Autumn is for composters: tips for turning garden waste into gold

Autumn is for composters: tips for turning garden waste into gold

Most gardens look messy at this time of year as annual vegetables die off, summer blooms finish and leaves fall. The good news is your clean up can be collected to create rich compost that will make your spring patch sing. 

There are a few ways to approach an autumn compost pile, depending on whether you are using an existing system or want to create a new pile. Here are some top tips.

Build it where you need it.

If you have plans for a new garden bed in the springtime, one surefire way to a rich, worm-filled soil mix is to create your pile directly on the bed. All your cuttings, grass clippings, dead leaves and frost-bitten vegetable plants can be roughly chopped up and piled on the dirt. If you’re doing this on grass or a weedy patch, you might like to lay down some cardboard underneath to kill off the plants underneath. It is also best to start with a twiggy base to allow the air to get in – those branches and stalky veges come in handy here.

Once you have a good stack, cover it up. This can be done with wool sacks, a shade cloth or a layer of straw or hay if you have it handy. You can also use old towels or cloth - anything that lets the rain in and keeps the pile dark and damp. Then, all you need to do is sit back and wait for the worms and weather to do their work. As the pile breaks down, it will naturally settle onto your patch, where it can be spread out as required.

Layer up

If you are using an existing compost bin or beginning a new one, a good method for excellent compost is to create layers of brown and green waste. Lots of compost tutorials will specify strict ratios of greens to browns but we’re not into complicating things around here. Working in layers will usually give you a rough 50-50 ratio to get the compost heap going.

Collect fallen leaves or keep aside any cardboard boxes or newspapers and tear these up for a brown waste layer, which can be alternated with your garden waste, grass clippings and the contents of your kitchen compost bin. By layering these up, you provide the perfect conditions for a rich mix that will break down quickly, ready for springtime. Topflite tip: empty paper sacks of Scratch & Lay and Wild Bird Seed make excellent “browns” for a compost pile!

When using this method, it’s best to leave out the woodiest bits of your plant waste, as these likely won’t break down easily in the cooler months. If you have the space, pile these up separately. They will break down eventually and make for happy bug habitats! You will also want to leave out any vigorous weeds pulled from your garden, as these are likely to survive the cold and re-sprout from your compost later on.

What to add for capital compost

While old leaves can be left to decay where they fall – best practice for the insects and birds who share your garden – those that fall on pathways or driveways can be collected up for your pile, where they will add lots of the good nutrients and variety that compost needs. Same goes with your lawn clippings, which are best added fresh and damp.

Sacks of spent coffee grounds can be picked up from cafes and added to your mix. If you know a hairdresser, chopped uncoloured hair can also add goodness, as can your fingernail clippings!

If you live near the sea, washed up seaweed is also an excellent addition, being low in nitrogen and phosphate but high in valuable potassium. It also breaks down quickly for a rich mix. Smashed up shells from shellfish can also add excellent variety, if you don’t mind getting busy with a hammer (don’t forget eye protection!)

Compostable packaging, such as the plant-based film and trays we use for our Wild Bird products can be added to the mix too. Read How to compost packaging from our Wild Bird range for the micro-detail.

Packaging from the Topflite Wild Bird range is either compostable or recyclable.


Manure from herbivore animals makes a great addition too. Friends with horses are likely to have more manure than they can get rid of, or you could mix in guinea pig and bunny waste too if you have small critters around. Poop should only make up 10% of your pile though, as it is rich in nitrogen.

Go forth and compost

The great thing about starting your compost pile now is that it can basically be a matter of wet and forget, as the moist ground over winter does its work, making for a perfect patch when the sun emerges in spring.

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