Indigenous Nursery News Blog

How to make great compost for your garden

Compost is earthy material that looks a lot like regular soil, but is in fact organic material that has been very well broken down (decomposed) by microorganisms - with a little help from larger creatures such as earthworms and woodlice. Soil microorganisms are generally too small to see with the naked eye, and include beneficial bacteria and fungi.

While these microorganisms are busy feeding, they break down the organic matter into such tiny pieces that it makes a lot of nutrients available to plants when compost is added to the soil that they grow in. Because they remain in the compost, the microorganisms then further break down any organic matter in the soil around the plants and so release even more nutrients to these plants.

To make great compost one needs:

  • Organic matter – from the garden as well as kitchen scraps for microbes to feed on.
  • Moisture – a moist (NOT WET) environment makes it easier for the microbes to break down organic material
  • Oxygen – microbes need oxygen to help them break down organic matter. One can introduce oxygen to the compost pile by turning it occasionally.
  • Heat – When microbes have sufficient moisture and oxygen, they get really busy breaking down all the organic matter, and this generates a lot of heat. The heat helps to break things down even faster, and especially on a cold morning, this is what makes the compost pile steam … it is literally “cooking”. Getting the compost to heat up is important, as it also helps to kill off unwanted weed seedlings and some pathogens in the compost.

Making compost in 4 easy steps

1. Choose a site - How big your compost heap is will determine to a large extent, where you position it. It can really be any size, but if you have a small garden, it might be easier and neater to use a compost bin. The compost pile can be in sun or semi-shade, but in the semi-shade it will probably take a lot longer for the heat-loving microbes to be able to break the organic matter down.

2. Collect organic material for your compost heap - Start with a good layer of drier materials, such as twigs, wood chips, fallen leaves, torn up newspaper (non-glossy pages only) and straw or dried veld grass, or all of the above. These all add structure to your compost. You can also use shredded office paper in your compost but avoid using glossy paper as the harmful chemicals in it will kill the beneficial microorganisms that carry out the composting process.

After this, layer on green garden clippings, lawn cuttings, kitchen matter such as eggshells, vegetable peels, fruit peels and coffee grounds. You can also add horse manure, kraal manure and even stable shavings. These all add moisture to the compost heap, and nitrogen, enzymes and minerals.

You can continue piling on kitchen and garden waste as it becomes available.

Avoid potato peelings, oranges and lemons as they can carry disease. Cooked food and bones are also not a good idea as they may attract rats and that we want to avoid at all costs.

3. Add moisture if you need to

If your compost heap is too dry, the microbes won’t be able to work as efficiently. When you turn the compost pile, it should not be soggy but rather just moist. If it is a bit dry, sprinkle a little water over it with a hosepipe.

4. Turn your compost occasionally - Mix or turn the compost well with a garden fork about once a month for good aeration. Our compost heaps are so large at Random Harvest Indigenous Nursery, that we need to use machinery to turn them. In the picture below, the steam you see is from the heat of the compost.

You can turn it every week or second week if desired, to speed up the composting process. We do this as oxygen is the most important ingredient for good microbes to work on breaking down your compost. The more oxygen available to them, the quicker they will be able to break the matter down, and the more the compost heap will heat up with all their activity. Mixing not only helps to put oxygen into the compost heap or bin, but it also distributes active microorganisms evenly throughout the compost, thereby accelerating the rate at which they are able to break organic matter down into compost.

When the compost is ready

Make sure that your compost is cool enough to use on the garden. If it is still hot / warm, then it is not ready. Let it sit and mature a while first – anything from a few weeks to a few months.

Once your compost is ready, you can even sift it for fine use, or just add it to the garden as is, with bigger chunks of items that will rot and break down further in the garden.

It is important not to add fresh matter to this already decomposed matter, as it will upset the microbial activity of the pile. Rather, have an active pile to which you add all your ingredients, and then a resting pile that you can turn occasionally, where everything decomposes simultaneously.

When your compost is ready it has that wonderful earthy smell and a soft crumbly texture. This is when all the nutrients in this mix of decomposed material will be most available to the plants.

If you are unable to make your own compost for what ever reason, we at Random Harvest Indigenous Nursery sell our own organic compost made on the premises and full of all the good stuff compost should be.

Rock Dust – that magic addition with compost

One can add a sprinkle of Rock Dust to the compost for amazing results. The microbes in the compost make the rich source of minerals in the rock dust available to plants to take up through their roots. The rock dust contains micro-nutrients that plants would not get from our regular garden soils and compost.

Rock dust is available at Random Harvest Nursery. For more information on making your own compost, or if you would like to purchase our own “home grown”, 100% organic compost, please get in touch with us at 082 553 0598 or email us at [email protected] … we’d love to hear from you.


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