.
< All Topics
Print

Compost

Plants need food, just like animals do. To have a productive farm, you need to focus on feeding the soil in which the plants grow. Luckily we can make our own plant food cheaply with compost, worms and mulch. In this document we focus on compost.

Especially in the desert where you don’t have great soils, making compost is the best way to make good soil for your garden. Here’s a video on how this can be done by one of the leaders in the permaculture field, Geoff Lawton:

What is Compost

According to Wikipedia: “Compost is a mixture of ingredients used to fertilize and improve the soil. It is commonly prepared by decomposing plant and food waste and recycling organic materials. The resulting mixture is rich in plant nutrients and beneficial organisms, such as worms and bacteria.

Compost improves the soil and can be used wherever you want plants to grow. The benefits of compost include providing nutrients to crops as fertilizer, acting as a soil conditioner, increasing the humus of the soil, and introducing beneficial colonies of bacteria that help to suppress bad organisms in the soil. Soil with lots of compost also absorbs and holds water much better, thus you need less water for your plants.

Compost is cheap to make on your own, as it’s mostly waste from your garden or animals that you use to make the compost.

How to make Compost

To make compost, you need to gather a mix of ‘Greens’ and ‘Browns’.

Greens are materials that are rich in nitrogen such as green leaves, green grass, food scraps and horse or chicken manure.

Browns are more woody materials that are rich in carbon, such as dry grass, twigs, paper, and wood chips.

Once you mix these ingredients and keep them moist, the good bacteria will grow and will break down everything to produce good compost which your plants love.

A nice pile of compost in the making.

Preparing your compost heap

Choose your composting area. Choose a place that does not have much wind or sun so that your heap does not dry out so fast.

Start your pile on bare earth. This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to work on the compost. Best to use a space of 1m x 1m to make your pile.

Lay twigs or dry grass first, about 10cm deep. This aids drainage and helps keep enough oxygen in the pile.

Add layers: Add a 10cm layer of Green material then a layer of Brown material and so on until your heap is about 1m high.

Add manure. Add three bags of fresh horse or donkey manure to mix into your compost. Once you have added the horse manure you can mix everything well with a pitchfork.

TIP: If you are starting out and don’t have much green material, then just make layers of grass (20cm deep) followed by a layer of horse manure (5cm deep), then again a layer of grass and twigs.

Food scraps in a compost heap

Keep the compost moist

Every day, add one bucket of water into the heap. Do not use dirty water that contains soap or chemicals.

Cover with anything you have – wood, plastic sheeting, grass. Covering helps retain moisture and heat, two essentials for compost. Covering also prevents the compost from being over-watered by rain. The compost should be moist, but not soaked and sodden.

Turn

After 4 days it is the first time to turn the compost heap. Thereafter, turn it every two days.

Turn the heap with a pitchfork or shovel. This puts oxygen in the pile and helps the bacteria break down the organic matter. Oxygen is required for the process to work, and turning “adds” oxygen.

Try to turn the outside of the heap into the middle. Thus make a new pile, first put down the outside of your old pile, then put the inside of your old pile on top. This way everything in your compost will be in the middle of the pile sometimes and this is where the bacteria do their magic.

Note that the compost heap will now heat up in the middle and it can get very hot! This is good and it’s because the bacteria are producing a lot of heat while eating all the organic matter.

Here you can see the compost heap being turned over. Note the “old” heap in the back and the “new” heap in front.

Here’s a good video also explaining how to make compost at home:

When to use the compost

If you mix or turn your compost properly every two days, and you keep it moist, then it should be ready to use after about 3 to 4 weeks. The compost is then cold and all plant materials have been broken down.

Finished good compost.

How to use the compost

Before you use the compost, put it through a sieve so that any remaining twigs are removed. What remains is pure clean compost which you can use to prepare new beds or which you can mix into the soil of your existing beds.

SPICE Compost

SPICE Composting refers to STATIC PILE INOCULATED COMPOST EXTENSION, as developed by Gerry Gillespie. It’s also known as Fermentative Composting. This method involves a specific approach to composting that focuses on utilizing effective microorganisms (EM) to accelerate the decomposition process.

Here’s an explanation of the SPICE Composting method:

Process:

  1. Static Pile Method: In SPICE Composting, a static pile of organic waste materials is created. This means that the compost pile remains stationary throughout the composting process.
  2. Inoculation with Effective Microorganisms (EM): A key aspect of SPICE Composting is the inoculation of the compost pile with a mixture of beneficial microorganisms known as Effective Microorganisms (EM). These microorganisms include various types of bacteria, yeast, and fungi that help facilitate the decomposition process and suppress the growth of harmful pathogens.
  3. Fermentative Decomposition: Unlike traditional composting methods that rely on aerobic decomposition (in the presence of oxygen), SPICE Composting primarily relies on fermentative decomposition (in the absence of oxygen). The EM introduced to the compost pile work in a low-oxygen or anaerobic environment to break down the organic materials.
  4. Rapid Decomposition: The presence of EM accelerates the breakdown of organic matter, leading to faster composting compared to traditional methods. This also results in the production of a nutrient-rich end product.
  5. Improved Soil Condition: The compost produced through SPICE Composting is rich in beneficial microorganisms and nutrients. When added to the soil, it can improve soil structure, water retention, and nutrient availability, ultimately enhancing plant growth.
  6. Odor Control: The anaerobic nature of SPICE Composting reduces the production of unpleasant odors that can sometimes be associated with traditional composting methods.

It’s important to note that while SPICE Composting has its advantages, it also requires careful management to ensure that the correct balance of microorganisms is maintained and that the composting process proceeds smoothly.

In summary, SPICE Composting, or Fermentative Composting, is a composting method developed by Gerry Gillespie that focuses on utilizing effective microorganisms in an anaerobic environment to rapidly decompose organic materials and produce nutrient-rich compost for soil enrichment.

Worthwhile videos

Table of Contents