Not just a pile of old dry leaves

Compost-bay-featurePost by Helen Sampson of The North Glass

Spring has definitely sprung in the southern parts of Australia so it’s time to think about enriching your food growing soil.  If you haven’t done so already, now is a great time to get some compost happening ready for the mid-summer demand.  Whether it is in a small tub, plastic drum or in several bays, compost is simple and easy to make.

Making compost can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Personally, I like to keep it simple so I mix my compost at a ratio of half brown to half green, turn it weekly and make sure it is moist but not damp.

Brown ingredients include dried grass, straw, shredded non-glossy papers and old, dried cow or horse manure. Green ingredients can include food scraps (not including meat) such as vegetable scraps, fruit leftovers, fruit and vegetable skins, freshly cut lawn clippings, prunings from shrubs or other food plants and flowers.  Anything that once was alive can go into the compost – if your dog or cat sheds, their fur can go into the compost as well! I put some sheep’s wool in mine last year and it has broken down into the mix as well.

By balancing the compost and turning it regularly, you are just giving nature a helping hand and speeding up the process.  Pictured is my three-bay system I made out of recycled pallets recently. Once one bay is piled up to the height I want (around 1 metre) then I can concentrate on turning that while I build a second pile in the second bay. By the time I get to build the third pile, if I have regularly turned the first pile, it will be ready to use and I can keep building compost at different stages, whilst always having some ready to use. You will also notice the use of a pallet across the front of the bay, which I use as a gate or fourth side to keep the pile together, ensuring it can rapidly heat up and make it easier to turn.  When I want to use the compost, I simply remove the front pallet and can shovel it out into a wheelbarrow or yard cart.

Secure the pallets together with baling twine or other twine that you have around the house – it doesn’t have to be anything fancy! There are lots of different types of bins you can buy from the hardware or gardening store if you don’t feel up to constructing your own and the size can be dictated by the amount of space you have available. If you don’t have room or you live in an apartment, a bokashi bin is a great way to compost in a very small space. It is a closed system which doesn’t smell, and still makes great compost.

If you forget to turn the pile, don’t worry – it will break down eventually – it may just take a little longer.

You can pile all your compost materials together in layers and leave the whole heap for a while to break down, turning it regularly, or you can build your compost as you go.   If you have some kind of blood and bone product you can add that to the compost as well as this will help with the composting process. Comfrey grown near your compost heap can be thrown in when you turn the materials and will also speed up the process.

Whichever method of composting you choose, and however much attention you give it, it will eventually break down and reward you with nutrient rich matter that your plants will love. It really is worth the little extra effort to keep it turning and producing for you across the growing season.

Helen Sampson is an avid gardener and permaculture designer, based on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia.  Living on 40 acres, Helen and her husband are establishing an organic mixed farming enterprise, based on permaculture principles with the aim of providing organic, grass fed meat, fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs and honey to local outlets and customers.  Making a significant change from her previous corporate life, you can read more about the transformation of people and place at, more about her gardening and cooking exploits and purchase her book “How to Grow Low Cost Organic Veggies” from

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