Composting works because garden waste and raw kitchen scraps always rot down and become compost that’s rich and free. How quickly this happens, whether it’s months or years, depends on how you manage your compost heap.

If you started using a new compost bin last spring and followed the best advice on how to make compost, remember it still takes a full year to get good results. We usually keep adding organic waste to the composter throughout the year and it gradually rots down. If you lift the bin off the heap just now or remove the compost through a hatch at the bottom of the bin, you’ll see that only the material at the bottom will be ready to use.

Pile the finished compost on one side or in a barrow, remove and fork the rest back into the bin. If your best compost is still rough, dry or soggy, it will eventually rot down of its own accord. But you could take steps to improve it.

Rough compostable material hasn’t had time to finish decomposing, so give it more time or accelerate the process by following the simple ideas I suggest below. If it is too dry, it needs moisture, so mix in green, wetter stuff such as grass or raw kitchen waste. If too wet, and probably smelly, mix in drier waste like crumpled paper, herbaceous prunings or straw. This will soak up surplus water and let aerobic bacteria get to work.

For a completely fresh start and to get best results within a year, choose a good place for the compost bin. It should be placed on soil to allow for drainage and in a sunny spot to let the composting organisms work quickly in a warm environment. And remember a round or oval composter attracts more sunlight than a square or rectangular one because more of the perimeter is exposed to sunlight during the course of a day. The sun will never reach the back quarter. The shadier the place, the longer you’ll wait for finished compost.

When filling the composter, try to mix in different types of waste. The material is either green or brown: green, sappier stuff like raw kitchen waste, grass clippings, weeds and other fresh greens; or browns such as paper, card, woody herbaceous prunings or straw.

Compostables will break down more quickly when greens and browns are mixed together. As an added bonus, you can speed up the process by periodically forking over the top 30-50cm in the bin.

And sprinkle the odd handful of topsoil over the contents of the composter. This adds more soil organisms and makes commercial compost activator unnecessary. Don’t add spent commercial compost: it’s sterile so contains no micro organisms beneficial or otherwise.

Plant of the week:

Tulip ‘Pieter de Leur’ is a glamorous, lily-flowered tulip. The petals are bright red, washed with crimson down the back and the strong colour gives depth and strength to spring’s pastel shades.

If growing in a pot allow the leaves to die back naturally after flowering and put the pot in an out-of-the-way place over summer. Renew the compost in late autumn and use wire netting to protect the bulbs from squirrels and badgers.