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Composting - how and what

Kenny Hood showing the pupils from RGC how to handle the Tiger worms.
Kenny Hood showing the pupils how to handle the worms.


The material that is left behind from your kitchen can be put to good use by making your own garden composter! The creatures that live in your soil (i.e. the bacteria, fungi, insects etc), consume and process the plant and animal ‘waste’. The great benefits of recycling your organic ‘waste’ are that you encourage wildlife, save money on fertilizers, reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce landfill and best of all, provide a substrate to grow your own healthy fruit and vegetables on!

What can you compost?

The surface of an active garden size compost bin. This one is in current use with vegetation being added as it becomes available.Almost anything that has been alive can be composted. Farmyard manure, vegetarian pet manures and bedding(but not dog or cat faeces as they may contain dangerous pathogens), deciduous hedge clippings, used tea bags, grass mowings, vegetable scraps, and fruit skins etc (dead leaves can be added to the compost or stored separately to make a leaf mould mulch).

What cannot be composted?

Most waste can be composted (~95%), and if it cannot, then it can usually be recycled. Some things not to add to your composter are persistent weeds such as couch grass, and meat and fish, as they tend to attract rodents (rats and mice) and flies. You are also best to leave out citrus fruits as the tiger worms in your composter do not like them.

The compost in this bin is one year older than above and will soon be spread on the nearby vegetable plotsHome composting in containers

Containers such as old bins can be used to directly grow your vegetables in; Small pots to dustbins and other plastic containers can be used. You can even make a removable side for access.


Larger scale garden composting

Composting on a large scale. The right hand bin is currently being used, the left hand one is nearly mature (and almost ready for use) while the centre bin is still being added to for later use once it is mature.Larger scale bins and containers can hold enough compost to apply to allotments and garden plots.  An ideal bin will have solid sides to retain heat and moisture and a cover to keep out the rain.

Frequent turning of the compost heap ensures that the compost is well oxygenated for the organisms to work.


Spreading compost around the roots of shrubs. This helps to keep the roots cool and moist as well as providing extra nutrition.Stages in making a composter;

  1. Collect your waste together into a heap.
  2. Cover with an old sheet or bag. (You can make it neater if you make a bin or wooden container for the compost as in the photos on these pages.)
  3. An ideal container will have solid sides to keep in the heat and moisture and also a cover to keep out the rain and keep the heat in. Ideally it should be at least 90cm (30 inches) in each direction.
  4. Site your bin on bare ground where it is easy to access
  5. Remember you will want to leave your compost to ‘mature’ so you may want to have a series of ‘bins’ at various stages of decomposition (see photo on these pages).
  6. Apply your compost to your garden and watch the fruits of your labour grow!
  7. Enjoy eating your produce grown with the nutrition from the compost for your dinner.

Using compost in containers

Topdressing pots of potatoes with a mulch of compost. This provides extra nutrients for the growing crop and also helps to keep the moisture in.

Compost supplies plant foods, including trace elements, in a slow release form. It also improves the soil structure and improves the water holding capacity.

Harvesting a healthy crop of potato tubers from your pot where compost has been added.

Compost, both garden and from a wormery can be applied as a surface mulch or incorporated into the top 15cm of soil or added to the tops of tubs or planters.

Worm compost tends to be faster acting than garden compost.

How does it work?

Composting is fired up through the natural processes of feeding the multitude of soil microbes that invade as soon as you start up your composter. If your household is limited to mainly kitchen scraps grass mowings and some weeds, you can make improved compost by adding in some household paper waste. Paper towels, cardboard boxes, egg boxes, pizza boxes, tubes etc can add ‘body’ to your compost. Ideally mix paper waste in equal quantities as the vegetation. Remember though to only use paper that cannot be recycled through the paper box!

If you have mainly kitchen waste then add the tiger worms and have a worm composter(see section on how to make your own wormery). If managed properly a worm bin will be smell free and will dispose of your kitchen scraps. The worm casts produced make high quality compost.

  • Did you know? This process of using worms to make quality organic matter is sometimes called vermiculture.
  • Did you know? Woodlice are good composters
  • Did you know ? The tiny cream coloured jumping creatures found in compost are called springtails and are good composters of vegetable matter.


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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.