Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

A beginner’s guide to at-home composting

With at-home composting, you can turn kitchen scraps into fertiliser for your garden. Researcher­s from Australia’s Griffith University compiled this list of do’s and don’ts for composting beginners.


While composting is a fairly simple procedure, knowing what to put into your compost bin can be tricky, and views differ on whether you should add items like meat or citrus. It is important, in any event, to get your compost mix right, otherwise it can become slimy or smelly, or even attract vermin.

Through the process of composting, raw organic materials are converted to soft and spongy soillike grains. When compost is added to soil as fertiliser, it helps improve the soil’s ability to retain water and make nutrients available to plants. In fact, compost is so valuable for soil health that it is often referred to as ‘black gold’.


If you want to make your own compost at home using kitchen scraps and other household waste, follow these basic tips that have been compiled by researcher­s in food resilience and sustainabi­lity at Griffith University in Australia: • Use two bottomless bins so when one is full you can start on the other. Place them in a shady spot;

• Have a good mix of two parts ‘browns’ (aged materials rich in carbon) to one part ‘greens’ (fresh materials rich in nitrogen). Combine brown materials (such as hay, straw, sawdust, woodchips, dried leaves, or dried weeds that have not gone to seed) with green (food scraps and other materials such as fruit and vegetable peels and rinds, tea leaves, coffee grounds or eggshells), and some types of animal manure (chicken, cow or horse); • Allow the temperatur­e of the mixture to climb. Heat in the centre of your compost pile is a good sign, as the microbes are breaking down the material. As the compost matures, it cools, creating the ideal environmen­t for worms and microbes to finish the process;

• Citrus fruit, spicy peppers, onions and garlic can all be used in a compost pile, but not in a worm farm, as the worms will suffer under the acidic conditions produced when these items break down;

• Natural brown materials can include a wide range of old, dry, organic materials, such as cereal boxes, wine corks, fireplace ashes, or even human hair or pet fur;

• Moist tea leaves can help the pile break down faster.


Here is a list of things to avoid when starting a composting heap or bin:

• Don’t let your compost bin be a feast for rodents. Bury the base slightly in the ground, line it with wire mesh and keep it covered. Don’t add meat scraps, cooking fats, oils, milk products or bones, as these will attract vermin; • Don’t let your compost get stinky or slimy. If your compost becomes slimy, add more brown materials. You can also speed up the composting process by digging through the heap every week or so, or adding extra chicken manure, crushed rock or lime at various stages; • Keep harsh chemicals and pathogens out of the compost. Never add items such as wood waste, pet waste or sick plants.

Written by Prof Cheryl Desha, Kimberley Reis and Savindi Caldera of the School of Engineerin­g and Built Environmen­t at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. First published by theconvers­ To view the original article, visit

 ??  ?? ABOVE: It is safe to add citrus fruit, spicy peppers, onions and garlic to a compost mix, but not to a worm farm. GETTY IMAGES
ABOVE: It is safe to add citrus fruit, spicy peppers, onions and garlic to a compost mix, but not to a worm farm. GETTY IMAGES

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