Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Compost bags - you're doing it wrong!

Well, hopefully most of you are doing it "right", but some people haven't quite realised just how useful compost bags can be, if you use them "right".

I'm talking about compost bought in from the garden centre, in nice strong, brightly coloured plastic bags. Not just compost - this goes for wood chips, chipped bark, manure, organic matter, and so on: anything which comes in strong plastic bags.

The "best" way to use them is to stand them upright on their short end, shake or punch or pummel them until the compost falls down to the bottom, so that they sit up: then cut off a narrow strip right the way across the top.

Use the compost as required: after each use, fold the top over (squashing out the air inside) and put a small weight of some kind (most gardens have spare half bricks all over the place!) on the top to keep it closed.

This has several advantages: it keeps the compost inside the bag moist, so it doesn't dry out and become useless dust.  It keeps the rain out, so the compost doesn't become sodden and have all the nutrients washed out.  And it keeps the slugs and snails out!!

When you get to the bottom, turn the empty bag inside out, leave it to dry for a day or so if necessary, then stack the empties in the shed. 

Why? Because the empties are incredibly useful!

They are super-strong bags, much stronger than the bin liners which you buy on a roll.

If they are in good condition, they are even waterproof!

They can be used for temporary potting up, for lining trays, for short-term storage of lifted plants, and many other uses.

They are particularly useful if you have garden waste to be taken down to the tip: they keep the back of the car clean, and they are usefully small units, such that you can lift them without breaking your back, and you can stack them neatly in the car. Those huge builder bags are great for garden waste, but they're heavy and awkward to lift... using individual ex-compost bags is much easier.

All in all, there is much to be said for using them this way.

So, I hear you saying,  what is the "wrong" way?

The "wrong" way is to slash them across the middle. This is a daft way to do it, as the initial slash invariably means that some of the compost spills out, and for the rest of the time, it's awkward to get your hand inside the slash to pull more compost out.

Exhibit A:

A classic case of a wasted compost bag. The compost falls out all over the ground when you try to get it out: the stuff inside dries out and becomes useless, unless it rains in which case it gets soggy and horrible, and all the slug and snails get inside.

Plus, you've wasted a perfectly good, strong, black plastic bag!
Here's one which I retrieved earlier: the owner had made just a small slash, and had only used a small handful of the new compost.

So all the rest of it was now going to be - quite possibly -  spilt, spoiled, and generally wasted.

Furthermore, they'd slit it and left it on the drive, presumably straight out of the back of the car - so when it was moved (as it would have to be, being on the drive!) it would spill the contents everywhere.

Instead of remonstrating with the Client (who I love dearly), I found some gaffer tape in their garage, taped up the split, turned the bag on end, and slit the top open neatly.

As you can see, a quick shake to get the contents down to the bottom, and they stand up by themselves: the top now has a nice wide opening, so it's easy to get the compost out.

And when it's finally empty, there will be a good strong useful bag, instead of flinging it into landfill.

I didn't leave it standing like that, of course: I moved it into a convenient location, which was easy to do because now you can get hold of the top part of the bag, and just lift. This is much better than trying to lift a saggy, floppy "flat" bag.  Having folded over the top, I popped a small log on top to hold it closed.

Job done!

(I live in hope that the Client will notice how much easier it is to use the new improved bag opening style, and will do it that way in future.)

So there you go, even simple garden tasks have a "wrong" way to be done, and a "better" way!

Did you enjoy this article? Did you find it useful? Would you like me to answer your own, personal, gardening question? Become a Patron - just click here - and support me! Or use the Donate button for a one-off donation. If just 10% of my visitors gave me a pound a month, I'd be able to spend a lot more time answering all the questions!!


  1. Scissor a few drainage holes in the bottom and you have saved at least £2 on your "potato planter".

    1. But a bag of compost costs about £7, and a gro-bag only costs about £2-£3!! (But it's a perfectly valid suggestion, thank you!)

    2. That's OK - The school gets free compost under a local authority scheme!


Comments take 2 days to appear: please be patient. Please note that I do not allow any comments containing links: this is not me being controlling, or suppression of free speech: it is purely to prevent SPAM - I get a continual stream of fake comments with links to horrible things. Trust me, you don't want to read them....