8 Ways to Compost
DIFFERENT COMPOSTING METHODS
1/ In a Heap
You can produce compost successfully in a heap without any container, but always have the heap covered to prevent the material becoming either too dry or too wet.
2/ Compost Bins
Compost bins are a great way to make and easily contain small amounts of compost. They hold water well and in direct sun, the plastic can trap heat, speeding the decomposition process, but it can get too hot so semi-shaded is best. Fixed bins can be difficult to aerate, and are prone to becoming too dry or too wet. Rotating bins are more expensive but provide quicker, more reliable results – the ones with a handle are best.
3/ In a Garbage Bag
A large heavy duty plastic garbage bag can be used to make compost easily anywhere, anytime. Place a couple of shovels full of food scraps or other compostable material in a bag, sprinkle with fine cover of lime and fertiliser and repeat until the bag is full. Moisten each layer. Keep the smell down by tying the top. Place in direct sunlight in cool areas/months to keep warmer.
4/ Indore Method
Sir Albert Howard devised this first scientific method of composting. The average pile is 2 metres wide, 1‑2 metres high, and 3‑5 metres long.
- Spread a 15cm layer of plant waste on the chosen area’s length and width - spoiled hay, straw, sawdust, leaves, food scraps, wood chips, and the like.
- Add a 5cm layer of manure.
- Follow with a thin layer of topsoil to 0.5cm depth. This soil is sprinkled with lime, phosphate rock, granite dust, or wood ashes to increase the mineral content and moisten the pile. Continue layering to the desired height.
- Vertical ventilator pipes made of tubes of wire netting are placed along the centre of the heap, approximately 1 metre apart.
- Heating starts within a couple of days. Turn after 2‑3 weeks and again 3 weeks later, placing the outer parts of the heap to the inside so that they fully decay. The heap will heat up to almost 65°C at the beginning. After the first turn the temperature will again rise, but it then settles to a steady temperature of about 55°C.
The compost is finished in about 3 months. Since its inception faster results have been obtained by mixing the layers as soon as they are added, rather than leaving them as separate layers.
5/ The 14 Day Method
This was devised by scientists at the University of California - fewer nutrients are leached in this fast method.
All material that goes into the compost pile is ground or shredded. Grinding means the surface area of material (on which microorganisms can multiply) is greatly increased, and aeration of the compost is improved because shredded material has a lesser tendency to mat or pack down. Moisture content is also improved, and turning of the heap is much easier.
No layering of material is used.
The material is mixed either before or after shredding then piled into heaps no more than 1.5 metres high.
After three days, the heap is turned and every 3 days after that for 2 weeks. If the pile has dropped at this point, the compost is sufficiently decayed to use on the soil.
Used in farming – but useful for new properties or gardens:
Cultivate the area lightly and sow a green manure crop such as soybeans, clover or cowpeas.
Slash these nitrogen-rich plants before they reach maturity, then spread compost materials over the area. Low-nitrogen materials such as decomposed sawdust, corncobs and wood chips can be spread without any fear of causing nitrogen shortages later on.
Work the mass evenly into the top 10cm of soil, preferably with a rotary hoe.
Add limestone or dolomite, rock phosphate, granite dust, or other natural mineral fertilisers along with the other sheet compost ingredients. The decay of the organic matter will assist the release of the nutrients locked up in these relatively insoluble fertilisers.
7/ Worm Farms
Worms are great at converting organic matter into nutrient-rich compost and will do so within 60 days. The castings are far more nutrient-rich than animal manures. You can buy great little worm farms all set and ready to go along with the right composting worms e.g. tiger worms or red wrigglers (two of the best varieties).
Composting with earthworms can also be done in wooden boxes or an old bath stored in a cool position, so they don’t overheat:
Use wooden cases of about 1m square and 0.5m high.
Place 50cm of thoroughly mixed raw materials in the boxes. For example: 70% weeds, leaves, grass clippings, etc., about 15% manure (or table scraps and vegetable peel) and 15% topsoil. Don’t put in the worms straight away if the mix is too hot – they may die so wait for the temperature to stabilise.
Keep it watered but not overly wet or too much air will be excluded.
It is the combined action of the earthworms, bacteria and fungi that produces the best kind of compost.
After 60 days remove half a box of composted material and replace it with the raw materials. In another 60 days the new material will be completely composted. It is advisable to feed the worms with something equivalent to chicken mash, but you can make your own feed using ground corn and coffee grounds.
8/ Trench Composting
This method is only advised for well-drained soils and during warmer months when decomposition is rapid. Just dig a trench, add some blood and bone for nitrogen, throw in the material and cover with soil. Wait a few weeks before planting since decomposing green waste can cause phytotoxicity - which inhibits, rather than enhances, plant growth. This problem reduces rapidly upon decomposition.