Building a compost heap

While we were staying on the Heartland School of Self-Sufficiency in Knysna, South Africa we learned how to build a "hot compost heap". A heap like this is at least one cubic meter and consists of plants and manure. The resulting compost is perfect for making a raised bed for vegetable gardening.

Most people are familiar with "cold composting", in which leftover greens and garden cuttings are turned into valuable compost over a long period of time. This process takes at least six months and a downside is that any seeds that might be in there from composted weeds don't get destroyed and thus will germinate when you use the compost.

With "hot composting" you turn grass and manure in a rich healthy humus in just 18 days. The heat that is released in this process destroys pathogens from diseased plants as well as destroying any seeds.

The way Daniel told me to do it was as easy as this: Brown, Green, Manure, Activator.

Brown: Dry grass cuttings

Green: Fresh grass

Manure: We used pig manure but any kind of poop does the job

Activator: A plant called Comfrey layered thinly in between helps activation the bacterial processes.

Step 1

Start by raising the bottom of your heap a bit above the floor by laying down some sticks, it is important for the compost to have enough oxygen.

Step 2

Start with a thick layer of brown plant cuttings, at least 15 cm. Make sure it is not tightly compacted. Remember, airflow is vital!

Step 3

Add a decent layer of green plants

Step 4

Here come's the poop! Cover the grass with a spread of manure, a little bit everywhere.

Step 5

Rip up some comfey leaves and add them to your pile.


Now repeat this process until your pile is at least 1 meter high, any lower and the temperature build up will not be enough.

Make sure you end with a thick layer of brown grass covering the whole heap.


You've now built a compost heap!

In four days time, take a pitchfork and turn the whole thing inside out, then repeat that every two days until your heap reaches perfection at day 18.

For more information about this way of composting, have a look at this website.