A beginner’s guide to composting
Composting is free and easy, it helps the planet, and best of all your plants will love you for it. Follow our simple seven-step guide to homemade compost success.
What is compost?
Food, plants, air and soil all contain microorganisms. When these elements come together in a heap, these nifty microorganisms spread and decompose the organic matter, thus creating compost. Compost is rich in nitrogen and other nutrients which plants need to thrive.
Compost improves soil fertility, water retention, friability and aeration - and that equals happy plants!
What can I throw into my compost heap?
At least a third of household garbage is food waste, so you don’t have to look far past your own kitchen for composting material.
- Fruit and vegetables (including peelings and skins)
- Tea leaves and coffee grounds
- Cereal products (no milk)
- Food scraps (no meat)
- Dead flower heads
- Grass cuttings (in large compost heaps only)
- Most weeds that do not have seed heads
- Softwood prunings
What to prepare before you begin
Choose an isolated area or a container to house your compost. This ensures your heap is tidy and more importantly, compact. This keeps heat and moisture in, which is key for good composting. A rot-proof enclosure or container is best - think brick,concrete or plastic. It’s also wise to pick a container that protects the heap from bugs and animals and will contain the smell.
Make sure your container is bottomless. Contact between the compost and the earth is essential. It encourages worms into your heap, which help break down waste and add their nutrient-rich poo to the mix.
Ready to compost? Let’s go!
- To start your heap, mix your organic waste with a little soil in your container.
- Whenever you have any waste handy, add it to the heap, alternating layers of waste with layers of garden soil. If adding a layer of clippings or leaves, spread some fertiliser, like sulphate of ammonia or chook poo.
- Keep adding layers until the container is full.
- Make sure your heap is kept damp but not wet.
- Leave your heap for about a week, then turn it over. Continue turning once a week for the next seven to eight weeks.
- In warm weather, your compost will be ready in about eight weeks and up to five months in cold weather. If you’re using a rotary bin, it should be ready in about two to three weeks.
- Spread your homemade compost over your garden bed to a depth of 5 to 8cm, and mix it in with the topsoil.
My compost heap smells.
It may be too wet. This can be fixed by covering the heap before it rains, adding dry waste and/or frequent turning.
My compost heap looks dry.
Turn the heap over and sprinkle with water.
My compost heap has stopped breaking down.
There’s probably not enough nitrogen to keep the decomposing microorganisms going. Add high-nitrogen materials like grass clippings, animal manure or nitrogenous fertiliser. It could also be a lack of other nutrients needed by microorganisms, like phosphorous. Lightly sprinkle Blood and Bone or superphosphate to give the microorganisms a boost.
Did you know?
The temperature in a heap can rise to between 60 and 68 degrees Celsius in only a few days, as heat-loving organisms take control. It's important for the heap to generate heat, as this is what kills off weed seeds.
Ready to start your compost? You’ll find all the tools and advice you need instore at Flower Power.