Start a compost heap or wormery

A compost heap

Composting your organic waste saves precious landfill space and decreases methane emissions which contribute to climate change. It also serves to put important nutrients back into the ground.

You can do your own composting with little effort. There are different ways to make compost, so choose a method which suits the amount of waste you have and the time and space available.

The easiest way to make compost is to simply create a pile of organic waste in a spare corner of the garden. To keep the heap tidier you might prefer to make it in a container. Beehive compost bins can be bought at a nursery.

Wooden or plastic-slated bins (1 x 1 x 1 m3) are ideal for medium to large gardens. A wire mesh cylinder (1 m in diameter x 1 m) lined with cardboard or a large cardboard box is an inexpensive way to make a compost ’bin’.

  • Choose a sheltered position in the shade for your compost heap or bin.
  • First place a layer of coarse material consisting of twigs and straw down (for aeration).
  • Place alternate layers of ’brown’ (dried leaves) and ’green’ (fresh grass cuttings) materials in a 50:50 proportion and manure (or seaweed) as an activator. Sprinkle water, sand and shredded paper intermittently between the layers as the height is built up to 1,5 metres. The sand is necessary to introduce the organisms into the pile. Layers may be added as more waste becomes available.
  • Keep the heap covered with a layer of straw, soil or old carpet to keep rats, insects and other pests out.
  • Water the heap regularly (keep it moist but not wet) and turn it over with a fork after a few months to speed the process up. Adding composting worms will also help.
  • The compost is ready to use when it is dark and crumbly and smells like soil. This can take anything from six weeks to six months, depending on the time of the year. A good idea is to run two or more compost heaps at a time so you can have one to ’cook’ while the other one is being built up.

In certain situations it may be better to bury the organic waste (following the principles above) in trenches or holes that match the amount of waste generated. You can grow vegetables, flowers or trees straight out of the trench bed.

Advantages include the absence of flies and smells when the waste is covered by a sand layer.

An extract from a pamphlet published by the South Peninsula Municipality in association with the Fairest Cape Association (Dec 1999).

Get practical

Make your own mini wooden portable compost bin
Make your own compost tumbler
Make a pentagon composter


urban sprout's green your garden guide for more on composting, kitchen scraps and using permaculture principles

Wormeries and worm bins

Worm composting is an environmentally friendly way to recycle organic household waste into a valuable soil conditioner called worm compost. A wormery is usually a box or collection of boxes that house earth worms that munch their way through your kitchen and garden waste.

The worm castings (better known as worm poo or vermicompost) are an excellent feed for both indoor and outdoor plants, shrubs and vegetable patches. The benefit of a wormery is that it is quicker than composting using traditional methods.

Source: SMART Living Handbook

Get practical

Where to find wormeries or worm bins
A wormery or compost heap – which one should I choose?
Make your own wormery
Caring for your worm bin – step-by-step

Other waste topics

Reduce, reuse, recycle
What you can, and can't, recycle
Hazardous waste (chemicals, batteries & CFLs)
Safe, alternative cleaning products
Dealing with creepy crawlies naturally

Go green home