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Thursday, January 18, 2018

How to Make a Compost Pile & What to Compost

Posted by admin on September 24, 2010

It’s pretty basic really, make a pile of mixed up organic (in the it was once alive sense of the word) items. You can use a commercial compost bin or compost tumbler, a homemade compost box of old wood scraps or chicken-wire, or even just make a big pile of compost in a corner of the yard. The important bit is what goes into your compost pile not how expensive it was to construct.

What Can I Compost?

Nature is already showing us what we can compost. In its most basic sense anything that was once alive will break down into organic components. So if an item is comprised of 100% natural materials it can be composted. So your goal when composting should be if something was once alive it can be added to my compost pile to prevent its goodness being wasted. Anything once alive will add goodness to your garden when it has been composted.

Now we all have preconceived notions of what can be added to the compost pile and need to work with these. If there is something on the list you do not already compost try adding it. You’ll reduce your household waste and increase your compost heap.

* Compost your garden prunings, lawn clippings and weeds. Just make sure the prunings are shredded or broken up into small pieces and lawn clippings are mixed throughout the compost heap. Prolific weeds may be soaked in a bucket of water for a few weeks so they turn into mush which definitely won’t survive the heat of your compost pile. Seriously diseased plants such as brassicas infected with clubroot may be burnt first and the ashes added to the plot to prevent the clubroot disease reinfecting your soil later on.

* Compost your vegetable peelings. All your vegetable waste from the kitchen can go straight onto your compost pile.

* Compost your paper and cardboard. All your uncoated paper and card should be shredded / ripped up and added to the compost heap. Don’t forget to remove plastic windows from envelopes and plastic tape from cardboard packaging. Laminated papers and cards cannot be added as they’ll leave a plastic film which won’t break down so keep an eye on what kind of paper and card products you purchase.

* Compost your kitchen scraps even meat and fish. Meat and fish was once alive so will compost down into lovely goodness for your soil too. Just ensure your compost pile is pet proof and put these items deep into the pile, not just left on top for the local wildlife to feast on! Raw or cooked kitchen scraps will break down but if there is any issue with dogs trying to break into your heap cooked bones may be a problem as they are brittle and could be dangerous if swallowed.

* Compost dog waste. Again make sure the composting dog poop is always buried within the compost heap and it will break down fine. Poo (manure) is full of bacteria who love to break down organic items. Introducing manure to your compost pile will bring in these useful bacteria to help speed up the composting process.

* Compost manure. If you have other livestock or access to farmyard manure the addition of small quantities throughout the compost heap will heat things up and speed things along. Commercial organic compost activators are often primarily dried manure.

* Compost urine. This is probably best left to the boys. Urine is full of nutrients which will help activate your compost pile. Asking a gentleman to occasionally wee on the compost pile will do nothing but good.

* Compost human manure. It’s no different to any other manure and can be composted very successfully. So if you have space for a dry composting toilet you can reduce your water usage and improve your compost creation in one step.

* Compost wood ash and sawdust. Wood ash from a wood burning fire is excellent added to the heap providing potash and other nutrients. Sawdust added in small quantities through the pile will improve bulk but may slow down the composting action if added too liberally.

* Compost pet or livestock bedding. Whether it be bedding from a gerbil cage or the contents of a hen coop, these natural materials (straw / hay / sawdust etc) will be covered in animal manure and urine and therefore fantastic additions to the compost heap. N.B. most commercial cat litters are not natural and thus not suitable for the compost heap – make sure you read the packet to see if the product is natural and was ‘once alive’.

* Other natural fibers. So old woolen sweaters, cotton socks, hair (if you cut your own) or pet fur (if you trim theirs) will break down too. Don’t forget to check for synthetic additions to clothing including buttons, zippers or just man-made fibers such as lycra.

Remember! Anything which was once alive, will break down into compost.

How to Compost

Unless you’re using a commercial container for composting, a rough guide is to aim for a finished heap at around 1m (or 1 yard) cubed. Once you reach your finished size cover your pile with carpet or plastic sheeting to keep the worst of the weather off and leave your heap to do its stuff for six months to a year.

If you’re using any kind of manure leave the heap for at least a year before putting it onto your soil. If the heap is working well all pathogens contained in the manure will have been long gone in around three months but its easier to wait longer and not have to worry!

Ensure your compost heap is pet-proof.

Make sure the heap is built with a mixture of items so it remains aerated throughout due to the different sizes and types of particles within it. If you’re likely to have a surplus of one item such as grass clippings make a separate pile of this which you can then add at intervals onto the heap. Try to aim for a layered approach to the compost heap such as some kitchen scraps followed by lawn clippings, paper, dog waste, ash etc.

If you live in a dry climate add water / urine / washing up water to the heap. The compost heap is full of living organisms so it needs to be moist. Likewise if you live in a wet climate cover the heap to prevent all those living organisms drowning.

Be sensible. You’re adding things that are starting to break down – food scraps, animal waste, so observe basic hygiene at all times – keep the kids occupied somewhere else and wash your hands!

It is good practice to cover anything animals might find interesting within the heap. So either dig a small hole whenever adding kitchen waste etc or keep a batch of weeds / law clippings / straw etc to cover the interesting stuff whenever you add it. This will deter animal and insect pests. If you leave a piece of leftover roast chicken breast on the top of your compost heap you would expect a few birds, flies, cats and dogs to take an interest so cover up the interesting stuff! This will also keep the smells in.

Your finished compost will smell like rich woodland soil, crumbly and dark. But obviously if you’re adding poo to your pile you don’t want the smell of poo around before the composting action gets going. So cover up or bury within the heap, all the smelly stuff!

Once you add your own made compost to your garden you’ll never want to buy another bag of the shop bought stuff again and you’ll love have less household waste to dispose of elsewhere. So go on get composting. It is the most basic method of reducing waste and recycling. Mother Nature’s always done it and now, so should we.

The Catalan Gardener.

For more interesting articles on composting, manure and organic gardening visit

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