Chamomile is good for the compost as it sweetens the mixture

Perennial chamomile adds calcium and ‘sweetens’ the compost.

Just as the success of a meal depends on the quality of the ingredients, so too does the success of a compost heap. If you add only kitchen scraps you’re likely to end up with a slimy, black mess and if it’s all leaves and twigs then the chances are that is what will still be there months later. The fine detail of a compost recipe varies depending on the expert you are consulting, but all compost systems require free drainage, adequate moisture and a mixture of strawy, open material and green plant tissue. The purpose of composting is to break down garden and kitchen ‘waste’ into humus that can then be added to the garden to supply nutrients in a form that can be readily used by plants.

Compost heap piled up in the corner of a wooden bin

Compost can just ‘happen’. This one has kitchen scraps, straw and green waste.


Basic compost ingredients are kitchen scraps, manure (chook, cow, horse), soil, shredded paper, straw and green waste from the garden. This green waste can be made up of grass cuttings, leaves, weeds and leafy prunings. Sticks and branches are also fine as long as they are cut or mulched into small pieces.  These ingredients should added in layers in much the same way as you would make a moussaka, but instead of eggplant, meat and cheese sauce your layers would consist of kitchen scraps, manure, garden waste and straw or shredded paper. If you are like me and not organized enough to have all these ingredients ready at the same time, then you can just add them as they are available. In the words of the old Zen master, ‘compost happens’. It may take longer but it will get there in the end.

Compost, worms, gardening

Healthy compost is full of worms

Don’t add diseased plants, or weeds such as couch, oxalis and onion weed, but conversely there are some plants, including some weeds, that will actually add specific nutrients and even help the compost to break down more quickly.



The herbs

My compost recipe requires regular additions of annual and perennial chamomile (Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum nobile), comfrey (Russian comfrey, S. x uplandicum Bocking 14 is the best cultivar to use), dandelion (Taraxacum species), nettles (Urtica dioica), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

Regular handfuls of chamomile, dandelion and yarrow leaves and flowers will all speed up decomposition of the compost with yarrow being the most effective. Yarrow also adds copper, nitrates, phosphates and potash while chamomile adds calcium and ‘sweetens’ the mixture. Dandelions contribute copper, iron and potash. Nettles are problem weeds but they actually improve the quality of the soil they are growing in and when added to the compost they contribute iron and nitrogen. Tansy adds potassium, which is very important for plant growth while valerian increases the phosphorous content so essential for good flowers and fruits. Probably the most useful compost plant is comfrey. The leaves are rich in potassium, nitrogen, calcium and phosphates. I keep a clump growing next to the compost and add a handful of leaves whenever I throw in kitchen scraps.

dandelion, Taraxacum, flower, leaves, weed

Dandelion leaves and flowers help to speed up decomposition.

Yarrow, herb, flower, compost activator

Yarrow adds copper, nitrates, phosphate and potash to the compost.

comfrey, Symphytum, herb, compost, nutrients

We all know that adding herbs to food increases the flavour and enjoyment of the food. Adding herbs to compost doesn’t quite make it good enough to eat, but it speeds up and improves the composting process. It also ensures that the compost you add to your garden has a good balance of nutrients thus promoting the health and fertility of the soil, so essential for healthy plants.