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Many people ask me about composting. I think it’s something most of us want to do, but many people find it all too confusing. Here’s a few of my tips for successful composting (and easy too!!)

To help you compost more successfully it helps to have an understanding of the composting process. Here’s a snippet of information from my Workshops….

What is Compost???compost

Compost is decomposing organic matter. Composting is nature’s process of decomposition. Fully decomposed matter is called Humus. Humus is one of the most important things you can add to your garden and is the basis for all sustainable gardening.

Healthy soil is called Humus.  [def: A dark-brown or black organic substance made up of decayed plant or animal matter. Humus provides nutrients for plants and increases the ability of soil to retain water OR The dark organic material in soils, produced by the decomposition of vegetable or animal matter and essential to the fertility of the earth.]

Why Compost?

To maintain a productive garden you need to add compost and other ingredients to your soil. Up to 50 % of the waste that goes into landfill in Australia every single week could in fact be composted and turned into valuable food for the soil. When food scraps are disposed into landfill they quickly rot and become carbon dioxide and methane, two of the most common greenhouse gasses.  So to reduce green house gases and improve our garden we all need to compost our food scraps and other household waste. This saves us time and money by having nutrient rich plant food ready at home.

I always recommend having either a compost system, worm farm or both. These will supply your garden with rich, organic matter to help improve your soil. It’s also useful when planting out seedlings, shrubs and trees


Using a plastic garbage bin as a Compost Bin – cheap and easy !!!

      Just cut out the base and drill a few air holes in the side. Place this in garden beds or around the fruit trees to help feed the soil. To harvest simply lift up the bin and spread the compost over the soil. So quick and easy.

Compost Ingredients:

Carbon – brown, dead, old and dry, eg mulch, newspaper, shredded paper, dry leaves, saw dust. You can also use tissues, paper towels (no chemicals used on these) or serviettes. I keep all old office paper and soak it in molasses before putting in the compost as a carbon layer. Carbon supports fungi.

Nitrogen - green and fresh, eg; fresh food scraps, lucerne (green), manures, compost, coffee grounds, fresh weeds and grass clippings, blood and bone, Comfrey, Pigeon Pea, Arrowroot and other greens. Keep a small bin in the kitchen for all food scraps. To help keep the bin clean line the base with a paper towel, piece of newspaper or old office paper. Just tip the whole lot in the compost when full, paper included !! Nitrogen supports bacteria.

Water - compost should be damp, not soaking.

Air - is present in the building process and added when mixed or turned.

Activators - high Nitrogen and gets the micro-organisms going, eg molasses, worm juice, liquid fertilisers, comfrey (leaves & home-made comfrey tea), old compost and even small freshly dead animals (yuk) can be used to activate the pile….

Carbon:Nitrogen (C:N) Ratio

For fast and best performance of the composting system it’s important to have the correct C:N Ratio, or Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio, of the items being added.

This isn’t the quantity of materials, but the chemical compound ratio of carbon to nitrogen in the actual materials themselves…Let me explain…

Organisms need about 30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen in what they consume, e.g. approx. a 30:1 C:N ratio.

Generally we add food scraps, garden clippings, mulch, etc to our compost. Here’s the approximate C:N ratio for these items –

  • Kitchen waste = 15:1
  • Fresh lawn & garden clippings = 20:1
  • Chook manure with hay or straw = 10:1
  • Animal manure = 20:1
  • Coffee Grounds = 25:1
  • Shredded paper = 150:1
  • Autumn Leaves = 50:1
  • Hay or Cane Mulch = 100:1
  • Sawdust = 400:1
  • General garden waste with brown leaves = 30:1

The fresher the item, the higher the nitrogen level, so lower the number.

The older and dryer the items, the higher the carbon level and higher number.

Compost needs to be made with items that add up to around a C:N ration of about 30:1. One example is kitchen scraps at 15:1 added with cane mulch of 100:1 would be a slightly high carbon ratio, but with added activators (high nitrogen, low C:N) should balance the mix to about 30:1 all up and decompose nicely.

Don’t get carried away with worrying too much about counting carbon and nitrogen content, here’s a simple rule…

  • If you add too much nitrogen the mix will be wet and smelly so just add more carbon and air (by turning with a fork).
  • If the mix is too dry and not decomposing then you’ve added too much carbon and you need to add water and activators to get the pile heated up and decomposing faster.

Follow these simple steps and you should have fabulous compost in no time at all!!

Where to locate the bins or bays?

  • My favourite place is in-garden composting
  • Near the house if possible
  • In full sun - compost heats up from the organisms, but full sunshine helps keep it warm, especially during cooler months
  • On the soil - connect the contents to the earth
  • Close to water and other materials, e.g. kitchen garden near garden beds
  • Allow easy access for collecting compost

Here’s how to start a compost bin…..

Compost recipe (one version of many available). This is for a bin system.

Have all the ingredients ready. Place the compost bin flat on the ground in a suitable location. Gloves and dust mask on. Then start filling it all in one go, until it’s full to the top.

  • Put some old compost on the ground to start the process
  • Carbon - dry leaves, dry lawn clippings, mulch
  • Nitrogen - food scraps or garden clippings
  • Carbon - mulch
  • Activator
  • Nitrogen
  • Carbon
  • Water with molasses
  • Nitrogen
  • Carbon
  • etc…until bin is full
  • Pour a full watering can made up of diluted molasses, comfrey tea or worm juice all over the contents. This helps to activate the mix and get the micro-organisms working throughout.
  • Always finish with a carbon layer, eg sugar cane mulch
  • Keep moist, but not too wet.

What to do now?

Leave the compost bin to sit for a few days. Then remove the lid and there should be moisture on the inside of the lid. This is a good indication that the mix is damp enough and starting to heat up. You can now add your kitchen scraps, garden prunings or other nitrogens, then always top with a layer of mulch and water well. You can add a watering can of molasses or other activators to help the decomposing process. Place the lid back on after adding ingredients.

Continue to add ingredients until bin is completely full, generally two weeks, then let the bin rest while starting another bin in different location, e.g. another garden bed. You may need to loosen mix with a fork to add air if mix is too damp.

The first load of compost should be ready in about 4 - 6 weeks and you can then start to harvest the compost ready to use in the garden. This is great for feeding trees, planting shrubs or seedlings or use as a soil improver before planting.

 **Here I’m adding food scraps to our compost bin and then adding water before mulching.**

Some problems you may find…..

Smelly, too wet, sour or rotten – means you have too much water, not enough air and not enough carbon. Add more carbon and turn the mix to allow for more air flow. Always top with a layer of carbon. Never leave food scraps uncovered as the mix will not decompose and there will be small flies in the bin.

Dry and not decomposing, ants have moved in – means there’s too much carbon and not enough water. You need to add more nitrogen, eg lawn clippings, comfrey or other plant prunings or more food scraps. Water the mix well with a full watering can of diluted molasses or other liquid fertiliser. (Comfrey Tea would work well now) You could also add more activators or manures to help heat the mix up.

If you follow these steps and the compost still doesn’t work then take it all apart and start again. I’m sure it will work for you the next time. If not, then contact me and I can help you start successfully compost!!


If you enjoyed this article and it provided you with a few ideas on how to successfully Compost, then please consider sharing the love with others. Lots of links below…

AND if you’d love to receive more insights into organic gardening and growing fresh food please join me for the Soil to Supper Club and let’s grow together!! ~ CLICK HERE ~

Cath xx

© cath manuel 2012

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