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Make your own compost

Gundula
Published on May 5th 2021
151
A bird sitting on top of a dirt field
If you want to keep your plants looking healthy and lush, and save money whilst doing so, look no further than your own doorstep.
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Composting your garden and household waste has countless benefits:
  • You will be able to provide your garden with vital organic nourishment
  • It reduces the need for chemical fertilisers and pesticides
  • It reduces the amount of organic matter in landfills
  • It saves you money
A basket is parked on the side of a dirt field

What can I compost?

Plant prunings, grass cuttings*, kitchen veggies, fruit peels, coffee, crushed eggshells, firewood ash, tea bags, shredded paper, and many more. Organic matter like kitchen waste and grass cuttings breaks down at a high rate and adds important nitrogen and moisture. Cardboard, egg boxes, fallen leaves, shredded paper and scrunched up newspaper decompose at a slower pace but provides important carbon and fiber, and form essential air pockets in the heap. The more variety you can add the better.
A basket filled with blue and green bowl
Cut your pruned branches into shorter pieces and add it to your heap!
*Grass cuttings work for some, and not for others. I believe it is a great activator and source of nitrogen, but the trick lies in your layering of grass cuttings and ensuring that it is a thin layer.
What about weeds? Weeds are a wonderful thing to add to your compost heap. They give back the necessary micro-elements. The trick is to add the weeds before they form seed. If you caught them too late - you can still add them to the compost heap but you will need to turn your compost a few times to increase the temperature which will then kill the seeds of the weeds.
If you are looking to turbo-boost your compost heap, try and get some kraal or chicken manure and add that to your compost heap.
Do not compost glass, metals, plastics, dairy products, onion, meat, citrus, pet-poo, disease or insect-infested plants, or plants treated with chemicals.

Location and size

The ideal compost heap is about 5m long and 1m high (once it has dropped) with a big base and more narrow shape towards the top. Ensure the soil beneath is level and well-drained so that excess water drains away easily. This also allows worms to join in the compost making magic. Make sure the site is wheelbarrow-friendly.
If you don’t have enough space for a compost heap, try a compost bin available from garden centres and hardware stores. To keep it neat and tidy, enclose your heap with bricks or wooden fencing.
Top tip: Take the seasons into account as summer might dry out your compost heap and in winter it might not get enough sun to heat up. I tend to build a heap in Autumn in a spot that gets enough sun to keep the heap warm and active. In the summer months, it would be good to keep your heap in some shade. I started composting in a bin due to very dry and hot summers and also water restrictions in the Cape.
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Clay on the left

Layering

Keep your layers thin and off equal weight and wait for earthworms to move in. It can take up to 6 months. Start with a bottom layer with small branches, rough clippings, or prunings. This will aerate the heap and ensure ventilation at the bottom of the pile. Now add layers of kitchen peelings and grass mowings (green layer); alternate the green layer with dry leaves and twigs, cardboard eggs boxes, and newspaper (brown layer).
To prevent your heap from becoming wet and smelly, keep a good balance between the green and brown waste. If it’s too wet, add some brown, if it’s too dry, add some green! Keep an eye on the moisture levels and water weekly to encourage decomposition. The heap will heat up gradually as it starts to decay.
Top tip: Add clay to your heap every now and then. I mix clay with water and add it in between layers. The clay helps the minerals and nutrients to stay put!
Another top tip: Add a layer of your own garden soil every now and then. This will ensure that you multiply the micro-organisms already in your garden's soil.
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Soil

Aftercare

  • Cover your heap with a top layer of leaves, twigs, or hay. If it’s either too dry or wet where you live, cover it with a layer of plastic.
  • I’ve had great success with layering thin resulting in me not having to turn my heap every other week to increase the heat and add air. However, this is dependant on your own circumstances, the material you add, and the thickness of your layers.
  • Give your heap about 6 months until a dark brown, nutrient-rich, soil-like layer has formed at the bottom of the pile and is now ready to be spread into your flowerbeds, top dress your lawn, or feed your veggie garden! Compost greatly improves the quality of the soil by suppressing weeds and retaining soil moisture.

Share your compost tips and stories with us by using the hashtag #compost!