How to Make and Use Compost - The Ultimate Guide

How to Make and Use Compost - The Ultimate Guide
Packed with useful advice, Nicky Scott’s ultimate guide to compost is essential reading for professional and amateur gardeners alike, says Mark Newton

Our dinner plates often contain leftovers, and pretty much everything we don’t manage to consume can be turned to compost. To be precise, as Nicky Scott explains in How to Make and Use Compost - The Ultimate Guide, pretty much ‘anything that once lived’ can be turned into compost. This goes some way to dispel many of the domestic myths about what we should or shouldn’t put into our compost bins. If that isn’t enough to make the most hardened waste generator think twice, then Scott goes on to suggest we can all compost, be it in a small balcony flat or allotment or even a school or community garden. There is simply no good reason for dodging the compost bin.

For a small volume, How to Make and Use Compost contains a large amount of information; not only about creating and using compost, but also why we ought to make it in the first place. Though it doesn’t go into the obvious moral arguments, the book does cover the many benefits to gardeners and smallholders. Not only does compost make soil healthier, by adding life to it in the form of micro-organisms; it also changes the structure of the soil. This also leads to less need for extra water, fertilisers and pesticides. It gets surprisingly technical, too; comprehensively explaining the process of composting - and more importantly - how to do it properly. ‘Once you really take on board that composting is a living, dynamic, natural process then I think you stop thinking of your heap as a kind of dustbin and more as the living, breathing entity that it actually is - a bit like a pet really!’

Scott’s simple, core mantra of Air, Water, Food and Warmth drives home the point that the compost heap is a living system, and for each of these core elements, we’re shown just what can help bring benefits to the compost heap. For example, to help with Air, Scott suggests using twigs from hedge clippings, prunings, wood chippings, shreddings, dry plant stems and straw, which open up the ‘denser, wetter materials and allow air through’. There is more biological rigour, of course, such as the differences between a hot compost system and a cold one, getting the mix right, as well as adding ‘carbon-rich’ browns and ‘nitrogen-rich’ greens. And for each level of complexity there are examples of what you should be adding in order to achieve the desired change in quality.

A chapter is dedicated to choosing the right system, be that simply compositing uncooked fruit and vegetable peelings and so on, to dealing with any cooked food waste. There is a wide range of composters available, too, including the small ‘Dalek’ style bins and beehive composters to a complex Bokashi system and even a wormery. Scott doesn’t just identify them but also explains the costs and benefits of each, as well as how much space you’ll need to start each of the systems. 

Once the process of composting is complete, Scott explains how to can use the compost on the gardens via a range of methods from the no-dig gardening to liquid feeds and creating a potting mix for the everyday gardener.  One of the most wonderful aspects of the book is that it doesn’t limit itself to a few peelings, but covers large-scale composting for those readers keen to get their hands on bigger bits of kit to do the job. There’s even a section on community composting, such as in schools, with a whole bundle of resources, checklists, audit guides and so on. There’s also a rather useful A-Z guide at the back which acts as a glossary (handy for deciphering the odd eyebrow-raising term) as well as being a useful checklist for the items that you can or can’t to turn into compost.

The book bills itself as 'The Ultimate Guide' - and it absolutely is. It’s packed with useful tips and clear, in-depth explanations. In short, it contains everything you’ll ever need to know about turning your spud peelings into something useful. No matter how tentative or ambitious your plans for composting, whether you’re looking to improve the quality of your existing systems or starting out afresh, How to Make and Use Compost - The Ultimate Guide has it covered. And if that isn’t enough, it also has a great list of resources and organisations for those readers who might be obsessive enough to make composting a way of life.

How to Make and Use Compost - The Ultimate Guide by Nicky Scott (£9.95, Green Books) is available from Amazon

Mark Newton has a degree in Environmental Science and is a genre novelist for Pan Macmillan. He blogs at, or you can find him on Twitter at


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