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What is traditional or cold composting?

Compost is the end result when using a traditional, otherwise known as cold, compost system. It is a dark nutrient rich material that boosts soil productivity, and helps create healthy and abundant gardens. Compost is made by mixing ordinary food and garden waste with a little water and plenty of sunlight and air. When compost is working well it is full of soil life – like worms, fungus, larvae, mites and centipedes. Good compost smells earthy, but not stinky. It can feel warm, damp and crumbly but not slimy.

A traditional compost bin could be for you if:

  • you have large or small quantities of food scraps
  • would like to have a second (or third), complementary system to one that can have dairy, bones, meat, etc added – a traditional composting bin can’t
  • you want to compost your food scraps at home, and keep the goodness local
  • you have garden waste, such as dried leaves, lawn clippings, and twigs/branches
  • you have the space outdoors to compost

Read more about traditional compost bins here, and then take our quiz to get a voucher towards your new composting system.

Getting started

Choose a sunny spot to place your compost bin, directly on the earth so soil life can enter. Layer twigs at the base so air can flow freely inside.

Greens & Browns

Organic waste can be split into two separate groups – greens and browns. Organic waste full of nitrogen is a ‘green’. The nitrogen makes greens rot quickly, and smell unpleasant. Greens are usually soft, fresh, and moist, including food scraps and fresh lawn clippings. A ‘brown’ is organic waste full of carbon. These are normally dry and brittle, and take a long time to break down as they have little nitrogen. Browns include fallen autumn leaves, dry “browned-off” lawn clippings, and cardboard.

To make compost we need to combine our Greens and Browns in layers – a balance of 30% green to 70% brown is recommended.

Think of your compost like a sandwich, start with the bread (a base layer of 35% browns) and then evenly spread a green layer of roughly the same thickness (the filling – 30% greens), on top. Keep the layers roughly the same thickness. Cap with an equal layer of brown (the sandwich lid, and remaining 35%), to help reduce odours and flies.

What to add:

– fresh fruit and vegetables
– lawn clippings, fallen autumn leaves, twigs and branches
– untreated wood shavings
– paper and cardboard
– wooden utensils, skewers, and chopsticks
– solid Bokashi end-productwilted flowers

What not to add:

– cooked and/or processed foods such as bread, pasta and meat unless it has been treated with Bokashi first
– dairy products
– noxious weeds
– commercially compostable packaging
– dog and cat faeces (manure from herbivorous, grass eating animals is fine)

How-Tos of traditional composting

How To

Keep feeding your compost in layers, like a sandwich, and remember compost should be moist like a sponge. Accordingly, add water to dry materials, cover to trap the moisture, and . Make sure there is plenty of air flow around and within the heap.

Stir the top layers of your compost regularly with a fork but do not mix the composted material at the base with the fresh waste at the top.

Compost is ready to harvest when it becomes sweet, dark and crumbly and you cannot identify the original materials in it. This normally takes six to eight months. Harvest the bottom third of composted material by removing the bin. With a garden fork take the top 2/3 of semi composted material and place it back in the bin. This will leave a pile of good quality compost to spread over your garden.


If you don’t have a garden and want the compost to be used, check out ShareWaste, where you can find an individual or community garden in your neighbourhood to drop the end product to.

For more information about traditional composting, watch our ‘How To’ video below, or download our traditional compost factsheets in one of 13 different languages, here.

If you think you know how a traditional compost bin works, and are ready to get started with your own system, take our quiz now to receive a discount voucher towards the cost. Alternatively, book a free workshop here, and you will learn even more, have any questions answered, plus get a discount voucher towards your new set up.

Take the quiz on compost bins:

Cold Compost Quiz questions and answers

Cold Compost Quiz questions and answers