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  • Trevor Malgas

How to start composting? (A beginner's guide)

Welcome to the second post of the composting series! Last time we looked at why we should be composting and the benefits of it, in case if you missed it, read it here. Today, we will look at how to compost and what are the available options.

Compost Setup

Ensuring that your setup is well is important, as it can make composting easier, less time consuming and it can guide you to choose the most practical compost system for you and the waste your intend to compost.

First, let us look at what you will need to start composting.

Prepare the following:

  • A dedicated spot for your composting system.

  • A garden fork or stick to turn the compost.

  • Gloves to handle food waste. Ensure the gloves are reusable or use your bare hands, instead.

  • Garden waste and acceptable organic kitchen waste.

How to Compost

There are many systems out there to compost but most can be classified into three categories, namely: a compost heap, vermicomposting, or Bokashi composting.

#1 Compost heap:

  • Place your container on a patch of open soil that will receive half sunlight and half shade during the day. If using a designated garden area, make sure it is an open soil area and secured from dogs and other pets who may dig up the soil.

  • Put down about 200 millimetres (20 centimetres) of mixed organic (garden and kitchen) material into your container or designated garden area. Chop up any big pieces.

  • To make the compost develop faster, you can add a ‘starter,’ such as a bucketful of mature compost, animal manure, or bone meal. You can get 'starters' at nurseries and garden shops.

  • As you produce organic waste from your kitchen or grass cuttings and leaves from your garden, keep on adding that kitchen and/or garden waste to the heap – alternatively if possible. Remember to mix up the material except for the bottom layer. Use soil, dry grass, leaves, or sawdust on top to keep the smells and flies away.

  • After a week, check your compost system – it should feel hot. The heat comes from the oxidisation process and means the waste is decomposing. This is good!

  • Every few weeks you’ll need to mix up your compost to keep it hot. The heat also kills off weed seeds and fly larvae.

For more information on starting a compost heap, refer to Earth Easy's guide, or the Eden Project's tips to make great composting.

#2 Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting, or vermiculture, uses worms to turn food waste and other organic material into worm compost, or vermicompost. Worm bins use earthworms to help break down organic waste. Earthworms help you to make great and rich compost. They will become your best friend if you do not have ample space or if you just want to compost indoors. You can easily buy 'worm bin kits' online in various sizes, like the one below, to suit your needs and there are great local companies that produce and sell these in South Africa.

Do's for vermicomposting

  • Place the composter on an elevated positon to improve drainage.

  • Add raw fruit and vegetable waste to make your worm compost.

  • Add a layer of shredded newspaper every time you put waste in the bin, to keep fruit flies away.

  • Use a fork to turn the top layer of the composter once a week. This introduces air into the composter.

  • Monitor the worms by experimenting with small amounts of certain fruit and vegetables – they may not like citrus fruit or onions for example.

  • Add eggshells to neutralise acids.

  • Harvest the worm tea (liquid) from time to time.

Dont's for vermicomposting

  • Don’t place in sunlight as worms like cool, dark places.

  • Don’t add meat or cooked food as this will attract rodents.

Are you now keen on starting your own worm farm? Visit Ywaste's guide to get started.

#3 Bokashi composting

According to Earth Probiotic, the word "Bokashi" means "fermented organic matter" in Japanese. Bokashi is an anaerobic (fermentation) method of composting. Bokashi composting is usually done in an airtight bin, where food is layered in the bin then a handful of "Bokashi bran" is added to each layer of food waste and the bin is closed. The method relies on the beneficial microbes in the bran to start the fermentation process, which will preserve the food waste and produce a nutrient-rich tea for your plants. After the fermentation process, the contents can be added to your soils, compost, or given as food to your earthworms where they will further break down.

A step to step guide to Bokashi composting

  • Sprinkle a little Bokashi on the strainer, then add your food waste. Tip: Chop/break down your food waste into smaller pieces as this helps to speed up the fermenting process.

  • After adding your waste, sprinkle a handful of Bokashi over each layer of food waste. Tip: Add more Bokashi if you are adding naturally smelly food such as onions, fish and meat.

  • Press out the air with a potato masher and seal the lid tight. Tip: the less you open your composter/digester the better.

  • During the fermentation, tap off the Bokashi juice and use it as plant food, or pour it in your drains to eliminate odours and keep your drains sludge free.

  • When the digester is full, seal it and tap off the liquid and keep it out of the sunlight. Ferment it for an additional two weeks, and let the Bokashi do its job.

  • After the fermentation process, bury the contents either in the middle of your compost heap or under 30cm of soil. After 4-6 weeks, your compost should be ready. It should have turned black with no visible food waste.

Visit Earth Probiotic for more knowledge on Bokashi composting.

Next week will be the third post within this series. Share these posts with others who are interested in composting and make sure that you check out more on our blog posts as we share some more content on recycling and waste reduction methods!

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