Down to Earth – Episode 3: making compost (1990)


[Music plays] (Kevin Handreck) Have you ever
thought of making compost? It’s really very simple. There are
several ways that you can do it but the principles are the
same for all of them. This is a rather large heap in the
Adelaide Hills on a farmer’s place and you can see that the
heap here has been made from various animal manures. There’s
horse droppings and whatnot there, there’s straw and sawdust and
bits of chicken litter and so on. It looks a pretty rich mixture.
Let’s see how it’s working. Wow, look at all
that steam there. It’s really going very well. The reason why this
heap is working so well is it has just the right
balance of materials and the right moisture content. Now your heap probably won’t be as
big as this in your back garden and you may not have the
same sort of materials but I’m going to show
you how it’s possible for you to be just as
successful as this. You need high nitrogen materials
and some low nitrogen materials. High nitrogen materials are
weeds from the garden, various scraps and all these
green sort of things, things from the kitchen, animal
manures particularly poultry manure. They’re all high
nitrogen materials and the low nitrogen
materials can be sawdust, straw, leaves from out in the street
anywhere, twigs that come with them. The balance that you need is
something like three or four parts of these high nitrogen
materials to about one part of these low nitrogen materials.
Let’s add them to the heap. The materials have to be mixed
together fairly thoroughly and they also have to be of just
the right moisture content. These are a bit dry still so
we’ll add some water to them. The thing is that the
bugs, the bacteria and fungi that are going to be
doing the composting for us are just like us. They need
oxygen and they need water and we have to get the right
balance in this heap. Let’s see. The way to check
for moisture content is with the squeeze test.
I’m squeezing the mix now and you can see water
coming out of there. That’s just right so
this heap’s ready to go. It’s got the right balance between
high and low nitrogen materials and the right balance
between oxygen and water. Now if you’re in a
hurry to get compost then what you need to do is to turn
this heap every few days adding water, making sure that the oxygen
concentration is high enough in there for the bugs
to really keep working and in three weeks you should
have reasonably mature compost. Now if you’re not in a hurry the best thing to do is just to
leave all these materials in the heap for about three months
and at the end of that time you’ll have something
that’s like this. Beautiful, isn’t it? Even if you live
in the inner city you can still do your bit in
recycling organic matter. If you think you need a lot of
space to make compost think again. Let me show you down here. The ideal solution to making
compost in a small yard like this is a compost bin. It’s really very
easy to manage a bin like this. All you need to do is
to sit it on the ground and then start putting in
anything that you might have used in a big compost heap,
kitchen rubbish, old flowers, weeds
from the garden. Just make sure that the
mixture is moist enough so you can put a sprinkle of
water on from time to time and if you’re using a lot of orange
peels or other citrus peelings that are very acid it’s worthwhile
just putting a sprinkling of lime over the top of the mix every
now and again in there. After a few months you’re
going to have something nice. Let’s have a look and see
what we’ve got down here now. Wow look, isn’t that terrific?
Look at it. Magnificent and that was
rubbish only a short time ago. You can use your compost
almost anywhere in the garden. You can put it under the mulch
around your plants like so. Put the mulch back if
you want to or you can just sprinkle it all round on the
garden here, a good generous helping. The rain will soon wash the nutrients
down into the soil to the plant roots. In the vegetable patch or where
you want to grow bedding plants it’s probably best to dig the compost
into the ground before you plant. Probably the only exception to that
is where you’re growing carrots because if you have a lot of rich
compost in the soil under carrots the roots can fork and get
other sorts of distortions. Another use for compost is as
a top dressing on pot plants. You can just put it around like that.
Not too much otherwise you may reduce the drainage
of water down through the pot. These plants will soon be thriving
on the compost we’ve given them. Can you think of a better use
for your rubbish? I can’t.

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