Express composting

Stephan Meyer, ONE’s expert gardener who is responsible for setting up the box garden in the Big Brother Africa house, continues his series of gardening tips.

In the previous post “Organic Box Gardening” we discussed organic gardening and what it actually means. We mentioned that an important step in successful organic gardening is “feeding your soil”.

The ONE garden
The ONE garden in the Big Brother house

This week we will teach you how to make your own compost pile from scratch. You don’t have to be a professional gardener to do this, all you need is perseverance. The more effort you put in, the faster you see results.

A lot of professionals will tell you that you need brown composting matter for Carbon and green composting  matter for Nitrogen. They will also say that the composition ratio between brown and green should be 30:1. You might ask yourself, “does that mean I need to cut down a tree to make compost?” The answer is simply no.

*Jargon buster*:

Brown composting materials are woody materials that are high in carbon, such as; peat, moss, sawdust hay and straw. While green composting materials are high in nitrogen, such as; garden refuse, food scraps, and manure.

The most readily available of both green and brown matter is grass clippings. By layering grass clipping you can make your own compost within 2 to 4 weeks. Easy enough isn’t it?

Advantages of express composting are:

  • Red worms, which are important to the process as you need them in compost, will be able to breakdown and decompose the matter much quicker.
  • Most of the nutrients from the raw  matter are retained in the compost because are still in a raw and more complex state therefore  is less of a chance leaching.
  • Because of high temperatures reached constantly from the decomposition, there is lower chance of weed seedlings developing.

Like anything, there will be disadvantages. The disadvantage here is that a lot of time and effort is needed because the heap of matter takes a year to decompose.

The box garden
Plants in the ONE garden

How to make “Express compost”


Any material can be used for making compost, but but some items are best avoided. For example meat, dairy and cooked foods can attract unwanted pests, viruses and disease.

Greens or Nitrogen rich materials

  • Grass cuttings
  • Raw vegetable peelings or wast plant material
  • Tea bags and leaves, coffee grounds
  • Young green weeds that you pull from your garden and soft green pruning’s
  • All manure from vegetarian animals such as cows, horses and chickens. Manure from meat eating animals such as cats and dogs should be avoided.

Browns or Carbon rich materials

  • Cardboard or paper scraps e.g. cereal boxes or junk mail/ shredded paper.
  • Newspaper.
  • Hay, straw, wood shavings and saw dust.
  • Winter shrub and tree pruning.
  • Old bedding plants and fallen leaves.
  • Crushed eggshells.

Building your pile

  • Your pile should be established in open area, preferably in an area where you will want to plant in future. The nutrients that are deposited will help make the soil fertile.
  • Always make sure that the materials used – greens or browns – are broken down to the smallest form possible. This is possibly the best kept secret for express composting. The smaller the raw material, the greater the surface area for the soil microbes can establish, in order to for them break down the matter in a faster time.
  • To establish the right ratio between greens and browns the material can be layered.   The height of the layers should not exceed 20cm.
  • After every layer, water must be applied to provide the necessary moister for decomposing process to get started.
  • Never make your pile bigger than 1.5m x 1.5m 1.5 as more material makes it more difficult to move and manage.
  • If you don’t use a composting bin, a plastic sheet can used instead. Simply pull the sheet over the pile of matter to maintain moisture levels and to build up the heat.

Maintaining your pile

Maintenance of your pile is simple but requires work.

Pile “turning”

  • 4-5 days after layering you can start turning the pile.
  • Pile turning entails mixing and moving the pile of matter. By turning the pile the necessary oxygen levels are supplied to the microbes in order for them to reproduce. The more microbes, the faster the breakdown and the quicker the supply of rich compost.
  • Always try to move the dryer material, normally from the outer sides of the pile, in the middle. In middle is warmer, so you sort of “baking” anything in the middle, by doing this you are supplying as much oxygen to the pile as possible.
  • While turning, you should wet all material that appears dry.
  • Energy is released from the microbes as they work to break down the raw material. This energy creates the heat that is needed to sterilise the heap of most pest and diseases as well as viable weed seeds.
  • From this point on you can turn your pile every 2-3 days.

Your compost is ready for use when it has a dark brown colour with a sweet earthy smell and most of the raw materials aren’t recognisable


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