Shannon Hunt provides tips to create your own nutrient-rich compost.
Autumn is a good time to clear your garden of dead and dying matter by gathering layers of carbon (‘dry’ brown matter) and nitrogen (‘wet’ green matter) to add to your compost pile or bin. Here are a few important details to help you create high-nutrient compost that’s ready to feed your garden when it needs it the most.
Collect & Pile Up Brown
It’s autumn, so you will find plenty of dried brown, yellow and/or orange leaves under trees and strewn in parks and fields. These are perfect for layering in your compost. You can also collect and dry grass clippings, straw, chopped seaweed, shredded paper, strips of thin cardboard, dead leaves, and small dry twigs from the vegetable and flower garden, as well as washed and dried, finely crushed eggshells and dry cocoa bean husks.
Collect & Pile Up Green
Gather used coffee grounds (full of nitrogen) and green vegetable matter like silver beet, matured sawdust, fresh seaweed, brassica leaves, carrot and beetroot tops, and lots of comfrey leaves, and place them in a pile beside your dry brown matter and close to your compost space. (Comfrey dies away over the colder months, so grab it while you can.)
Gather Extra Soil/Compost
Good, loamy soil makes for excellent layering in your compost pile, or if you have access to good compost from last year’s efforts or a few bags of commercial compost from your favourite garden supply outlet, gather it to add thin layers to your brown and green components.
A Commercial Rotating Compost
If you have a rotating bin on a stand with a lid, place it in a spot with good year-round sun. Add brown and green layers in a 75:25 ratio, adding a little water to make it moist (not wet). Turn it every few days, checking it has not dried out. If you add too much liquid, it will become anaerobic (lacking in oxygen and producing bad-smelling bacteria) and you will need to add more carbon material to suck up the liquid so it becomes aerobic again. Remember, healthy, life-giving compost should have an earthy, sweet odour that is in no way offensive.
Make Your Own Wooden Pallet Structure
Secure four wooden posts in the ground in a rectangle or square formation and use wooden pallets to make the sides. Leave one side unattached or hinged so it can be opened to turn or remove your compost. So that air can circulate under the compost, criss-cross some narrow, thin branches over the ground to sit the layers of compost materials on.
Layer Your Materials
On the base in your structure, layer up your brown and green matter, and soil/compost, in a 45:45:10 ratio and water it so it stays just moist. Every four to six weeks, check that it has broken down and turned black and, if it has, turn it over (an old-fashioned pitchfork works extremely well for this) so the black material is moved to the top. Alternatively, once the first-laid layers have broken down completely into compost, you can remove that layer from the bottom to use on your garden, leaving the rest to break down in the same way. You can also keep adding brown/green/soil layers on top of the compost.
You can scatter a couple of light handfuls of gypsum (good quality lime) over the layers every two months. This application can assist the compost to break down more quickly.
Meat & Fish Matters
Never put meat or fish into your home compost unless you are highly experienced at getting your compost to the correct heat for the sustained period required to kill the pathogens in the rotting meat and fish, but not the good bacteria that needs to live on to work the compost. This is no mean feat, requiring plenty of knowledge and experience to work.
Also, rats and mice are attracted to such products and you do not want them around your compost and your home.
Comfrey for Your Compost
You cannot grow comfrey from its (sterile) seed, so instead ask a comfrey-growing friend to break off a generous piece of root from their patch. Once you plant it, be sure to keep it in check so it does not take over your garden in the warmer months. Remember, the plant dies down over the colder months, sprouting up again in spring and/or summer.