Home Composting – How to Make it at Home

All living things, including green plants, have the same basic needs as us! Food, Water, Air and Protection against the elements. In nature, plant food is found in the soils they are growing in, and so it makes sense that if that food is of poor quality, the plant will not thrive.

Have you ever wondered how to make compost at home and how to use a compost bin? I bet if you thought about it, you most probably also wondered why you should make compost at home.

What are the basic needs of plants? All living things, including plants, have the exact basic needs as us! To survive, plants need Food, Water, Air, and Protection against the elements.

Where does a plant’s food come from?

In nature, a plant’s food is found in its growing soil. It goes without saying that if that food is of poor quality, the plant will not thrive. In nature, the addition of organic matter into the soil happens continuously. This organic matter turns into compost which helps to replenish lost minerals and nutrients.

Autumn leaves add a considerable load of organic matter on top of the soil. Once it has fallen on the ground, the leaves will get incorporated into the soil. As a result, small insects, fungi, and worms in the soil do their magic and break down the leaves. In nature, fallen branches, decaying animals, animal manure, annual plants, grasses, and weeds that have died get composted naturally. This compost adds the needed elements to the soil. Furthermore, floods and rain also add much-needed nutrients to the ground.

We all like to keep our gardens neat and tidy. Unfortunately, in our gardens, we usually remove all of the above-mentioned organic materials before the natural composting process takes place. As a result, the soil will lack the required nutrients the plants require.

Why is compost better than chemical fertilisers?

To boost plant growth, many people turn to chemical fertilisers. These chemical fertilisers provide a short-term improvement, whereas compost releases nutrients slowly over time. Compost added to soil has many advantages. Compost keeps soil healthy, and it will improve the soil’s texture. The addition of compost to soil improves nutrient and water retention in sandy soils. In clay soils, compost improves drainage and aeration. The improvement of the soil’s texture is also referred to as the balancing of soil density. In soils that are too tight, compost will aid in loosening the soil.

Compost does not only provide plant food. It also provides food for earthworms, which in turn will enhance soil fertility. Studies have shown that compost is able to fight the spread of diseases which affects plants.

WHY make your own COMPOST at home?

Usually, though, our garden’s design can be hampered by poor soil quality and often not conducive to healthy plants. Builders’ rubble and sand can heavily compromise the soil in areas we live in, such as Cape Town and Gauteng. Depending on our surrounding landscape, the ground might be too sandy or too clayish in texture. Moreover, a lack of trees providing leaf litter, poor underground water quality, and imbalanced pH negatively influence soil quality. By making and using your own organic compost, you will improve the quality of your soil.

Moreover, you will save money when you make compost instead of buying it. Since compost enhances the soil’s ability to retain water, you will need less water for your garden. Last but not least, you will positively impact the environment. In the next paragraph, we will elaborate on the environmental impact of organic waste.

In our modern society, we unwittingly erode our soil and diminish its ability to retain water or support life. Home composting helps reduce this soil erosion and prevent water runoff, especially in heavily compacted soil.

Why is it wrong to throw organic waste in your waste bin instead of using it to make compost at home?

Did you know that a thousand households produce an average of 20 000kg of organic waste every month?

This organic waste consists of the following: Kitchen waste in the form of food waste, egg shells, ground coffee beans, used tea bags, and fruit and vegetable scraps.

Household waste includes organic material in the form of used paper and cardboard like newspapers, packaging boxes, paper egg containers, and paper bags. These items are high in carbon, which is an essential element for your compost bin. (Avoid using glossy paper as compost.)

Usually, a large percentage of the organic waste produced by a household is garden waste. This consists of greens (high in nitrogen) and browns (high in carbon). Both these elements are essential when making your own compost at home. Greens could include fresh grass clippings, green leaves and twigs, plants, and flowers. Browns consist of dry leaves, dry twigs and dead tree branches.

Separating compostable organic waste from inorganic waste is the way to go!

If compostable organic waste is not separated at home and used to make compost, all this compostable waste ends up at a landfill site. Waste at a landfill site is compacted. The compostable organic matter will not break down when so tightly packed without sufficient air and moisture. Furthermore, organic waste is problematic as it occupies too much landfill space. In addition, it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane gas and produces leachate, contaminating groundwater. Municipalities need to install expensive containment barriers to mitigate groundwater contamination.

A lady making a fresh salad, producing some organic waste when peeling vegetables. This unused food can be used for home composting.
When preparing food we generate a lot of kitchen scraps which usually end up at a landfill site instead of on a compost heap

The provincial policy for the Western Cape is to ban 50% of compostable organic waste from landfill by 2022. By 2027 a complete landfill ban on compostable organic waste will be in place. The Cape Town municipality has started a campaign to get households to compost all their organic waste at home. During the project’s first phase, they handed free composting bins to many households. They will continue with this home composting program and keep handing out free composting bins. Now isn’t that great news!

What are the health benefits linked to making and using your own compost?

“Directly or indirectly, all food we eat comes from the soil. The quality of our food has suffered, and so has our health. All life will be healthy or unhealthy according to the ground’s fertility. And if you grow vegetables at home, this is the first place to start improving your health via healthy plants and soil. You can easily make your compost at home. “Pat Featherstone, Soil for Life NGO.

We at Contours Landscapes hope that the information we have provided till now has made you eager to learn how to make compost at home! So, to become a home composting expert, keep on reading!

Do I need to use a specific container or composting bin when making compost at home?

Firstly, before discussing how to make your own compost, let us chat about the container you will need. There are various commercial compost bins on the market which you can choose from. Some of them are a bit expensive, though. A wooden planter box also works but will not last as long as a plastic container. If you are a DIY kind of person, you can make your own compost bin. This option is much cheaper. A few old wooden pallets nailed together to form a square compost bin or box work very well.

Alternatively, buy an old “flow bin.” A flow bin is a square plastic container inside a steel frame, with a wooden or steel pallet at the bottom. There are lots of second-hand flow bins available, and it is not very expensive. These bins work very well as compost bins. An added advantage is its large capacity.

You will, however, need to cut the top open and drill a few holes in the bottom to allow for the drainage of excessive water. Keep the top part and use it as a lid to prevent the compost from drying out quickly.

Of course, you can also make compost at home in a square trench in the ground. Unfortunately, this will not work if your soil is sandy since the “walls” of your trench will fall in. Another option you have is to make a compost heap directly on the ground.

What are the different methods used to make compost at home?

There are various methods that one can use to make compost at home. This article will discuss the hot/active process, the cold/passive process, and the Vermicomposting method.

01. how to make compost at home using THE HOT/ACTIVE METHOD.

Once you have your compost container ready, you can kick off the composting process and start making your own compost at home! Whether you use a compost bin, a square trench in the ground, or if you make a compost heap on the bare earth, the process will be the same. You will need to use a balance of both greens (nitrogen) and browns (carbons) to create your compost pile. Start your compost pile by placing your greens and browns in layers approximately 10 centimetres thick.

Firstly start by putting the dry browns down. Preferably use dry twigs, dead, dried-out tree branches or something similar for the first layer. At this stage, avoid using very fine dry composting material like sawdust. The dry twigs aid drainage and allows the compost pile to be aerated. The second layer must consist of greens. Continue piling organic material onto your compost pile by alternating the layers between the browns and the greens.

What are the four elements required to make compost?

By now, you should have noticed that we mentioned nitrogen in the form of greens and carbon in the form of browns. Greens include garden waste like grass clippings, plant leaf trimmings, fruit and vegetable waste from the kitchen, or anything that is still juicy and alive. Browns include dry leaves, sawdust, old cardboard, and non-glossy papers.

Apart from nitrogen and carbon, the other elements required for composting are moisture and oxygen.

By following the method discussed above and also allowing the pile to be well aerated and keeping it moist, it will naturally heat to about 130 degrees Celsius. This will allow you to have well-decayed compost within a few weeks. Furthermore, the high temperature obtained kills pathogens, and it will also eliminate weed seeds.

How can you speed up the composting process when making compost at home?

Apart from alternating the browns and greens in layers in your compost pile, you can add a layer or two of existing compost. Adding manure is also beneficial. Generally, manure from grain or grass-fed animals can be used. Avoid using dog “poop”. It attracts fly maggots and is unsuitable to use if you grow your own vegetables.

You can also add a compost activator, which you can buy from your local nursery. Some of the bigger supermarkets also sell compost activators. These compost activators are available in both powder and liquid form. Adding a compost activator will help start and speed up the composting process. Moreover, you can also use a compost starter like Bokashi to get the system working quickly.

Remember, as already mentioned, the compost pile needs to be kept moist, but it should definitely not be soggy! The moisture level should be similar to that of a wrung-out sponge. Furthermore, the compost pile must be turned at least once weekly to keep it aerated. The air brings much-needed oxygen into the compost pile. As already mentioned, moisture and oxygen are essential elements which are required when making compost at home. As long as you keep introducing them (moisture and air), the pile will stay hot, and you will have the optimum composting process going.

A commercial plastic composting bin used to make compost at home.
Compost bins quickly heat to about 130 degrees to create well decayed compost within a few weeks

02. THE COLD/PASSIVE METHOD

This is the same process as the steps above, yet you don’t turn the pile very often. This is what most home compost heaps end up as, and the decay is slower, but the effort is less. You can turn this pile once or twice to get the temperature rising and kill off any harmful bacteria or sterilise seeds, but after that, it’s best to let nature take over. Because you’re not moving the pile, you are maintaining higher nitrogen levels within the compost, which is excellent for your plants.

With this method, you will see more insects as they help to decompose the pile and usually can’t live in the hot temperatures of a hot pile. So if you want to speed things up, turn it more often.

03. how to make compost at home using THE VERMICOMPOSTING METHOD

Worms chew through the materials you put into your composting bin and produce worm castings (poop) which are very high in essential minerals that the soil and plants need. Worm farms have become very popular in the last few years as they can also create valuable home compost and worm “tea” (worm poop liquid) that boost fertilising minerals and protects plants from other plant diseases.

We will answer a few Frequently Asked Questions relating to compost worms and worm tea further down in this article.

Wriggler worms in a mans hands. These worms are used to make compost.
Home composting using the Vermicomposting method
Which worms work best for home composting using the Vermicomposting method?

Using regular garden worms will not generally work as well as red wiggler worms. They are better at eating through larger volumes of organic waste at a rapid pace. Earthworms live in deeper soil and feed on decaying root fibres. Red wiggler compost worms eat organic kitchen waste, and they live in the top layer of soil. After the organic waste the worms have eaten passed through their gut, the end product is a biologically active material called worm castings (worm poop)

Where can you find Red Wiggler compost worms?

You can purchase Red Wiggler compost worms from a plant nursery or online.

What is the big deal about worm castings?

Worm compost containing worm castings is regarded as the “black gold” of fertilisers and compost additives. Compared to regular compost, worm compost contains significantly more beneficial micro-organisms, enzymes, humus and plant stimulants.

How does the addition of worm compost benefit your soil?

Worm castings contain humus (a dark organic matter that forms in soil when organic matter decays). The humus helps increase your soil’s water retention. Furthermore, it will improve soil aeration and anchor plant nutrients that will otherwise drain away with water. Worm castings also feed beneficial soil micro-organisms that produce, store and slowly release plant nutrients into the soil.

What is worm tea?

Worm tea is an organic liquid fertiliser. You can make it by soaking worm castings in water. Furthermore, when you aerate the water while soaking the castings, large amounts of beneficial bacteria will form. Please keep in mind that chlorine kills bacteria. It is thus very important that you use rain water, or any otherun-chlorinated water. Bacteria is the greatest source of nitrogen available to your plants. Worm tea can have extraordinary results when you use it to feed your plants and lawn.

What is the best way to use your worm tea?

To get the maximum benefit from your worm tea, it is best to use it within 24 hours after brewing it. Use it directly on the plant leaves, or on top of the soil. Don’t apply the worm tea using a pressure sprayer. Rather use a watering can, as the spray nozzle on the pressure sprayer can kill the beneficial bacteria. Ultra Violet rays can kill bacteria, so it is best to use the worm tea late in the afternoon at sunset.

Hopefully, by now, you feel encouraged to make compost at home. Since there are so many benefits linked to worm castings, home composting using the vermicomposting method surely makes sense. Moreover, starting your own worm farm can be a fun family project.

What is the drawback of vermicomposting?

The drawback of vermicomposting is maintaining the worm bin, ensuring proper moisture and temperature, and the right levels of food. Furthermore, you must be more careful about what you add to the bin, as you can only add safe food matter that won’t harm the worms.

WHAT CAN BE USED TO MAKE COMPOST at home?

Generally, if it was once alive, it can be composted…with some exceptions. Here is a list of what you can compost: 

  1. Leaves
  2. Bones (yes, but they take a very long time and need a hot pile)
  3. Dead flowers
  4. Paper and cardboard made from wood. Empty paper egg containers. (shredded into smaller pieces) This is a good food source for earthworms.
  5. Dead plants
  6. Cow, horse, and chicken manure
  7. Feathers
  8. Sawdust
  9. Burnt sticks and wood, ash and soot
  10. Fish waste (but be careful as this can attract rats)
  11. Fruit and vegetable offcuts (Kitchen scraps)
  12. Coffee grounds and used tea bags
  13. Grass weeds (before they seed)
  14. Egg Shells. Crushed into small pieces, this is also a good food source for earthworms.
  15. Bird/Rabbit manure
  16. Old leather (same as bones above)
  17. Food scraps without meat (but be careful, as this can attract rats)
  18. Seaweed
  19. Hooves and horns
A person adding vegetable waste to a compost bin.
Instead of throwing away food scraps add them to your compost container

What should not be USED TO MAKE compost at home?

All man-made or synthetic waste materials like:

  1. Plastic
  2. Glass
  3. China
  4. Polystyrene
  5. Foil
  6. Nylon
  7. Old shoes
  8. Batteries
  9. Wire
  10. Coal ash
  11. Dog poo (it attracts fly maggots) is unsuitable for you to use if you grow your own vegetables.

In conclusion, we wish you many fruitful hours of Home Composting! Furthermore, we trust that you will soon eat the fruit of your labour!

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Let’s plan your landscaping project together!

We plan, install and maintain award-winning landscapes for our commercial clients and project partners. Clients who wish to add function, value and inspiration to their outdoor spaces and properties.

Our roots are in Cape Town, but our footprint stretches deep into southern Africa.