Author Jean Morrison
Soil and compost - hints and tips
What does compost actually do?
It fertilizes the garden
It improves soil structure, aeration & texture
It improves soil's water-holding capacity
It helps sandy soils retain moisture
It loosens clay soil
It provides food for micro organisms
It acts as a mulch
"It's so good you could just about eat it!" says Peter Cundall the ABC garden guru.
Composting is helping our fragile environment too by reducing landfill. Plus best of all it doesn't even have to cost you a cent.
About 1/3 of the landfill in our rubbish tips is made up of organic materials from our gardens and kitchens that could be used to make compost.
We all have heaps of kitchen scraps and these are very high in nitrogen which is useful on a compost heap as it increases the temperature of the compost. And, increased temperature makes the compost process work faster.
Compost needs aerating so if you have a compost tumbler you must ensure you rotate the contents each time you add food scraps, so once a day is ideal. If you have a heap of compost on the ground or a compost container that doesn't tumble then you will need to aerate the soil manually. This involves digging it over or using a compost aerator tool. Aeration is vital because the organisms in the compost are aerobic which means they need air in order to do their jobs.
Compost heaps generally need to be 3 or 4 sided structures about a metre (3 feet) square. If you choose a four sided structure then one of those sides should be removable to allow easy access for turning the compost and for taking it out when it is ready.
You need to avoid too much water in the pile but equally so, you have to ensure it doesn't dry out. If it gets too much water it will start to stink and if it is too dry the composting process will slow right down.
Keep a mix of brown and green materials on your compost heap. It is really important not to have too much of one particular ingredient or it will upset the whole balance. The browns are leaves, small twigs, newspaper, tissues and straw. They are high in carbon-dioxide. The greens are high in nitrogen and include fresh materials such as grass clippings and food waste. You need far more brown materials than green to keep your compost balanced.
The smaller we chop up our scraps and leaves then the quicker the pile will rot down and be usable.
Leaves, if they are large, can be shredded to encourage them to break down faster.
It is better if grass clippings can be allowed to spread and dry out for a couple of days before being used on the compost pile, otherwise in a great moist heap they can start to go sour.
Kitchen scraps can include almost everything we eat. Exceptions are meat, dairy products and fatty foods. Egg shells can be used but it is preferable to crush them first.
Manure is excellent to use but do ensure it comes from animals such as sheep, cows, pigs etc because they are herbivores. Manure from carnivorous animals can contain pathogens, so don't use dog poo, cat poo or cat litter.
Seaweed is excellent but it will need to have all its salt rinsed off before using.
Locate your compost pile over soil so that worms and other creatures will come up from underneath. If you live in a cold climate you must ensure your compost pile is located in the sun as the pile will need heat to break it down. In hot dry areas locate the pile under a shade tree or ensure it is situated such that water can be applied to keep it moist enough.
If possible locate your compost pile away from both your line of sight and your neighbours'.
Compost breaks down best when it's temperature is between 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahrenheit). Outside that range the microbes can die.
Compost is ready when it is dark brown in colour and should smell rich and earthy.
Use and see your garden absolutely flourish!