How not to make compost


I posted earlier this week at the turn of the  year about my plans  for the garden for 2013 and how I wanted to be a better gardener.  An example of my rubbish horticultural practice is my compost bins.  The photo above was taken late November.  If you look through the bamboo on the left of the photograph you can see the top of the nearest bin.  By the beginning of this week the second bin, which sits alongside, was full to the same height and in danger of tipping over the fence into neighbour’s garden.   I think it is pretty fair to say they haven’t completely been emptied for probably two  years.  I went through a phase of taking garden rubbish to the allotment in order to build up compost there, which someone else is now benefitting from.  This was perfect excuse as it meant I could just turn a blind eye to the bins in the garden – but no longer


If I was a good gardener I would have one bin for garden waste to rot down in while I filled the second and I have tried to do this but it only works if you empty the first bin out!

I realised four days ago that the situation couldn’t go on any longer and decided that I wasn’t allowed to do any more gardening until the compost bins had been sorted.  To access the first bin I had to drag the top pile of stuff off.  Some I managed to put on top of the  second bin and the rest had to be piled on the ground.  I was close to giving up at this point.  However, as a reward I discovered that once I reached the top of the wooden bin it was full of well-rotted compost.  I then spent a number of hours of the next 3 days shovelling it out and sieving it.  The sieved compost went on one of the borders as a mulch  and the woody stuff was put on the pile to go back in or used as a mulch under shrubs.


Today my eldest long-suffering son offered to help as he knew my back was suffering and it was an awkward space to work in.  Having filled the emptied bin with the unrotted stuff and the top of the second bin we started emptying the second bin.  I decided not to sieve it as it wasn’t as full of woody stuff as the first and also I realised that the sieved compost I had used as a mulch had little structure and once it rained it would just  form a crust on the surface of the border.

Having his help made a huge difference as I had  got to the point of giving up.  The compost was amazingly good very broken down, sweet smell and full of bugs.  I used this bin’s worth to mulch the border where the pond had been.


I lost count of the number of barrow loads of compost we had but  I reckon if I had bought the equivalent amount of green waste from the council I would have been looking at spending at least £30, if not more.

The area around the bins has been raked and tidied and I now have one almost empty bin to fill.  I have vowed that I shan’t let  this situation happen again and that I will empty the first bin as  soon as it looks ready and I will use  the two bins properly – honest.

Now there is just the third plastic bin by the garage to empty.


35 Comments Add yours

  1. It’s always satisfying when you get a job done that has been on the back of your mind for a while. It looks like you got quite a bit of compost out of the piles, and it will make a wonderful mulch for your beds. Plus it should nourish the plants quickly, since it is so well rotted down.

    That last photo really shows how much of a slope you have to your garden.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi NS
      I’m so used to the slope I dont notice it so much though I am thinking of digging up the lawn as it is a pain to cut.

    2. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi NS – yes there is a slope but it isnt that bad

  2. hillwards says:

    What you’ve mulched with does look like good stuff. It can be such a chore, but the results are definitely worth it. Good work!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Thanks am feeling virtuous although I wouldnt have done it without son’s help

  3. penelopesh says:

    Our compost bins in Sussex were wooden too but the front was slatted, so as the bin became fuller another slat could be added. For the leaves we had circles of chicken wire strengthened with stiff canes. One rule when pruning etc was to cut all the pieces up as small as possible over the wheelbarrow – a little tedious @ the time but well worth the effort. Looks wonderful on your beds and I don’t envy you the slope.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      The bins are slatted wood but my neglect meant they were so submerged it was hard to dismantle them and by the time we could we just carried on as we were. I have some chicken wire circles for the leaves. I will take on board the tip about cutting up prunings as it would definately make life easier

  4. You should feel a great sense of relief and accomplishment. I’m kind of a lazy composter, myself.

  5. Cathy says:

    Yes, you can be very satisfied with a job well done – but do watch your back. And like Northern Shade, I too hadn’t realised how much of a slope there is in your garden – I can now see the problems you may have with your steps.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Cathy
      Honestly the slope isnt that steep the photo is deceptive. There is a slope but compared to my last garden it is nothing!!

  6. This is my task to get completed tomorrow – I have only one compost bin which is about 2.5m square and is chock full. I’m hoping that once it’s emptied I can partition half of it off so that I can fill one and keep the other empty and rotate from one bin to the other rather than just dumping everything in one big pile.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Back Gardening – good luck with your bin emptying. I have two bins in an attempt to do what you say but I keep failing!

  7. djdfr says:

    Well done. We just pile the stuff up around a corner in the garden and when we get to the stopping point, begin again at the starting point. I count on my husband to sift it, usually in the spring.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi djdfr – I dont think I would have dealt with it all if my son hadn’t helped. It is useful having a 21 year old around

  8. Helen, I am always amazed at how many barrowloads are needed to mulch a small bed. My problem is trying to get a routine of filling one bin with waste and allowing it to compost and having another one ready to use, I never seem to have enough. You have really encouraged me to get out and sort it.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Nel
      I know what you mean about routine. I keep trying that it should be so simple but I just fail time and time again

  9. Juli Hoffman says:

    Glad I’m not the only one guilty of this! LOL Hey! It’s cleaned up, now. Spring will go much smoother now that’s taken care of. 🙂

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Juli – it is a good feeling isnt it. I a determined I wont let it get so bad again but I suspect I will

  10. Nat says:

    I too started a pile of garden waste that is getting way out of control. 4 years ago it was a small pile, now it takes up an entire corner. Disgraceful I know, I might have to put some elbow grease into it and haul it off to the dump. Hope the tree roots haven’t gotten into too deep. Inspiring post.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Nat
      Oh dont haul it off to the dump. I bet if you move the top stuff you will find fab compost underneath and then you can put the top stuff on the bottom of the new heap. It will be worth it but like me you will probably have to talk yourself into it

  11. Good for you…that compost is gorgeous and makes the gardens look so lovely…That last picture sure shows how steep your back yard looks…quite the challenge.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Donna
      The slope isnt that steep well not for around here. I live on the side of the Malvern Hills but lower down. There are many houses where thy dont have gardens as they are built into the side of the hill

  12. Owen says:

    Hi Hel! Again ditto’ing some of the others!- are you sure your garden isnt half way up a mountain?! If I sunbathed on that lawn Id probably roll all the way back down into the kitchen! You must have thighs of steel pushing a wheel barrow of compost up and down the place!

    Your plants are going to love their compost feed!

    I love your little wicker “lobster pot” in the first photo- not quite sure what its meant for- but looks very pretty!

    Hope your well!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Owen. Well I do live on the side of the Malvern Hills but the garden isnt as steep as the photo implies honestly and it isn’t as steep as my last garden which wasn’t doing my hips any good at all.
      The lobster pot is in store at the moment. I use it as a cloche to protect various plants, in particular when I put slug pellets around delphs to make sure the cat doesnt eat the pellets!!

  13. Sandra Jonas says:

    Great work Helen! Might get inspired to look after my own bins. I find 3 work best for me. There is so much I planned to do this winter… time to get started! Happy New year!

  14. Yvonne Ryan says:

    I had (pat tense as we have moved) a worm farm for scraps and made marvellous compost and liquid 3 or 4 times a year (from just two people) I chucked banana skins on the roses and because such a small section had a ‘green bin’ which got taken away. Great. When we first moved there (vocanic) I decided to fill up holes with scraps. Then one day saw this ENOURMOUS rat run across the path! I had been feeding the prolific rats — eeeek. So that’s when I decided on the above action. ps We went past our old house (after picking Jim up after another trip to the hospital – and the Jacaranda over the road was out. It’s the biggest in Auckland and they are late flowering this year and it was the bestest buitifulest it has ever been. Tomorrow on trip to Dr we are going to take ‘anothet’ photo of it.

  15. Hi Helen, you might find 3 bins works better? One bin (with the oldest compost) can be gently breaking down whilst new stuff can be piled into another. Every once in a while, if you turn this latter compost into the empty bin (or rather your 21 year old does!) you’ll find it speeds up the process a lot. I have seven bins at the Priory but then I compost all the grass clippings and I have the luxury of time to spend on turning one bin into another quite frequently – it adds oxygen to the mix and does speed up the process remarkably. You should have usable compost within a few months. Keeps me fit I suppose and with the radio on it’s a job I rather enjoy – but no, not good for your back. Definitely a job for your son. Dave

  16. kate says:

    Hi Helen, unfortunately you inspired me to look at my own compost bins. Not good. Much worse that yours. Am not going near them for a bit to see if the Garden Fairies will do the job instead.

    (I may be disappointed.)

  17. It certainly is hard work saving money isn’t it? There is nothing like homemade compost but after all that effort I can understand why people go out and buy the stuff. I have just the one compost bin, a large plastic one that I have to take a fork to and turn every so often (when I remember). Last week I emptied half out through the door at the bottom but when the rest of it dropped down I couldn’t get the door back on properly!! I can see the idea of 2 would work much better.

  18. Sounds exhausting, but mulched beds look v. good. I am very lazy with my compost. I use plastic bins with access hatches at the base and fill them randomly going for whichever has most space. I never turn it, but by mixing in kitchen waste and shredded paper find I have usable compost at the bottom of each bin within 6 months. None of which encourages me to do it properly! Good luck with your new regimen, you are a better woman than I!!

  19. I don’t know how you feel about it Helen, but I’ve got to say I absolutely love th slopeyness of your garden.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Jono I like the slopeyness of my garden too and it is less slopey than my last garden!!

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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