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Making compost is the single best thing you can do for your garden. As well as holding water it provides slow-release nutrients, pathways for roots, and food for worms who in turn aerate the soil. Plus it keeps food scraps and green waste out of landfills – composting is really a no-brainer.



Composting is a natural process - any pile of organic matter, left alone for years, will eventually turn into compost. The skill is in speeding up the process through understanding of air, moisture, heat and materials.

If you can throw a meal together, you can learn to compost. It’s a bit like making chocolate cake: there are many different recipes out there, so experiment to find the one that works for you, based on your available materials, space, time and energy.


  • Trenching is the simplest form of composting, great for developing new gardens or revitalizing tired beds. Dig a trench, at least a spade’s depth, across your bed. Add vegetable scraps as you get them, covering with soil as you go. You can plant as you go - things planted on top of the covered trench will have all that food at their roots.
  • Worm farming is great for small gardens where most of the input is kitchen scraps. Worm farms have a very fast turnaround of waste into compost, and are more rodent-proof than compost heaps.
  • Plastic compost bins are great for smallish gardens, holding moisture well, but they need to be managed. Common problems are either keeping the compost too dry (material needs to be wet when it goes in) and lack of aerating material (eg if just using grass clippings and food waste, it becomes sludgy and anaerobic)
  • Larger heaps or wooden/pallet bins are great for larger gardens with big amounts of green waste.
  • Direct composting means making a heap directly on a bed - greatwhen you're creating new beds, as all the beneficial microbes and worms end up in your soil.

Compost is alive: Millions of fungi, bacteria and invertebrates do the work of breaking down raw material into a form that plants can digest (compost.) All the gardener has to do is provide the best conditions for these creatures to do their thing.

Air + water + creatures + organic matter = COMPOST

  • Air: Keep layers loose; fork or turn the compost to speed up the process.
  • Water: Water each layer as you add it; cover the heap to stop it drying out.
  • Creatures: Sprinkle on some finished compost, or vermicast, to inoculate the heap with the right microbes and macrobes.
  • Organic Matter: Anything that once was alive will turn into compost eventually.


Brown, dry material (can be stored near the heap)


Wet, fresh material



To stimulate bacteria


Leaf Mould

Hay, straw

Shredded paper/card

Pine needles

Ponga fronds


Food scraps

Green waste

Grass clippings




Liquid feed

Chook poo





Cold composting: A basic recipe for good compost without needing turning:

  • Each time you have a layer of nitrogen to add, do the following:
  • Start with a thick carbon layer; then a thin nitrogen layer; a sprinkle of activator; moisten; cover.
  • As you layer up your compost, keep the layers flat and spread out so that the heat is evenly distributed. When you come to the top of your bin, finish with a thick layer of carbon, moisten, cover it all under an old sack or carpet and leave it to brew!

Trouble shooting:



Smells off

Needs oxygen or is too wet – mix it up, add lime and activator. If too wet add carbon too.

Smells of ammonia

Too much manure/nitrogen. Aerate, add carbon and activator

Smells musty

Dying bacteria – aerate, add lime and scrunched up newspaper and activator

Nothing happening- material just sits there

Too dry - water well, re-layering if needed.


Not enough heat. Add activator, lime and correct carbon:nitrogen ratio. Get traps. Or use a worm farm for kitchen waste, and just compost garden waste.


Don't add meat scraps or cooked food.

Cover food with a thick layer of carbon.

Fruit flies

Too acid- add lime.

Don't use:

  • Diseased plant matter
  • Cat or dog poo
  • Fresh perennial weeds that will spread through your compost (e.g. dock, convolvulus, oxalis)

How to recycle pernicious weeds back into your garden: 

  • Either make liquid feed with them; add them back into your compost once drowned.
  • Or sludge them by filling black plastic bags/ barrels with weeds and leave till there is an unrecognisable sludge. Add this back into compost.