Build homes for wildlife

Compost pile

How to make your own compost

Bat box

Bat box


 

Insect hotel


 

Hidey holes

How to make hidey holes


 

Nest box

How to build a nestbox

Compost Guide

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Compost heap. Photo by Joi ItoCompost heap. Photo by Joi Ito

Composting is a fantastic way to turn your kitchen and garden waste into nutrient-rich material for your garden. Not only does it save you money as you don’t need to buy compost, it’s environmentally-friendly too, avoiding the need to transport your waste to landfill sites. We’ve put together a guide to answer all your questions and help you make rich, crumbly compost for your garden.

Where should I put my compost heap?

Choose a reasonably sunny spot in your garden where conditions are fairly stable - not too hot or cold, or too wet or dry. The micro-organisms which break everything down need this to work best.

How big should it be? Compost heap. Photo by Daryl Mitchell

Bigger is better in terms of a compost heap, at least 1 cubic metre is ideal. Old pallets make great compost heap sides if you can get hold of them and will give you a good-sized pile.

If you’ve got a smaller garden, try a wormery which uses worms to compost your waste material and produces a liquid feed as well as compost. You can buy one from a garden centre. Alternatively, look out for a bokashi bin which is a Japanese system of breaking down kitchen waste. Some councils offer subsidised compost bins or wormeries to help them cut down on landfill waste so do check if yours does.

What’s the perfect compost ‘recipe’?

You need a good mix of soft green and woody brown material (see below). Aim for about 25-50% green materials and make up the rest with the brown bits. Ideally mix the green and brown material together as you add them. This will keep the mixture airy which will help it turn to compost. If in doubt, it’s better to have more brown material than green.

After adding and mixing your materials, cover the heap with a piece of old carpet or something similar to speed up the process by keeping it warm. The microbes need warmth, damp and oxygen to do their thing.

Remember that what you use in your compost will go back into your garden, so avoid perennial weeds (the roots and seeds) or they will grow again in your flower beds once you’ve spread the compost.

What’s the difference between green and brown material?Compost heap. Photo by SuSanA Secretariat

Soft green material includes raw fruit and vegetable peelings, tea bags, grass cuttings and annual weeds, chicken poo is also good to add if you have chickens at home

Woody, brown material is dead leaves, shredded paper (don’t add shiny paper), chopped prunings and dead plants, plant stems, hedge trimmings, cotton and wool, woodchip and straw

What to avoid - Large woody stems will take a long time to breakdown (use these in a pile in your garden to make a home for hedgehogs and other wildlife instead), weed seedheads, perennial weed roots, diseased plants, cooked food scraps, meat or bones; cat or dog poo (or manure from other animals which eat meat)

When’s the best time of year to make compost?

You can add to your compost throughout the year, most people find they add most material from late summer through the winter as they’re clearing their gardens.

If you’re lucky enough to have the space in your garden, you could have two compost bins. One for composting and the other can be used for gathering the materials for the next batch.

How long will it take? Compost heap. Photo by solylunafamilia

The easiest way to add air to your compost is to poke it with a broom handle

This will depend on your mix of ingredients but anywhere between 6 months and 2 years. Try to add air to the mixture about once a month, either by turning or poking it with a broom handle. If it’s too wet or compacted it will take longer to compost.

Your finished compost should be dark brown with a crumbly-soil like texture and smell like damp woodland.

What’s gone wrong?

It’s smelly, wet and slimy - Don’t let the heap get too wet, cover it against the rain, using a piece of old carpet or something similar, and add more brown material to help add air.

It’s dry and fibrous - This is usually because there's too much brown material. Add some more green materials to add moisture to the heap. You could add some fresh manure if you can get hold of it and dampen the mixture with a hose when turning it.

Nothing’s happening – Make sure the compost heap is warm enough, particularly in winter, by covering it with old carpet or something similar. It needs to be warm and damp so the microbes can break everything down.

Make your own leaf mould

Fallen leaves also make an excellent soil conditioner if you leave them to produce leaf mould. All leaves can be used to make this but the best ones are oak, beech and hornbeam. Others can take longer to decay and larger leaves are best shredded first. It's simple to make - just gather your fallen leaves in autumn (damp leaves work best), put them into a large bin liner, make some holes in the sides with a garden fork, tie the top and leave for a couple of years until the leaves are well-rotted.

Wildlife in your compostSlow worm. Photo by Andy Fairbairn

Some wildlife might appear in your compost heap. Slow worms are attracted by slugs which help to break down the material. You might also find frogs, toads and newts hibernating over winter so be careful when turning it.

Grass snakes occasionally lay eggs in them, too. If you find leathery white eggs in there then avoid disturbing the compost heap until late summer. You could also send a record of your sighting to the Amphibian and Reptile conservation recording scheme.

Remember that wildlife likes an untidy garden so don’t worry about clearing all your fallen leaves. Keep some for the hedgehogs and other animals to hide in.

And finally,

Plant a wildflower meadow

Bernwood Meadow. Photo by Wendy Tobitt.

Plant your own wildflower meadow and provide a haven for bees and butterflies in your garden.

Find out how to create and manage a wildflower meadow.

Dig a pond

Dig a pond

Ponds support a greater diversity of wildlife than any other garden habitat. Find out how to create your own pond, whatever the size of your garden.

How to make an insect hotel

Build an insect hotel

Build an insect hotel to help give solitary bees a place to make their nest. Download our activity sheet to find out how.

 

Bee friendly plants

Bee on mallow by Kevin Wailes

If you'd like to attract more bees to your garden, download our list of planting ideas and top tips here.

Feeding garden birds

Feeding garden birds by northeastwildlife.co.uk

Garden birds welcome food throughout the year, and once they are used to feeding in your garden they will return again and again. 

Find out what to feed garden birds.

Smartphone Safari

Every weekend on BBC Radio Berkshire and BBC Radio Oxford we broadcast a Smartphone Safari. Listen along as we explore some of our fantastic reserves and introduce you to the wildlife you can see.