In nature, compost is being made all the time.
Organic matter in the form of leaves, bark, grass and animal droppings are being broken down and decomposed. You might see some of the bigger creatures (decomposers) responsible, like termites or millipedes however you won’t see the microscopic life involved in the process. Beneficial microbes in the form of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and micro arthropods are functioning in a soil food web.
Much like when you drive through the Kruger National Park, you see complex habitats with predators, omnivores, herbivores and scavengers all filling a niche while benefitting the system – the soil is no different, it’s just happening at a microscopic level. In a healthy ecosystem you could potentially find billions of beneficial microbes in just one teaspoon of soil. Many microbes work symbiotically with plants, the plants provide food in the form of root exudates (sugars generated through photosynthesis) and the microbes (depending on their type) might provide protection from harmful microbes, extract trace minerals from the surrounding soil or convert nutrients into a plant available form.
To make compost properly requires a bit of effort but it is always worth it. People have come up with numerous ways to make compost. Depending where in the world you are and the climate you have, certain methods may be more suitable than others. We found this information ON FARM COMPOSTING METHODS produced by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation for the United Nations) to very useful.
We like the BERKELEY HOT COMPOSTING METHOD as the regular turning keeps the compost pile aerobic and this ensures the microbes that dominate are beneficial. The hot temperatures also kill off weed seeds and pathogens.
Basically you gather about 50% brown material (dry leaves, thatch, small sticks), 25% green material (grass cuttings, weeds) and 25% manure (horse, cow, pig, chicken). Any larger pieces such as thatch or sticks should be cut shorter (to about 5cm). Thoroughly wet the material and build a heap about 1.5 metres high. Wait a few days and the pile should heat up a lot, around 60 - 65 degrees Celsius. Then turn it by using a garden fork, taking the material on the outside of the pile and using that to start a new one. Then the rest of the material is piled up on the new heap. Add more water if necessary (the heap should always be damp). Turn the pile every second day.
After about 20 – 30 days the temperature in the middle of the pile should not be as hot. Now you can stop turning the compost heap but it’s best to leave the compost undisturbed for a further month to allow the microbes to multiply even further, still keeping the pile slightly damp. Once ready, it should be a very dark brown colour and have an earthy smell.
Thank you - Ian from Soil with Soul for sharing your compost passion! Our garden at home is certainly sprouting up and benefiting from your beautiful organic compost!
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