Building a Compost Heap on a Budget

Ellie Wilson By Ellie Wilson, 20th Oct 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Gardening>Soil

Want to start making your own compost but can’t afford to splash out on a bin or self-assembly kit? This article shows you how to build a compost heap the cheap way!

Site selection

The size of your garden will dictate the size of your compost heap, and also the amount of compost you want to produce from it! For an average-sized town garden, an area of around 1 metre square (about 3 ½ foot) will be perfectly adequate and produce plenty of compost.

You’ll want to position your compost on firm ground and in a sheltered spot, as frequent soakings won’t do it any good. However, compost can be a little smelly and can also attract fruit flies (more on this later), so you probably don’t want it too near your house or too close to the patio where you’ll be hosting all those summer cocktail parties!

Building your compost heap

You’ll probably be amazed at the amount of building materials you already have at your disposal. Your compost heap doesn’t have to look perfect, as long as it does its job!

You can start by using old bricks, paving slabs and even rocks that you might have lying around your garden. If you don’t have any, ask your friends and neighbours. Many people have old bricks and paving slabs that they’ll be pleased to get rid of. Use these to build a base layer around the back and sides of your heap. Use your ingenuity to stack them as neatly as possible, so that there are as few gaps as possible (and they don’t fall down!).

If you don’t have many bricks etc, you can use wood. Old fence panels or shelves are particularly useful.

Sink canes into the ground at either end of each side and lean the wood against it. If you’re using just wood, try placing two canes close together and slotting the wood between them.

If you don’t have any canes (though they actually are very cheap from most garden centres), you can use thin branches and sticks. If you don’t have any in your garden, try your local wood or park. Though only those lying on the ground – don’t start sawing branches off trees, as this is ILLEGAL!

Making compost

Start your compost heap with a layer of dry material, such as dead leaves. Then add compostable materials as often as you like!

You can put any uncooked food waste on your compost heap (except meat). You can also use green garden waste, such as grass clippings. If you have small pets, such as guinea-pigs and hamsters, you can use their soiled bedding on your heap. (Just don’t use the waste of any meat-eating pets!) You can also use paper and cardboard, which makes better compost if you tear it into small pieces.

You will get the best results from your compost if you have a balance of greens (garden and food waste) and browns (paper, cardboard, straw etc).

You will also get better results if you keep your compost covered, as this prevents it from getting too wet. Compost that is too wet can attract fruit flies. You can use old carpet to cover it up, or if you don’t have any, try using bin liners, or any other thick plastic bags. Use bricks or rocks to weigh down the cover.

Fruit flies play an important role in breaking down food waste in compost and are completely harmless, but they can be irritating when you go to add to your heap. To prevent them getting into your food waste and laying their eggs, you can cover it up before it goes onto the compost heap. Every time you add food waste to the heap, put a layer of paper or grass clippings on top, as this discourages them too.

Using your compost

Your compost can take up to a year before it’s ready. There is much debate over whether or not to turn your compost. This article gives some good arguments for and against turning. In the end it’s a matter of personal choice.

Hopefully using this method to build your heap will produce good quality compost for you to use on your garden – and all for free!


Compost, Food Waste, Garden Ideas, Gardening, Gardening In Small Areas, Money Saving Tips

Meet the author

author avatar Ellie Wilson
I am History graduate, based in Southampton, UK, with many interests including music (playing and listening), film and TV, sport, outdoor pursuits, photography, cookery and gardening.

Share this page

moderator Mark Gordon Brown moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
20th Oct 2011 (#)

Having a compost is very good, not only for the garden, but it allows for people to reclaim their waste rather than throw it in the garbage.
I do have a compost! Thanks for the tips on how to build a compost.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Retired
20th Oct 2011 (#)

Hi very helpful. We have a compost but I dont put any food or peeling in it because I once saw a rat which isnt surprising as I live in the countryside! Should the compost always be wet?

Reply to this comment

author avatar Ellie Wilson
20th Oct 2011 (#)

Hi, you shouldn't add any water to your compost, and should try and keep as much rain off it as possible, as it will generate its own moisture as it decomposes. You should be ok on the rat front, as they generally prefer cooked food waste, and are more likely to be found hanging around your dustbin!

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?