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Gardening for Beginners: How to Compost Without a Bin

Eugene is an avid gardener and has been passionate about growing things for over 40 years.

What Is Compost?

Compost is organic matter in a semi-decayed state also known as humus. It is used as a growing medium for vegetables and flowers. It can be used standalone to grow things, or it can be added to soil to condition it.

Why Buy Compost When You Can Make Your Own?

I heard someone speaking on the radio the other day about the amount of waste produced in the home and how people just throw out everything without seeing the value in things. They put organic material and kitchen waste into their recycle trash cans, pay to have it taken away and then go down to the nearest home store and pay for compost! So, obviously it makes sense to create your own and save money.

What Is Compost Used For?

Most organic waste in the home can be used as a basis for creating compost, so it is a great way to recycle this material. Compost has several functions:

  • It contains nutrients from the decay process.
  • It has an aerated fibrous texture and allows permeation of the oxygen necessary for roots to flourish. Plant roots can spread more easily in this medium than in plain soil without compost added.
  • The organic matter helps to retain moisture when it is dug into the soil.
  • It is likely to add lots of worms to the soil and these creatures provide secondary aeration by tunneling through the ground.

What Can You Compost?

Avoid animal feces of any kind which can contain pathogens, especially cat and dog litter. Other than that, you can place all sorts of material into compost, such as:

  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Weeds (try to avoid weeds that have set seed for obvious reasons!)
  • Soft prunings from shrubs and hedges.
  • Moss and other debris from gutters
  • Sawdust
  • Kitchen vegetable waste
  • Teabags and coffee grinds
  • Dead plants and root balls from flower pots
  • Sand
  • Excess soil from alterations to flower beds or construction work (avoid subsoil)
  • I've never tried it, but you could probably use a document shredder to shred porous-type newsprint paper as used for newspapers and add this to the compost. Don't use the shiny type of paper from magazines as it is likely to take a long time to decay.

Can I Put Branches Into Compost?

No, but you can chip them and pile up the chippings. It takes years, but eventually, the pile of chippings will reduce in size as the material decays and turns into humus.

Chipped branches.

Chipped branches.

How to Compost?

If you have a small garden or yard, you could consider buying a compost bin. This keeps everything neat and tidy. Alternatively, you could make an enclosure from pallets. If you can get ones with sheets of timber on them, this will prevent the compost material from falling through. You could also use pallets with narrow gaps between the boards. The back wall of the enclosure is formed from one or two pallets, depending on how wide you want to make it. Use short lengths of timber, 2x4 or whatever scraps are available, top and bottom to hold the two pallets together. Use a pallet at each end to form the two sides. You can buy l-shaped steel angle brackets to hold the two side pallets to the back pallet; alternatively, nail through the blocks with 4" (100mm) round wire nails.

Can I Make Compost Without a Compost Bin?

Sure you can! I don't actually bother using any containment for my compost heap. I simply pile everything up on the ground. I have two heaps forming at any one time. This process is probably slower than using a bin, as the heat isn't contained and decomposition proceeds at a slower pace; however, it is a matter of choice which method you go for.

In spring I start a new heap. I place coarse material such as soft prunings on the ground to act as a base and improve drainage. During the summer, I just keep piling everything up and create a rectangular pile about 10 feet long. If the weather is dry, I water the pile to keep the fungi and bacteria happy. Every so often I spread a thin layer of soil on the pile which adds bacteria and worms to the mix. When the fall arrives, I gather up all the leaves from the garden and spread them on the pile—this completes the first pile. Essentially, it's not rocket science.

You can add worms or accelerators to improve the decomposition rate, but these are not really necessary unless you are in a hurry. In the spring of the next year, I begin a new pile and complete it in the fall. By then, the first year's pile is a year old and ready for use. You can continue this process by forming new piles each year and using the previous year's compost.

No fancy compost bin, just a pile!

No fancy compost bin, just a pile!

How Do I Use My Compost?

You can use it right away as a growing medium in planters, plant pots and window boxes for flowers. Annuals love it and grow rapidly as the roots penetrate easily through the compost.

When creating new flower beds, dig plenty of compost into the soil to increase the humus content.

If you are planting perennials, trees or shrubs, dig a hole about twice the width of the root ball. Mix soil and compost in equal proportions and spread the mix under and around the plant. Firm down well with your hands or boot.

Fuchsia grown in compost.

Fuchsia grown in compost.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Eugene Brennan


Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on October 11, 2014:

Me too, but if it's left for a year, it's amazing how it decreases in volume!

Arco Hess from Kansas City, Kansas on October 11, 2014:

I have a huge pile of compost in my backyard just from vegetable and fruit peels. It adds up fast.

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on May 21, 2014:

Thanks Thelma! Good idea! In fact anything organic will work, but some material decays quicker than others. I have been shredding branches from shrubs and trees over the last few years and it will be interesting to see whether this material decays over time. I haven't added it to the compost, but I notice the pile is shrinking over time, so some decomposition must be taking place.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on May 20, 2014:

Great info! Thanks for sharing. BTW, you can use coffee grinds for your compost as well.

onthegrind from Florida, United States on February 09, 2012:

Oh yes, tea bags are good. I throw pet fur in there too!

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on February 09, 2012:

And I just remembered you can use tea bags also!

Thanks for the comment!

onthegrind from Florida, United States on February 09, 2012:

Good information in this hub. Another great thing for compost is coffee grinds.