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on 2 April 2010
Aiding carbon sequestration, providing a valuable growing medium and reducing landfill all in one, compost making is the original Black Art and local councils are very keen that more of us should be doing it. But what makes the difference between two hundred litres of dark crumbly goodness and a bin full of smelly old muck? Nicky Scott breaks it down for us.

I'm terrible at making compost - there, I've said it. It's not for want of trying, though. Within my first few years of composting I'd read five books on the subject, and each one left me more confused than the last. Would this book be my salvation?

After a fairly technical and slightly daunting introduction the book settles down into the familiar instructions of how to make good compost. To my surprise, however, the how-to chapter is very short at just six pages which, to be frank, is probably all the space that the guts of this very simple process needs. Other authors have taken half a book to cover the same ground (perhaps that's why it can seem so confusing) but Scott pushes on immediately to discuss types of bins, making leaf mould and composting with worms. There is also a detailed section on how to use your finished compost (an option curiously overlooked in some books), including simple recipes for making up potting mix, cutting mix and seedling compost.

Throughout, Scott takes a refreshing pros-and-cons approach which points out the drawbacks of each option as well as the benefits, and although commercial options are discussed thoroughly the build-it-yourself option is never overlooked. In keeping with Green Books' ethical stance there are also sections on large-scale composting, community composting schemes and composting in schools. There is also an A to Z which, although perhaps not terribly useful given that the book is indexed, is worth looking through for a few gems that weren't included elsewhere in the text (such as how to compost old cooking oil, and the fact that custard is one of the most difficult materials to compost).

Unlike the other composting titles I have read, Scott's unusually thoughtful treatment of this well-trodden subject has not made me feel enthused and ashamed that I am not composting every scrap of material from my home and garden. Instead I feel enlightened and ready to replace my monster bin with something more suitable, to rethink my worm bins, and to take a more realistic attitude to how I make compost. There's a difference.
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on 1 September 2013
This little nugget of wisdom is to be found in the A to Z section of the book. The author advises that drinks cans 'cannot be composted' and should be 'recycled at your local recycling centre'. Hopefully most readers might have already guessed that. As composting books go, it's far from being the 'ultimate guide' as stated on the cover.

There is quite a long section on the different types of composters, with the emphasis on off-the-shelf ones sold at the local garden centre - especially the plastic type - rather than DIY. Perhaps it would have been useful to know a little bit more about the pros and cons of the different types, why some work well and why others don't. For example,the author doesn't mention that the plastic 'Dalek' type, because its sides are impervious to air and water, often turn nice composting materials into anaerobic mush.

There is quite a good section on worms, and on using compost. The A to Z section that follows is actually better than I expected, in spite of the rather obvious advice about cans (and similar recommendations about glass and plastic). The subsequent chapters deal with larger scale composting systems using commercial composters, and composting in schools.

My biggest gripe is that there is a dearth of detailed information about the actual physical processes involved. What actually happens when materials are composted? You won't find the answer in this book.

I suspect the author thought technical information would frighten people off. I disagree. It is only by understanding the 'whys' that the practising composter can improve their techniques and methods. Instead, there is a warning that large compost heaps can get so hot they can catch fire. Perhaps this is theoretically true but such statements should be qualified (large volume, dry woody components in the mix, very hot weather, perhaps a breeze to fan smouldering materials into flames). Even after nearly forty years of being interested in compost, I've never heard of a single case.
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on 21 April 2014
this is a solid overview of composting from your allotment pile to more exotic methods.i,m not sure if the book is for every one as i have seen leaflets giving the same basic info,but for people with access to larger amounts to compost this is worth a weed ooops read
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on 4 November 2014
The ultimate guide indeed! Technical if you want it, explanatory and easy to follow. I've stopped trying to dig up dandelions and docks. I simply remove their leaves and compost them. Buy the book to read why.
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on 7 November 2011
The tips one gets in this book are very comprehensive and useful; it offers practical advice for the ameuteur and professional gardener alike and is full of encouragement!
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