Any keen veggie grower will know that the key to green success is a healthy compost heap…

These days, the average backyard is not just a home for the humble hills-hoist, it has become a multi-purpose space which doubles as a space for rest and recreation plus an area to grow and supplement the household food supply. Increasing amounts of people are slowly discovering the rewarding and personally satisfying ‘hobby’ of home vegetable growing, and many have turned it into a very successful enterprise of its own.

A key element for any keen veggie grower is a working compost heap, from a pile in the corner of your backyard to the store-bought, plastic variety. A compost bin is a great way to recycle garden and kitchen waste or scraps with the added bonus of creating a fantastic garden fertiliser. A compost bin can turn waste into food for soil organisms and also give nutrients to plant life. A simple rule is, anything that once lived (with the exception of meat and bones) can be composted down to help something new grow well.

There are 2 main methods to creating compost:

  • Aerobic “hot” composting
  • Anaerobic “cold” composting

The first method involves turning compost regularly to introduce oxygen. This action speeds up the composting process and is quite a popular choice for the home gardener due to the speed. Many store-bought compost bins allow the pile to be turned or tumbled. The second method, known as anaerobic composting, is where the materials are left untouched or unturned with fresh material added to the top of the existing pile. This method is a much slower process.

Compost relies on the hard work of worms, insects, fungi, bacteria and various other micro-organisms to break down the organic materials and turn it in to rich fertiliser. With the 2 methods mentioned above, you have a few options, either a compost bin or a compost heap. These are both two quite different methods of compost making. Bins are perfect for making smaller amounts of compost, and are generally more suited to the standard suburban block. A compost bin will usually contain a fairly large proportion of kitchen waste with a much smaller garden waste component. This is due to the physical size of most store-bought bins, not to mention the amount of garden one is willing to forgo for something that does not usually fit well into many designer landscapes. Although in a perfect world, all living waste, whether it is from the kitchen or garden would be composted, however it is just not realistic for many.

Insiders tip – Add a little garden top soil or mature compost from the garden to your fresh product in order to boost micro-organism levels and kick start the decomposition process.

Compost bins usually use the anaerobic method of composting (unless a tumbler style bin is used) and due to the high component of kitchen waste, which contains large amounts of moisture, water is usually not necessary. In fact, they can sometimes be too wet. If this is the case make sure you hold off on the water until the moisture level evens out and you may also consider adding carbon-rich materials like leaves, straw or newspaper to absorb some of the excess moisture. If your bin is too wet, the water will deprive the micro-organisms of oxygen which they need to stay alive and on the job. The micro-organisms will actually start to drown.

Here are a few little rules to ensure you avoid some of the nasty insets like flies and maggots:

  • Add some garden Lime
  • Add no infected plant or fruit material (such as fruit fly)
  • Avoid sweet or junk food waste (like biscuits)
  • Always keep a lid on the bin
  • Use a smaller internal compost bins with sound lids and transfer daily into your larger outdoor bin

Insiders tip – Make sure your compost bin has a higher proportion of green, high nitrogen material (manure, fresh grass clippings, blood and bones) than brown high carbon materials (wood prunings, sawdust, dry leaves). This will ensure you won’t have to worry about the complicated and scientific carbon to nitrogen ratio.

Making a full compost heap is no easy task as is better tackled with a mate. You need one person to be adding all the layers while your helper wets each layer thoroughly as you work. A compost heap would usually work via Aerobic or “hot” composting, where by the heap is turned regularly. Because of this, compost heaps tend to be much larger, and not well suited to the suburban back yard. The smaller the heap the lesser the ratio of volume to surface area, which means a lesser potential to generate and retain heat. So basically, the bigger the better! The temperature inside a large, well constructed heap should rise to around to 55∘C. At this temperature weed seeds and diseases will be pasteurised.

Your Guide to 6-week Compost

  1. Nitrogen-rich materials, organic of course (fresh grass clippings, animal manure and kitchen green waste)
  2. Small ingredients (chop things down to a smaller size either by hand or using your lawnmower or a shredder)
  3. Add moisture (materials should feel nice and damp, but not dripping wet)
  4. Add oxygen (turn the heap regularly – around every 3 days)

The combination of the above steps will create compost fast through the production of plenty of heat! Heat makes the materials break down very quickly. A great option would be to grab a compost tumbler, this does some of the hard work for you!