Building a Compost Heap
Building a Compost Heap
Collect as much compostable material as possible, remembering that a mixture of soft and tough material is needed. Chop up large, tough items with a spade, shears or shredder. Very dry material must be soaked in water first.
Filling the container
If you have suitable stemmy materials, make a criss-cross layer about 15-30cm (6-12in) thick at the bottom of the container. This will encourage air to penetrate the heap.
Mix everything together first or add the different materials in layers of up to 20-25cm (8-10in) deep. The latter gives you an idea of how much of each material you have.
Grass mowings, which tend to settle into a dense, anaerobic mass, are best mixed with more open ingredients. Add mixed materials to the compost container, watering it if dry. A dry heap will not compost.
The compost heap must have sufficient water to work. The ideal moisture content is difficult to describe; it is something you learn by experience. Weeds pulled shortly after rain when they are covered in a film of water will supply just the right amount of moisture. If necessary, water the ingredients as you make the heap.
Building up the heap
Spread the material right out to the edges of the container and firm it down gently. The idea is to allow a good supply of air in the heap, but not to have large gaps which would allow material to dry out. Larger, tougher items should be firmed down more than those that are soft and sappy. The best idea is to mix the two types.
Cover the heap with a piece of hessian-backed carpet or other porous material and replace the lid.
If the container is now full, you have a number of options. You can either just leave it to compost or you can turn it once or twice. If there is still plenty of room in the container, however, you can fill it further by repeating the above process as more compost ingredients become available.
Once you have stopped adding new material to the heap, you can leave it alone until the compost is ready. Alternatively, remove everything from the container and examine what you find. If the heap was started many months before, you may find that the bottom layers are ready for use and can be removed. The remainder can be incorporated into a new heap to compost further.
If the heap looks too dry then add some more water or moist ingredients; if it looks too wet, add dry material. Mix everything together and refill the container. If you are using the container to start a new heap, cover this semi-decomposed heap with carpet or polythene.
When is compost ready?
Compost can be said to be ready as soon as the majority of the items you put into the container are no longer recognizable. Certain uses require a more mature product.
Starting a new heap
At some point you must decide to stop adding to this heap and start a new one. This could be when the container is full (though it may never fill completely as the ingredients reduce in volume as they decay or at the end of the season).