Cooking up composts for your garden
Published on: Sunday, August 18, 2019
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Raw ingredients for composting comprising dry leaves, cut-up twigs and small branches.
THE mere mention of the word “compost” is likely to conjure up in the minds of many people images of heaps of garden wastes or neatly packed sacks or small packets of organic matter, decomposed garden or kitchen wastes or other rejects from commercial-industrial processes.  

As more and more people become more knowledgeable about the purposes of composting, and the results that can be obtained from the effort, hopefully the day may arrive when the deterioration of the environment may be reduced or even stopped.

Ever heard of anyone trying to cook up some composts by reusing and reducing in an attempt to recycle what were originally throwaways?  Or to repurpose these stuff so they can be reassigned for some other functions? Well, cooking a meal is a normal daily matter but cooking up a compost is indeed a tongue-in-cheek statement to mean that effort is being expended to prepare something beneficial and environmentally friendly that are meant for planting purposes.

“Compost” is a word that has been hyped up for far too long in the past.  And composting is understood to mean that a decomposing process is taking place somewhere in the garden or in a vacant plot using common organic waste matters from both the garden, the outdoors as well as the kitchen for the purpose of breaking down such materials by natural bio-chemical processes such as by micro-organisms, natural enzymes, etc. Nowadays even industrial by-products or factory wastes, if organic and non-toxic in nature, are being recycled in lateral processes to convert such materials into something useful that do not pollute the environment.  Such instances include abattoir waste products, palm oil mill effluent, empty oil palm fruit bunches, by- product of fruit juice plants, food processing factories, wood chips and saw dusts and the like.  

Even our friendly small scale kampong rice milling enterprises that churn out substantial amounts of chaff can be a good source of input for the compost heap.  Interestingly, padi chaff can be converted into one of the best composts in town without having to dig right through your pocket.

There was a time when composts contained even plastics, broken crockeries and glasses, tin cans, human hair, teeth and construction wastes, but nowadays, gardening enthusiasts would have nothing of that.  

As consumer rights movements are getting very influential, they have hawk eyes to watch over the process of not permitting false product descriptions to con consumers of their hard-earned cash.  In this respect, not only are our friendly kampung suppliers of composts giving us real value for money but composts shipped from somewhere far away are also real stuffs.


A stack of well-cut-up garden wastes comprising green leaves, and small twigs. All ready to be layered in a compost heap.


Preparing your own composts

Basically, there are countless ways to go about preparing your own composts, with the essence being to prepare the input, layer, mix and turn over the materials.  The difference in the methods used lies in the scale of production and the complexity of the inputs.  For a home garden, composting is, of course, a small scale and simple activity with the unnecessary hassles removed.  

But the basic ingredients remain just about the same, that is, suitable organic matter and sufficient moisture in an unflooded location, plus, if available, some microbial boosters thrown in.  However, even without the latter, there is no worry because a location with healthy, non-toxic soil in itself already has sufficient microbial activities which help to hasten the process of composting.  It is amazing how the power of nature is able to encourage the amount of changes in composting including the physical, chemical and biological dimensions.

At the commercial level, large chunks of organic matter such as tree and palm trunks and fronds have to be physically reduced in size to workable levels.  This is possible by the use of powerful machineries such as choppers, shredders, chippers, grinders or pulverisers.  The objective is to reduce the size to smaller pieces in order to speed up the composting process.  This is not to say that large trunks and stumps cannot be composted but that it may take years to complete the task.

At the backyard level, it is fortunate that there are few or non-existent trunks or stumps which means the task of composting in the garden should be a breeze.  Small branches, twigs, leaves or rejects from pruning or trimming exercises can usually be easily chopped down to smaller pieces of about 3-6 cm in length by the use of a machete or parang.  

Alternatively, a pair of garden secateurs may be used to cut down to size the thinner twigs and branches.  These are then spread out in layers that alternate from plant material to a layer of organic manure, kitchen wastes or some grass clippings cut from pre-seeding lawns.  Adding several layers of soil spread out in an alternate manner would be helpful to increase the bulk as the size of the compost heap could be reduced to 25-35pc of the original from within three to six months, depending on the suitability of the inputs.  Reduction in the size of organic matter actually helps in the composting process as the ultimate aim is to get the materials to be decomposed and thus reduced to small, friable and loose masses.

For a compost heap to be successfully done, it should not be overly wet or soaked to waterlogged state.  Remember that micro-organisms and macro-organisms need air too to function, the lack of which would be like an anaerobic condition down in the depths of a peat swamp.  

Such air-free conditions allow for the preservation of vegetation and animal life since ages ago, but they don’t allow for the formation of nutrient-rich and well-decomposed gardening input.

To encourage a more rapid rate of decomposition, compost heaps need to be aerated and turned over regularly usually at one to three months interval.  

Producers or large farms that use a lot of compost usually have machineries to assist in the compost production such as shredding, chopping, chipping, mixing, turning over etc.  

For the small-timers, such machines can be unused or even retired movable cement mixers that can take in a volume of about one cubic metre of material.  

For the genuine DIY guys and gals, spades, rakes or forks can be used for mixing and turning over, but the task would be very tiring and exhausting which would be beneficial for those seeking to burn away the bulging layers of flabby fat.  

A simple but practical method would be to use a discarded oil drum with many holes punched all over the sides of the drum which is then filled in layers with garden and kitchen wastes plus some organic manure. The mouth of the drum is then closed and securely locked to prevent accidental spillage and wastage.  

This is then allowed to sit for one to three months after which the tough guy/gal will push the drum for a certain distance in a rolling manner.  The more the drum is pushed, and after much huffing and puffing and sweating, the better will be the turning over of the material.  This simple method makes away with the expensive use of motors, welded legs and rollers or wheels etc.


A heap of compost that includes twigs, branches, leaves, kitchen wastes and several layers of soil. The compost is ready for use.


Source of plant nutrients

Composts are a good source of naturally produced plant nutrients.  Unlike chemical fertilisers which may alter the nature of physical and chemical composition of the soil, composts do not degrade your garden soil.  In fact, most composts are already filled with lively activity by the presence of countless micro-organisms which help in the decomposition process.  

This generates a surprisingly great amount of heat which kills off many weed seeds and harmful organisms. In a mature heap of compost, the temperature within is more normal, and this invites even millipedes and earthworms which can be found plentifully.

In many countries around the world, the use of composts in any gardening activity, or even in the commercially important horticultural production enterprises, features prominently among the items in the list of inputs.  The use of such organic matter, among other reasons, is for the supply of nutrients without having to resort to chemically or artificially manufactured materials.

This aspect is most significant in a popular concept known as organic gardening or farming.  Such a concept is highly applicable in places where the population is more environmentally conscious and more protective and caring of their surroundings.  It is also clearly popular where the growers themselves are greatly health-conscious who will walk the extra mile to achieve their goal. Although the use of composts is becoming more and more popular among gardening enthusiasts, the compost heap in the corner of your garden not only represents a wonderful and free source of nutrients for your plants, but it is also a fantastic reservoir of soil conditioning and ameliorating materials.  Besides, it is also a handy receptacle for all your organic garbage.

All these indeed make the compost heap a god-send for growers to tap into in full.  This is because the garden compost heap is capable of supplying the cheapest and most abundant quantity of organic materials, mulches, soil conditioners, humus and plant nutrients, all in one go.

The fact that a useful product can be derived from an otherwise throwaway is really food for thought.  Not only does it represent a ringgit saver, it also means that if you have to spread your family butter around, there will be a thicker layer for everyone.  

Obviously, money saved through not having to spend on your garden compost, mulches, soil conditioners and plant nutrients means more cash in your pocket for other needs, including dough for your family.  At least, there is little need to scrimp or squeeze the last sen from your ringgit.

The wonderful thing about using garden refuse and kitchen throwaways to recycle into a useful compost is that despite using waste materials as inputs, the end product actually is completely homogeneous, looks dark coloured, smells good and earthy or nearly odourless, and is good for your plants and environment.   If you have screened the materials before the commencement of the composting exercise, you should not find any plastics, glasses, wires, broken crockeries, or the skulls of chicken or goat or the large bones of fishes and other animals that you have stripped clean of their flesh.  

As a matter of fact, many agencies nowadays including government and private enterprises, have now installed separate bins that are clearly labelled to collect throwaways such as glass bottles and receptacles, crockeries, plastic materials, metals, organic wastes, etc.  It is hoped these materials will end up serving some useful purposes instead of polluting the land and water.


A large tray is helpful to separate the bulky from the compost and soil mix. The cleaned content can be used for planting purposes.


Benefits of growing with composts

There is no doubt that composts are extremely enriching in terms of providing benefits to both growers and the plants as well as their environment.  The simple stuff plays an important role in the lives of the environmentally conscious growers and this has been proven to be true in its increasingly widespread use especially in organic farming. There are many benefits that can be derived from the use of composts in any cultivation.  Some of the main ones are listed as follows:

1.    The preparation and use of composts substantially remove many kinds of organic waste materials which would otherwise have cluttered and occupied much valuable space. Normally, all that remains after the completion of a properly done composting exercise is a mass that seldom exceed a third of the original volume of materials used as input ingredients.  This means there is a great reduction in the volume of wastes, which, instead of being discarded to pollute the environment, are subsequently put to better use back on the soil.  Imagine a 1.5 metre tall pile of raw organic matter ending up as a 0.5 metre heap of usable friable and nutrient-rich compost.  This would save a lot of space and also a lot of work for the garbage collectors.

2.    Composts represent a rich source of organic humus for the improvement of soil fertility and structure.  This form of organic fertiliser is very much a part of nature and therefore, its widespread use will not in any way affect significantly the chemical balance in the soil.

3.    Composts are naturally very good mulching agents for use in greenhouses, intensive horticulture or extensive agriculture.  While supplying nutrients to plants on which the composts are applied in the form of a mulch, the material functions very much like the latter in many ways.  Such usefulness should me more appreciated particularly when composts may be dug in superficially, mixed in the soil deeply, or just simply broadcast over the surface as a mulch.

4.    Of course, the use of home prepared composts certainly saves you some hard cash.  This means that you need only to slog less in that back-backing job in order to make ends meet.  Or alternatively, the savings could mean you are getting a step close to acquiring your dream home or whatever-it-is.

5.    Composts, being organically-based, serve really well as organic amendments in what is known as soil conditioning.  To the initiated gardening enthusiasts, this means a huge windfall stands ready to be scooped up by working on the less suitable or poorer soils, or soils that were formerly thought to be unsuitable for gardening.  It is natural for many people, especially the greenhorns in gardening, to go to great lengths to avoid working on sticky clays or sandy soils.  This is a pity indeed because large areas in many home gardens are of marginal soils, or filled with construction wastes, and thus are left vacant as barren, unproductive grounds.  But if sufficient amounts of composts are poured in, you will be amazed at how fantastic results can be obtained from sand or clay.

6.    Normally, sand or clay including the yellowish or reddish clayey mud are much feared by many gardening enthusiasts.  This is because of a lack of information on the proper ways of deriving benefits from such materials.  In fact, such kinds of soils, in the hands of those with the right know-how, could be said to be one of the best growing medium in the garden.  With enough organic matter, including composts, mixed into such soils, it is possible to improve the drainage, porosity and aeration of clays, while at the same time, improve the moisture and nutrient retention capability of sandy soils.  If you look around you, you will find that many vegetable and even fruits farms are actually set on sandy or clayey soils.

7.    To many health-conscious growers and consumers, cultivating with composts is a great way to stay healthy in a chemical and toxin-free environment. This is much emphasised in organic farming which is being increasingly practised worldwide. Even within the local scenario, a lot of information about this subject have been floated around especially through the media and by word-of-mouth and this is creating a great deal of awareness about the benefits of being pro-nature and going organic.  The maxim ‘eat Healthy to Stay Healthy’ cannot be more true today. From the above outlines of the main benefits of using composts in gardening, it is therefore obvious that you should not miss out on this interesting and extremely rewarding experience.  As mentioned earlier, it does not take much to create your own compost in your backyard.  

You can easily set up a small heap either in a small mound or a shallow pit.  Or a small enclosure using rejected timber planks may be constructed in a simple fashion to keep the compost materials. Or else a drum with plenty of holes punched into the sides can also be the centre of your composting exercise.  

Some simple tools such as a cangkul, rake or spikes, a spade, a parang or chopper, a garden fork, a pair of secateurs or pruning shears, a few pieces of planks etc – well, these are basically all that you will ever need to put up and produce mountains of composts.  As for the raw materials, these are easily available from your kitchen and garden, and they are always plentiful and free of charge. 

So, what are you waiting for, folks?


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