Allotment Composting: More limited range of materials

I have been asked to include a separate page on composting on allotments as although the techniques are the same as I have already given on other pages there are some key differences in part because the kitchen waste, which plays a major part in home composting, will not be available to the allotment composter.

Compostable materials on the allotment

In many gardens at home grass cuttings will form a major part of the summer compostable material available and if balanced with the right quantity of carbon rich browns will probably be the main ‘activators’. On allotment plots there will be limited quantities of grass as there will not be a lawn the only source of grass being only  one or two paths bordering the plot Soft young weeds are normally available and these  rot quickly.

However, weeds are often hoed and left on the ground to take advantage of their value to the compost heap they will need to be collected.

Comfrey leaves make good “activators” and I would recommend setting aside a small part of the plot for growing this useful plant. Nettles are also very effective and while I would not recommend growing them on the plot (it might present problems during plot inspections) there may well be some available in the hedges and uncultivated areas, waste ground on the site. See the section on Liquid Feed

If poultry or rabbits are kept, the manure makes a good activator.  Some of the horse or cattle manure delivered to manure the site can be kept back to add to the compost bin bulk up other ingredients.

Do not put perennial weeds such as buttercup, bindweed or ground elder directly onto the heap as they will survive the composting process unless you are using a “Hot Heap”. They can be put in a plastic sack with some grass mowing if available) and left to dry until the weeds are no longer recognisable this may take a several months they can then be added to the compost heap. Some weeds can be killed by drowning in a bucket of water for a month or two.

Items that are a little slower to decompose include windfall fruit, the leaves/tops from vegetables. (Remove the carrot, parsnip tops etc to compost on the allotment rather than carry them home to trim later),    old flowers or  bedding plants,  soft prunings,  perennial weeds (if drowned or dried first) and of course tea bags if you can find the time to relax. Please note that not all tea bags will compost.  Chop up tough items using shears or a sharp spade. The smaller you make them the quicker they will compost .They can also be crushed by hitting with the spade or a hammer.

 Allotment Browns include items such as. Brassica stalks which are slow to decompose and are best chopped or crushed. Old straw or hay from animal bedding or from around the strawberries is valuable to in providing the correct green brown balance and retaining moisture. Tough hedge clippings and woody prunings will be very slow to compost. If the plot is positioned so that it is covered in   autumn leaves these are very slow to rot and are best treated separately to make leaf mould

If bonfires are allowed the wood ash can be composted and if necessary, it might be acceptable to bring clean cardboard and shredded paper onto the site.  Please do not transport uncooked or cooked kitchen waste especially meat or dairy products onto the site.

Allotment compost bins or heaps?

They say Compost Just Happens( and you can buy the teeshirts) all organic  waste will decompose eventually but it may smell, ooze lechate or take a long time.  A compost pile will work but it will look untidy and possibly attract vermin.

A bin looks tidier, can be more easily managed and will therefore produce more and better compost.  However while plastic bins “Dalek” are commonly used on allotments Plastic Compost Bins, and may be adequate for a starter or quarter plot, they cannot really deal with the quantity of material produced on a full size plot.

For a full size allotment, two or three New Zealand bins are required Wooden Compost bins. These may be purchased, carefully homemade or just consist of pallets joined together. Pallet compost bins have the advantage of being free and of a good size. Many plotholders will use a bank of three or four bins making turning to aerate the contents easy. 

As indicated on the techniques pages the plot-holder will have the choice of using a Cool Bin, which requires relatively little effort but slow or a Hot Heap.  This will produce compost in a shorter time but it requires considerable more effort on the part of the Composter. Indeed rapid Hot Composting will produce compost in 21 days if the composter is prepared to chop the materials into one-inch lengths and turn the compost daily


Bank of New Zealand bins

Pallet bin

Wooden bin with air spaces between boards

Asbestos cement bin. Should be prohibited on site

Working bin

Filled bins

Filled bin Might benefit from being covered

Perennial thistle seeds in this bin!

Partially filled bin