Make your own compost step-by-step guide: part one (of three parts)

1) Trenching is a traditional method. This involves digging a trench down a row of the vegetable garden and burying kitchen scraps and green waste, covering it immediately with soil. It is easy and tidy and the worms and microbes will break it down quickly but it only fertilises a small area at a time. There is no heat generated so weeds and diseased foliage should never be included. Neighbourhood dogs can learn about digging for victory and may excavate your trench if you add desirable food waste.

2)The black bin. We have one in the veg garden for kitchen scraps because our compost heaps are some distance away. It is tidy. The contents rot down and are something of a sludgy mess though this is fine to spread on the surrounding garden. The egg shells, however, remain whole and there can be a problem with spreading disease through potato peelings and brassicas with club root. It keeps dogs and cats out of the scraps but is not rodent proof. Because there is no heat generated, it will not destroy weed seeds or diseases (pathogens). The bin has no base to it which makes it easy to lift and move around. It acts more as a worm farm without provision to gather the worm tea. Our bin is full of tiger worms.

3) If you have many deciduous plants and a build up of too much leaf litter, raking it to a discreet area of the garden in heaps and leaving it for several months can be an easy solution. It needs plenty of rain to break down and the resulting humus will not be as nutritious as compost but it is clean to handle, adds texture to the soil and makes attractive mulch. The leaves piled to the right in the photo are about 30cm higher than the path on the left at this stage but still look tidy.

4) For small town gardens where tidiness is highly prized, the rolling compost drum may be an excellent option. It is not cheap to buy (expect to pay around $220 upwards) but it is very easy to use and as long as you rotate the drum often, it will make good compost faster than any other method we know. If you get your ingredients in the right proportions (more on this next time) and have sufficient moisture and oxygen, the contents should heat up to kill pathogens and seeds and will break down quickly, giving you small quantities of good quality compost in return for minimal effort. Home handypeople can possibly improvise a cheaper alternative.

5) Good compost does not smell, is generally dry and light textured and will leave you with clean hands so it is easy to handle. Sludgy muck, as in Step 2, is rotting organic matter where the breakdown is aided by worms and bacteria in a process which does not generate heat. It still has value but is nowhere near as pleasant to use. Well managed compost can generate enough heat in the process to kill seeds and unwanted fungi and diseases. We will look further at our tried and true techniques of how to generate clean compost in the next Outdoor Classroom.

Part two – making a hot compost mix.
Part three – making cold compost mix.