First you will need fairly heavy netting wire any size, about 1 m wide, and anywhere from 3 to 5 m in length to make a wire circle. The netting allows the compost to breathe.

Start with some kitchen scraps in the centre, and cover with some leaves, this will bring the worms up to start eating the scraps. the materials for your compost are anything that has lived before. It will live again as compost: kitchen scraps, leaves, grass cuttings, weeds (no seeds) hedge cuttings, (chipped if you can), dead banana leaves and banana trunks, but not the root butt as this will grow in the heap. Don't put any dead animals or birds in as these will make breeding places for flies. Do it in layers, of scraps, leaves, grass cuttings, then some animal manure: cow, chook, pig, horse, or duck pond water.

Go easy on the grass cuttings - don't add too much of a layer at a time as it will tend to mat and not allow water through. If you mix your grass with your leaves before adding, this will break up the matting effect and allow water to pass easily through. What I do is have a big heap of leaves and grass cuttings on the ground near the compost heap and when I let my chooks out in the afternoon, they have a good old scratch around in it and mix it all up for me. Then when I add it to my compost heap, it's all mixed and it's also fertilized. Keep adding layers of vegetation and manures and scraps with an occasional handful of blood and bone, and also an occasional handful of either garden lime or dolomite, but not at the same time (these will help to decompose and sweeten the heap). If you are growing some comfrey, you can use a few leaves here and there. These will also speed up the composting and add a few minerals.

When you have reached the top of the wire( if it has taken you a couple of months to get there), then cover it with a thick layer of leaves and leave it for another month or so. It will shrink down a lot more; then remove the wire, and set it up close to the heap and remove the top and side layers that have not decomposed and put this into the ring to start the new heap. Then if you have an old 44 gal drum or two without a top or bottom, or at least a few holes in the bottom, then you fork or spade the compost into the drums, putting a couple of layers of some manure in there and some garden lime or dolomite on top and cover it over and leave it for another month or so depending on your worm population. It is then completely ready for use. It should resemble fine rich soil with a few lumps and bumps in it.

You can also use the black plastic bins instead of the 44 gal drums. These are useless for the first part of composting, as they tend to just cook everything and the worms find them too hot to come up into.

When you use them for the second part, the compost is no longer hot, and the worms will come up and finish it off for you. This should be kept in the shade - compost heaps do much better in the shade at all times.

I also use the black plastic compost bins to store my animal manure in. If it is dry manure, you should add some layers of hay (any kind) and wet it down making sure it is kept moist (not soggy) and the worms will do the rest for you and make it into a nice handleable mulch that you can use both in your compost and directly into your garden. If it is very fresh, all the better - you won't have to wet it but make sure from time to time that it is damp (with the hay of course) and the worms will work it over much faster, they love fresh manure.

The other thing that I do when I'm breaking up a compost heap is to let my chooks out (they love it); they get all the cockies and slaters, and any other insects (plus a few of my worms). They also scratch it all about and I have to rake it back all the time, but the chooks and I work well together, plus they give me lovely big eggs that have a deep yellow yolk.

When we first moved into our place, it was all clay, thick yellow clay, it was so wet and soggy in the wet season that we decided to auger down to try and find sand, so that we could then dig a big hole, fill it with sand and drain our place in the wet. Well, we went down 25 feet and only found clay. We've been here now eleven and a half years and two years ago they came to put the sewage on and I was amazed at the difference in our soil. I had been continually composting for nearly ten years, and what had been yellow clay was now rich brown soil, right down to the connection pipe which is about five or six feet deep, and still deeper. So this is what composting will do for your soil; those worms are marvelous little workers.

If you don't think you have any worms on your place??? You probably have, but you need to feed them, and composting is the perfect way to feed them and your soil, but you may need to bring in some other worms to get things rolling. I did. I got some of those little red worms, I think they call them blood worms or tiger worms, just a handful is plenty, but remember you must feed them, so if you bring them in, give them some fresh manure and straw to start them off, and then the scraps, and in no time you'll have thousands of them and a healthy garden.

Dawn Meneikys

DATE: February 2000

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