30 July 2008

How to make compost

We make compost, year round, in this corner of our garden. We also have compost in the chook pen, and we have a worm farm. We used to enclose the compost on three sides but we found it was easier for us to take away some of those sides to allow easier access when turning the heap.

Compost is the end result of organic matter that breaks down and decomposes. Organic matter, in this context, is anything that was once alive and is usually things like vegetable scraps, lawn clippings, newspaper and cardboard, outer leaves of vegetables, leaves, hair, straw etc. Just about any leafy product may go into compost, but never include diseased leaves like those from tomato bushes as that will just keep that disease in your garden and spread it around. Diseased plants are best put into a plastic bag, sealed up, left in the sun for two weeks, then put into the rubbish bin.

There are many different ways of making compost. The purists make sure their compost bin is a certain size to ensure it heats up - that encourages decomposition and kills some weed seeds. Other people use enclosed at the top, open at the bottom bins. This type of composting relies on anaerobic organisms. I have found that using one of these bins to make compost generally results in a very wet mix and it needs more brown material than green. We have one of these bins but it's rarely used here.

There are three important requirements for making compost:
  • Aeration
  • Nitrogen
  • Carbon
It sounds complicated, doesn't it? Well, it can be, but it can also be easy if you get your mix right.

Aeration is simply moving the compost ingredients around to introduce air into the mix. You could do this by turning the compost over with a fork, by using a tumbler that spins the compost around or by building your compost heap around a wide plumbers pipe that would allow air to go deep within the heap. Generally, it's best to turn the compost with a fork about week or two. The more air you get into the mix, the fast you'll make compost.

Of course, you will make compost simply by piling a heap of organic matter in a corner and waiting for a long time - about 6 - 9 months. The heap will very slowly decompose with no outside help. But if you're wanting compost for your garden, generally you would give it a helping hand and turn it as much as you can. Depending on your climate, turning a compost heap that has been made with the right ingredients, will give you compost in about two or three months.

Nitrogen is wet green vegetable waste, scraps, lawn clippings and old vegetables. It's the stuff that's still juicy or slimy, all that waste that hasn't yet dried out. Nitrogen comes from the fresh kitchen scraps you'll have most days.

Carbon is dry waste like straw, newspaper, cardboard and dried leaves.

You compost will need about three parts carbon to one part nitrogen and all the ingredients should be as small as possible. If you have big pieces of cabbage or pumpkin, or sheets of newspaper, get your spade and cut them into smaller pieces.

These are all links to other sites. I've checked the information there and recommend it to you.

There is a very good slideshow here with a step by step guide to making compost.

Making compost in a warm climate.

Several methods of making compost.

18 day compost

Adding the manure of vegetarian animals and birds, including chickens, to your compost will help it break down much faster. So will adding comfrey or yarrow leaves. In summer, I make comfrey tea and pour it over the compost heap. It helps it along very nicely.


So let's recap here.
  1. To make good compost, you'll need ¼ wet, nitrogen, green waste, like lawn clippings or vegetable scraps. Add that to ¾ dry, carbon waste like straw, dried leaves or shredded newspaper.
  2. Add the ingredients in layers where you have a lot of dried carbon mixed with a smaller amount of green wet leaves.
  3. Add some manure or comfrey/yarrow leaves.
  4. Wet this with some water.
  5. Mix.
  6. Shape into a neat pile and leave it.
  7. Add to the pile as often as you can, making sure you always have more dry than wet waste.
  8. Keep the heap moist, not wet, and turn it as often as possible.
If you notice the compost has a terrible smell, you've got too much green wet waste in there. Add some shredded newspaper or other dry carbon waste and mix it in.

If the compost looks dry and isn't decomposing, add more wet green waste, or a sprinking of water from the hose, and mix.

If you have a lot of wet weather, it would be a good idea to cover your compost heap with a tarp or plastic to keep some of the rain out.

This is a compost heap we just added to over about 6 months and never turned.

Your compost is ready to use when everything has lost its shape and has blended in together. It will look like dark loose soil with little bits in it. It will smell like soil. When you have this excellent additive, either add it to a new garden bed and dig it in, or use it in the planting hole in the garden bed to plant your seedlings in.

This is the compost after six months and several days of rain. We mixed this into our garden soil before planting up a new bed.

You can never have too much compost, so when you successfully make one lot of compost, make more the next time. Compost will add fertility and health to your garden but it will also help you cut down a lot on the amount of organic waste you throw out. If you're serious about your vegetable garden, this is one skill that will help you produce good healthy food for your table.

ROSIE UPDATE: We haven't taken her to the vet yet. She seemed much improved yesterday and has started eating properly and she slept through the night last night. We'll keep watching her and see if we can nurse her back to good health without going to the vet. I'll keep you all posted. Thank you all for your concern, both Hanno and I appreciate it.



  1. Thankyou so much Rhonda! Now I have the basics about making compost it doesn't seem so daunting to make.
    Bec xxx

  2. I made my compost heap with three walls of old corrugated iron. Keeping it adequately turned and healthy has been an ongoing struggle for me. Plus my dog has an unreasonable fascination with it. So I used these fctors to indulge in an uncharacteristic burst of tax return driven consumerism and bought a bokashi bucket. I think I will manage much better now and my vegetable patch will reap the benefits with more frequent composting.

  3. Hi Rhonda,

    Do you have a problem with snakes in your compost as it is nice and warm? That is my greatest fear! We have browns and red belly blacks where we live so I use an aerobin in preference to an open system.

    Regards, Bronwyn.

  4. Bronwyn, yes we have brown and red belly blacks here too, plus taipans and pythons, but we've never have them on or in the compost

  5. Great post Rhonda and cheers for the link. I think you've adequately explained the process that anybody could get out there and start creating this 'gardening gold'.

  6. Glad to hear that your dog is doing better. I haven't written in a while, but I still visit your blog on a regular basis and still enjoying it with a cup of coffee in the morning:) Have a great day!


  7. Rhonda
    Thank you for the information on the compost I will use it. So many thanks for sharing about Rosie I am a dog lover and really like hearing about your pets. Glad Rosie is feeling better too.

  8. Thanks very much Rhonda for posting this, it's given me all the info that I need to get started.

  9. Got to you from Donetta. My, I have so much to learn from you.

    Excellent blog.

    Do mind if I steal your...Give More Expect Less picture...I d like to spread the message.

  10. Oh HUgs To ROSIE. Glad to see she is improving. TLC the best medicine

    The Other Rhonda

  11. Rhonda,
    I sure have been thinking and praying for your Rosie. I'm glad she is feeling better.

    Have really enjoyed your posts on compost and gardening. Our garden has done great this summer...lots and lots of harvest. Our corn and squash are done for the season...still have some peas and beans producing. And, planted sweet potatoes about a month ago...hope they do well.

    Have a blessed day,

  12. Oh I'm so glad Rosie's on the up. She may have just had a little bug or something, lets hope she's soon back to her old self.

    Thanks for the composting tips there. They will certainly help give mine a boost. I just normally bung the 'green' type on to it, and about 6 months ago it did have an awful smell to it, which I now know what it was! I need to get in and put some newspaper on it and give it a good turn, and it'll be pretty okay.

    I made my own compost bin from decking panels I rescued from a place I used to work selling decorative timber (like decking and stair parts). Waste not want not!

  13. Glad to hear Rosie is starting to perk up. Very intersting article. Now if our sheep would just stop eating the kitchen scraps on the top of the compost pile...and the dog would stop removing anything else of interest we might get somewhere.

  14. Me in Michigan-I love the post on compost. I'm currently using one of those black square composters. I don't think it works. But voila, it hit me. Take the lid off it. Then it's really nothing more than a square black box to hold stuff in. But did ask the hubby to pick me up some pallets so I can start a new compost heap.

    Note on Comfrey: Several years ago I started out with 2 small plants. In 2 years it tried to take everything over. I was constantly yanking it out. But I think I'm going to try it again and just keep harvesting it for the compost as I never seem to have enough material for compost.

  15. Me in Michigan, comfrey is a very useful plant, keep growing it. It contains a lot of nitrogen, more than chook manure, and makes a wonderful nitrogen tea - cutting down on the need to buy fertiliser. Comfrey clumps rather than runs. Once you've planted it, you've got Buckley's chance of removing it because just the smallest piece of root will regenerate. But once your clump is established, it will just stay there, it won't run. That photo of my comfrey has been in that spot for about 10 years. I never water it but it's there whenever I need it.

  16. Thank You so much for this post. I have been looking forward to spending some time here. I have the chikens established now. We are looking at comosting and I am learning some about worm raising for the garden soil as well. Rain harvesting is up after that. It has been a very full week. I am thinking that perhaps I need to spend time on the soil before I even plant anything. Rhonda this soil is so poor I miss my old home. I spent 16 years amending and giving life to that earth. This place is in great need. I got the soil turned but from there I have to get it ready I just think I might need to wait to plant as to not throw good money out.

  17. Donetta, don't plant anything yet, amend your soil first. It is a waste to plant into virgin soil. Whatever work you put into it will pay off.

    Now you have your chicks, use their manure, nests, newspaper, compost, clippings ... anything organic in your soil. If you have tiem for a green manure crop, sow some old bean or pea seeds, let them grow about 2 feet tall, then chop than back and dig into the soil. It's a cheap way to get organic matter into the soil. If you do all this now, you'll be ready with good soil for your next season. Good luck.

  18. I don't have an actual heap very often these days -- I suppose I should discuss this on my blog. Hooray for chooks!

  19. Hi Rhonda

    Can you make an effective compost pile in a shady spot? Our sunny spots are very limited and in open view. We live on NSW North Coast with only a rare frost and hot summers.

  20. abundtantly, yes you can. compost doesn't need sun but you'll have to watch your moisture levels. You may need to use a little more dry material. Good luck.


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