Composting used to be standard practice in most back gardens when a large percentage of the population grew its own vegetables and flowers. The development of large shopping centres packed with produce and a time-poor society mean the backyard compost heap all but disappeared.
But the new sustainability movement and resurgence in DIY vegetable gardens has resulted in a comeback of sorts for the humble compost heap.
Composting is one of the easiest things to do in the garden, or even in a bin if you don’t have lots of available yard space. Just layer organic materials — garden clippings, dry leaves, vegetable scraps, shredded paper — and a small amount of soil to create a natural mixture that turns into the best soil builder around, humus.
There are two types of composting: cold and hot.
Cold composting is simply collecting yard waste and the organic materials you would normally put in the rubbish bin, such as fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds and eggshells, then heaping them together in pile or bin. Over time the material decomposes to become useful compost.
Hot composting is for the more serious gardener. It generates compost in as quickly as one to three months during warm weather. There are only four ingredients required for creating hot compost: nitrogen, carbon, air, and water. Together, these items feed microorganisms, which speed up the process of decay.
To create your own organic hot-compost heap, wait until you have enough materials to make a pile at least 100 cm deep. Then, to ensure an even composition of materials, create alternating 10 to 20 cm deep layers of green materials (kitchen scraps, fresh leaves, coffee grounds) and brown materials (dried leaves, shredded paper, untreated sawdust).
Sprinkle water over the pile regularly so it has the consistency of a damp sponge. Don’t add too much water — otherwise the microorganisms in your pile will become waterlogged and drown. If this happens, your pile will rot instead of compost.
Monitor the temperature of the pile with a thermometer, or simply reach into the middle of the pile with your hand. This ensures the process of decomposition is occurring. When the compost no longer gives off heat and becomes dry, brown, and crumbly, it’s fully cooked and ready to feed to the garden.
If you’re looking for a compost bin, here are some tips for choosing the right compost bin.