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Home Issue 13 More ways than one to make good compost

More ways than one to make good compost

By GEOFF MIERS

Well composted home-made organic matter is rich in nutrients, makes for great soil conditioner, can be used as a mulch and when dug into the garden the compost will hold water resulting in less water being needed.

A variety of methods can be employed to establish a compost heap. Any organic matter can be composted provided certain conditions are met.

Soft autumn leaves from deciduous trees make for a great base for compost.

The ingredients that make for great compost are many and varied. They include grass clippings, weeds, leaves, paper, fruit wastes, food scraps, sawdust, straw, animal manures, pine needles and if close to the sea, seaweed.

Other options include lint from the vacuum cleaner, pet and human hair, a small amount of wood ash, charcoal and chaff and hulls.

The real secret is to have a good blend of various materials not a lot of two things like all the clippings from the lawn and a few leaves as you will end up with either a slimy wet quagmire of sludge or a bin full of dusty dry material that hasn’t broken down.

The most important aspect of making compost is having the right carbon/nitrogen (C/N) ratio of organic materials.

Micro-organisms, the little creatures that break down the raw materials you put into the compost heap need both carbon and nitrogen to make protein. An easy way of remembering which products contain carbon and which contain nitrogen is to simply think brown products are carbons and green ones are nitrogen.

Examples of carbon products include autumn leaves, pea straw, sawdust, lucerne hay, sugarcane mulch, cardboard, shredded paper.

Examples of nitrogen products include lawn clippings, fine garden prunings, green leaves, weeds, kitchen scraps, citrus peel, egg shells, tea bags and coffee grounds.

A ratio of about 60% green material to 40% brown should be aimed for. Examples of good combinations of compostable products include:- 12 parts lawn clippings and one part sawdust (29); two parts lawn clippings, three parts weeds, one part leaves (28); two parts leaves, one part sawdust, 2.5 parts cow manure (26); four parts weeds, three parts paper, one part chicken litter (27); three parts leaves, three parts weeds, one part paper, 0.5 parts chicken manure, one part urine (28).

Largely irrespective of the type of composting method you use there are a number of key elements or ingredients needed to produce good compost.

As previously mentioned, you need a range of organic materials, both carbonic and nitrogenous materials. You need micro-organisms and these may be introduced through top soil and or animal manures that can be added.

Moisture is essential to the good workings of the compost heap.

Composting material should be damp without being too moist. If too dry your materials will not compost down properly, if too wet it might end up one big pile of stinking slim and sludge.

For most methods of composting you need oxygen for the micro-organisms, thus the importance of forking or turning the compost heap is critical. A heap that is turned regularly or tumbled (pictured) will produce compost at a much quicker rate.

For those anxious to produce lots of compost quickly the final ingredient is physical input, mostly related to turning the heap regularly.

There are a range of composting methods that may be used.

The Berkeley method involves gathering enough material to create a heap at least one cubic metre in size.

Materials with a good C/N ratio should be layered or mixed, moistened lightly when being included into the heap and then regularly turned. Turning should occur after three to four days and then every two to three days until the compost is mature and ready for use.

With easily compostable materials and with the correct blend by using the Berkeley method you can create compost in as little time as 14 days. In winter it will take longer.

The Indore method which involves the minimalist approach with compost taking up to a year to mature, the commercial compost bin method, the organic path method, sheet composting and the rotary bin method are all alternatives systems that may be incorporated in the home gardening situation.

These methods I will discuss next week.

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