Sue at Nant y Bedd

Sue turns over the top layer of her compost, which allows enough oxygen into the heap without straining the body.


Having good food in your life means having good soil. It’s a cycle of life that embraces our wellbeing so entirely that there is a joy in being part of the process. Composting champion and educator Sue Mabberley has known that joy for the 50 years she’s been composting:

“It’s absolutely addictive. When you start seeing all the waste, rubbish, all the manky stuff that comes out of the kitchen, and all those smelly grass clippings, get converted, it’s amazing. I remember someone pointed out to me once that it smells like a forest floor. It’s delicious, gorgeous stuff.”

Sitting with Sue in her garden room at Nant y Bedd, what becomes most clear is the value of our food waste. An immediate benefit of keeping hold of the uncooked fruit and vegetable waste we produce, along with any garden waste we might have, is that we avoid the financial and environmental impacts of transporting it elsewhere. When we turn our waste into organic matter it feeds the soil, keeps carbon out of the atmosphere and holds water, preventing floods. Then, instead of buying in compost or applying harmful fertilizers, we’re each able to nourish our soil for free: “It’s there to feed your vegetables. So you’re getting the benefits, the nourishment from the material from your own garden.”

It is easy for all of us to practice some form of composting whatever the size of our outdoor or window spaces, and our skill and energy levels. Sue has some useful suggestions to help anyone participate in composting.

Chop and Drop

The chop and drop method involves cutting plants back or removing dead plants and then dropping the cuttings onto the soil and leaving them there. This method replicates nature by allowing the plants to provide for their future thriving. The plant matter can be chopped up to speed up the process of decomposition.

Leaf Mould

Autumn leaves that are falling from deciduous trees can be collected and stored in something as simple as a bin bag with holes in it. After two years the compost will be ready and is especially good for seed sowing and potting on.


Wormeries work well for small scale composting and can be stored inside or on a balcony if you do not have a garden. They are especially good for composting vegetables and fruit, and small amounts of garden waste can be added.

Free Standing Compost Heaps

You don’t need to build a structure to house your compost. You can create a free-standing pile, perhaps site it between two beds, and keep it covered with old carpet or TopTex. Sue tells her students about windrow composts, which are piled on the ground lengthways (think of a Toblerone) and layered up, alternating between brown materials like old straw and cardboard, and green materials like grass cuttings and your vegetable remains.

Top Layer Turning

If you decide to build a compost box or bin, you can avoid turning the whole heap, which puts strain on your body. Instead, you can stick to turning over the top layer of the compost whilst mixing in the new materials. This allows enough oxygen into the heap to create conditions for aerobic digestion to take place.


As well as getting air into your compost, it’s important to keep the heat in and the rain out. Sue covers her compost heap up with sheep’s wool, which she wraps in waterproof material. You can also use old duvets and pillows. Keep them dry if you can because they become heavy to handle when wet.

Keep Your Council Food Caddy in Use

Any cooked food waste, meat and dairy products can go into your food caddy. This waste is taken to the Bridgend Anaerobic Digestion Plant and turned into electricity.

For those wanting to learn more about composting, Sue has created a video guide to compost making here. Sue will also be offering two hour compost tours next year that will be bookable via the Nant y Bedd website. A great book to read on the topic of composting is Lawrence D. Hill’s ‘Organic Gardening’. Also recommended is the Garden Organic pamphlet ‘Composting for Gardeners’.