CETDEM’s Community Compost Making #1: Introduction

In August 2014, CETDEM organised its first Community Composting Group to build a compost to be shared by members of the group. MESYM was invited to document the process. This is therefore the first of a multi-part series as we follow the group through the steps of creating their compost heap from scratch.

Freshly built compost heap

Freshly built compost heap

The Basics

Very simply, a compost is basically organic matter that has been sufficiently decomposed to form a rich soil which can be used as a medium to grow plants. Besides the obvious benefit of enriching soil in an organic way, it also reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills. It is not difficult to make your own compost, but it makes more sense to do it as a group because the efforts (waste collection, construction and turning of compost heap) and outcomes (the compost) can both be shared. For the first CETDEM Community Group, the compost heap built was 4 feet high to yield 8 sugar bags of compost that would be shared amongst the group members and the CETDEM Organic Farming Community Centre.

The Composition

The compost heap requires four main components to transform organic waste into good, healthy soil: Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen and water. These form the basic conditions for micro-organisms to break down the waste.

  • Carbon – Usually brown/green material. This is the food for the micro-organisms, and can include tree leaves, grass, weeds, crop stalks, etc.
  • Nitrogen – Usually protein. This is required for the micro-organisms to grow and multiply, and includes kitchen scraps, and also protein-rich materials like manure and soybean waste.
  • Oxygen – This is required to keep the micro-organisms alive and to ensure that the breaking down of organic waste is efficient. Therefore, the compost heap needs to be “turned” every two weeks to make sure that there is sufficient oxygen within the pile.
  • Water – The compost heap needs to have a suitable amount of water – not too much and not too little.

A rule of thumb is that the ratio of Nitrogen (‘wet’ material) to Carbon (‘dry material’) is 1:30 (between 20 to 30 is fine) in layering the compost heap.

The Process

The compost takes three months to make. It begins with waste collection, layering the waste into a compost heap, and then turning the compost heap every two weeks until completion. Most of the effort is in waste collection and building the compost on the first day, which was accomplished in a few hours by the group. They then need to meet every two weeks at the composting site to aerate the compost.

The CETDEM Community Composting Group is organised by CETDEM’s Organic Farming Coordinator, Mdm Tan Siew Luang, who has decades of experience in organic farming. Those interested to participate or organise a group themselves can contact her directly at of@cetdem.org.my.

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