How’s your compost heap looking after our dry Gauteng winter? Most problems in a compost heap can be solved by considering what has gone into the compost heap, how aerated it is and how moist it has been kept.

Most smallholders have a compost heap going, to provide their soil with important enrichment and to recycle the organic matter that is generated by the kitchen and garden.

However, sometimes your compost heap is not working efficiently and becomes a dried out pile of leaves twigs and rotting vegetables, or it is a smelly, soggy, dense mess that is unusable on your garden beds.

In order to create the right circumstances for the composting microorganisms to perform well you need the right carbon to nitrogen ratio. A simple rule of thumb is to use one part nitrogen to  thirty parts carbon materials.

Nitrogen-rich materials include: fruit and vegetable peelings, grass clippings, lawn and garden weeds, flowers, cuttings, chicken manure, coffee grounds and tea leaves or bags.

Brown organic matter waiting to be mixed into the compost heap

Carbon materials include: dry leaves, shrub prunings, straw or hay, pine needles, wood ash, newspaper, shredded paper, cardboard, mealie cobs and stalks, sawdust and wood chips.

If nothing is happening and your pile doesn’t seem to be heating up at all, this could be because there is not enough nitrogen. Increase the green material or add a compost activator such as comfrey leaves. Some activators can be bought in powdered form.

The right balance of moisture is equally important. In Gauteng’s dry winters, we should be keeping the pile moist, as a completely dry pile doesn’t compost. The different types of material should be mixed, as a thick layer of one material might prevent the moisture from reaching through the pile.

The compost heap should be as wet as a well rung out sponge.

However, a heap that stinks like rotten eggs might be too wet. If it is too wet, mix up the pile so that it gets some aeration and can breathe. Add course dry materials like straw, shredded newspaper, hay or leaves to soak up excess moisture.

Aeration is the other important factor. The heap needs to be turned every few weeks, separating compacted materials and allowing oxygen in – oxygen is necessary for the decomposing process.

Mature compost is dark brown, friable and free of insects

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