Composting 101: Part 2

Composting 101: Part 2

From Garbage to Gold: building your compost pile  


Australians waste millions of tonnes (or billions of dollars) of food every year – unceremoniously and ungratefully tossed away. To waste anything in your home is a shame, but on a national level our collective waste has become a tragedy. Thankfully we, as farmers, gardeners, and growers, have the power to eliminate most of our waste. If you’re growing anything, compost can effectively recycle a large portion of your waste. The more natural foods you consume in your home, the more you can utilise!   

I previously talked about how to get kitchen and outdoor compost collections started. Your kitchen compost bin may start to overflow quickly, so you should already be prepared yourself to establish your outdoor compost pile.  

Most compost problems stem from an imbalance of the green:brown ratio. This is the tricky part – I can give you advice from my own composting adventures but ultimately everyone has to experiment on their own to determine the best ratio. Typically, more brown than green is required. I personally use a green:brown that is close to 30:70, measured in heaping shovelfuls as I build my pile. This ratio works best probably due to the fact that the green material is more densely compacted whereas the brown is light and airy.

Out in your backyard, toss the kitchen compost into the pile of green outdoor material. The green outdoor material, just to refresh your memory, should be live plant trimmings, mowed grass, weeds, and last season’s old crops (so long as they’re not diseased, pest-ridden, or chemically treated). The brown pile is all the dry stuff that will provide ventilation and warmth, and it should be set apart from the green. 

Take care picking a location for the compost pile! The soil must drain well, and shouldn’t be prone to getting flooded or waterlogged during rainy weather. You also do not want to have the compost out in strong, direct sunlight. A little shade will ensure that your compost doesn’t totally dry up on you. 

The simplest type of compost pile is actually just a big mound of sandwiched materials. No trip to the hardware store necessary! Slapping together a pile is easy to do, and all the shovelling is great back-strengthening exercise. Here are the few, simple steps you’ll need to follow:

1. Throw down a few inches of brown material. This base will allow drainage. 
2. Spread out a layer of green material on top. Count how many full shovels you used. 
3. Pour some water over the previous layer to moisten it.
4. Spread almost twice as many shovels of brown material on top of the green layer, pour in water.
5. Continue to layer green and brown, moistening each layer as you go, until you run out.
6. If your pile gets higher than 1 meter, start a second pile.
7. Cover compost with a large tarp.
8. Turn over the compost heap with a shovel every week or so, fully rotating the bottom layers to the top and vice versa. 

Ta-da! One extra trick involves getting a bit stinky – manure is the best way to ensure rapid heating and consistent breakdown within the pile, so I highly recommend purchasing some (or strategically befriending a dairy farmer) and scattering some poo about in each added layer. That’s all there is to it! In about three months it should definitely be dark, rich, and ready to add to your soil. Regular mixing (weekly) should cut the decomposition time down to 1-2 months. Happy composting!