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 seasonally-changing ingredients and everybody’s variable-sized heaps and varied methods. 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.

Why compost and not fertiliser

I have always felt that using fertiliser is a dangerous short cut in terms of soil health, and our health. See this recent and extensive study Synthetic fertilisers hurt soil life, and ultimately marine life as some of them leach away. They short circuit plant growth and are a reason for foods becoming delpeted of minerals.

I rely on compost because it’s not a fertiliser in the ‘modern’ sense of the word. Instead it’s a biological stimulant, which feeds soil life and enables soil organisms to help plant roots find food and moisture. Think of it as enabler, more than a primary source of food.

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.

Worth subscribing to – 2019 had a no dig feature every month, and 2020 is Homeacressmall garden –

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.

Homeacres 7 bays

  • The posts are 6x6in (15cm) pressure treated softwood, and set in 12in/30cm concrete. The posts are 8ft/2.4m long, about 1ft/30cm sawn off the back ones to create the roof slope.
  • All the roof is treated softwood timber, and many sides were half inch plywood. But now I am moving to planks of Douglas Fir.
  • Everything else is what you see. Steel roof.
  • We dug the holes, builder erected the structure for £3k/$4k.
  • Each bay is 1.7m deep and 1.8m wide, roughly 6 feet square, and the base is soil. So all materials sit on the base of earth.
  • After filling to say 1.5m/5ft high, the materials sink to half that within six to eight weeks.
  • Therefore each bay contains about 2.1 cubic metres/2.7 yards of compost, or 1.5 tonnes depending on moisture content.
  • The first bay we fill is no.2, then turn to right into number 1. Second bay to fill is no. 3, etc.

Plastic bins from the council are small, which 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.

Base

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 and speed decomposition. At Homeacres we turn every heap once, to the right as you look at the bays. You need an empty space or bin next to the heap you are turning, andthe compost being finer and more even 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 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. 

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 compost and soil fungi, and the ability of compost to help fungi multiply.

For fungi to grow and multiply in a compost heap, they need fibrous (woody or stemmy) materials, and not too much heat. We see them more around the heap edges when turning, as it’s been too hot in the middle. Then they colonise heaps as cooling occurs.

At the time of Howard’s work 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 eat and excrete surface organic matter, for example as wormcasts. When you give soil organisms high quality compost, the results are wonderful.

243 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.

      1. Hi there

        How would you approach using eland dung as your basis for composting alongside wood chip and veg extras and a few leaves? A few years ago I knew a guy who just dumped the dung all over his lawn and planted veg inbetween and stuff grew really well, without any long composting etc. Would it be less acidic than cow or horse manure?

        I’m just asking because I can easily get huge sacks of it every day where I am, next to a nature reserve, and I’m keen to start transforming our super sandy soil into soil I can grow veg in!

        1. Sounds a plan Mary. There are always exceptions and sandy soil needs loads of organic matter.
          My preference is always to compost, results wil be better and fewer nutrients lost to leaching. It’s up to you.

      2. Inspiring stuff… thought my compost heap would never warm up! Stubbornly remained at 10 degrees C. Tried aerating increasing greens and size… with recent warmer weather now at 32 degrees. Fingers crossed! No dig philosophy a real game changer … very many thanks

  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.

    Sincerely,
    Alexandra

      1. Hi there

        How would you approach using eland dung as your basis for composting alongside wood chip and veg extras and a few leaves? A few years ago I knew a guy who just dumped the dung all over his lawn and planted veg inbetween and stuff grew really well, without any long composting etc. Would it be less acidic than cow or horse manure?

        I’m just asking because I can easily get huge sacks of it every day where I am, next to a nature reserve, and I’m keen to start transforming our super sandy soil into soil I can grow veg in!

  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 ,
    Joan

    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,

    Thanks

    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.

      1. Hi Charles we’re trying to reuse An old compost heaps as when we got the plot it was riddled with nettles. We have removed the majority of the roots and wanted to reuse the compost and add more to it. What would you suggest?

        Thanks
        Nazanin

      2. Hello! If you are still answering these questions, with regard to this one, how can I know for future reference which weeds/plants have roots that are large enough to need digging rather than the no dig method?

        I am brand new to no dig, and I love your videos and website. — Thank you!

        1. Welcome Sarah, and it’s about woodiness of roots.
          Large woody roots have a lot of stored energy, so best dig out the main stem-root of say brambles or bushes, and the top, fat part of docks (rumex).
          All other roots are best left alone and covered over.

  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,

    Neven

    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!

    2. What a wonderful property to have, I’m mildly jealous and winning the lottery would be the only way to acquire that for me at this point in my life.
      Sounds like you have ample ‘browns’ available in your woods. My two cents worth and for a next step is to locate an organic landscaper who could possibly provide you with additional ‘greens’ to augment your household and garden supply. Best of luck in the coming 2020 year of living the best life that a homestead holding can give you.

        1. Hi we got a allotment that has just had gorse and bramble scraped off . We got a load of horse manure about 2 ton about a year old so have started beds with this and some bought compost.But my question is i also got about 4 ton of cow manure very wet smelly and lumpy what am i best doing with it ?.We cannot get anything else in because of lockdown

          1. Sounds good Garry, but normally I reckon to dig out main roots of woody plants like those, hope they don’t grow through.
            For the cow manure I would move the whole lot with a fork, breaking open all the soggy lumps and letting in air. Spread it in say a im high heap and the air + warmth will improve it, then later in summer spread some as mulch around larger plants like potato and courgette, and under broccoli, Brussels. Once exposed to air it becomes sweet and in the end crumbly.

  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.
    Br
    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.

    2. There are other critters such as pillbugs and wire worms that also eat decaying material so I like to see them in and around my compost bins. I had a smallish fire ant colony in my garden and sprinkled baking soda around the entrance holes. Within two days, no more fire ants. The other kinds of ants are few and are kept in check by foraging birds (I assume).

  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.

      1. Hi Charles,
        I have also taken on a new allotment with an an old compost heap filled with a network of nettle roots. We started digging out as much as we could but since reading your blog we’ve decided to make a palette compost bin around it and just keep on adding to the heap, water it, stir it and maybe cover it?
        Is that the right thing to do?

        1. It’s not so much the right thing as one way.
          Or cut nettles v short then mulch over (card + compost), a few come though, more weakly, keep pulling and they die out.

          1. Thanks for the reply!

            If I could pick your brains again….
            we’ve been given a lots of cow manure, I think it’s still fresh as it’s steaming, when can we fill our beds with it to plant vegetables. I was initially going to leave it in a pile and then add it to the beds in autumn for next years down seeds outdoors in very sandy soil as were new to the allotment and don’t have any compost so wanted to use the cow manure this year ideally.

  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.

  42. Charles,

    Thank you so much for your work and experimentation! I am becoming a disciple as well as spreading the news to friends who garden. I am trying as hard as possible to assimilate your vast knowledge and apply it to my current and future garden.

    One question I had while reading and searching through your article. Do you leave the compost you make in the original bin you started it in until you use it? Or, do you transfer it to new bins every so often in order to introduce air into it?

    I thought of this as I read your article as it seems that the fungi will grow better and stronger with less disturbance.

    Thank you again!

    1. Thanks Kraig for your comments. Made me realise I had not made it clear we turn each heap, just once, so I edited the article.
      In my hot heaps, fungi cannot multiply, but they hang around the edges then spread through heaps after a turn. So turning is not hurting many and I see it as a net gain.

  43. I’ve just had 4 amazing compost bins built and your advice about leaving one empty next to current one for turning is great and will save me a lot of work and effort! I am investing in a shreeder/chipper (I note you got one fairly recently?) can you recommend a make/model? We have 3 acres including the house paddock small arboretum veg garden and flower beds so generate a fair amount of garden waste. I’m just starting out and learning as I go! Also… can i leave fallen leaves around the base of our trees and can I put them as they are on flower/veg beds? Most of my veg patch is covered having laden it with rotted manure from a next door livery

    1. Hi Sharran
      All sounds promising.
      Yes you can mulch with leaves, there are some risks of slugs but on sandy soil and in dry climates, no worries.
      My shredder is Bosch AX TC 25 from memory, cost about £400, electric and 45mm max diameter, is not too noisy but takes time to process material.

  44. Hi Charles.

    Just like to say that without finding you and your no dig method I would of been not on my Veggie patches this year after being diagnosed, Under active thyroid, Diabetes. SLE Lupus & Fibromyalgia to top all the pain.
    I try to carry on, staying strong n wont give up the garden until I cant crawl out there, which is now getting harder due to the mobility, but would recommend your No DIG & results to All.
    This in my opinion the best way forward due to my health getting worse since we started your no Dig Sept 18 thanks to you Charles.
    We look forward to our goodies we have ordered.
    Give it a ago anyone if you have doubts Your see the returns and feel less aches no digging, lo.l
    Merry Christmas Charles and all the team at Homeacres & Happy New Year.

    1. Dear Alan, I am touched by your comment and hope the pain may lessen thanks to the joys of gardening and eating the lovely produce.
      It’s a pleasure to help you, and others too.

    2. Quick question sorry if you have answered it before what is the best way of composting ivy leaves ?? Looking forward to arranging a date in spring for one of your courses had it booked for me as a gift for my 50th!!

      1. They decompose slowly because covered by ‘wax’ so are best chopped by a rotary lawnmower first, to open surfaces for decomposition.
        See you soon Victor.

  45. Hi Charles,

    We have access to the waste from our Municipal vegetable market. Have not used any for fear of residual pesticide and fungicide. Could we perhaps add a percentage to our compost pile?

    1. Hey George that sounds useful but as you say, no means of being sure.
      And then you wonder what people are eating! so hopefully not too much chemical.
      I would add some.

  46. Hi Charles, big fan of you’re method!
    In Holland I started my first 2 compost heaps in autumn. They are working fine, temp about 50-60degree.
    I add a lot of coffeeground to it as I can get it for free. And that raises a question: can one add to much coffee ground?
    Thanks already for replying!

    1. Thanks Anne.
      The only concern maybe of it’s not organic, but the coffee I add is not organic.
      I am not aware of potential problems, from say 50% or more coffee!

  47. Hi Charles,
    Thank you for this article, and the video. I have just been struggling with emptying our small compost bin and was very glad to see your advice to just lift the bin off, put it to one side, fork the undecomposed stuff into it, and use the stuff at the bottom. So much easier than trying to get the good stuff out of the small hole at the bottom, as I was trying to do!
    I have a question, though – we didn’t know before about the 50:50 mix of green and brown, so I think we have been overdoing the green, and we’ll try to include more brown from now on. But I’m wondering if you have tips on how to create good layers or a good mix? We are in a small suburban garden without much space for storing different wastes. If we do produce brown waste (e.g. cutting back our hazel and hawthorn hedge) it would usually be a lot at a time, compared to the kitchen waste, which is little and often. Should we try to store that somewhere and add it bit by bit, alternating with kitchen waste? Or is it better to add a layer of cardboard once a week or so, between layers of kitchen waste?
    Another thing about using a small bin – I guess it probably won’t get as hot as the big boxes. In your video you said it’s possible to make cool compost. Does it just need to be left for longer, or do you have any other advice about this?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Gabrielle
      Happy to help.
      I would stack the brown waste if you have space… even lay it as temporary mulch under a tree or bush say a foot thick, where it gets wet and starts to decompose, then take from it when you need brown, is healthier than cardboard.
      Yes cool compost just takes 6 or so months longer, may look less perfect but good fungal qualities.

  48. Thank you Charles, this is really informative. Are you able to post an image of your bays from a distance to show the set up at all please? Many thanks, Rachael

  49. Dear Mr. Dowding. My wife and I heard about you from Mr. Peter Swan in a TV show here in Croatia and immediately recognized that this is the way we want to start our gardening. We have 200m2 of backyard covered in weed (mostly perennial (couch grass – Elymus repens; and other, less spreadable grass). I recently made a 9m2 of shed with open sides and a roof, which I intend to use for composting. I have lot of hazelnuts and trees, along with grass in other part of backyard so I can used it as a source for compost. Thank you for reading my big introduction, here comes a question: please help us with advice how to start? Thank you!!!

  50. Charles I find it difficult to get enough material at one time to make a really big compost bin but I do make it over a longer period just topping up three 600L bins provided free by the local council here in France… I get another one this year so that will make four. I have also made a much bigger one but it does take some time to make enough for my beds. Any way the local garden center was selling compost very cheaply €2 per 50L so I bought 1000L. It is not bad stuff but has some woody bits in it will I be able to sow carrots and parsnips into it or would it be better to sow them directly onto the soil then once they are germinated and growing add a topping of this around them ? I suspect you will say spread it and sow but thought I would ask anyway, I have no problem planting through it it is not bad stuff. Your garden is an inspiration and even my wife sees the benefits of this method of veg growing. Interestingly she said something the other day that is quite true. She said the the beds I have constructed , which are 1.5m x 3 m , are for her much less intimidating than a very large area of normal garden. She said that the thought of weeding a huge area was off putting whereas the smaller raised bed had fewer weeds and was something that put her under less mental strain and she could easily cope with it. The native soil in my garden is quite heavy with a high clay content so I am turning it all over to raised no dig beds.

  51. Hi Charles, sorry if I had missed this question being answered already above.
    My partner and i have just bought a few ton of green waste compost and created bed rows in our field . We were hoping after A few months of being there over the winter it would be ready to plant straight into, in the spring . Do you think this is a good idea, or would we need to add any other / different mulches or composts . We wanted to go forage for seaweed, but havn’t got around to it yet and planting time is creeping up on us very quickly .
    Your advice and experience with planting into just green waste with good undug soil underneath would be appreciated, as we wouldn’t want to waste a load of seeds and time planting if you think it might fail.
    We understand some crops might do better than others and so just wated to know which crops might do ok .
    Thanks

    1. Some green waste compost can make a hard layer when dry, it’s not a uniform product.
      My best results are from transplanting into it, not direct sowing. I would invest in some kit for propagating.
      It’s late for applying seaweed but that would be good next autumn, unwashed, some salt is fine.

  52. Hi Charles
    Just getting started here. I have loads of horse manure to use in my compost but it is mixed with what we call hog fuel, which I think is ground up tree bark from lumber operations. How is that likely to affect my composting?

  53. Have just been binge watching your small garden videos and am inspired to create one of my own on my quarter acre property. The garden so far has been primarily ornamental in nature with my ‘garden candy’ Sweet 100 and Sunkist Gold along with herbs growing in nursery tubs. One of the things I love about the narrative is that you convert your UK units of measure into what I can more easily relate too (fahrenheit and feet/inches). My compost bins are 1/2″ mesh wire formed into circles about 4 feet across and slowly fill during the season so I layer as best as possible and mixing the lawn clippings with saved leaves. They are also placed under trees, there’s nowhere else in the garden for them, limited sunny areas to grow in and surrounded by fir trees that do not belong to me. When I first moved here 30 years ago, I built a 2-bay cinder block compost bin and learned the hard way about roots growing into the bin. That lesson means that my current bins are on corrugated tin roofing, not the best I know.
    Now for my question, I’ve read all the comments here and haven’t seen it addressed. I remember hearing that horse bedding could possibly contain residual de-worming medicine (I think it was actually Highgroves’ head gardener) that stays in this bedding material for years and is therefore detrimental to the garden’s worm population. I’ve been reluctant to use animal manure for this very reason. Would you please answer yay or nay if this is a good idea. Thanking you in advance for your time.

    1. Thanks Brenda and a good question, I wonder myself.
      The horse manure from last March for example, now in a heap and ready to use, is full of brandling worms!
      That does not mean “no chemicals” but perhaps they don’t endure too long, or the ones my neighbour uses don’t.

      1. Thank you for your quick answer Charles and I’ll be visiting some local stables to see what they have available. We used to have riders who would exercise their horses along the sides of our country roads and mum and I would would collect ‘road apples’ for her garden. With increasing and rapid development of the area it’s no longer safe for equestrians to continue this practice.
        Brandling worms ~ I’ve never heard of them but I know my mature compost is full of red wigglers and the larger ones make great fishing bait. When I top dress the shrub borders, if I don’t make my presence known for a couple of hours after, the local robins have a feast day.

  54. Dear Charles, thank you for the article. This is good guide to start composting. I have a question for you. I with my wife plan to start composting and maybe growing our own vegetables at home. We live in the flat, so we haven’t enough place to do much compost and, i think, we don’t need to make it much. We support recycling so we use reusable bags, we sort garbage and so on. Recently i read about home composting bins and ways to grow potato in it. I found many composting bins in the internet and i liked this article ( https://www.bestadvisers.co.uk/kitchen-compost-bins ) the best. But we can’t reach agreement in wich size we want to buy a composting bin. My wife says that we need to buy a small one, because we have not any experiene in such cases and will be better to start from small portion of potatoe. I think, that if we make decision to start doing this, we need to do it in normal amount. It may be interesting experiance for us. Can you give an advice, please? Which size of the bin do you recommend? What food (leftover) will be good for composting? Have you ever tried to grown some vegetables in such way?

    Thank for your work and good luck!

      1. Thank you for really quick reply! I thought about medium size, but i really like potatoes (it is my addiction.). Of course, compromise will be better. It seems that this would happen. I hope someone have tried this and will comment soon.

  55. Hello

    I’ve just been on a RHS gardening and veg growing course and you were recommended to us! So glad I’ve found you and your fountain of knowledge.

    Until my compost bin is ready (many months yet) I’m having to use store bought compost, which one do you recommend when preparing the veg patch using the no dig cardboard method. I did put on some farmers Mulch and John Innes number 3, not sure if this was right?

    I’m aware you don’t need store bought compost as you have an amazing system there but just wondered if you could point me in the right direction. I want to use as organic as possible and wonder whether the aforementioned ones are filled with chemicals. I have seen some RHS organic compost, which is round £16 for 50L and the one I used was 20L for £3, big difference.

    Best Regards

    Amy Rowley

    1. Hi Amy and that is nice to hear.
      Organic compost is scarce and expensive. For the larger amounts to make beds initially, I suggest buying mushroom or green waste compost in bulk or in large sacks. John Innes 3 and most potting composts have added fertiliser and you don’t need that!

  56. Dear Mr. Dowding.
    Thank you for your kind help and support. My family and I started no dig garden at our home and in last month we have great success. Although, I have one question regarding compost making. We made compost boxes and started filling it few days ago. We filled it with fresh grass, leaves and dry straw. After few days a strong odor appeared following with thousands of small flies. Have done something wrong? Shall we cover the compost or leave it open as it is? Is it maybe because it’s top is open?
    Thank you!!!

    1. Thanks Igor.
      The odour is probably ammonia from the grass, happens when fresh, will diminish. And flies is normal.
      No worries and best not covered, let the gases out.

  57. Hello!
    I am excited to switch my traditional garden to no dig this spring (zone 5 USA), I am planning to lay cardboard, then 4” of compost in top, but I am unsure if I can direct sow my seeds into the compost? I would usually by sowing spinach, lettuce, & radishes soon, and later on carrots, beans, and sweet corn. It seems you usually plant seedling, not seeds into the compost. Will mine germinate ok? Thanks!

    1. Hi Wendy and nice to hear this, yes you can sow seeds into compost. My reason for raising transplants is to gain growing time, plus have 100% full beds.
      I wonder if you may not need the cardboard, if you have few weeds when starting out. 4″ compost smothers most weeds effectively, but not vigorous perennials like crab grass.

      1. Good to know, I was worried my seedling roots might not make it through the cardboard to root well into the soil so maybe I can just leave the cardboard off all together. Thank you

  58. Hi great resource BTW, espcially duringn this Covid-19 outbreak; thanks We live on a 7 acre holding that is 75% upland bog in North Wales overlooking the Irish sea with very high rainfall. I have many years worth of equine poop which I use to cover human poop as we have to use composting loos. As long as I use some of this mix that is well over year old, am I ok to place it on the cardboard ready to go). If not, I also have quite a lot of well rotted horse poop with out human ‘additions’ so can use that but it will now be covered in weeds itself so may be less suitable. I also have acess to well rotted rabbit and chicken poop.

    BTW, had you heard that apparently, rabbit poop can be used on gardens straight away as most of it has been digested twice, rabbits being autocoprophagal creatures.

    I am keen to adopt ‘no dig’ methods as I have useless hips and after a break from gardening for a few years, I have today discovered that I can’t use a garden fork on previously un-dug land anymore. Unfortunately I have no spare cash either hence wanting to use my own rotted poop rather than buying compost in.

    Thanks again or “Diolch eto” as we say around here.

    1. David
      This sounds all good to me. Your manure is compost, fine to plant into when as you describe.
      Just keep the oldest and softest for top layer.
      It’s easier to sow and plant into after weathering a bit, making the surface less sticky and more crumbly.
      Mulch and Diolch!

  59. Hi Charles!
    I am wanting to put cardboard on my grass and compost over that. My question is, how long do I have to wait before planting, to make sure the cardboard is broken down enough for the roots to go through? Thanks!

    1. If 4in/10cm compost or more, you need to wait no time at all. Growth happens in compost, then roots descend later.
      If say 2in/5cm, maybe a month, depending on card thickness.

  60. Hi Charles! Thank you for all you are sharing! You have made gardening a heroic journey. I am currently composting iwth two worm bins, one large and one small. Do you have any thoughts on how to know if it is too dry in there or too damp? And how do I know to change bins thus, calling the worms to relocate to a new bin stacked on top of the existing one? Would you say that the castings from a worm bin is compatible soil to a regular compost bin, such as the photos you featured?

    1. Hi Jeanine, thanks, and your worm compost is twice the value of garden compost 😀so you need to use less. Ready when worms are mostly moved out of it. A lack of condensation would suggest dryness.
      If too wet, you would be able to squeeze some compost and have moisture dripping out.

  61. Dearest Charles:
    First of all…thank you! Thank you for all the time you devote to sharing your knowledge. We have been calling you the “Mr. Rogers of Gardening.” 😉
    We are finally ready for our large garden on our 5 acre homestead. I was wondering what ratio I should buy from one of our local compost suppliers. From my calculations, I’ll need 20 cubic yards. They have a well aged dairy manure compost and a green/brown compost mix. I am laying cardboard over the area (lots of weeds) then will form my beds over that. I’ve been growing my starts in my greenhouse and I’m ready to get my peas seeded and potatoes in immediately. What ratio of the two composted materials should I buy? Will I be good to direct seed into this mix? Thank you so very much in advance.

    1. Hi Laurann and thanks, this sounds a good project.
      Maybe half of each, though without seeing them it’s uncertain to say.
      They both have good attributes I am sure.
      Main thing is that the heaps are not hot, so the compost is properly ripe or mature. Ask suppliers to verify this. Otherwise growth is compromised for 2-3 months.
      With mature compost (6-8 months at Homeacres), yes you can sow and plant into it.

  62. Hi Charles,

    I’m tearing down my home and rebuilding. I’m intending to ask the builder to rip out all of the Ivy and some bamboo that is encroaching on what I call “My Little Forest” which has a natural Spring cutting through it, so I can plant an edible perennial forest undergrowth. Do I need to cover the ground with black tarp too? This is aside from the garden I’ll make with sufficient sun light here in Virginia.

    Can I compost the ivy and bamboo? I’ve plenty of dead leaves to amend it. DO I need to further amend it? We have Virginia clay soil. The project will take 7 or so months so I can possibly have enough compost to start the vegetable garden next Spring in the area that gets the most sun year around.

    Thanks,

    Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa and yes but… only if chopped to small pieces, shredded say half inch.
      It will be lovely and yes cover with black tarp until needed.

  63. The knowledge in these comments is outstanding so I am hoping someone will be able to assist. I built my first compost bin a few weeks ago and have been doing my best to get it going with a mix of greens and browns. I have bought a thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature (as I have been chucking the weeds in as advocated by Charles). I am struggling to generate and sustain heat. Yesterday it had gone up to about 30c and I was encouraged as that was up from 20c yesterday. However, today it is back down to 10c. From other reading I have done I am wondering if the bin is too small at 12 cubic feet. Would I be advised to take out my middle section that I built to have a bin for turning in to to double the size? Or do I just need more green material to really get the heap going and let it take care of itself?

    Any feedback and advice from anyone in this community is most welcome.

    Brian

    1. Edit. I had the thermometer in a corner of the bin for adding kitchen scraps. When I put in the centre it went back up to about 28c. Perhaps I just need more green to fire the heap?

    2. Hi Brian, nice to hear, and yes I reckon too small in volume, say 30-50 cubic feet will give you heat! Not all filled at once but steady additions to maintain it, hope you can find more materials.

  64. Hi Charles, what is your advice about rats sitting on top of the compost, in cold weather to keep warm. They unfortunately also leave urine and faeces.

    Thanks!

    1. Ah wow, that is bold, here I never see them except their tunnel exports.
      It’s not nice, but what can one do?
      In no dig the compost goes on top and I read that sunlight dissipates Weil’s disease.
      All I can say is it would not worry me, though I prefer not to have rats.

  65. I noticed in your videos that your heaps are covered. Is this necessary? My bin is open but i could cover it if you think that is beneficial? Thanks!

    1. It depends – my roof is to keep excess rain off, otherwise the compost goes rather soggy and loses air. Try a cover to see any difference

  66. I’m new to composting so I’m starting small with a 100 litre plastic box as I’m in my arthritic 70’s & am unable to cope with turning a large amount. I’ve ample material both green & brown & I filled it easily. But I’d also added a couple of layers of 3month old wood chip which came from loppings off a plum tree. I then read online that wood chippings decompose too slowly & shouldn’t be used. So yesterday I emptied the entire bin just to get rid of them. Now better late than never, I’ve only just found your website with so much good advice! I’d be grateful of your guidance on the best use for the wood chip as I have a big pile of it. Also I’ve garden waste in large bags that is no longer moist green but not yet brown, is this still ok to compost as green or is it best mixed with fresh green? Lastly I have good surplus top soil & wondered how much of this I can add to the compost? Apologies for all the questions but I’m keen not to make mistakes!

    1. Hello Rose
      A few wood chips in compost work well, say 5% roughly, and they will still be there after 6-12 months, as good food for fungi.
      I would leave any larger amount to decompose in their own heap, and water occasionally if dry.
      fine to use the other material as half green and brown!
      With soil I find 5-10% is possible but it always has weed seeds, can be hard to get enough heat to kill them.
      Happy composting

  67. I apologise if this is covered somewhere else.

    We have problems with lots (I mean LOTS!) of weeds growing in the compost we have spread. Just to be clear, this isn’t weeds growing up from the ground through the compost but it must be from seeds that remained viable in the heap.

    The compost is beautiful, friable matter from a good mix of greens and browns. We spread it in February. It’s fine to hoe the weeds out but in some beds we sowed parsnips, carrots in late March. There were very few weeds when we sowed them as I’d gone over it with a hoe when they first appeared. But they have kept growing so it’s now difficult to keep on top of the weeds without disturbing the seeds and small seedlings.

    For the future, we’ve made bigger compost bays to hopefully increase the heat and therefore kill off more of the weed seeds. Also I’ll try to spread the compost in the autumn and winter so that we can hoe the weeds off earlier. But I’m still concerned about the same problem for early direct sowings.

    Any advice or thoughts about this?

    1. Sounds difficult Stuart.
      I would use a bought compost for those first direct sowings.
      And yes look at larger bay plus add less seeds if possible, should happen as your garden becomes tidy.

      1. OK, cheers.

        Not sure our allotment will ever be that tidy!! Both work full time, we have a child and go away for holidays in spring and summer all of which mean we produce a lot from the plot but we’re not always on top of the weeds.

  68. Hi Charles. Love you videos and can’t wait for the books I’ve ordered to arrive.
    My beds are ready, seeds are down and I’m good to go.
    My problem is that the only space I have for my compost bins is in a very shady area under the canopy of an ancient beech tree. Will they actually work here?
    Also, said massive ancient beech tree drops thousands of small round woody bits (nuts??) all year round. Just checked my 3 year old leaf mold and they appear as hard as ever. Is it okay to add them to the heaps of nay?
    Very many thanks, Gabby

    1. Well done Gabby and yes that is ideal for making compost, dark and moist, can heat up from green matter added. Or not, heat is not vital.
      Those nuts sound rock-like but should be ok, will decompose in the end esp on the surface.

      1. Thanks for the reply Charles. I can get composting now.
        And yes- they are hard as rock !
        Best regards, Gabby

  69. Your website is so helpful and inspiring. One question, can you put Portuguese Laurel leaves on a compost heap?

    1. Hi Olivia, hope you are well.
      Yes they decompose eventually, best thing is to break them with say a rotary lawnmower, otherwise the oily coating keeps them intact for a long time.

  70. Hi Charles,
    I’m excited about my first compost bin, a friend built it and it’s 3.5 ft tall x 5ft long and 3ft wide, split into two bays (so two 3.5×2.5x3ft bays, presumably to fill one side and turn into the other). However I have filled one side nearly full in less than a month, a lot of plant material with soil and roots, grass clipping and leaves, some kitchen scraps etc. I just received my compost thermometer today and the temp is running around 100F. I’ve put quite a bit of weeds in there so I’m worried it won’t get hot enough to kill them. Do I just need to be patient and wait for the heat to increase or would it help increase if I began filling the second bay, (they are only separated by chicken wire)….? Or any other suggestion for increasing heat? I don’t have much access to horse poo but do to grass clippings. Thanks!

    1. Edit: the compost bin is made of plywood except for the inside middle divider which is chicken wire. So three sides of each ‘bay’ is solid and the fourth in side fairly open, could the chicken wire side be letting out too much heat?

    2. Hi Wendy
      You are doing well but also you are right that 100F won’t kill weed seeds.
      Main reason I suspect is that your heap is not quite big enough to hold the core heat.
      If you have plenty of clippings, running just one heap would heat more. Then you need more space obviously.
      I reckon 4×4 is close to minimum size for steady heat to 125F or so.

      1. Hmm, so maybe I should try removing the middle divider, fork it into one 3×5 ft heap, add plenty of grass clippings and hope for the best?

  71. Hi there, what is your opinion on the hotbin? i was thinking of purchasing one for composting all kitchen waste and then decanting it to a traditional wooden slated one to finish the composting process, what is your opinion of this?

    thank you.

    gerry

  72. Hi Charles, I’m in the process of setting up a small organic no-dig vegetable/cut flower plot in my garden in chilly Norway where we had snow last week…. I do not have enough compost myself and need use compost from a local commercial supplier, but I am worried about the pH level which is 8,7. Can I use this compost/soil mix (It is 30% compost) ? Can I bring down the pH by adding some organic material? What is the ideal pH in your view? I have access to sheep and horse manure, fresh sea weed and my own small quantity of compost which is not fully composed and on the black side – perhaps due to lack of brown material. My seedlings are ready to plant out soon, so I hope I can make it work. I am planting french beans, romano salad, butternut squash, leek, kale, onions and potatoes plus flowers to attract bees & wildlife. Hopefully these plants can get going in this commercial compost/soil if enhanced, and hopefully I can sow seeds too? Thank you very much for your kind assistance and inspiring presence 🙂

    1. Hi Linda, thanks and sounds cold!!
      I would not worry about that pH, more that it’s only 30% compost! But ok if only option.
      Yes you should be able to plant and sow in it. Good luck.

  73. You mention that any animal waste can be composted ! Does this mean dog and cat poo can go in the compost as well ? I have read that it should not go into the compost that is for the food garden ? Your opinion please !

    1. Yes carnivores.
      Can be hot composted, otherwise risk of parasite worms etc but depends on the pets’ health 🙂

  74. Hi Charles
    Please advise I have quite a lot of aged horse manure it won’t heat up past 100 Fahrenheit so now I want to add spent mushroom compost and garden trimmings and veg scraps. Can I use this old manure and to what ratio with the others ? Must the manure be fresh to get the heat?
    Kind regards
    Dave

    1. Yes exactly David. Heat comes only from the decomposition of fresh manure. The fresher the hotter, and straw adds heat as well.
      Or fresh wood chip make a pretty warm heap

  75. Hi Charles,

    I’m currently planning setting up a 60 (6×10) square metre vegetable garden. My initial plan is to make 1x3m beds. After watching your amazing videos I’m inspired to make it a no-dig garden. My question is about layout of the garden which will be located in a slope which I estimate to be about 10 degrees, maybe a little bit more . In your opinion, should I make efforts to create small flat terraces for each bed or am I better off just running them up and down the slope?

    Thanks,

    Jakob

    1. Hello Jakob, sounds good and I would run beds up and down. It will be much less work and with fewer materials needed. I hope you have some good harvests.

  76. I have started a compost pile 2 weeks ago and have turned it once and today I turned it and found a lot of ants and little insects how do I fix this? It’s also not heating much? What do I do?

    Thanks
    Apii

    1. Ants suggests too dry, insects is good.
      Moist is good, to the point that you squeeze it and no more than 2 drops of water come out

  77. Hi Charles, Thanks for your no dig starting small garden video, which inspired me to get started,
    3 bags organic compost I bought from a garden shop in Auckland. I got to work, laid my cardboard boxes and spread compost on top and planted 15 silverbeet(chard) shoots which I received from a friend.(date planted 10th May 2020)
    Extended 18th May 2020 another 3 bags organic compost, and planted, seedlings which I bought from garden shop, ( NZD1.97 ) 6 beetroots, 6 kale, 6 red cabbage, lettuce and some flowers on the side.
    I am really excited about my no dig garden.I cover my plants with fleece cover as little pests are eating the chard.

  78. Hi Charles, just starting to set up a new garden to no-dig. Very exciting but also daunting! I have just had to dig out some thistles however and wonder if they are ok to go on a compost?

  79. Hi Charles
    Firstly, your videos and website have been an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your passion and knowledge.
    I thought I would try making some compost. I live on a ranch with access to lots of cattle manure and chicken manure. If I use 80% manure as green would my compost heap become more of a manure heap. What ratio of manure can I use to get the best compost material. I have a 1,000 sq foot garden so I will have some green waste this summer. I have also been adding kitchen scraps and weeds but in a 4’x5’x4’ space it would take me ages and I am keen to get the process going.
    Thanks

    1. Thanks Joanna and a good project.
      The manure will make better compost for any fibres added. 1000sqft is not huge and perhaps some neighbours might have waste material.

  80. Hi Charles,
    I have started composting with the view of creating a no dig veg garden over the coming winter (North England). Would like your advice regarding making compost as batch production please.
    My grass cuttings normally amount to around 20+ wheel barrow loads every two or three weeks in the warm, wet spring months which I mix with a heap of chipped woody material (old branches and hedge trimmings) and old Barley straw. The heaps I create amount to around 2m x 1m x 1m which I then cover with plastic but I fear its own weight is causing compacting issues at the bottom of the pile. It heats up quickly and maintains its heat but often dries out; I keep adding buckets of rainwater and have turned one heap about 6 times in 3 months to find material either dry and dusty or matted together.
    Is batch production suitable for small scale gardens or should I withhold separate materials and add small amounts but more frequently? Am I right in adding water?
    Many Thanks

    1. Grass has loads of moisture so this is strange, hard to diagnose remotely. Maybe your layers of grass are too thick, a little at a time of all ingredients is good. Water at that pint if using say dry straw.
      Extra turning is not worthwhile.
      Perhaps you are aiming for too-perfect compost, I would spread on the garden at 6-10 months and after one turn.

      1. Thank You for your reply.
        I shall try and refrain from turning (curiosity of whats happening underneath is hard to resist) and just keep adding small amounts.

  81. Thank you so much for your website and videos, you are now my guru. I’ve just bought three of your books and can’t wait for them to arrive.
    I have never been successful making compost but now I will definitely put more thought into it.
    I only have the Council plastic bins (4 of them) and have an almost inexhaustible supply of weeds and old tree leaves. The weeds are mostly dandelion, docks, nettles and comfrey.
    Would it be okay to mix these weeds with the brown leaves if I cut off the roots and any seeds.
    Many thanks

    1. Thanks Margaret and that sounds promising, enough to fill all those bins even, and put everything in including weed roots and seeds.
      If any weed roots survive, you just pull them out while spreading the compost.

  82. Hi Charles I have made a mistake and put all the bindweed waste that I dug on my allotment in my small round council style compost bins. Your article says it won’t get hot enough to kill it. Should I abandon it all to the councils garden waste collection and start again? Thanks

    1. Hi Fiona – the roots will die in the end if kept dark and more stuff is repeatedly added over say a year. It does sound a big hit!
      I would persevere along those lines. When eventually you spread the compost, if you maybe see some white roots. just pull them out to recompost.

  83. Charles
    I’ve been refreshing my knowledge on compost heaps by reading my notes from the weekend workshop and re-reading this page on compost making. All very helpful. A couple of questions:
    1. I grow quite a lot of tulips and other plants in pots – mostly using potting compost – when I need to repot is it OK to put the spent compost in my compost heap?
    2. I seem to recall that you thought that the reason my compost was a bit weedy was that I had quite a lot of soil in the heap? Am I right about this? Should we try to exclude all soil or is a bit OK?
    3. I still have a couple of compost heaps that have quite a lot of soil in them – would it be best if I avoided using this on my No Dig beds?
    Otherwise all going well on the No Dig front. I’ll send some photographs soon………

    1. Well done Emma.
      1 You can use such compost as mulch on beds
      2 Weed seeds in soil, probably yes and use say 5% max of soil or less if heaps not hot
      3Fine if you can hoe before planting. Fine to use for new beds as bottom layer.

  84. You make composting look like an art form 🙂
    Very excited to get my compost cooking as my garden flourishes without the spade. Question : Is hay considered green or brown? It is not as stiff and dry as straw, yet does not behave as most green components. I have a couple xtra bales of hay so have been using as brown.
    Thank you for all your inspiration and expertise, and for all the videos that archive your success with the keeping the entity of the soil undamaged. So very logical. All blessings*

      1. Thanks Charles. I have been adding aged wood chips and wood ash from our wood stove for more brown since finding out the hay is more toward neutral. I have a question about what green materials are ok to add to the compost. I recently cleared out an area which is woodland edge (Pennsylvania, USA). The pile of green materials include Virginia creeper, cinquefoil, goldenrod, ferns, stiltgrass, creeping Charlie, creeping loosestrife, and a small amount of poison ivy. Can this all go into the compost? Should I remove the poison ivy? Or would it be best to just move the whole pile into the woods and let it decompose there? I am hopeful to get usable compost for my garden this next season and do not want to jeopardize quality with questionable wild additions, although it seems green is green regardless. Thanks again for sharing your experience and knowledge. Be well*

        1. Thanks Cheryl.
          Yes green is green, whatever its origin. I would add those materials to my heap. Chopped up if long and slightly woody stems.

          1. Oh, wonderful! As I eyeball the pile sitting in the yard, it seems a bit disrespectful not to honor all that formerly vibrant life with the opportunity to be “reborn” as nutrient dense material to feed the garden and us 🙂 Since it is very wet – we just got a real soaking here on the east coast – would it be best to let it dry a bit before moving it over to the compost bin? I suppose I could add xtra paper and drier brown to make balance. Thanks! This is getting exciting!

  85. Hi Charles

    We’ve been looking at starting a compost at home, but we have a mouse problem in our yard and sometimes in our garage, we’ve mostly managed to keep them out of the house. This has really discouraged my parents, since we have long, relatively cold winters. My parents don’t want to create a warm habitat for mice throughout the winter and potentially attract even more mice than we already have.
    Any suggestions would be very appreciated.

    1. Hi Maddie, can you see what the mice are eating in your yard? There must be a reason for them being there, perhaps you can remove it.
      Or set mousetraps.
      They would not necessarily live in new beds, if no food.

  86. Hi Charles,
    My allotment and others on our site have been contaminated with herbicide in the horse manure sold and delivered to us from a local farmer, he claims never to have heard of aminopyralid which I find pretty unbelievable. All my tomatoes ,potatoes ,beans and flowers are badly affected ,corn, pumpkins appear untouched. What I need your help with is can I put any of the plant material in my compost bin or do I have to dig it into the soil to try and break down the herbicide.
    Thank you from one very unhappy gardener.

    1. Ah Gail this is so sad.
      The farmer’s product package has a description that he should not sell or give any products treated with this poison.
      But who reads labels small print? Its
      It’s not legally enforceable.
      Leave it on top for microbes to dissipate the poison, better than digging it in, which kills microbes!
      If pumpkins are ok, dose may be small.
      See July post on my site for emails to report this. Everyone must report it.

      1. Thank you for your reply, l have read your post and reported the contamination,shall encourage all plot holders to do likewise.

  87. Hello Charles. I recently had delivered to my allotment a large quantity of organic material. A tree surgeon trimmed branches a few days ago from a very large Atlas Cedar at the back of our house and also cut down a small, dead pine tree (not sure of type). All the branches from both were put through the surgeons grinder and he kindly dropped off the entire batch to my allotment, all 26 heaped barrowloads!

    I’m now wondering what I can do with this organic material. I have plain dirt paths (with lots of weed seeds ready to germinate when it rains!) so my first plan is to put down cardboard and then a few inches of my new material as a mulch. My second plan is to use some of it in my new wooden-pallet compost heap.

    However, before I make what could be a costly mistake, I wondered what your view would be on using the material for both of the above tasks, bearing in mind it’s exclusively conifer wood/bark/needles and, perhaps more significantly, has a very large quantity of the fresh needles from the cedar. I reckon I’m fine for the path: cedar apparently (from googling!) takes longer to degrade and also slightly inhibits germination/growth of anything underneath – both of these would be advantages for paths! Not sure about using it in the compost heap though due to the time to break down, maybe I should instead put any left over from the paths in a separate pile that I leave for a year or two to break down on it’s own before using as compost?

    I thought hearing your view might be useful for others as well as myself as it’s becoming clear that it is a low cost (or free) source of quite large quanitities of organic material – only problem is that you take whatever the three surgeon has been working on that day 🙂

    Thanks in advance for any feedback you might be able to provide.

    Ian Bennett
    Hampshire

    1. Yes Ian a free resource, needs care to use.
      Can be used fresh on paths but not say more than 2in/5cm deep, unless you have wooden sided beds.
      Use very little in a compost heap, best heaped first to decompose for a year, moist if possible, then if possible run a lawnmower over small batches to chop it further before adding to a heap, say 10% by volume.
      More details in online course 1

  88. Hi Charles,
    I have made some awesome compost bays based on yours and we have started filling and I have some questions. The back of my bays and the sides of the ends are corrugated iron, and the in-between walls are rubber sheets.
    – Across the internet, it says the best compost ratio is 25:1 C:N but I’ve read on your website you do 1:1. Can you explain this?
    – I am unsure about adding normal soil? We have some pots that have plants that died (sunburn) and I would like to add them. Can I do that?
    – I saw that you add woodash. How does this impact the C:N ratio?
    – Finally, should put sticks or something as the base layer for drainage?
    So excited! Thank you, Georgia, Australia

    1. Sounds good Georgia, well done.
      There is confusion between C:N and brown:green, not the same, I use the latter.
      It’s often quoted as 32:1 parts carbon to nitrogen.
      Which is pointless to most people as they/we don’t know how much of either is in anything!
      It’s practice and trying things. Half and half is approximate: more brown just takes longer to compost. Wood ash and soil count as brown, both can be added.
      Sticks at the bottom makes no difference in my experience. On soil is good.

  89. Hello Charles,

    I have just came across your website and youtube channel. We have a big garden with fruit trees mostly apple,plum and pear and in these days we get a lot of fruits falling from the trees. I wonder if I may put those fruits in the compost?

    Thank you so much for your kind interest in advance.

    Didem, Sakarya Turkey

  90. Hello

    In a week or two I plan to trim my hedge, removing all the years fresh sprouts. My hedge is made entirely of arborvitae. I haven’t been able to find a clear answer to this – Can I compost the trimmings?
    If yes – is it green or brown? Any advice is welcome!

    Thanks
    Jakob, Sweden

    1. Yes if the prunings are say mown into small pieces, and not more than about a quarter of the total material to compost

  91. Hi Charles, growing food and following no-dig for the first time this year, and found your books , videos and on-line advice of enormous help, as well as really enjoyable, so thank-you. Few questions have started popping up, if I may. If wood chip is ok as a mulch but not in roots then is it ok to put annual spreading of 50mm compost on top of wood chip mulch each year? Does it rot down in time?
    Also, what plants do / don’t you suggest cutting at the base when harvesting and leaving in the ground? (broad beans I know)
    Many thanks!
    Ian

    1. I never suggest laying wood chip with compost over.
      I don’t recommend wood chip mulch for beds either.
      Cut or twist any plants, no rules on that, most roots stay in, it’s question of time avialble too.

  92. Hi Charles
    I asked (on one of your YouTube videos I think) about using large amounts of shredded cardboard & your answer gave me food for thought.
    On reflection, I’ve decided to conduct an experiment, as I also, currently have an overabundance of grass clippings (300m² of lawn over two properties).
    I intend to mix the (mostly brown, corrugated & shredded to 50mmx5mm) cardboard into each weekly harvest of clippings in a builders merchant’s, 1m³ porous “dumpy” bag, aiming for a “not too wet, not too dry” mix, keeping the bag under cover from precipitation.
    It’ll be interesting to see if I can produce a viable compost from these ingredients alone.
    If not, the resulting product can always be added to my regular bays next year.

  93. Hi Charles,
    I’m a fan of all your youtube videos.
    I have recently been approved to have a polytunnel on my new allotment. Can ‘No dig’ apply on a Polytunnel with a floor covering? Thank you Caroline

    1. Hello Caroline. No dig is brilliant in polytunnels, in exactly the same way as outside.
      I don’t know what you mean by floor covering and hope it’s not gravel or anything not organic material – don’t do that. Tunnels are not sheds.

  94. Hi, we have just taken on a large allotment which hasn’t been worked for 6+years. It is covered with willow herb and groundswell + a few stinging nettles/Bindweed. We are clearing the site ready to cover – plan to do no dig. I have made some pallet compost bins 1.2×1.2m and was hoping to compost all the weeds. My concern is that most have gone to seed. Some are dry/brown (we have also Pulled some and collected Into piles which have dried in the sun.
    My questions- is it ok to compost mainly weeds especially if heavy in seed? I am unsure re: mix of brown/green – if they have turned brown/dried in sun – are they brown? If half brown but top green are they a mix?
    Do I need to add anything else to the pile?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Charlotte, yes you can compost those weeds, but only if they are chopped fine enough to pack down (say lawnmower), then watered. They sound about half green half brown.
      If you had a mower there, some fresh grass cuttings would speed it all up.
      Many seeds will remain but it’s still good compost, would need hoeing after spreading, or use at bottom of a new bed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *