Compost Q & A

Q How do you know if  the heap is working?
A If you are making hot compost, and the heap is working well, it will get hot in a few days.  After a day or so check the middle of the heap to see if it is warming up but be careful, a good heap will reach 60ºC+ (140ºF) in the centre.

If you are making cold compost then things will be slower and the heap will not heat up. You might find that the centre gets warm, especially if you have just added grass mowings, but generally the heap will be cool. After a few weeks you should find that the heap begins to shrink which is a good sign that the contents are breaking down. (As the pile shrinks just add more material.)

After a while you might find that your compost has been invaded by stripped worms! Do not worry, they are compost worms which will help along the process.

Q Should activators be used?
A They are not required, a good mix of contents will do the job without additional expense.

Q Can I add dog/cat manure?
A It is not a good idea to use dog and cat manure as they can spread disease.
Bedding from other vegetarian household pets is fine.

Q Can I add all garden weeds?
A Not perennial weeds or weeds in seed unless the heap gets hot or you do not mind weed seeds!

Q What can’t I compost?
A Things that have not lived – glass, metal etc

Q I have noticed a lot of ants in my compost heap what should I do?
A Nothing! Ants will colonise compost heaps but do no real harm.

Q Help! There are slugs in my bin!
A If you are using a cold heap then slugs will find it irresistable. Do not worry too much as they will help to process the vegetable waste. There has been some concern that slug eggs might be left in the finished compost and spread over the garden when you use the compost. If this is a concern think about making hot compost or removing the slugs as soon as you find them.

Q How do I know when the compost is ready to use?
A When all trace of the original contents have gone. You should not be able to see the shape of anything you added to the bin. The compost will be a dark brown/black crumbly material with no smell apart from a slightly sweet, earthy odour. There may be some tougher material, like twigs or plants stems, still visible which can be removed and added to a new heap.

Hot compost can be ready in 6-8 weeks in summer, longer in winter. Cold compost can take 12-24 months

Q Where and when can I use garden compost?
A Garden compost can be incorporated when doing the annual digging, or as a surface mulch in no dig and Sq. Ft gardens. It can also be used in spring/summer on vegetable beds where winter brassicas are to be grown. Use it on ornamental beds as a top dressing in spring.(See the 4 course rotation page.)