November is Compost Month

November signals the start of the clear-up, when most of the leaves have fallen and the flowers that kept on going through the early part of autumn are now starting to sag.

So before you clean and oil your tools and stow them safely in the shed for winter, they've one more task to perform – gathering in all that damp foliage and shrubby trimmings and turning them into goodness that can be returned to the soil.

To some gardeners making compost is one of the black arts; it's a skill they never quite master, but once you've got the recipe there's nothing to it.

The secret is to combine an equal quantity of soft and woody garden refuse, mixing it well in a compost bin and leaving the process of decomposition to work its magic.

The cooler your garden, the longer this process will take, because the secret of making compost is heat.

It's what's generated at the heart of the heap and so the bigger your heap and the warmer the climate the faster the whole cycle will take.

If you get it right, you should have rich, crumbly compost in six months but if you don't, do not despair. Just turn your compost to allow more air into the mix, then stack it in the bin again and eventually it will come right.

Or maybe not, not if you've added in fallen leaves in as well!

Tree leaves are much tougher than they look and they take far longer to break down than other garden refuse. You can help to speed the process along by piling them up in the lawn and running over them with a lawnmower to chop them into little pieces.

Once you've done that either stuff them into plastic sacks, puncturing holes in the plastic with your fork, or make bins from chicken wire and empty them in here.

Either way it will take at least a year and probably longer for the contents to be usable, but your patience will be rewarded with dark and sweet-smelling leaf mould that makes the perfect soil conditioner.

By now your garden will be looking much tidier, but don't get too carried away. A pile of leaves behind the shed would make the ideal winter quarters for a hedgehog and there is still goodness to be had for hungry birds in those drooping sunflower heads.

By deliberately leaving a few areas of your garden untouched you'll be helping the local wildlife population to endure the cold months ahead.

Agnes Stevenson