Composting is the natural process of turning organic materials into a nutrient rich conditioner for soil and no dig garden beds. The substance is called compost or humus.
River Cottage Australia’s Paul West gives his tips on starting your own compost at home.
BENEFITS OF COMPOSTING
1) Adding compost to your soil will help your plants and vegies grow bigger, better, and with rich, healthy nutrients.
2) Composting is more economical than buying chemical fertiliser because it uses the waste around your house.
3) Composting is environmentally friendly as it reduces the need for landfill and incineration.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR COMPOST
1) You can simply pile your compost if you have enough space in the backyard and cover with old carpet, but if space is limited where you live and you want to keep your yard or balcony tidier, then you could use an old bin with a tight fitting lid. Alternately you can buy a compost bin from your local nursery; there are many models to choose from to suit your needs.
2) When you’ve got your compost bin, you need to start filling it with a layer of BROWN MATERIALS; these are rich in carbon. You can use leaves, bark, straw and shredded newspaper. Make sure they’re in smaller pieces as they won’t take as long to decay. Add these to your bin but not too much because you’ll be layering as you go.
3) Next you need to add a layer of GREEN MATERIALS maintaining a ratio of about 1 part green to three parts brown. Green materials are rich in Nitrogen. You can use grass clippings and prunings, fruit and vegetables, farm animal manure such as cow, horse, sheep and chicken. You can also use your kitchen scraps like bread, egg shells, coffee grounds and tea / tea bags, citrus rinds and fruit & vegetable peelings.
4) Next you need to add a layer of soil or finished compost (you could get a small amount from your local garden centre). A shovel load or two should be enough. This gets the microbes going and starting to break down the materials to form the compost.
5) Mix up the materials using a fork or shovel.
6) You might want to add just a sprinkle of water from a watering can to add moisture.
7) Repeat the layers until the bin is full.
8) After a week, give the bin another mix to aerate the pile. Move less decayed material to the centre of the pile and then sprinkle with a little water. You’ll notice now that the materials will be feeling warm; this is all the microbial activity breaking down the materials and forming the compost.
9) Mix the pile every week or two. After a while the material will start to look dark brown and will become less in volume as the composting occurs. Check the moisture by squeezing the pile; it should feel damp but not wet. If a lot of water comes out while squeezing, it’s too wet. You can add some more dry brown material to give it balance. If the pile feels dry add a little more water.
10) Once the pile is uniformly dark brown and neither too wet nor too dry, leave it cure for a few weeks until very dark and crumbly and soil like. It is now ready to use on your garden bed.