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Creating and maintaining a good compost pile is a very simple undertaking in the world of gardening, and requires only a nominal amount of time. It has the added bonus of being a perfectly organic fertilizer as well. This guide will take you through three stages- finding a suitable area for your compost pile, building up the pile, and putting the finished product into use. A section is included at the end explaining which materials are best for use as compost and which are definitely no go.

FINDING AN AREA

The place where your compost pile is situated will ideally be in your garden, reasonably close to where your plants are growing. Try to keep the pile away from the boundaries of your garden, to prevent any complaints from neighbours should it start to smell. The area should optimally be about a cubic metre, but if your area is smaller than this there should not be a problem. Try and find an area that is naturally dry, in order to give your homemade organic fertilizer the best chances of succeeding.
Once you have found an area you will need to choose a container to keep it in. This can be done by piling bricks around the area, or by using a plastic bin. Basically, anything that is not going to decompose will do, that helps the compost to keep its shape.

BUILDING THE COMPOST

To start the compost it is best to start with a dry layer of decomposable material. Small twigs or straw are ideal. Do not be tempted to use a finer, damper material because this will exclude air from the pile. It is essential that air be allowed into the pile in order to let the microbes that decompose the waste to breathe. If air is not allowed into the pile, a different kind of microbe begins to take over, and although they continue to decompose the waste, the result is a putrid smell. This can make your garden a very unpleasant place to be, and is far too high a price to pay for an organic fertilizer.
On top of your coarse layer you should add some waste that is a source of carbon, leaves are ideal for this purpose. The carbon in the leaves acts as a source of energy for the hungry microbes.
Next you should add something green, such as grass cuttings. The cuttings are a source of nitrogen and provide protein for the microbes.
As you add a layer to the compost pile, you should lightly water it. Take care not to over water though as this can cause problems with aeration and lead to the smell problems mentioned previously. Too little water though, and the microbes aren’t as able to move about freely, slowing down the decomposition process.
To regularly aerate the compost pile it can be turned. This means getting a garden fork and turning the mixture over, allowing it to breathe. This should be performed about once week.
Good materials to compost include straw, hay, leaves, all decomposable kitchen wastes and wood chippings. Straw is particularly good at aerating the pile, whereas a lot of kitchen wastes naturally have high water content, so do not need watering. All waste from the garden is suitable.
Never use human excrement or animal excrement on your compost pile. They both carry diseases, and humans could end up being infected. Try not to use meat from the kitchen, as it can attract vermin, and cause bad odours.
Your compost is ready when it resembles a dark crumbly soil. It will have decomposed to the extent that you do not recognise any of the original materials.


USING THE COMPOST

Your compost is really just homemade organic fertilizer and as such it can be added to soil to enrich the soils properties. You can also use your compost as mulch, where you place around plants, covering the soil underneath. This helps to keep the soil moist, and protects it from frost or erosion. It can be used in vegetable gardens to provide the vegetables with extra nutrients, and can also be sprinkled on your lawn to encourage new growth.