A Compost heap can be a useful addition to any home garden. However, many times the initial pleasure is replaced by frustration and disgust as the unmanaged heap becomes a pile of decaying, filthy matter. Although this can be managed it does not negate the fact that compost heaps are often a waste of space and remain a good idea at best. Kenny McIvor from our Office tells us why…

As hipster fads swing from ‘going green’ to recycling garden waste a new lifestyle emerges, the ‘Compster.’ The Compster is someone who works on ones garden using predominately organic means. So in the spirit of moving with the trends today’s blog looks at developing the Compster in you. 

Why compost? Recycling waste is not only beneficial to you, but also to you garden. In South Africa the average person generates 20kg of green (wet) waste per month. Most of which is piled onto a landfill site and the nutrients that could be harvested back into your garden lost forever.

How does one start a compost heap?

  1. The easy method is to allocate an area in the garden, close enough to refuse/rubbish and the kitchen, but far enough to be out of sight and smell. Grass clippings and leaves provide a good basis, but note that they have limited nutrient value by themselves. The deliciously steamy, rich (Do not judge me for using those adjectives) and fertile compost you receive in bags from the nursery is majority mushroom compost. This compost has the ideal ratio of carbon to Nitrogen at around 12:1. Nitrogen is one of the key elements that your garden needs and more importantly your compost. Pig manure is the ideal compost for your garden, followed by chicken guarana and horse manure. Note: some fynbos plants do not like compost that is high in Sodium or very alkaline.
  2. Frame your compost heap, either by making a wooden frame or a loosely constructed frame of chicken wire (you will need about 2m). Make sure that you leave an opening for access and do not cover the top. One needs to have enough space so that turning, digging and adding to the compost heap is easy
  3. Compost heaps are made up of two key components: green (grass clippings, old annuals, fruit and veggies) and brown garden debris (dry leaves, soil). It is good to keep a balance to ones compost heap: a good ratio of green to brown should be 1:2. Your compost heap should be damp- not wet or dry. If it is too wet add some more browns and if too dry add more greens.
  4. Begin by laying 100mm of leaves at the bottom of your heap, followed by 200mm of good quality soil. This should be followed by 50mm of green debris and then 100mm of brown. Keep layering brown and green debris as you add to your compost layer.
  5. Weekly maintenance is needed on your compost heap in the form of turning/forking (the process of using a garden fork to turn and aerate your garden soil/compost). After 3- 5 months your compost should be ready.
  6. As your compost heaps breakdown and decompose your compost loses Nitrogen. This is one of the reasons why lawn thatch (lawn cuttings) and dry leaves do not sufficiently compost your garden as they do not contain much nitrogen to fertilize your plants. Greens on the other hand contain significant levels of nitrogen and therefore are essential in ones compost heap. Coffee beans are rich in nitrogen and can be added to effectively promote nitrogen fixation of your heap. Similarly, manure and chicken guarana can be added as a source of additional nitrogen to your compost.
  7. Some Compsters create two or three separate heaps and fork the compost from one into the other to neatly mix it up and aerate each heap for quicker results. What I would suggest it create one heap and pile all the green and brown waste into the heap for the first month or so and continue to fork weekly. After a month create another heap from scratch and do the same. At the third month start the third heap etc. By doing this you ensure that you have a constant supply of compost for your garden year around.

How do you know when your compost is ready? 

Once the matter has broken down sufficiently so that you cannot recognise its components then your compost should be ready for use. You can use compost from a heap while it is still in the process of being developed, remove the compost that is ready and leave that which is still decomposing. A healthy compost heap should not smell bad- if so add more brown debris in the form of soil and leaves into your heap.

What can/cannot I put into my compost heap?

The best compost heaps are made up of a variety of wet waste. Waste such as vegetable peels, tea bags and coffee seeds, plant matter and grass cuttings are ideal waste to place in your heap. Do not compost animal waste, dairy, oils, meat and any diseased or infected plant material (including veggies). Cardboard boxes, egg shells and paper breakdown slowly and therefore should be used in moderation. But if used correctly can add valuable fibre and carbon to your heap. They also promote air flow (aeration) through the heap. Lastly, water your compost in very hot/dry conditions and if your compost heaps looks very dry.

Now you should be on the fast track on becoming the ideal ‘Compster.’ So when you’ve scattered your rich brown-black home-made compost around your garden, donned on your skinny jeans and are drinking your own brewed craft beer send us a pic/Instagram or tweet it- we would love to see your garden.