Getting Started With Compost

Compost – making it, storing it and getting rid of kitchen waste in it – is always an issue. A lot of people, especially those with smaller gardens, don’t like a big, old-fashioned compost heap creating an eyesore in their gardening space. With our penchant for all things corrugated, we decided to try out the neat corrugated iron compost bins available from RainQueen SA and they work a treat. They also look good in the garden, so you don’t have to hide them around a corner.

Put in:

  • Grass clippings
  • Old leaves
  • Plant clippings
  • Dead plant matter (but nothing diseased)
  • Annuals that have gone to seed
  • Fruit and veggie peels
  • Straw
  • Tree bark
  • Sawdust (but only from untreated wood)
  • Newspapers, torn into small pieces
  • Herb cuttings
  • Cattle, pig, goat or chicken manure
  • Droppings from bird cages
  • Teabags and coffee grounds
  • Crushed eggshells
  • Wood ash (but not from briquettes)

Leave out:

  • Plastic
  • Diseased plants or plant matter
  • Glossy paper
  • Tin cans or glass
  • Old clothing
  • Leftover cooked food
  • Weeds with seeds
  • Dog and cat faeces
  • Charcoal or coal ash

What to do:

  • We started with a 25cm layer of coarse garden waste including dry leaves, twigs and cuttings.
  • We added a 5cm layer of finer garden waste including grass cuttings and small leaves.
  • We also included borage and comfrey leaves because they break down quickly and even work as compost activators.
  • On top of the fine material went a layer of mature compost from another heap. We did this because it helps to speed up the composting process as it contains the microbes that do the breaking down of plant matter.
  • The fourth ‘layer’ is actually just a dose of organic compost activator to quickly break down the organic material to form rich humus. These are available at nurseries. We used the Makhro Home and Garden one, which needs to be diluted before application.


  • Air circulation is critical. Every week or so take a thick stick or a garden fork and poke holes in the compost heap.
  • Don’t let the compost dry out – keep it moist by lightly sprinkling the compost with water very now and again.
  • The entire compost heap should be turned every month or so. If you’re using containers like this, it’s best to have two. Empty the compost from one onto the floor and then move the compost from the full one into the empty one. Then fill the now-empty container with the compost, but in reverse so that what was at the top is now at the bottom. It’s a schlep, but it works!
  • The compost is ready when it has turned dark brown and smells earthy. Even then, leave it for a month or two to break down further before using it.
  • When adding any citrus to compost, first freeze it to break down the cells, then add to your compost.
The Gardener