In a natural system, living things die and their deaths allow life to be reborn. Plants and other living things die on forest floors and in meadows, and are broken down over time by water, microorganisms, sun and air.

Compost has two main functions. It improves the structure of the soil, which makes the soil easier to work, providing good aeration and water retention characteristics. It also makes the soil more resistant to erosion. Compost also recycles and provides nutrients for plant growth. In addition,  its organic acids make nutrients in the soil more available to plants. Carbon, nitrogen, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, phosphorus, potash and trace minerals maintain the biological cycles of life. Fewer nutrients leach out in soils with enough organic matter.

If soil only consisted of rock meal, it would be infertile. The fertility depends on the amount of organic matter or humus present in the soil as well as the effective micro-organisms and soil nutrients.

Healthy soil means healthy plants and healthy plants are more resistant to diseases and insect attacks. Ensuring you have fertile soil is a far better way to grow food than using poisons that kill beneficial soil life.

Composting is simply speeding up the processes that occurs in nature and it involves some fundamental principles. These principles are the provision of air, moisture and warmth in order to create an ideal environment for the fungi and bacteria that are responsible for the decomposition and breakdown of the raw materials.

There are many methods of making compost heaps and different recipes for layering your pile. Spring and Autumn are ideal times to make a compost heap as biological activity is high during these periods and it should not be too hot nor too cold for microbial life in the pile. We thought it would be a good idea to include this article to give you time to make before the onset of Spring.

Many households throw away things that can be turned into this black gold and this is why we are about to explain how to build a simple and effective compost heap.

You don’t need any fancy equipment or containers, however you may use them if you wish. It is also a good idea to build a compost pile on an unused growing bed so the next crop grown in that bed will pick up and utilize any nutrients that leached out from the pile and into the soil. When the next season comes, you can build a compost pile on another unused bed.

Here’s the process step by step:

1. Loosen the ground, where the pile will be, to about 30cm deep with a fork or hoe.

2. Lay down brush, woody materials and other roughage for air circulation.

3. Add about 5cm of mature material like dry weeds, leaves, straw, hay and old garden wastes. Water it thoroughly.

4. Add about 5cm of immature material like fresh weeds, grass clippings, hedge trimmings, green cover crops and kitchen wastes you have saved. Water well.

5. Cover lightly with  about 1 or 2cm of soil to prevent flies and odours.You will want to do this straight after adding the immature material. Moisten the soil.

6. Add new layers of mature vegetation, immature vegetation and soil. Water the pile regularly until it is ready for use. You can also cover your compost heap to protect it from too much rain or too much sun.

7. Let the pile cure for 3 – 6 months while you are building a new pile. Turn the pile once for faster decomposition. A 1.2 meter pile will reduce to 30 – 40 cm when it is ready to use.

When you turn the compost pile, make the base of the new pile smaller than the original base to give the turned pile more internal volume and less surface area.

If you are not ready to use your compost when it is fully cured, stop watering it and spread it out to dry.

Always be sure to add at least 3 different kinds of crops to your compost piles. Different microbes flourish in specific kinds of crops. The result of this crop diversity is microbe diversity in the soil, which ensures better soil and plant life.

Written by Aimee Hoppe