How to compost for waste free living

Compost is an art form based on science. It’s the end product of decomposed organic material. Anything that once lived such as leaves, trees, animals, even animal poop will naturally start to decompose. In time it will resemble the soil upon which it lies.

Nature will take approximately 400 years to make 2cm of soil. We can fast track this process by making compost, giving nature a helping hand. Home compost is made from leftover food scraps and other household waste.  In most houses 50% of the waste is organic matter. This material can be processed through composting methods to become garden soil for new plants and helps vitalise your existing garden.

Why compost?

If your food scraps are thrown in the trash it goes to the landfill and is buried with the rest of the trash.  This will create harmful greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane (which has 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide). You can prevent this easily. By composting at home you are diverting this organic waste from landfill and creating organic soil for your garden. Note: In a home composting system you will produces minimal amounts of carbon dioxide.

How to make compost

Compost is a relatively easy process. You need four important elements:

Carbon + nitrogen + oxygen + water = compost

The two methods of composting that work great for the backyard farm are hot or cold composting.

compostThe golden rule of composting is what comes out in the end depends on what goes into it in the beginning. The greater the variety of materials introduced into the compost, the greater the chance of obtaining a rich and balanced fertilizer at the end. If you shred the materials first, they will compost rapidly. The more surface area for microbes to consume, the sooner you’ll have compost.

Can I add meat and fish to the compost pile?

Remember, anything that once lived will compost in the end. So in farmyard compost piles you can add meat, fish, milk and even citrus fruit. These compost piles usually take a longer time and are usually larger.  But in home compost system adding the above may attract animals and flies due to the smell.

Can I add cat or dog poo to my compost pile?

Pet poo will also decompose over time BUT it shouldn’t be placed into your home composting system. Pet poop like human manure needs a system of its own. It can take up to one year to kill pathogens from this type of poop. Best place pet poo into your green bin.

Can I add cooking oil to my compost?

Once again, it was once alive so it can be composted BUT in you home composting system only in small amounts. If you have large amounts, let’s say from a French fries cook up, it’s best to soak the excess oil using cardboard and throw it in your green bin to be composted. If you don’t have a green bin and feel responsible for that oil then tip the oil into a cardboard box (or boxes) letting it soak it.  Then create a hot compost to decompose this. I do this without any problem. It just takes a longer to decompose. So I usually try to place the compost pile in an area in my garden that not many people will see. Whatever you do, don’t tip it down the sink.

Hot Composting

We call this method of hot composting the Lasagne Methods it is made in layers.

  • Chop your materials with a machete or shovel. If you are lucky enough to have a shredder, run the dry materials through it.
  • Find a suitable place of the garden. Spread a layer of high carbon material on the ground at approximately 15 -20 cm high and around 1 m².
  • Add a layer of high nitrogen material on top (approx.10 cm high).
  • Spray with water from your garden hose so that the materials are nicely moist but not saturated.
  • Repeat these steps until all of the material has been used or you have made a dome shape of approximately one metre high.
  • Insert the rake handle into the top of the dome. Give it a wriggle and then remove. This creates an air hole.
compost
The Lasagne Method

After 4 days you will test the pile to see if the composting process has begun. Insert a metal bar into the compost pile so that it reaches the middle bottom layers. Leave for a few minutes then remove. Touch the metal. How is the temperature? If it is HOT, uncomfortable to touch? Then it’s working.  The temperature should be around 40 to 50 degrees. This means that the composting process is in full swing. The heat generated is the result of the decomposition of organic matter.  High temperatures are advantageous as they eliminate weed seeds and potential pathogens.

Turn the pile once a week. The lower layers of the pile come to the top and the top go to the bottom. Turning the pile adds more oxygen.

The compost is ready after around 6 weeks. The dark brown soil can be either added to the worm farm for extra processing or mixed with garden soil.

Activating your compost pile

During the composting process you may find that the pile is a little sluggish and will need to re-activate the pile. ‘Activators’ are added to your compost to kick start the decomposition process. This will speed up composting. Home composting activators include comfrey leaves, grass clippings, yarrow tea, yoghurt, kefir even bits of mouldy cheese. Farm compost activators include well-rotted chicken manure, parts of dead animals, blood, urine and young weeds.  As you turn the pile, place the activator in the middle of the pile and watch it heat up!

Cool Composting

Cool composting is perfect for the busy person. Find a black bin that suits your backyard farm. I use three compost bins for my backyard farm. I position them at the drip line of all my trees. This allows the trees to soak up the extra nutrients that may leak from the bin.

To make cool compost you use the same ingredients as above. The difference is that these ingredients are not all added at the same time. You will fill the compost bin as time goes by.  Start off with high carbon for the base of the bin and then throw in your food scraps. I always try to add a layer of carbon (which is usually cardboard and dried leaves even small twigs) in between my food scraps.

Note: Cool composting systems can have an imbalance of carbon rich to nitrogen rich ingredient. So don’t forget to add materials high in carbon. This method can take up to 3 times longer than the hot composting system.

Troubleshooting

Sometimes your compost just doesn’t work. It’s smelly, doesn’t heat up or just sits there! Check out the solutions below.

troubleshooting.pngAnd what about carbon: nitrogen ratio?

The carbon: nitrogen (C: N) ratio is the measure of the content of these elements in raw organic matter. Research indicates that there is an ideal relationship based on the nutritional requirements of the microorganisms present in the compound, which is 25 to 30 parts of carbon for a part of nitrogen (30: 1). But the C: N relation does not have to be exact. Knowing the exact numbers of the material to be composted is not as important as proper handling of the pile. Experience will show you the best mix of waste available. Speed up the process by turning the pile or added water.

compost bins

The multiple box system is super easy to manage.  If you have the space, creating boxes that sit side by side allows you to have a continuous production of compost, making turning the pile a dream. Note the natural fertiliser barrel at the end.

If you like the article, please share it around. Let’s keep the food scraps out of that trash 🙂