Posted 30/03/2017 by SALife Magazine
Compost is the perfect natural organic super additive to enrich your soil and as the autumn leaves begin to fall, it’s the perfect time to start your own.
Overall, composting reduces the production of greenhouse gases that have harmful effects on our air quality and climate and, closer to home, it reduces the amount of food scraps and other material that would ultimately end up in landfill. The end product is humus; a sweet smelling, brown, crumbly material that’s a natural fertiliser and improves the texture and structure of all soils. Using compost in the garden increases the moisture holding capacity of the soil, and plants just love it.
There are various systems for composting including compost bays, bins, tumblers, worm farms, liquid compost or trench systems.
The compost bin or bay should be placed on soil to allow good drainage and promote microbial activity. To begin, add a 10 centimetre layer of twigs or plant stems to allow air flow and then add compostable materials such as food scraps, fruit peels, fresh leafy material, fresh grass cuttings, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves, some types of animal manure, non-invasive weeds and non-woody green plant material. Thinly torn newspaper, cardboard egg cartons, straw, dry leaves and cut up dried plant material can also be added to this mix.
Items that should not be included in your compost heap are generally anything that’s not natural, such as plastic bags, wrappers, cartons, meat, oil and dairy products, dog and cat manure, weed such as sour sobs, nut or couch grass as well as woody branches.
Once the compost heap is set up, preferably in a shady position, it should be kept moist but not saturated and it’s best to water with every dry or brown layer added. Cutting bushy materials into small pieces will speed up the process, creating compost in as little as four to six weeks from start to finish. In summer, place hessian bags or an old wool carpet over the top of an open system or bays to prevent it drying out and add water if the centre area is dry.
It is a good idea to have a few bays or bins on the go so you have different stages of decomposing material and there is always some ready for immediate use. Allow the air to circulate throughout the system by occasionally turning the heap with a fork or by inserting an upright drainage pipe in the centre of the bin or bay. Storing excess food scraps in a bucket with a lid before adding them to the main compost will prevent any smell.
Rats and mice can be a problem in an open bay system so it’s important to add a layer of dry material or even garden soil over fresh food scraps. If using black bins, place chicken wire underneath before setting up and always keep the lid on. Regular watering will deter ants and if the area has a strong smell, reduce the amount of food scraps and water. Adding some handfuls of garden lime or dolomite will prevent the smell. If the composting process appears to too slow, add some rich soil and check the moisture levels.
Some suburban councils provide kitchen bench top bins with compostable liners that are a great way to capture food scraps for recycling. Jeffries Soils’ operation at Buckland Park recycles more than 150,000 tonnes of green organics each year from kerbside-collected green and food waste. Their range of compost, soil and mulch products are then sold in garden centres across metropolitan Adelaide and to vineyards and vegetable growers throughout South Australia.