I've moved into a new house, and at the bottom of the garden I've found the following. Firstly, a tall wire 'bin' with a bin bag inside, and sticks/twigs inside the bin bag. Then, one quite large wooden 'pen' almost entirely filled with compacted grass cuttings, covered over with a piece of carpet. Next to this is a similarly sized wooden 'pen' with what looks like 'compost' in, then a metal square 'pen' with the same sort of stuff in, with a metal flap at the bottom. I'm really keen to start composting, but I really don't know what this arrangement is for, so thought I'd ask anyone in the know - can you point me in the right direction?
The wire bin is for leafmould. You can collect leaves in binbags, poke holes in them and they break down by natural fungus action. Takes about a year. Excellent for use as potting compost and for spring bulbs planted about now.
It sounds like you also have a three-bay compost system. You lucky thing - must have lots of space!! You use these in order - one is being added to, one is rotting down undisturbed (apart from a monthly fork over to keep it aerated), one is being distributed when/where you need it. If it looks like there are just grass clippings in there, it's been sadly misused by previous occupants. You need 'green' and 'brown' constituents for a compost heap, and the more chopped up the better.
If I were you, I would dig out most of what is there in those bays, put them into one bay to use when you need them, or distribute over your borders as a mulch to keep warmth in the soil and keep weeds down over winter. Don't dig it all out too efficiently, there will be good worms in there if there is any composty-breaking-down going on, and you need those worms to get your new compost started.
Then start your new composting triple circuit (I am still )by reading this pageand this one and saving everything that can go in the pile. I do put shredded paper in, but not cardboard, because I don't have anything to tear it up with other than my bare hands and instead I use cardboard as a weed suppressant, or a compost bin liner (when I had one that was made of pallets and therefore sort of open at the sides). I'm also not very good about turning my compost regularly, because it's difficult - I have two plastic "daleks" and it is hard work getting a fork in there.
Gardeners' World on BBC did leafmould last week (ep 30) and composting in three bays the week before. Available on iplayer I think!
ooh thank you for that really comprehensive answer, I've been googling more about the green and brown constituents for compost, but thank you for your links. I'm a bit intimidated about starting, because we seem to have loads of kitchen waste but not much of the brown constituents, and don't want to get it 'wrong'! You're right we do have quite a big garden now, am a bit lost with where to start to be honest! Think I'll get the children out at the weekend gathering up leaves to make the leafmould, and will make time to watch the Gardeners' World episodes. Thanks again AndIf