Green your world: Turn cuttings into compost

The smell of a freshly-mowed lawn is one of summer’s special delights for many SA homeowners, but figuring out what to do with the grass cuttings is often not such a pleasure – especially if you’re trying to live a more ‘green’ life.

“The simple answer, of course, is to make free compost that you can then use to improve the soil and benefit the plants in the rest of your garden, while also helping to reduce water usage and the amount of waste in landfill sites,” says Berry Everitt, chief executive of the Chas Everitt International property group. “But it is unfortunately not quite that easy, because grass clippings by themselves won’t turn into compost.

“Being mostly water and very rich in nitrogen, they tend to compact quickly, become anaerobic and just start to smell in your compost heap or bin, unless they are mixed with lots of carbon-rich material (also called browns), such as dried leaves, coarse straw or hay, mealie cobs, sawdust, firewood ash, shredded newspaper and cardboard.”

Experts suggest that if you have a lot of grass cuttings or other greens from the garden to compost, you should spread them out to dry in the sun for at least a day before adding them to your compost heap, and then layer them with brown material in a ratio of about two-parts brown to one-part green. You can also add egg shells, teabags, coffee grounds and veggie peelings to your green layers.

To speed up the composting process, you should keep the contents of the bin or heap damp (not wet) and turn the mix with a garden fork every couple of weeks. Nutrient-rich, organic food for your garden should be ready to harvest in three to six months.

“Composting also increases soil’s water retention capacity, which is especially important in SA, while helping to recycle useful organic material instead of sending it to the landfill, where it tends to break down in anaerobic conditions and give off methane – a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” says Everitt.

“It has been estimated, for example, that dumping a standard black refuse bag (750mm x 950mm) containing 14kg of grass clippings will be as bad for the environment as driving 100km to 120km and burning 9,5l of petrol.”

Homeowners can find out more about making their own compost at https://www.thegardener.co.za/how-to-make-compost-heap/ and https://www.gardenandhome.co.za/gardening/how-tos/how-to-make-compost/.

Alternatively, your local compost supplier or city council may have a compost bin service enabling you to contribute your garden and household waste to a community compost site and receive discounted compost for your garden in return. There are also specialist companies that offer waste management and composting services to those living in security complexes or estates, and to restaurants and other commercial clients who generate a lot of organic waste but have nowhere to process it into compost. See this useful list of compost service providers: https://greenhome.co.za/where-can-i-take-my-compost/.