Late autumn is a time of great change in the garden, with many plants shedding their leaves ready for the winter months ahead.

You should enjoy the autumn spectacle and colour as it is a short-lived treat and before too long, your garden will be covered in a layer of fallen leaves and foliage that will need to be cleared in order to keep your garden tidy.

Instead of seeing this debris as a problem, you should look upon it as a bonus, because if treated correctly this can be converted into a valuable compost that can be returned to your soil next year, adding essential nutrients to your plants. If you do not have a compost bin, then now is the time to invest in one.

There are many different styles to choose, in a range of materials including plastic, metal, and wood. However, you should ensure that your choice is right for you and your garden and that it is of manageable size.

You can collect leaves and debris from your garden in many ways. If you are collecting by hand rake up leaves with a wide wire plastic or metal rake, or for larger quantities of material, simply use two pieces of board to gather. Alternatively, use an electric or petrol garden vacuum to suck up leaves and small debris from paths, patios and flower beds.

Some models incorporate a shredding device that tears the leaves, which will help to speed to the decomposition process in your compost bin.

Your compost bin should be placed in your garden in an airy, well-drained position that should be accessible in all weathers. Do not place your bin on soil that is prone to water-logging in winter.

You can fill your compost bin with any soft organic matter, such as leaves, grass cuttings, soft clippings, annual weeds or vegetable waste from your kitchen.
Although, you should never put in hard woody material, seed heads or the roots from perennial weeds, as these will not quickly break down and could cause potential problems later.

When filling your compost bin, ensure that the material you are adding is broken down as much as possible, either by chopping with a spade or by using a garden shredder.

You should start by placing a layer of material in the base of the bin and then sprinkle on a small quantity of an activating ingredient such as Garotta, which is available from garden centres. If the material is dry, using your watering can sprinkle clean water over the top of this layer to soak.

The addition of the Garotta and moisture in the material will encourage the growth of micro-organisms and bacteria, which work quickly to break down the material.
You should repeat these steps, until your compost bin is full, before finally replacing the lid if there is one, or covering the top with polythene sheeting or even old carpet.

After about four weeks, you should empty out your compost bin and refill again with the same material you have just taken out, as this will aerate the material and speed up the decomposition process. This process should be done every four weeks. After about 12 to 16 weeks you should have a good friable medium that can be used as a general mulch or soil conditioner around your garden.