How to make compost at home from food waste

Making lovely, nutrient-rich compost for free from kitchen and garden scraps that might otherwise end up in your bin, before being sent to landfill, is by far the most eco-friendly way to deal with your waste. Not only will you save loads of global-warming gases, you’ll get all the benefits of improved soil, so you can grow stronger, healthier plants and shrubs, more vibrant flowers, and even produce your own (hopefully prize-winning) fruit and vegetables.

And you don’t need to be Monty Don or The Titchmarsh to get started. Read on and we’ll tell you how you can start easily making your own compost in all but the smallest garden, what to put in your compost – and what not to put in – to get the best results, how to stop your compost heap smelling (that’ll keep the neighbours happy), and what to do with your compost once you’ve made it.

How to make kitchen waste compost with food scraps

If you want to start making compost with your food scraps, you’re going to need a countertop compost bin or caddy to start collecting all your vegetable peelings, eggshells and coffee grounds, etc. We’ve got plenty for you to choose from on our website. You can also find compost caddy bags for easy emptying and replacement filters so things don’t get too whiffy before you add them to your main heap in the garden. If you don’t have much outside space, you can still make compost indoors in an old bin or plastic container – just remember to drill some holes in your container to help with aeration, and use a liner to prevent spills and make it easier to empty when the time comes to use it.

So, what is compost? Packed with nutrients that help your garden grow without the need for chemical fertilisers, compost is basically food, plant and other organic material that has broken down (with the help of worms and other microbes) and decomposed over time to produce a soil-enriching, crumbly black gold that will help retain nutrients and moisture, and reduce the risk of your plants becoming diseased. Blooming brilliant.

How do you get started?

You only need a few things to start composting.

  • A compost bin – you can get one from most councils for a small fee, but if you’re feeling energetic you can make your own wooden one. If you can get hold of some old pallets (more better-for-the-planet recycling), a lot of the structural work is already done for you. There are plenty of step-by-step tutorials on YouTube to show you what to do next.
  • Soil – a base layer of soil (if your compost bin isn’t already on top of soil) will help your heap get started and encourage the worms to move in and get busy. Go, worms!
  • Brown and green waste – for your heap to be happy, you’re going to need the right balance of brown and green waste to ensure the right combination of nitrogen and carbon (quick note: brown waste isn’t always brown and green waste isn’t always green). Green waste can include plants, veg, fruit, grass clippings, potato peelings, coffee grounds, etc. While brown waste can be autumn leaves, dead plants, egg shells, small bits of cupboard or torn-up newspaper and straw. You want to aim for a ratio of around 50:50 of brown and green waste, and make sure that no one material dominates either.
  • Liners – while not essential, will help prevent mess and make it easier to empty your bin.

Putting everything together

So you’ve got your compost bin ready – preferably in a shaded spot that doesn’t get too hot in the sunshine – drying your heap out – or too saturated in in the rain. The microorganisms that turn your waste into compost prefer constant conditions if possible.

  1.  Add your liner (if using). Though, wherever possible, it’s better if your compost bin is sited directly onto the soil. As mentioned earlier, this will make it easier for all the worms, insects and microbes to gain access and start tucking in.
  2. If you have used a liner, add a couple of inches of soil to the bottom before you start adding your waste material.
  3. Start adding your green and brown material in. Do it in equal layers, adding your food waste as you go.
  4. To help speed up the process and keep the heat in, you need to seal or insulate your container. If your bin has a lid, keep it shut. If not, a layer of old carpet will do the job. Turning your heap regularly will also help things along.

Does compost smell bad?

It shouldn’t (well not much – it should just have a natural, earthy odour), and here’s how you can avoid it. As mentioned above, the right balance of green and brown material is essential. Adding too many wet, heavy grass clippings can make your compost give off a sickly sweet smell, indicating a lack of oxygen. Regular turning can help aerate your heap, and adding in more brown waste will help return the balance to where it should be.

If your heap has an ammonia-like smell, the nitrogen levels are too high. Again, restoring the balance by adding more brown waste will help.

Another thing that can make your compost smell bad is putting the wrong things in it. You’ll find a more comprehensive list below, but make sure you don’t put meat, bones, grease or oil, and definitely no pet waste. All these things break down too slowly, and the last thing you want to do is invite rats and other unwelcome pests to feast on your heap.

How long does composting take?

It all depends. On the size of your compost bin; on whether you’ve got the right balance of waste material; on the conditions your compost bin is kept in. But, generally, you should have usable compost within a few months.

What can go in and what needs to stay out of a compost heap?

There are lots more, but here a few things you can and should put on your compost heap, and some that you shouldn’t.

Put it inLeave it out
Vegetable peelingsMeat
Egg shellsBones
Tea bagsAnimal poo
Coffee groundsGrease and oil
Grass cuttingsFish
Fallen leavesDairy products
Dead plantsDiseased plants
PruningsPerennial weeds
CardboardAsh and charcoal
Egg boxesWhole eggs
Scrunched up newspaperUsed cat litter

How to use your kitchen waste compost

Now you’ve made your compost, what can you do with it? Apart from the obvious – spreading or mixing it into your garden soil to condition and improve it and help it retain moisture you can also use it for potting plants and herbs, adding to your potted houseplants and chilli plants, top-dressing your garden beds, and generally giving all your plants, trees and shrubs a nutrient-rich feed that will help them thrive. And if you’ve made more than you can use, give some to your neighbours.

Check out all our composting helpers on website and start making your own ‘black gold’ today – whatever the size of your garden and even if you don’t have one.