Making Compost – Step By Step

A compost heap

Composting is how I recommend anyone get rid of their garden waste; it just has so many benefits! Use it as a mulch over beds and borders in the spring, or the autumn and it will suppress weeds, help protect from frost, as well as feeding the plants. And you know what else? Its free!

So how do you make compost? You need two types of garden waste: Green material, and Brown material. This is not necessarily indicated by their colour. Let me explain.

Green material is things like grass clippings, fruit, veg, spent bedding plants, left-overs from dinner, cotton clothing and more. Material with a high nitrogen content.

 Brown material is generally things like twigs, sticks, woody material of any kind, as well as paper, cardboard and leaves. Anything with a high carbon content.

The idea behind composting is to mix both types, and put them in some sort of a pile. Try and mix them in in equal proportions. This is of course not always possible, as in spring and summer you will have so much more green waste then you will brown waste, and visa-versa in the autumn and winter.

A good idea is to shred your old newspapers, junk mail, amazon boxes, etc and add them to the compost pile as you add your grass clippings and other green material.

Mix it in as equal proportions as you can, and you are off to a good start!

Get shredding!
The smaller the waste, the faster it composts. So a great idea is to use a shredder to shred any big bits of waste and then add to the pile. Don’t have a shredder? Use a lawn mower. Blow your leaves on to your lawn and run them over with a mower! Leaves that aren’t cut up take a very long time to decompose fully. Same with woody stems and branches.
Don’t have a mower or a shredder? Secateurs will do! Cut things up as small as you can without being too tedious, or rip things up, or what-ever you like to break things in to pieces, and you will get better results!

What  should I avoid?
Okay, here’s a myth to bust immediately – you can add anything to your compost that will decompose. If it once lived, you can add it to your compost. But, there are some things you may choose to avoid. Meat, fish, fat you may not want to add as it could attract vermin, and can smell a bit nasty. Weeds that are perennial, such as ground elder, horsetail, ivy, and so on, should not be added to a pile unless it heats up to a very high temperature. Most UK compost piles do not get quite hot enough for that. Consider burning them instead, and adding the ash to the pile.
Check out this site: Can I Compost This? if you are not sure of anything.

What else does my compost need? Water and Air.
Compost is a bacterial process, and for bacteria to thrive, they need air and water.

Air should be easy enough, as most compost bins have some ventilation for this purpose. If you’ve made a compost bin out of say an old council waste bin, you may want to put a few holes in it for air to flow in as well as water to drain.

You can also, if you wish, turn your compost occasionally. More on this later.

For water, if you have a closed bin, it is worth giving it a bit of a soak with the hose every now and again. It needs to be damp not wet. If you have a bin open to the elements, this is fine too, though consider some old carpet over the top to deflect some of the rain, as well as keep moisture in during hot weather.

Too much of a good thing. And by that I mean too much of one particular waste, a good example being grass clippings. If you have masses of grass clippings, either make a pile of grass clippings elsewhere, and add it to the compost over time, or put some in your green waste bin, and some on the compost heap. Too much of one thing will just leave you with a big mess and no compost. This is true for any type of waste! Moderation is king.

What do I need to do to maintain my compost? Well, you have a few options.
1. Do nothing. It will compost in anything from 9-18 months, if you leave it alone, and it has all the right ingredients of water, air, green and brown waste. Compost will happen! But maybe you want it to happen just a little quicker…
2. Give it a bit of a stir. Get yourself a fork, or a ‘compost aerator’ and just dig it over a little, make some holes in it for air and so on.
3. Vigorously turn it regularly. This is key if you wish for a ‘hot compost’ pile. In America is this is a popular type of composting. It has a key benefit – quicker compost. You dig over or ‘turn’ the pile often, adding more air in to it, and water as needed, and you will find your compost heats up faster, which can send it up to temperatures that kill off most weed seeds, and you get good finished compost quicker.

What else should I know? Bigger piles generate more heat. A cubic metre of compost will heat up a lot more than half a black bin full of waste will.
Another thing you could do is add composting worms. They can be purchased online (though I almost guarantee, if you build a compost pile they will eventually find it) and they will love it in your bin, and help to decompose the waste as it passes through their gut.

What about ants and vermin? Lets break that down in to each individual case shall we.
People often complain of ants nests in their compost bins. The ants like it as it is warm and dry. What does this tell you? You should water your compost a bit more! Once it has more water and begins to heat up, they won’t stay long. But they are not really detrimental to your bin. I would not recommend use of ant powder. Simply wetting the pile thoroughly and maybe giving it some aeration will soon send them off.
Vermin are a different story. Meat, fish and fat will attract them. But if your compost bin is sealed that should not be such an issue. Consider putting wire mesh down underneath the bins so they cannot burrow in. My own bins have this, and are also very high, so vermin cannot get in.

Whilst this is a lot of information, composting is simple. Add green material, add brown, some water and air, and reap the benefits in time.

It may be snowing, but I’m preparing for summer!

The UK is experiencing some fairly severe weather conditions but it hasn’t stopped me! Of course, there isn’t much of anything that can be done outdoors when its snowing, and more importantly, when the ground is frozen solid.

So instead I have been looking after my various seedlings, which as always have been started early indoors so they are ready for summer.

As we are only two days in to March my production has barely even started despite appearances. Things like Pelargoniums (below) were started at the beginning of the year to get them ready for flowering in summer.

A tray of Pelargonium seedlings under grow lights
Pelargoniums or Geraniums as you may know them, basking under a grow-light.

All of these I will be selling to clients, and with that in mind I have a few interesting varieties not often found in shops.

Ricinus in particular is a favourite, with its architectural foliage, and bright red spikey looking seed pods. They are a great plant to dot around the border, to add some height and interest. 

Ricinus Seedlings against yellow background
Ricinus seedlings

I’m also planning some unusual varieties of Petunia, Begonia, Salvia and more. The aim with these is to be able to use everything in a pot, border or hanging basket.

A tray of seedlings under grow lights

I’m also doing fruit and veg for myself. This year I will have two-four Tomato ‘Alisa Craig’ plants set-up semi-hydroponically in the green house. Along with Cucumbers and Sweet Peppers, the latter of which I haven’t grown before.

Tomato seedling in a small plastic pot

All of these plants will stay indoors until the weather during the day picks up and the nights cease to be so cold. It is all summer bedding so don’t plant them out until at least April, here in Hertfordshire.

If you want bedding plants from me, I do lovely hanging baskets, bedding plant displays, pots, you name it.  Do get in touch! In the mean time, stay warm.


Jennifer – St Albans

Ben has been our gardener for nearly two years and I would highly recommend him. It is clear that gardening isn’t just a job for him; he’s passionate about what he does and has extensive knowledge so has really sound advice for how to tackle problem areas in our garden. In addition, he’s really personable, flexible, patient and hardworking. What’s more, he’s reliable and honest, so you know you’re not paying for things you don’t need. Since having my son, his gardening work has really helped take the pressure off me and ensures we still have a garden that looks nice all year round.

Ann – Hertfordshire

Really glad I’ve found Ben, he did a first class job and he even followed up with emailed “what to do next” instructions. Delighted! Fair price, personable, reliable … what not to like. Thoroughly recommended.

Jade and Nick – Bushey

Ben is an exceptional gardener and we are so lucky to have him looking after our slightly wild, romantic, woodland style garden. He is extremely knowledgeable about plants, weeding, pesticides (all things garden!) and is enthusiastic to apply and share this knowledge. He’s flexible and has been great working around our needs and budget. He works extremely hard, whilst always exerting the greatest care. Always charming, punctual and very reliable – I have no hesitation in recommending Ben to other potential clients.

Sinead – Hertford

Ben came to our rescue when we finally admitted to ourselves that we just didn’t have the time needed to tend to the garden properly! Ben is incredibly good at what he does, is calm, flexible and fair. Now we are on top of the weeds and replanting, the sky is the limit and together we’re going to give our outdoor space a bit of a facelift! We couldn’t be in better hands and would highly recommend Ben.

Video: Advice from a professional on how to remove ground elder

Ground elder

Here’s the first in a series of video’s focused on advice from a professional gardener. This time, Ground Elder, scourge of the flower bed. It takes over very quickly and can be a real problem particularly in beds and borders that are densely packed with ornamentals that you want to keep. Hand removal is nigh-on-impossible
Luckily there is a solution as the video states. Ben is Use of Pesticides licensed and has had very positive results spraying ground elder and completely removing it from gardens.
It usually takes 2-3 treatments with a little prep work sometimes needed before hand, depending on the extent of the ground elder.

Time to think about the new year

Now its getting darker and colder the gardening year is starting to feel like its drawing to a close, but I assure you it isn’t. One of the most fun and creative jobs in gardening is planting, and what better than planting spring bulbs.

Tulips, Iris, Alliums, Snakes Head Fritillaries, Crocus and everything else you love about spring can be bought and planted right now. If you don’t have any room in your borders then all spring bulbs can be planted in pots, which is particularly useful for Tulips which need replacing yearly.

I pride myself on my spring displays and this years were absolutely fantastic. But I promise you this… next years will be better!

So give me a call and book me to plant spring bulbs now, and enjoy a fantastic display come the new year.

See the gallery below for spring bulbs I can get this year, and contact me for pricing!

Mulching in spring and its many benefits

A spring mulch is an important job in the gardening calendar that is often over-looked in the UK.

Mulches are loose ground coverings comprised ideally of compost, sometimes bark and wood chippings, with the purpose of suppressing weeds and improving moisture retention. Why is this important for spring? The added benefit of using compost is the nutrients it adds to the soil. Whats growing now to flower in summer will be happy for the extra nutrients provided by the compost, though you won’t get this with most other types of mulch. Eventually bark based mulches will break down, but without the level of nutrients of a good quality compost.

As well as looking nice it will help you to conserve water throughout the summer, and as we don’t know if a hose-pipe ban is around the corner, its another reason to mulch with compost or wood chippings now while watering and rain is unrestricted.

Finally, provided you have had a good weed in the borders and beds before mulching, it is a great weed suppression tactic. With all of these pluses, there really is little reason not to do it! Contact Ben today about spring mulching.