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How To Build & Maintain A Compost Heap – Composting 101

Why would you go to the trouble of Composting?

Well, for a start, it’s really not that much trouble at all after the initial set up. You’ll also save yourself the time, effort and money that’s required to go to one of the hardware barns to buy the stuff. And, by utilising something that you’re probably already carting to your rubbish or green waste bin on a daily basis, you’ll help reduce our reliance on land fills. It’s really a no-brainer.


To make a good, crumbly compost, the pile must be constructed so that the organic matter can decompose efficiently so as to not become a stagnant pile of vegetation.

Air, moisture and nitrogen are vital in aiding the bacteria to break down the raw materials. Your compost will function much more efficiently if situated in a partly shaded area that is free of major tree roots, as they will grow into the heap and deplete it of vital nutrients. Heat and wind are enemies of compost heaps as they dry it out and slow the rate of decomposition.


Although you could just stack your compost in a corner and hope for the best, with a little bit of effort, there’s lots of things that can be used to construct your very own compost bin. One of my favorite ways is to go to a local steel mesh supply company and purchase some Galvanised wire mesh or fencing with a maximum mesh width of 5o mm, concrete four posts in at the corners, then fix three sides permanently to the posts and the fourth side can be fixed so as to allow removal for access to the compost.


If you’ve got a wholesale or large fruit and vegetable supplier in your area, I’d certainly try and foster a healthy relationship with them. Around the back, they’ve more than likely got lots of large fruit and vegie bins. About 1200 mm square and a metre high, they’re almost the perfect size for a compost bin (for that matter, a ‘No Dig’ vegetable garden as well. Stay tuned for my next blog). Granted, they’re not going to want to part with this stuff willy-nilly, but, if you ask nicely and are willing to pay something, they’ll probably work out cheaper than going out and buying the material and then taking the time to make them. Alternatively, check out Eco Mad and the recycled fruit bins that they carry. Great value and they deliver as well. If you’re lucky enough to score one or two of these bins, modify them so the wooden slats on one side can be removed. I do this by removing the nails that hold them in place, then run a timber bead to form a channel for the slats to slide down into. Fix some of the timber beading to the ends of the slats so as to maintain the original gaps between the slats and the job’s done. Always make sure that your compost bin is situated so as to allow easy access for dumping of waste AND, most importantly, wheelbarrow access for removal. A classic trap for young players. As with anything you do in the garden, always HASTEN SLOWLY and PLAN. You’ll avoid much head scratching and “I didn’t think of that” moments. Particularly nasty if you have a sceptical audience.


If you’re not too handy with tools or just can’t be bothered, all the big hardware stores including Bunnings and Masters have loads of compost bins that may suit your needs. Some are ingeniously designed as to allow access to tight spaces or, in particular, for the infermed or elderly.


What can I put in my compost heap?

Most garden and kitchen waste can be utilised in a productive compost heap. However, bear in mind that even layers of different organic matter will break down more efficiently than large clumps of the one materiel (ie. lots of grass clippings). All of the following materials can be composted as long as you mix them properly; annual weeds, lawn clipings (untreated), Vegetable and food scraps, leaves (in layers), tea leaves and tea bags, coffee grounds, vacuum cleaner dust, dead flowers, egg shells, old newspapers, wood ash, human and animal hair. Things that shouldn’t be composted are meat and fat, rose pruning’s and leaves or other diseased plants, plastic, glass, bones or woody branches.


Layering the compost heap properly is vitally important. If done correctly, there’s little need to turn the compost as it will decompose at an even rate meaning less shovel work. Once your bin is constructed, spread 100-250 mm of compostable material evenly over the base and pat it down gently. Scatter approximately half a dozen handfulls of chicken manure evenly over the compost. Keep filling the bin in this fashion. If it’s hot or dry, make sure you water the compost every couple of days to keep it moist – but not wet. A hessian sack, old sheets or plastic draped over the top will help combat evaporation.

Decomposition will be more rapid in spring and summer, but a well made and nurtured compost heap will take about six months to be ready.


Happy Composting until next time.

Bye for now.

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