Whether it’s perennial residues, lawn clippings or kitchen waste – compost in the garden is not only a practical and very sustainable waste disposal, but also a valuable humus gain. Here you can find out what you should pay attention to when setting up a compost heap and how to fill it.
- Why create compost? The advantages at a glance
- The right location in the garden
- Compost heap or compost bin?
- Layer by layer: creating compost – this is how it works
- Dos & Don’ts: What can be put on the compost – and what can’t?
- Compost for the balcony: the worm bin
Compost is the gold of the allotment gardener – no wonder, as it is the epitome of closed cycles and sustainable gardening. We explain why it makes sense to have a compost heap in the garden and how best to set it up.
Why create compost? The advantages at a glance
Composting involves layering organic matter from plants on top of each other, which decomposes under the action of oxygen, water and heat. Different micro- and macro-organisms, algae and fungi are involved. For this reason, a compost heap has many advantages:
- Compost replaces an organic waste bin, as well as organic fertilizer and peat
- Compost is nutrient-rich, promotes soil life and soil fertility
- Composting produces humus and improves the drainage properties of the soil
- good compost reduces water and wind erosion
- Compost is sustainable, environmentally friendly and climate-neutral
- Composting is cost-effective
- good compost stores water and releases it in time
The right location in the garden
Be sure to avoid blazing sun as well as complete shade to avoid drying out or rot. The ideal compost site is therefore in partial shade, for example behind a gazebo or in the shelter of a hedge or a tall tree. In order for your compost pile to be adequately supplied with fresh air, it should not be surrounded by closed walls. A wind-protected – but not completely windless – location in the garden is ideal.
More practical tips for the perfect compost location:
- To avoid unnecessary conflicts with neighbors, you should lay the compost with a minimum distance of 50 centimeters from the boundary of the plot.
- Place your compost near the floor to make gardening easier.
- The path to the compost should be paved so that it does not soften from the rain, and you can easily reach it with a wheelbarrow.
- Beneficial insects welcome! Be sure to avoid concrete soil under the compost. Direct contact with the garden soil is important so that earthworms and other soil organisms can move in and water can drain away.
- Close-meshed wire on the ground keeps rats, voles and other rodents away.
- On larger garden areas, two or three compost heaps are ideal, between which you can layer back and forth. This means that one compost is always in operation while the others can rest.
- In rainy regions, the compost heap should be covered to protect it from too much moisture and rot.
Compost heap or compost bin?
Basically, you can choose between a compost heap and a purchased compost bin (so-called thermal or quick composter). Plastic thermal composters are well suited for smaller gardens, but also terraces and even balconies. Due to the plastic cladding, they have the advantage that the compost is ripe and usable more quickly due to the higher heat generation. But even a self-created compost heap is worthwhile even on small areas.
In the case of a layered compost heap, open containers that allow sufficient air and water exchange are suitable. You have the choice between slatted composter or wire mesh compost: A compost system with wooden slats has the advantage that it can be adapted to the respective quantity due to the variable height. For this, choose natural wood and removable boards to ensure natural air exchange. Wooden elements may need to be replaced after a few years, as they rot over time. A wire mesh composter has a similar structure to a slatted composter and at the same time has a longer shelf life.
Layer by layer: creating compost – this is how it works
Depending on the amount of your waste, you can build a compost heap directly or pile it up over a longer period of time. If you stack compost completely directly, composting is the fastest. In this process, woody material is layered with fresh and covered to achieve a good carbon/nitrogen ratio. You proceed as follows:
1. Prepare the site
Remove uncontrolled growth and leaves from the place where you want your compost pile to stand. Loosen the soil with a rake.
the first layers of compost Permeable material such as hedge clippings, straw or chopped or finely chopped branches and twigs are suitable for this purpose. The first layer should be about 30 centimeters high. Then mix garden waste and leaves, and spread them in layers on the compost. Always alternate: first a layer of nutrient-rich, moist and soft waste (e.g. vegetables, fruits, coffee or tea grounds, lawn), then a layer of nutrient-poor, dry components.
Tip: When using closed compost bins, sprinkle some additional compost starter on the first layer.
In between, cover the layers again and again with soil about 5 to 10 centimeters thick in order to supply the compost heap with the necessary microorganisms. In the case of open compost heaps, be sure to provide it with regular water during prolonged drought. The compost should never be wetter than a squeezed sponge.
The better you mix and layer the individual components and garden waste, the faster the rotting process (rotting for short) will get going. This creates temperatures of up to 65-70 degrees Celsius inside the compost, so that weed seeds and soil pests die.
3. Cover compost
As soon as the compost has reached a certain height (about 1.20 meters in the case of open compost heaps), it is covered to protect it from excessive dryness and moisture. For this, the compost heap is finished with a smoothly painted layer of lawn clippings, leaves or similar garden waste. This layer ensures that the temperature in the compost remains constant. Alternatively, you can plant pumpkins or cucumbers on the top layer of compost.
4. After some time: Move compost heap
After a few weeks, the compost will have sunk to a third of the original mass and can be moved. By digging with a shovel or spade, the compost is evenly mixed, inner layers go outside, and the compost is aerated with oxygen. This speeds up composting.
Tip: At this point, you can see if the mixing ratio and moisture content of your compost is right. If it is too moist, you can incorporate dry and coarse waste to prevent rot.
ready-made compost After a few months, you can already use so-called fresh compost. This is compost with still recognizable components. Fresh compost is particularly good as a mulching material or as a fertilizer to improve the soil. However, it should only be superficially incorporated into the soil.
If you wait a little longer, you will get ripening compost, i.e. ready-made compost. This can be used pure or as a substrate mixture for beds, potted plants, greenhouses, etc.
Dos & Don’ts: What can be put on the compost – and what can’t?
By composting kitchen and garden waste, you create natural fertilizer for your garden. In order to obtain high-quality compost, you should select the raw materials specifically. Important: Too much garden waste slows down rotting considerably, which is why you should chop or shred larger materials first.
What can be put on the compost?
- Raw food scraps
- Vegetable and fruit scraps and peels (including unsprayed citrus fruits)
- Tea and coffee grounds
- dry lawn clippings
- Foliage and shrub pruning
- old earth
- Wood chips and sawdust
- withered flowers and herbs
- Algae from the garden pond
Tip: If large amounts of grass remain after mowing the lawn, you can mix it with wood chips or torn newspaper and compost.
What can’t be put on the compost?
- Cooked leftovers, especially animal products
- large branches and roots
- treated wood
- Foliage of walnut or chestnut trees, oaks, cherry laurels or plane trees
- colored or coated paper
- Kitty litter
- diseased plant debris or plants with pest infestation
- Mineral waste
- Weeds that are already bearing seeds
- sprayed cut flowers or fruit residues
Compost for the balcony: the worm bin
Even if you don’t have your own garden, you can benefit from a compost: balcony gardeners, for example. They also want to provide their plants with sufficient nutrients, but at the same time a compost potentially takes up a lot of space. For balcony owners with compost intentions, a worm bin or a layer composter is therefore suitable.
The worm bin is a completely closed wooden box made of untreated wood. The box, like compost, recycles waste into humus, which can be used as fertilizer for plants and balcony boxes. For starters, you get about 500 worms from the specialist trade. Then line the worm bin with damp paper, spread a layer of garden soil and some vegetable waste on top – after which the worms are allowed to move into the box. Although you will immediately start eating and recycling leftovers, you should initially only get rid of small amounts of kitchen waste in the worm bin (about 200 grams per day). When the box is half full, its contents are pushed together on one side and fresh plant waste is layered on the free side. Within three months, the first compost is ready. Attention: worms do not tolerate frost, so the worm bin should be kept in a warmer place in winter.
So-called layer composters made of metal or plastic consist of a collection basin for liquid and usually three stackable levels with perforated bottoms. They work in the same way as the worm bin described earlier. Gardening tip: The liquid from the collection basin is an excellent fertilizer concentrate.