Me and my husband growing garlic 400-500 kg every year ,and it will be great if we can compost leafs.
    Composting is a new thing for me .
    Thank you for all information ,you inspired me to start no- till farming.
    Marija from Croatia

    1. Dear Marija
      Yes I compost all wastes and diseased leaves.
      I am so happy to hear you are no till farming, and must be enjoying having fewer weeds growing.

  22. Wood ash? Wood ashes in the compost! I didn’t know. This makes me SO happy. We burn in a small stove through the winter. Our soil pH is on the high side, so I shy away from wood ashes, but the compost? YAY.

  23. I’ve been growing for 40 years but only came across your ideas a few weeks back. I’m a big fan of your youtube videos and have ordered a couple of your books. First year on our 12 acre smallholding in West Wales. Just starting with a few hundred square metres of no dig in virgin pasture. I’m fascinated in using home made compost or rotted manure as a potting/seed mix. Which of your books covers this in the most detail, or what advice would you give?

    As others have said, you are a true inspiration, keep at it!

    1. Thanks Martin and I hope your new project goes well.
      I prefer to buy potting compost to save the time needed for sieving + it’s not easy to get a nutrient rich mix – I am using small module size in small area, relative to output.
      These constraints may not apply to you and check also Ladbrookes soil blockers, the long handled 30 looks interesting, if you have lots of material to play with.

      1. Many thanks. By the way, in your videos, I love the enthusiasm you show. when you pick a nice vegetable, or produce good compost, your childlike smile is what I have always felt in the garden. It comes across well!

  24. Greetings from the colonies,
    I have been gardening in southern NH, USA for about ten years. I have been making compost for most of that time. Unfortunately, I now know that I have not been using it in the most productive manor. I plan to start following your suggestions as soon as the two feet of “white compost” melts.
    I do also have one other problem. I find your information so interesting that I am afraid I will not have enough time to garden if you do not stop making so much interesting reading material available! My wife has threatened to hide my laptop if I don’t start spending some time with her. She is getting jealous of the time I am spending reading your information. Keep up the good work and thank you.

    1. Hello David and that is an interesting problem.
      Once the weather warms up I am sure your wife will enjoy the garden and harvests!

  25. Hi Charles! I appreciate your videos. I’m a gardener of quite a few years and I like to say that I garden to compost. Trying to change that some.

    I recently started to use clean straw as a mulch and compost ingredient. I’ve read that straw supposedly takes a considerable amount of time to break down. I’m surprised by that because I shredded some straw to use as a top dressing around some annual flowers. Nine months later the straw has broken down into a nice loamy substrate. I haven’t had a chance to check the compost bin to see how the straw in the compost heap has fared. I know you use straw bedding and horse manure in your heap but I’m curious if you’ve ever used clean straw and what you’re experience is with it.

    1. Hi Thomas and I used it a lot in the 1980s, all decomposed within a year, however it usually had slugs hiding underneath!

  26. Hello Charles! I am working my way through your excellent online course material and tweaking my plan for my second year of no-dig gardening in Sweden. Last year’s crops were beyond my wildest expectations – bot in terms of quantity and quality. However, my home-made compost has been a big disappointment and I wonder if you can give me a few tips. In August/September, we threw all our garden waste in our compost bins (wood/covered/some mesh sides). I thought it was approximately 50/50 green/brown as there were many leaves from potatoes, brassica, squash etc, but also quite a few chopped up woody stems. No grass cuttings/manure etc. The piles have shrunk to half their original sizes but appear to be just woody remains, with no sign of breaking down into compost. What am I doing wrong, and how can I correct it? Many thanks in advance for any advice you can give!

    1. Hi Beverley, nice you had good results, sorry about the compost, could be the wood is too large diameter + perhaps coniferous so slow to break down and I guess your estimation was not correct – it takes practice!
      Use that ‘compost’ as brown for this year’s heap and search for greens like coffee waste, perhaps manure.

  27. Hi Charles
    Thank you for all your advice and videos which I try to follow as much as possible, they are so clear and practical.
    I help out in community vegetable plot and I am a keen composter. A couple of questions were raised recently about the types of material that should not be put into a compost heap.
    One material thought not to be suitable was paper because it is bleached using chlorine and that is toxic.
    The other was corrugated cardboard because of the glue used is toxic.
    What are your views on these concerns?
    Thank you
    Pam Worthington
    Should I stop putting these materials into the compost heaps.

  28. Hello Charles,

    I live in New Zealand and we have a lot of exotic gum trees around, planted as windbreaks. We burn the wood and have a lot of leftover bark and leaves. I have noticed that nothing grows under gum trees, so I assume the trees have a suppressive effect on the growth of other plants, possibly via the fallen leaves . Do you know whether eucalyptus leaves and bark produce good compost? Or would that ‘suppressive factor’ persist even after composting?
    thanks heaps!

    1. Plants grew under my parents’ eucalyptus and yes I would add some to compost but the leaves have oil which slows decomposition so don’t use too many

  29. Hello! I was wondering if you could comment on the plastic compost tumblers available for purchase. They appear to finish compost in only 2-3 months, however Do you think the quality of the finished product is comparable to the bin process? I too am new to gardening and am looking for a solution for our limited space. Thank you!

    1. Hi Sally, I do not recommend them as value for money and they need careful filling, I would say 4-6 months with a good balance of ingredients; they do keep rats out, so pros and cons

  30. Hello Charles,
    I’ve been gradually converting my garden and allotment to ‘no-dig’ since hearing you talk at an RHS show a couple of years ago (either Cardiff or Malvern, I can’t remember which!).
    I say ‘gradually’ because my main constraint is getting hold of sufficient quantities of compost. I know you say that you need far less as the years go by but getting started means a lot for a couple of years and living in Bristol means I have no access to ready supplies and buying in bulk is expensive.
    So, on the allotment I’ve built a series of 5 x 1 cubic metre bins out of pallet wood, with lids and removable fronts. 4 are filled and one remains empty for turning into. My main input is spent hops from a local micro-brewery, supplemented by shredded paper and cardboard: most of junk mail and packaging now goes into the compost. My research suggests that commercial inks these days are vegetable based, and manufacturers simply aren’t allowed to print packaging with anything toxic, so there’s no reason not to compost it. We’ve learned to identify and avoid anything with a plastic film or waxed finish.
    All four bins were filled by late autumn and I’ve just started spreading the contents of the first bin, which has been ‘cooking’ for around 8 months. It’s fine as a mulch around existing plants but I doubt it’s sufficiently well-rotted to plant seedlings into – or am I being too cautious: do you have a ready means of telling when a compost is ‘ready’?
    I also think I’ve been too cautious in excluding diseased material. Last year I had a bad run of leek rust and although the remnants of the crop are still perfectly usable, I have not put the trimmings into the compost. I know you say you use all diseased material, but are there any limits to this?
    I really enjoy your website and think it’s wonderful that there are contributions to these discussion threads from all over the world: growing food is something that unites us all. Hello everybody!!

    1. Hi Chris, that is great work.
      Nice that you have hops nearby and can convert their wastes.
      I do not recommend homemade compost for potting, results rarely justify it and the cost of buying potting compost is small, compared to potential results.
      I compost leek rust, not white rot though as it’s soil borne, like club root.
      You could line your pallets with cardboard to hold moisture and warmth.
      Best, Charles

  31. Hi Charles, thanks for all you do. I am finally getting around to starting a compost bin in earnest. I am wondering if there are any items at all that you would discourage folks from putting in their bins?

    1. Thanks Kris.
      I would hesitate to add roots with soil fungal diseases, mainly white rot and clubroot.
      Other than that, add everything. Including potato and tomato late blight and roots of perennial weeds.

      1. Thank you for your fast response! I have just a couple more questions. What of meat and dairy? Also, how long does it typically take a bit to get hot once it’s full?

  32. Hi Charles,

    I’m sure I’ve seen you using a aerator tool in one of your videos but can’t seem to find the clip – am I now dreaming of compost making as my wife suggests?

    Is there an aerator that you can recomend? I’ve seen mixed reviews on Amazon…

    1. Yes Peter for smaller heaps I suggest the £20 corkscrew (hard work though) and a smaller one with metal hooks which slide in as it’s pushed down, then come out as you pull up, under a tenner

  33. Hi Charles , I’ve been a bit hit and miss with my small compost bin putting in a single person household veg waste , grass cuttings and leaves in . It seems to break down over the year. but I want to do better and quicker!
    2 questions if I may , 1) Every summer I get HUGE ant hills in the bin. Is this a problem and if so, how can I avoid this.
    2) there are a number of branding worms in the bin . I don’t understand that when I come to put the compost in my raised veg beds how the worms won’t eat the new brassica plants I am about to plant! . If I have the wrong end of the stick I will be grateful for a point in the right direction.

    1. Dee no worries over worms, they eat decaying matter not fresh.
      Ants on the other hand are not good, they excrete acid which can kill roots, mix hot water with chilli powder and water on the ant hill, then keep it wet.

  34. Hi!! Thanks for all the great information. No dog is perfect for me having torn a disc pulling up weeds in the past! I’ve just taken on an allotment that has an old compost set up using pellets. There’s a massive ant colony to the side of it, in amongst some old carpet tiles. Should I get rid of it or just ignore them for now. Not sure whether friend or foe!!

    1. Hi Delaine and sounds good except the ants are not friends to gardening,
      I would mix hot water with chilli powder, even garlic too and water on the ant colony, then keep it wet every week or so to diminish their number at least. They are eating your compost – remove habitat too like those tiles.

  35. Hi Charles,
    Like all your commentators I’m starting no-dig as a result of your inspirational writings and videos – thank you so much for being so generous with your time and knowledge! I have being making compost for many years in my garden, but it was only when I took on an allotment in 2010 that I faced a serious weed problem – horsetail and bindweed. I decided to use anerobic composting for those and any other persistent weed roots (dock and dandelion) – by immersing them in a large black bin, with a lid, filled with water. My first bin sprang a leak in 2011 so I got another – but kept the first one as a ‘holding bay’ for when I had a surfeit of weeds and the water-filled bin was still rotting down. I noticed that as the bins were kept covered, even the dry bin was performing as a composter – the black plastic allowing the contents to get quite hot during sunny weather. Over the years I have ‘harvested’ the contents of the wet bin a few times – which yielded great liquid feed and a couple of bucketsfull of sludge every other year. Meanwhile I kept adding fresh matter to the dry bin until it became so jammed that it no longer sank down. I left it untouched since last summer, until last weekend when I noticed it appeared to have converted into very nice-looking soil!!! And I do mean soil, rather than compost. There are no discernable weed roots and vegetative matter has completely disintegrated into a crumbly slightly greyish soil texture, with plenty of worms throughout. I was also amazed to see layers of ants nests permeating the contents, even in the darker, wetter depths of the bin – to my untrained eye these were distinct types (species?) of ant at different depths. I spread the entire contents of the bin as a mulch onto a 3mx1.2m bed which will be growing my brassicas this year. Now, reading your comments on NOT using soil (to Carolin, on February 23, 2019) and also on ants (to Delaine on April 30, 2019), I am wondering if I have made a terrible mistake?

  36. Hi Charles,

    I have just taken on an allotment which is fairly overgrown.
    I have removed most of the weeds and put them on my compost heap (which had a fair amount of weeds growing through it as well). However, I was told recently that I should not do this as the seeds will regrow when I use the compost. Is this correct? do I need to do anything to make sure this doesn’t happen? The advise I was given was to throw it away and start again. The weeds were; bindweed, thistles, dandelions and different types of grass.
    Your help would be great, thanks in advance.

    1. Hello Aaron
      That “advice” does not agree with my experience. although yes seeds of weeds persist if a heap does not exceed 50-55C.
      Roots of perennial weeds will break down in a compost heap – mine always have, even when not hot.
      I advise you continue compost ing all weeds, and keep the heap busy with continual additions.
      If any roots survive, or perennial weeds, simply remove them when loading your barrow in a few moths time.
      For weed seeds, hoe or scuff the surface when you see them germinating.
      Tell your ‘advisor’ that this is from me, and it works.

  37. Fascinating blog, thanks, and thanks even more for the time you take responding to comments.

    I’ve taken on an overgrown allotment, my first, within the last couple of weeks and I have to say it does wonders for my blood pressure!

    Today I put three pallets together to maker a compost bay, but after reading I shall go off tomorrow and scrounge a couple more from the plumbers’ merchant to make two bays in an E shape. I’m also going to risk composting bindweed – I have a lot – but soaking it first in an old plastic dustbin with a clip on lid which I have lying around.

    You’ve mentioned above that you think tumbler composters are expensive: well, I used the above black plastic dustbin as an experiment. I took a layer of new material off my back garden compost heap – a m2 slatted affair – and ¾ filled the dustbin. I then periodically rolled and upended it from two locations in the garden 6/7 yards apart. The action really helped speed up the process and I’m about to take the contents to my new allotment to start the mulching process. I think the bin cost about £9 and I’ve saved on gym costs too!

    Is there a recommended orientation for compost heaps if they are open on one side?
    PS: looks as if I may be adding to my book collection..

    1. Nice to hear your enthusiasm Sue and good results, well done on improvising with the bin!
      Orientation of the heap is not important.
      With pallets, I suggest lining the sides with cardboard to keep warmth plus moisture in, and prevent weeds growing out.
      Enjoy your new plot.

  38. Hello Charles, I’m a huge no-dig convert and would love some advice from you!

    I have an acre of grass that I clip regularly and which forms the green element of my compost. I mix mainly with straw as the brown. I wondered firstly if you have ever made compost direct in situ ie directly on the bed, or whether you find it better to make compost in large bin then transport it to the bed?

    Also, I have enough room to build a large composting area similar to yours. Could I ask how you protect the ply from weathering and warping etc over winter. Do you just replace it each year?

    Many thanks for taking the time to read this, look forward to hearing from you

    1. Hi Matthew, thanks for your comment and yes I have trialled mulching with straw and grass in the 1980s, it kept the soil too cool for our climate plus harboured slugs & made it hard to plant small seedlings closely.
      The ply is not an ideal material, lasts three years ad peels. am looking to buy some Douglas Fir from a local carpenter.

  39. Dear Charles,
    Thank you for sharing your profound knowledge, you’re a constant source of inspiration.
    I’m growing in Israel, our summers are very long and very hot and humid, the temperatures are around 32-35 c during the day, and no less than 22-25 c at night, from March-April until November. Last Autumn, I began composting earnestly with very mixed results. I keep a well-balanced mix of greens and browns, mostly kitchen scraps, cardboard and garden waste. The pile is one sq m, confined by posts surrounded by chicken wire, located in a shady corner. It stays full year round, but it does not heat up! The soft materials break down to a beautiful brown crumbly texture with plenty of worms, but the woody bits remain exactly the same, and so do all of the seeds. It drys out in summer very quickly, so I water it to keep it moist every week, the center stays consistently moist. Following the advice of some farmers in the area, I tried adding fresh chicken manure, composted chicken manure and urea, to no success, it stays cold. What am I missing?

    1. Hello Chen, nice to hear this and my word, your conditions are so different to here.
      It sounds like you do not have quite enough materials to allow breeding of bacteria which promote heat. They need regular feeds of green material. Fresh chicken manure would help when added with other fresh ingredients, not afterwards.
      Your result sounds good though – fungal decomposition and many worms. I would spread it, say around growing plants, space allowing.
      Germinating weed seeds can easily be hoed in your climate.

  40. I understand from the article that it’s not wise to plant in a commercial compost. As my garden at the moment is relatively small.. This means I often buy bags in addition to making my own compost with everything that is clipped in the garden. The store-bought compost should I rather not plant in this directly? and could I add it to the beds to let it compost further there? I noticed last year I planted cabbages straight into this and they barely grew… I assume this is due to it not being proper compost. I don’t have enough space to add this to the existing heap, what would you recommend to do?

    1. Sorry for not being clear Rebecca: yes you can plant into store bought compost, even though results will vary. It sounds like you have no other options and I would in that situation, hope growth is good.

  41. Hello: Just came across your site, so interesting. I have one simple question (so far). What is the best way to add horse manure to a compost bin. On to the top of a nearly full bin, or at ground level of a fresh bin?
    I need to get more heat into my compost to hopefully increase decomposition (plastic square bin with lid) so thinking horse manure would help as an accelerator.
    Appreciate any advice thanks.

    1. Thanks Jessie and yes some fresh horse manure is good for stimulating heat.
      I would add a 7-10cm layer then dame of other materials etc. you could make it bottom layer too.

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