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Making Compost

Find out how to make your own compost

Making Compost

grow your own | recycle

Compost is a vital part of any self sufficient lifestyle. It adds nutrition to your soil improving its structure and water-holding ability, makes an excellent mulch, improves soil fertility, keeps soil healthy and balanced, and can save you a fortune on commercial fertilizers. Best of all, compost is free, and enormoustly reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfill. Currenly one third of waste heading for landfill sites is organic matter from gardens and kitchens.


Making compost is very easy, but requires a little thought. It is a byproduct of the work of fungi, worms, insects, and bacteria and replicates the way that material decays on the ground in a wood or forest. We can use our knowledge to speed up this process by ensuring that our compost is formed under optimal temperatures, moisture levels, aeration levels, and with the perfect mixture of organic materials.

Heat is very important in the creation of compost. In the center of a pile of organic matter heat is generated by the decomposition. The bigger the pile, the hotter the center will get and the faster it will decompose. Anything up to 1 cubic metre is optimal. Air is also very important as oxygen is an essential part of the process. Air is added to the mix by turning the compost over or using a compost aerator. Moisture is also essential. A dry compost heap will decay very slowly, however a soggy wet mass is also something to avoid. And finally, the balance of organic materials in the compost heap is very important. If there is an excess of any one type of material (for example grass cuttings), the the compost will form slowly and be poor. A good mixture of green and brown material is essential.

Almost any organic material can be added to a compost heap, but some things should be avoided. Scraps of meat, fish, dairy products, and any other high fat foods should be avoided. They take a very long time to decompose, smell very bad, and worst of all, they will attract pests such as rats, mice, and flies. Any weeds that have gone to seed or that have a persistent root system should be burned rather than composted or your compost will spread weeds wherever you spread it.

Perfect compost is a 25:1 mixture of browns, and greens. Brown material is carbon rich - e.g. wood, newspaper, leaves (dried), and straw. Green material is nitrogen rich - e.g. fresh kitchen scraps, grass clippings from the lawn. Smaller items compost quicker, therefore a log will take years to decay down, but wood chips can be gone within months. Newspaper should be torn, leaves should be shredded (e.g. with a lawn mower) before they are added to the compost pile. If you add too much brown material then the composting process will slow down. Adding too much nitrogen by way of green material will result in a very smelly compost heap.

Kitchen waste bin ready for composting

Most compost heaps are composed primarily of dried leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen waste. Manure, and seaweed can also be added and both are excellent materials full of nutrients and helpful microbes. Hay and straw are excellent in place of leaves. Crushed egg shells are also excellent, as are all of your fruit and vegetable peelings, and even tea bags and used coffee filters.

If you do not turn your compost heap the decomposition process can take years. However regular turning can result in excellent compost within a matter of a couple of months.

A compost thermometer is an excellent investment and lets you know exactly how your compost is doing. If the temperature in the centre of the compost is the same as the ambient air temperature then you need to add more green materials. This will speed up the microbial activity and get things moving again. If the temperature is over 150 degrees Farenheit then weed seeds will be killed, but decomposition will not occur optimally. In this case add some more brown materials and turn over the compost.

Cut away illustration of a compost bin

There are a wide range of tools available to help you make compost: compost bins, worm composting bins, and compost tumblers, but you simply make a pile of waste in your garden and not spend any money at all. It is best to cover any newly added kitchen waste with brown materials to prevent flies being attracted.

Shopping List

Here are some useful links to relevant products:
compost thermometer
compost tumbler
compost maker

Article Published: 14:40, 5th Apr 2006

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