Don’t you just love autumn?

Besides the fiery tones of the transitioning leaves, its the cold mornings and mild days in the garden that I love, followed by a well-earned warm bath and hot chocolate as the darkness creeps in, a little earlier each night. But what really makes me warm and fuzzy is the thought of how well fed my compost heap is at this time of year thanks mostly to the material collected from falling leaves as well as lifting, diving and cutting down herbaceous perennials.

I love a bargain and you can’t get a better bargain than a freebie. Homemade compost is just that. Everything that you put into it you'd have to get rid of anyway so what better way to dispose of garden and kitchen waste than to turn it into something positive – garden compost that can be used as a mulch, soil improver or growing medium.

The first step in creating your own compost is deciding where to position the heap. A shady corner of the garden is most practical to protect the heap from the drying effects of direct sunlight. The best compost is made up of 50/50 green and woody materials (sources of nitrogen and carbon).

Too much of the former, from grass cuttings for example, will result in a smelly pile of green slime while too many woody ingredients mean you’ll be waiting a very long time for decomposition. I stockpile material for my heap and add it in layers to ensure roughly the correct ratio. Turning it often (once a month) introduces air to the heap which is essential for bacteria and fungi to convert the waste to humus. Turning the heap also allows you to monitor the moisture levels. If its too wet, decomposition can slow down as less air is available to soil organisms. Too dry and the decomp process will continue all be it very slowly. It spells of dry weather (ha!) it may be necessary to water the heap. My compost heap is made up of three bays and this is really the minimum necessary for effective turning. If you've got space for five even better. But this can be tricky as each bay needs to be a minimum of about one cubed metre to be effective.

When it comes to the right "ingredients", you can’t go wrong with grass cuttings, vegetable peelings, teabags, fruit waste (but not citrus), annual weeds, soft herbaceous prunings and chipped woody prunings.

If you have access to well-rotted horse manure you can bung that in too but it must be well rotted. Don’t add things like cooked meat or dairy products (they will rot down fine but attract rodents in the meantime) and dog or cat poo (or the heap will smell like a toilet).

Perennial weeds and bulbs such as ground elder, bindweed and wild garlic etc should be binned along with diseased plant material. The heap will not be hot enough to kill off invasive weeds or plant pathogens and adding them to heap will infect your compost, which when spread around the garden will only serve to make matters worse.

Depending on the material you add to the heap and the frequency of the turns, you can expect to get good compost in six months to two years. You’ll know its ready when it becomes brown, crumbly and smells like a woodland floor, all warm, rich and hummus-like. My favourite garden scent.

Roses are a close second.