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17 September 2014
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how to be a gardener - The complete online guide

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7 - Setting up your plot
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Hurl-a-heap - with our compost building gameMaking your own compost
A great source of bulky, organic material is your own garden compost. The best time to make some is in spring, because it will rot down faster. It’s dead easy to make, it costs nothing and it does the garden a whole lot of good. You can either buy a bin - many local councils run recycling schemes, so give them a call - or make your own heap.

Play Hurl-a-heap, our fun game about how to build your own compost heap.
What you need:
If using a self-assembly version, as shown here, you need:
  • Coarse draining material, garden waste, fresh manure and soil
  • A piece of carpet or tarpaulin
Otherwise you will also need:
  • Four x 1.2m (4ft) high fence posts
  • Wire netting or planks
  • Galvanised hooks and eyes
Building a self-assembling bin…First prepare the compost area
If erecting your own bin, hammer into the ground four 10cm x 10cm (4in x 4in) posts to enclose an area about 1sq m (40sq in.) Then bash the soil with the back of a spade to consolidate it.
…takes next to no timeNext either tack wire netting to the posts, or nail planks around them, leaving the front side easily detachable so you can get the finished compost out.
15cm (6in) layer of garden wasteAdd the drainage material
In the bottom put a 10cm (4in) layer of coarse material, such as straw or twigs.
Add water if it's dryMake the sandwich
Put in a 15cm (6in) layer of garden waste and water if it’s dry. Put in alternate layers of different materials - like a sandwich.
Add soil to each layerTurn up the heat
Compost has to heat up to work properly. To do this it needs to have a certain critical mass. A metre cubed is good. It must also be layered to heat up effectively. On top of each layer add a sprinkling of manure or soil. This helps to introduce the bacteria and fungi (or 'heat') needed to break down the organic material.
Cover with an old piece of carpet or tarpaulinCover it up
Then cover with a sheet, an old bit of carpet, polythene or tarpaulin and leave it for about three months to rot down.

Uncover, open the front, take all the compost out, then put it back again. This process adds air to the mix and helps it rot down faster.
Three months later…
Leave for another three months and your compost will be brown, crumbly and sweet-smelling; ready to use in the garden.
These can go in: These can't:
  • Shredded paper (although not shiny magazine type paper) cotton and wool fabrics
  • Woody material like prunings and Brussels sprout stems. These need to be put through a shredder first
  • Uncooked vegetable trimmings, peelings and tea bags from the kitchen
  • Synthetic fabrics
  • Food scraps
  • Annual weeds
  • Meat or bones
  • Tops of perennial weeds
  • Diseased plant material
  • Old bedding plants
  • Soil pests
  • Soft hedge clippings
  • Any weeds with seedheads
  • Dead leaves
  • Perennial roots
  • Lawn mowings
  • Dog or cat waste
    7. The productive garden

    Setting up your plot
     Making your own compost
     General care
    Growing vegetables
    Growing fruit
    The kitchen diary
    Greenhouse growing
    The herb garden
    Test your knowledge
    Go further

    Plant lists Plant lists
    Find plant lists on:

    Find thousands more plants in the BBC Gardening database.
    Video Video
    Watch video clips on:
    Learn how to build a compost heap with our fun game, Hurl-a-heap.
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