Starting a compost heap

Starting a compost heap

Everyday life in the modern age is marked by a large amount of rubbish which we throw away. Increasing rubbish has meant more landfills, and greater stress on the environment in general. Gardens are not exempt from this. In the garden, organic waste is generated from dead plant material. Leaves, grass cuttings, stems, twigs and the like, turn into organic waste. Instead of placing more burdens on landfills, where most rubbish ends up, organic waste material can, and should be recycled.

Organic rubbish can turn into the best supplement for your plant’s needs, if their decomposition is properly facilitated. The fertilizer that is organic compost, is one of the most efficient types of plant nutrition, better than anything made by man.

The wonders of compost

compost-material.jpgCompost can also be used to condition any barren soil, and act as landfill cover. In places where soil is dominated by high silica content, compost functions as an absorbent material that retains moisture and nutrients. Composting is now being regarded as an efficient way to recycle material back into the earth’s system; just by grinding up organic material into small particles, and then “giving” it back to the earth, and you have already completed a full cyclical rotation of any given material substance.

Well made compost is dark in color, soft, and crumbles easily. Its main purpose is as an organic soil amendment, and it doubles up as a source of nutrients for plants. If you have a continuous supply of plant waste, then it makes sense to start a compost pile.

Is compost smelly and offensive?

Due to lack of awareness, most people assume compost heaps to be odious piles of rotten garbage in the backyard. The offensive stench would relegate it to some garden spot out of sight of any visitors, and unless asked about the whereabouts, would be something never discussed in public. In truth, compost heaps are not hard to maintain, and you can produce great compost without the stink. But, composting takes time, effort, patience, and some space in the garden for it to yield proper results.

When I started my first compost heap, I made several typical errors. These included preventing the pile from much needed oxygen, and not maintaining the exact moisture levels needed. It ended up decomposing in a very non-beneficial way, and producing an odor so foul that neighbors complained, and government agents were knocking at my door.

What should go into the compost heap?

Generally, most organic garbage from the yard or kitchen is suitable. This includes leaves, leftover food, old newspapers, grass debris left after mowing the lawn, and cut weeds. If you have a barrel devoted to storing these things, it can fill up quite easily within a few weeks. One important thing to keep in mind is the ratio of the types of compost material. The most abundant material in the pile should consist of plant matter.

The larger elements should be chopped into the smallest pieces possible. As the materials start to decompose, they should be aerated to get oxygen flowing, and turned over using a shovel or rake. One widely accepted rule of thumb is to keep the moisture to that of a wet sponge that has been squeezed out.

Choosing the right method

The backyard is usually the target location for a compost heap, and if possible, yes, it should be located out of the way. After all, a heap of decaying material isn’t exactly the nicest sight in your garden. A high square footage counts more than deeper pile, because deeper sections won’t be exposed to anything that is required for the process to work. So, it is better to spread it out over a wider area. One method involves spreading the compost pile over the roof of a low shed or tool shack, and using boards to prevent the pile from falling off.

Another way is stacking the compost material to a height of about 4-6 feet, inside an enclosure that has side openings for ventilation. A simple wire mash cylinder can do the job well enough. If the material is turned over regularly, it will ensure proper decomposition of all sections of the pile. Just make sure it is moist enough and well aerated, and it should decompose within 2-6 months, depending on the climate and the size of the compost material.

Many home gardeners are now trying their hand at composting because of the benefits it provides to the soil, plants, and environment in general. If maintaining a pile of compost sounds like something that would interest you, there are many sources of information dedicated to this subject alone, but ultimately, successful composting depends on actually doing it, and a little trial and error, especially at the start.

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2 Responses to "Starting a compost heap"

  1. My neighbours have a compost bin which they sited very close to my back door and I was inundated with little white flies! I told them of my problem and they have now repositioned it to about 20 feet from my door. However, I still get lots and lots of small black flies (fruit flies?) as well as the white ones which come out in droves at night.

    Is it normal to have all these flies or are they putting in the wrong things – or as your article suggests, perhaps in the incorrect proportions.

    I would welcome your comments as it is very unpleasant, particularly at this time of year when the weather is warm.

    Thank you.

    Kind regards.

    Julie Waite

  2. Hi Julie,

    I believe they are fruit flies.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think they will go away yet, as spring-summer is their “season.” Unless you can put up with them, try having a talk with your neighbor. 20 feet is still a very short distance.

    If you rear fish, you might have a use for them after all. Most small pets love them

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