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Making your own compost

Turning organic waste into compost is an ecological friendly thing to do. Your garden benefits - plants will grow better - because compost binds the soil and helps it to hold water and air.

Most organic materials that will rot or decay easily will make good compost. This include garden waste such as grass cuttings, leaves, and dead flowers, vegetable and fruit peelings, tea leaves and tea bags, egg shells and stale bread and paper, cardboard, sawdust and wood shavings, animal manure, wood fire ash and seaweed.

There are some things which should rather not be added to the compost heap
• Cooked foods and meat scraps, as it will attract unwanted flies and rodents
• Metals, glass and plastics, which will not rot
• Garden waste sprayed with pesticides
• Toilet or septic tank waste
• Diseased animal carcasses or plants
• Potato peels or the peels of citrus fruits such as oranges will make the soil too acidic
• Too many grass cuttings will heat it up too much
• Tough weeds

Making the compost heap
There are many ways to make a compost heap. You can use an old tyre with a board covering the top, build a box from sticks or poles and cover it at the top, or buy a specially made bin at a garden shop.
1. Start by putting down about 200 mm of mixed organic material.
2. Mix this well and chop up any big pieces. Don’t add layers of only one material, such as grass cuttings or leaves.
3. Make sure that air can circulate freely throughout the mixture.
4. Make sure the compost heap is damp, but not wet.
5. If you want to speed up the process, add a ‘starter,’ like a bucketful of mature compost, animal manure, or bone meal.
6. You can get 'starters' at nurseries and garden shops.
7. You can also add soil to help the organic material to rot.
8. Carry on adding layers of about 200 mm. The last layer should be soil, dry grass, leaves, or sawdust, as this will keep smells and flies away.

Looking after the compost heap
1. After one week, push your hand into the compost. It should feel hot.
2. After a few weeks the heap will have cooled down. This means that you need to turn it so that it will heat up again. The heat kills weed seeds and flies larvae.
3. You can also control flies by covering any new material you add with dry soil, sawdust, grass or leaves. Turning the compost heap makes the organic material break down faster.
4. Keep the heap moist, but not wet, or it will smell bad. If it does get too wet, add absorbent material like sawdust, straw or manure and turn the heap.
5. If you find large white worms in the compost, destroy them. They are the larvae of the large black and yellow fruit beetle, which can do a lot of damage in the garden.

Harvesting the compost
The compost will be ready in about three months. A week before you harvest it, add some vegetable matter to bring the worms up to the top. Put the top part of the compost to one side. Use the rest of it in your garden.

Restart the cycle by placing some compost on a shade cloth, and then adding the top half – containing the worms – that you took out first.

Listen carefully – you may hear your plants grow!

Published in: March news


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