How to Make a Compost Heap
flickr photo shared by Willowtree2005 under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license
Composting is one of the best examples of nutrient cycles, the reusing of nutrients from dead material to support new life. Yes, the simple compost heap which humanity has been using for thousands of years is a perfect tool for turning organic waste into the rich fertilizer needed for growing food.
Let’s learn the basic principles of composting, using just the organic waste you already produce, right in our kitchen. When discarded in a traditional way, through the communal garbage system, a huge percentage of our food ends up in landfills. Instead, we will be turning this into a free self-made fertilizer that works for everything in our garden, even if that is just a window box!
The truth is that there is no one-compost-heap-fits-everyone solution. The composting solution you need is going to be absolutely unique according to your lifestyle and needs. So let’s start by creating a space for true creativity!
Individual or group / experiential
1 day for establishing
To learn the basic principles of compost and soil making
To gain awareness about the food waste and its place in waste management
To get a notion about nutrient recycling and closed-loop systems
Required Materials and Tools:
Any pre-fabricated or self-made compost bin, if available.
Observe and assess your lifestyle and composting abilities. This can be done individually or as a team. The following guiding questions might help:
Do you produce enough composting material for a large heap or just for a small bucket?
Where can you do the composting? Your kitchen, garden, balcony, allotment site etc?
For what would you use the ready compost? Houseplants only, gardening?
Decide on the size, location and construction of the compost heap / bin.
Just follow the guidelines below!
Take regular pictures from beginning to end (of your plants!)
The main guidelines of composting:
The compost heap should be in a place with lots of shade.
Keep your browns and greens in equal balance! (Browns are dead leaves, branches, hay, straw, paper, twigs etc. Greens are grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, barnyard animal manure, coffee grounds etc. A good indicator for the right balance is when compost is warm and has no ammonia-like smell).
Keep the heap aerated and wet. In order to do so, you might add a layer of loose branches at the bottom. Soak the newly-built pile, adding some water occasionally when the heap gets dry.
Make it like a layered cake. Try to add waste material in thin layers of different structure / density. For example, grass clippings followed by straw and vegetable waste on top. Try to get ingredients chopped as small as possible to ensure faster composting.
Keep these things off of your pile!: meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, oily foods or grease, bones, cat and dog waste. Diseased plants and seeds of weedy plants. Not only do these things not compost well, they also attract rats!
The compost is ready when it is black, loose, earthy and smells good. There might be still some coarse pieces within. You may put them into compost again.
Detailed composting guide for advanced users. Includes a table of possible green and brown ingredients.
Everything You Know About Composting is Wrong: Mike McGrath at TEDxPhoenixville
What challenges did you face?
What would you suggest to your friends, willing to create a compost heap? Try to name at least one core principle from your experience.
- How could you improve your compost heap in the future?
Instructions for Submission
Upload a picture of your heap in Moodle and submit your written reflection (so that your peers can give you feedback). Instructions on how to upload a picture in Moodle or submit your written reflection can be found here: Instructions on Submission&Uploading
Instructions for Assessment
Provide feedback to at least one participant that has done this activity. Instructions on providing feedback can be found here: Instructions on Feedback
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