Composting is an easy and environmentally-friendly way to nourish your plant life, enrich your soil and recycle your kitchen and garden waste. Although it may seem daunting, it’s extremely simple to create your own nutrient-filled compost pile. A few of the benefits of creating one yourself is that it reduces the need for chemical fertilisers, strengthens and revitalises the soil, produces beneficial microorganisms that fuel plant growth and prevent disease, and it’s free!
The recommended size of a compost pile is 3 feet long x 3 feet wide x 3 feet high (just less than 1 meter x 1 meter). This size should generate enough heat to support decomposition and retain an adequate amount of moisture within its centre to encourage bacterial growth and breakdown of organic matter.
Keep the Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio in mind:
Often referred to as the C/N ratio, it indicates the balance of these two elements in order to sustain a healthy compost pile. The suggested ratio is one part Nitrogen/protein-rich green matter to every two/three parts Carbon-rich brown matter.
Examples of Carbon materials are dried leaves, branches, twigs or other dry plant matter, straw, sawdust, newspaper, brown paper bags and wood ash.
Examples of Nitrogen materials are cut grass and green leaves or plants, plant-based kitchen waste such as vegetable and fruit peels and pips, and manure.
Avoid composting meat and other animal products like bone and fish (including pet faeces) which attract undesirable pests, and weeds or contaminated plants that could germinate in your compost pile.
Creating A Compost Heap:
Begin your composting pile on a patch of bare earth with good drainage, and in an area that does not get direct sunlight or is exposed to harsh winds. A partially shaded area that allows for adequate rainfall and sunlight will stimulate healthy decomposition. Steer clear of trees as their roots may leach nutrients from your pile, and avoid areas in close proximity to your home.
Lay course, bulky “brown” materials (such as branches, twigs and dried leaves) down first to allow for good ventilation. Add the composting materials in layers of 10-20cm on top of this, covering the nitrogen-rich “green” materials with a thicker layer of carbon-rich “brown” materials – paying special attention to the C/N ratio. This will reduce bad odours caused by exposed kitchen scraps by masking it with a lovely earthy smell. Keep alternating the layers until you run out of waste or reach just less than a meter high. Try to keep the compost particles small as these are easier to breakdown and faster to decompose.
Add a thin layer of manure or fertiliser. This will kick-start the composting process by providing nitrogen, proteins and enzymes and will aid in the heating up process. You can also use plain garden soil if you have no fertiliser on hand. Moisten (but don’t drench) your compost heap occasionally with some water or leave it up to the rain.
To prevent over-watering from excessive rainfall it may be a good idea to cover your compost pile with plastic sheeting or a similar material. This will retain warmth and moisture, essential for fast decomposition, and act as an inhibitor to vermin and other pests.
Every couple of weeks aerate the compost using a spade or pitchfork by shovelling the centre of the heap to the outside and moving the outside material into the centre. Your nutrient-dense humus, or black-gold as it is known, will be ready for distribution throughout your garden when it is dark, soft and spongy in texture. Start your next compost pile simply by mixing in new waste material to the compost that you already have.
Enjoy the many benefits of having your very own compost heap. Happy composting!