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How to build a compost heap
by Frann Leach
Looking for something else?
Stop paying out huge wads of cash for fertilisers and manure. No organic garden is complete without at least one compost heap, and preferably two or even three. Just follow these simple rules and you can build a well-balanced compost heap to feed your garden.
Building a compost heap
- A good design for a compost heap should consist of two compartments each at least one metre square. It should have a cover of carpet or sacking to keep the heat in and another cover of plastic to keep out the rain. If it has solid walls, it will need an aeration layer of staggered bricks, drainpipes or large lumps of rubble; if you are using ventilated sides, you can put down a layer of woody stems (e.g. prunings or brassica stumps).
- Prepare the site by forking over the ground and , if dry, water well 24 hours beforehand to encourage earthworms towards the surface.
- Add the aeration layer, then a 6" layer of moist vegetable waste. Follow with the activator (e.g. seaweed meal, dried blood, fresh nettles, fish meal, poultry manure, or a 1:3 mixture of urine and water).
- Add a second 6" layer of waste, incorporating a sprinkling of calcified seaweed (113 gm/4 oz to the square yard/meter), then the activator.
- Store waste in a plastic bag or bin until you have enough. Try to keep the carbon: nitrogen ratio to about 25:1. Avoid too much soil. The heap should be as damp as a well squeezed sponge.
- Continue building the heap in this way. Try not to add little bits at a time in dribs and drabs, but instead add fairly big amounts at one time: at least 2 or 3 inches in depth and preferably 6, so you know where you are with the layering. Keep the stuff for the compost heap in a couple of sealed up plastic bags until you have enough to do this. Always cover the heap when not actually adding waste.
- When the heap is finished it should heat up to about 65ªC/150ªF within a fortnight. Test it by putting a metal rod into the centre, leave for a few minutes, then withdraw. The end should be hot to the touch.
- Top up the heap, if you have enough material, when it has shrunk by about a third.
- After four or five weeks turn the inside of the heap to the outside and cover again.
- The heap should be mature in from 12-16 weeks after starting. It will then be dark, friable and smell of warm earth after rain.