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Making compost

Making compost might initially seem to be a time-consuming process.

But it's really not. So I'm going to make it easy for you by providing a simple formula which you can follow whether you have a garden or not. But firstly, let’s find out what compost is.

What is compost?

Simply put, composting is the process of breaking down organic materials into humus, which plants need to thrive. It feeds the millions of micro-organisms that give us compost in return.

Why bother making compost?

A good compost helps your plants resist pests and disease and supports healthy soil. The end result of this is plants rich in nutrients which support life. Instead of throwing out your waste, you can turn it into fertile soil, thus doing your bit to contribute to a more eco-friendly, sustainable world.

How do we go about making compost?

When you make compost, you pretty much use two materials, carbon (70%), which is your brown, yellow, dry materials (straw, dry leaves, cardboard, sticks, brown grass) and nitrogen (30%), being your green, wet and sloppy ingredients (fruit wastes, fresh green grass, manure, dynamic accumulators). The greater the variety used, the more nutritionally balanced your veggies will be! After all, plants need variety too.

When making compost, it helps to have the materials in small pieces – this increases surface area and makes it easier to get an even mix. What's more, finely chopped ingredients help speed up decomposition.

Composting involves the four elements:

• Fire (heat) – the temperature of the heap is important. With the right C/N ratio (carbon to nitrogen), moisture and aeration, the heap will heat up even in cold weather. Dynamic accumulators also speed up the process.

• Water (sufficient moisture) – If your compost heap gets too dry, the decomposition will slow. Too wet, and it will lead to a less desirable kind of decomposition, with smells. Turning regularly and watering it often will help maintain the moisture level. Also covering your heap with a carpet (or if in a bin, close the lid) helps to protect it from excess rain.

• Earth (organic materials). One of the most important things to remember when making compost is your C/N ratio. Also, avoid using contaminated materials, or those containing heavy metals, pesticides and other toxic substances. Human and pet faeces, meat scraps and fatty materials should also be avoided.

• Air (space in the heap). We want to encourage aerobic (oxygen-loving) bacteria in the heap, so turning the heap regularly, poking holes in it with the garden fork or inserting sticks into the pile when building it (pulling them out later) are strategies which help to keep constant oxygen in the heap. Sunflower stalks and straw also conduct air into compost.

Recipe for making compost

1. Your site should be well-drained! Either start on bare soil, or if using a bin create a layer of sand or gravel so the pile never sits on a puddle.

2. Then comes a layer of sticks which break down quickly (soft wood such as brush or wood chips) and allow air penetration from below. Shred your leaves, hay and garden debris before you start layering.

3. Then begin the layering process – carbon, nitrogen, carbon, nitrogen, mixing up the chunky with the fine (use paper and grass clippings sparingly as they tend to mat together when wet), add dynamic accumulators (which speed up the decomposition process) and water each layer.

4. Layer wet sloppy materials such as fruit and vegetable wastes with absorbent ingredients such as sawdust or dried leaves.

5. Add rock dust and bonemeal such as wood ash or crushed eggshells (bonemeal raises pH so use it in moderation). If you have clay, you can also add it, as it holds nitrogen and starts building the colloid.

6. Finish with a carbon layer (straw or hay) – this will reduce odours and the problems of little insects in the compost. Protect from weather by covering with a carpet or thatching straw, or use a covered bin.

7. Measure the heat of the heap by leaving an iron bar stuck into it. Pull it out after 24 hours, by which time it should reach around 60 degrees centigrade, which is too hot to hold with any degree of comfort. The heap can be turned after 10 days then again 10 days later. When it starts to cool down, 10 -14 days later, it should be ready to use.

You can also shape your compost pile to work with weather conditions – in tropical climates a pile with a rounded or convex top repels excess water whereas a sunken or concave top lets the pile collect much-needed water in dryer climates.

Related Articles

Click one of the following links and get to know some of permaculture's key learnings:

Permaculture Ethics:Clearly defined Permaculture Ethics give us purpose and clarity, enabling us to measure whether our project meets these criteria.

Permaculture Design Principles: Familiarising yourself with and applying these Permaculture Design Principles make creating a sustainable environment easier than ever before.

No-dig gardening: Build a thriving no-dig gardening bed with virtually no effort.

What is soil made of? Discover more about this incredible natural resource.


Return from Making compost to Eco-friendly Africa Travel

Return from Making compost to PDC Blog: Day 3

Return from Making compost to Permaculture Gardening



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Hi, my name is Melissa and I created this site together with photographer Christopher List to help spread awareness about green lifestyles and travel, so everyone can learn how easy it is to live in a sustainable way. Enjoy!

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