Heaps of goodness
Join the eco-friendly drive by starting a compost heap in your garden – by simply composting your kitchen and garden waste as well as recycling plastic, glass, tins and paper, you can cut a family of four’s rubbish down to half a bag a week! Not only will you reduce the waste filling up landfill sites, but you will also have free, rich, organic food for your garden.
Starting your own compost heap is easy – you can either buy a composter from most garden centres or hardware stores or you can make your own enclosed or free-standing heap in a corner of your garden.
Starting your own compost heap
Step 1: Choose a corner of your garden that is not too prominent or close to the house, and, if possible, one that is hidden by hedges or plants as your compost heap is bound to be a bit unsightly. It is best to choose a spot that receives sun or semi-shade as this will speed up the decomposition process, but remember
that you will need to keep it moist if it is in full sun.
Step 2: If you wish to enclose your compost heap with some kind of framework, you can build a wall from brick or wooden slats or encircle it with chicken wire. If you choose to use bricks or slats, make sure you allow gaps for ventilation. The base of the compost heap should be well-draining soil.
Step 3: It is a good idea to cover the bottom of the area where your heap will be with a layer of twigs and small branches as this will allow good ventilation at the bottom
of the pile.
Step 4: You can then begin layering the different types of waste on the heap. Try to alternate layers of green waste (see the ‘What to compost’ box) and brown waste, with a ratio of one part green waste to two parts brown waste in order to prevent the heap from becoming too damp and smelly.
Step 4: You can add a compost activator to speed up the composting process if you wish, but this is not necessary. These are available from garden centres and hardware stores.
Step 5: Test your compost heap for moistness as water is needed to assist the decomposition process. Remember, a dry heap will take longer to decompose. The heap should feel like a damp, but not wet, sponge; add water to make it more moist, or dry leaves to make it less moist. Water the top of the heap as well as the centre of the heap using a hose when necessary.
Step 6: You can also speed up the process by aerating your compost after it has lain for a month. Do this by turning the pile with a garden spade or fork – move the contents from the outside of the heap into the middle of the pile where it is hotter and where decomposition takes place faster. Turn the pile on a monthly basis until your compost is ready. Alternatively, you can simply leave the heap alone – it should turn into compost after four months. You will know the heap has turned to compost when it is dark brown in colour and crumbly when rubbed between your fingers and smells like soil.
There is a wide range of composters available from most garden centres and hardware stores. Choose a spot in an out-of-the-way sunny or semi-shaded area on loosened, well-draining soil or concrete. If it is on concrete, pavers or bricks, lay some soil underneath it to help with drainage.
Add your garden and kitchen waste as per the steps above in ‘Starting your own compost heap’. Like a free-standing heap, if your composter is situated in a sunny spot, ensure that you keep it moist – the heat and water will speed up the decomposition process. Some composters have a hole in which you can insert a hose pipe; otherwise simply remove the lid, water the top and stick the hose into the centre of the compost as well. Keep the lid on your compost bin to retain warmth and moisture and to keep the compost from becoming waterlogged when it rains.
Shop-bought composters are designed to allow in sufficient air to the composting material and it is not necessary to turn your compost, although turning it occasionally will speed up the decomposition process.
What to compost
You can throw any of the below compostable waste onto your heap and it will turn into compost, however, the smaller the pieces of compost, the quicker they will decompose. Investing in a garden shredder is a good option for breaking up larger pieces of garden debris such as branches, twigs and leaves.
It is advisable to layer green and brown waste, with a ratio of one part green waste to two parts brown waste to avoid a wet, mushy heap. You can mix up grass clippings with brown waste to prevent it clogging together and creating a soggy mass.
Green waste includes:
Vegetable and fruit peelings
Flowers that are finished blooming
Weeds (make sure they have not gone to seed)
Brown waste consists of:
What NOT to compost
Raw or cooked meat
Citrus peels – these will make your heap too acidic, which will deter earthworms
Used disposable nappies or tissues
Plants that are diseased or infested with insects
Chemicals or plants that have been treated with chemicals
Animal or human excrement
Composting in small spaces
If you live in an apartment, flat or townhouse with no space for a compost heap, there are still ways in to compost. Worm composting, also called vermicomposting, can be done indoors or in a small courtyard. YWaste sells worm farms, which produce worm castings and nutritious worm tea ideal for feeding plants. These user-friendly three-tier worm farms are available from www.y-waste.co.za.
Bokashi is another method of composting kitchen waste. Simply throw leftover kitchen scraps in the Bokashi bin, which is lined with Bokashi powder, and the waste will ferment within 10 days. You can then bury it in your garden and plant over it or add it to your compost heap. Visit www.y-waste.co.za.
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