How to make compost

 In Land Stewardship, Living Soils

Compost is key to thriving fertile gardens and farms. It helps grow nutrient-rich fresh organic food that’ll make your whole person sing!

Once you have the ingredients and you’re ready to start, it’s simple, like making a cake. If possible, grab a couple of friends to help you – it’s easier, and more fun.

Step 1: Select a space 1×1 metre minimum, but you’ll need extra space next to it to gather together your materials. A shady spot is ideal during summer.

Step 2: Get material! Get as much compostable material you can from wherever you can! Your garden, neighbours’ gardens, local coffee shop, local businesses etc. There’s lots of stuff around for free if you’re willing to ask, and diversity makes a good heap. See our Quick Guide: compost ingredients

Step 3: Prepare the site Dig out any grass where your compost heap will be so that is sits directly on the earth (readily accessible to earthworms!). If you can’t do it on dirt, don’t worry, you can still compost on paving or concrete.

Step 4: Create a ‘frame’ for the heap Place some bushy material/long twiggy branches on the ground. These will help maintain air holes to allow the microbes to breathe. If there are no holes for the air to get in, the heap may turn “anaerobic” and start to stink.

Step 5: Get water on hand Be ready to run the hose the whole time you’re preparing the heap, ensuring every item gets soaked as it’s added.

Step 5: Making Compost Lasagne Got your ingredients together? Got water? Now grab a garden fork or shovel. A multi-prong fork is easier to move material with, you’ll soon discover. If all else fails – bog in and use your hands!

Method

  1. Add 3 fork or spade-fulls of brown/carbon material
  2. Add 1 fork or spade-full of green/nitrogen material
  3. Water each layer very well as you add it
  4. Repeat until you’ve got a large pile, anything up to about 1.5 x 1.5 metres

If you’ve got bulk material, try 3 wheelbarrows of brown/carbon, to one wheelbarrow of green/nitrogen.

Step 6: Cover the heap Cover the heap with dry lawn clippings, straw, hay or another brown/carbon material.If you don’t have any of that, score an old bit of carpet or hessian.This helps insulate the pile and detract flies and other pests.

Congratulations, You’re now a Microbe Farmer! Now remember, always keep the pile moist!

Like us, compost needs food, air, and water. Your heap is a farm of billions of microbial life forms. They live on organic matter, air and water, so make sure that your compost heap is always moist.

How long will it take? Our method is slow – we don’t turn it. We don’t hurry it.

Patience is bitter, but her fruits are sweet

~  Jean Jacques Rousseau (La patience est amère, mais ses fruits sont doux)

It takes several weeks to a few months – once the heap has cooled to the same temperature as the soil, and most of it has broken down. You should be able to squeeze a handful together into a sticky ball; it’ll smell earthy, and slightly sweet. The twiggy branches from your “frame” will still be there – just use them in your next heap.

Get to it! We’re here to answer any of your questions. Comment here, or connect with us on Facebook, or in real life, here in Manjimup, Western Australia.

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Compost Bays made from free palletsWe like to use compost bays to contain our heaps now. We also like having them in a place accessible to a vehicle, so when you can access bulk waste (for us, apples and paper in unending supply), you can easily drive in and shovel it straight onto your compost pile.
"The Darlek" One of our first ever compost heapsNamed "The Darlek" for its peculiar form, this was one of our first ever heaps, using irrigation pipes to maintain air pockets. Note the persistently rampant kikuyu making its way in! It pays to try to make a pile where there is no kike, or keep it out. Otherwise when you want your compost, it will be difficult to access.
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