Easy Peasy Compost + Letting Carbon:Nitrogen Ratios Go

compost pile
I’ve been making compost for 20 odd years now – and the longer I do it, the less I fuss with it. Compared to the labour intensive style I began with (a keen pup in my 20’s), I’m positively lazy about it now and the truth is, it’s the best compost I’ve ever made. Working smarter my friends 🙂

Little And Often

Make a pile every time you mow or weed. Little piles are easy to manage and provide a little and often harvest of your own compost. Because if you are planting little and often – you need compost little and often.

The  minimum size for a compost pile is 1mx1m. Dinky huh! No max though – you can go as big as you like!

Free Range Compost Piles


Make your compost piles where you need them next – direct on the garden bed or as the best beginning for a vegie bed or fruit tree. No structures, tumblers or bins required – just a cover.

This way you profit from the nutritious run off, from the direct contact with soil and all the beneficial microbes that come with it and there’s no double handling (cos life’s busy enough already).

Limited only by your imagination – here’s how I use my compost piles

  • Make compost directly on the bed before a heavy feeder
  • Use spots made empty by harvesting – any gap is fair game!
  • A compost pile is the best beginning for a vegie bed or a fruit tree. Lay wet newspaper/ cardboard on the grass and make a pile on top.

garden tidy up

  • Make a compost pile in Spring on the pumpkin bed or in Autumn on the potato bed.
  • Revive a tired garden bed with a compost pile.

A 15minute Compost Pile

      1. Gather all your ingredients with a garden tidy up. (How good is that – two jobs for the price of one!) You’ll need a very full (as in barely able to see over it) wheelbarrow load of organic matter. Gather prunings of mineral rich herbs (more on these later), spent crops (their chance to give back), weeds (no pernicious, nasty weeds ok), do some deadheading, path clearing and collect anything else you have to hand (scrapings from the chookhouse, freshly mown grass, rotten leaves). Include plenty of soft stalky plants like borage and parsley to bring air to the mix. Chop or break into 20cm ish bits as you load it into the barrow.
      2. Tip the barrow out and spread into a single ish layer beside where the pile will be.
      3. Sprinkle over activator (manure, herbs, seaweed) and spray with the hose (unless its drizzling which is the best time to make compost)
      4. Now toss it all together. That old fussy way of layering up greens and browns is over – we have moved on! Layered piles need turning, and apart from those few obsessed compost makers out there – you know you wont get the turning done. Mix it altogether now when it’s easy.
      5. Layer up into a square ish pile a minimum of 1mx1m. Size matters here. Tall and narrow will generate better heat than short and wide.
      6. Pour on a bucket of liquid seaweed or comfrey or manure or EM, and cover. I use a fadge – perfectly sized at 1mx1m, wind proof and all sides get covered.
      7. Look after your pile by watering it through hot weather.

easy compost

That’s it! Done! No turning required and lovely yummy compost at the end – which is how far away? (that’s what you’re wondering right.) How long is a piece of string, it’ll be faster in the heat and if its a well made brew.  It’ll be slower in the cold or if conditions that are antagonistic to microbes are present (wet, dry, lacking air).

If you want to speed it along, turn it. Which is simply a matter of bringing the outside edges into the middle. You need to do this in the first week while its still hot.

Do check in on your pile – lift the cover and be sure to keep it moist.

Trouble Shooting

  • If your compost is ammonia smelly and sludgy – you’ve used too much fresh green ingredients and there’s not enough air. Break it up, add some dry stuff (shredded paper, seadheads, hay….), add some stalky stuff for airpockets, add herbs for activation, mix it all together, pour on EM and restack.
  • If your compost ends up musty and dry – you’ve used too much dry stuff – not enough fresh greens (use it as mulch and start again!)

What To Do With Food Scraps

trenching foodscraps

Take them out of the equation.

I trench them direct in the soil, or use Bokachi buckets (love those buckets), or worm farms.

Getting The Mix Right

miracles happen

It took me years to get scones figured out – I was too focused on the recipe and not focused enough on the dough. Compost is the same – it’s all about getting a feel for it, getting the mix right.

The thing is we are making dinner for the microbes. They do all the work here. If they aren’t interested in your compost pile – you wont make good compost. Give them what they want. Air (soft, stalky stuff and a bit of dry stuff) + a variety of food (coarse, fine, brown, green) + activators + a bit of moisture = heaps of microbes = compost. My kind of math 🙂

Let Carbon: Nitrogen Ratios Go

My message here is – Don’t get hung up on this whole carbon: nitrogen (C:N) ratio thing! It’s overrated and somehow we’ve let it get super complicated.

Everything has a carbon:nitrogen ratio – every bit of matter has some of both.

For instance fresh grass, seaweed and manure work out about the same C:N ratio of 20:1, weeds and small prunings work out to about 25 – 30:1 and straw about 50:1. (C:N ratios are only ever estimates – variables are many).

The microbes – that varied range of tiny organisms that do all the work here – need a feed that’s 25 – 30:1. Hey – that’s garden waste! Garden waste is the perfect C:N ratio for microbes. Are you having an Aha moment?

Grow Your Own Activator

Activator = mineral rich ingredient (herbs, manure, EM or seaweed) that stimulates microbes.

hoverfly on yarrowHow I love herbs. For our best health and the garden’s too. Brim full of minerals and beneficial compounds that activate compost – herbs are a must have. Grow them in a border around the edge of your vegie patch. Cut and come again vigorous growers like Lemon Balm, Yarrow, Tansy, Parsley and Borage provide an endless supply for mulch and compost as well as nectar and pollen for bees.  Check their goodness out!

  • Borage – potassium, calcium
  • Chickweed – copper, boron, iron, zinc, phosphorus
  • Comfrey – phosphorus, calcium, iron, potassium, sodium, nitrogen
  • Chamomile – calcium, potassium
  • Clover – nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium
  • Dandelion – silica, potassium, iron, copper, phosphorus, nitrogen, sulphur
  • Fennell – copper, potassium
  • Plantain – calcium
  • Stinging nettle – iron, phosphorus, copper, calcium
  • Tansy – potassium
  • Thyme – vitamin c, copper, manganese, iron
  • Yarrow – sulphur, potassium, copper




  1. Tracie Morrison says

    Hi Kath,

    What is the best way to use chicken droppings for compost?
    I use an upright plastic compost bin and I currently just chuck them in there daily with all the garden clippings and vege scraps etc


  2. I do get excited reading your posts on making soil. Great read. By some act of serendipity I have been unintentionally doing something along these lines already when trying to decide what to do with garden waste. I just need to tweak a few things now to make it home faster.

  3. Susanne Wendt says

    Hi Kath. Thank you! This is such a great way to make compost easy . I’m new to your posts (and learning heaps, thank you)) so aren’t up with some of your terms. Please tell me what is EM and what is a Fadge?

    • Hey Susanne – learn all about the wonderful EM (effective microorganisms) at emnz.co.nz. Stimulate the natural processes in your soil by pouring on the microorganisms. A fadge is a woolpack – its the headline picture in the compost article. Hope this helps! Kath

  4. Hi Kath, inspired by your excellent info on composting (thanks heaps haha), I’m building a pile this afternoon – can you tell me if putting the green stuff through the mulcher is as effective as chopping it into 20cm pieces? Or does that make it too fine a mix for adequate air throughout? Thanks

  5. Hi Kate,
    Thank you very much for the compost update and I like the new way your do compost. I don’t garden as often and my compost is made of everything and some food scraps. I will start doing it your way as it is easier and I can do piles of compost around my section, fabulous, I thought that was possible but I will now.. Can you tell me where I can by fadge and manure, is bunning an ideal place to buy them. Also can I use horse manure as well for my compost thanks.

    • Glad you love it! Secondhand fadges are available on trade me and at Farmlands – not sure about Bunnings. And yes any manure is good. My recommendation is to rot it first. Stick it in a covered pile on the edge of your vegie patch… benefit from the run off. Use the rotted stuff.
      Wishing you awesome compost!

  6. Hi Kath
    Thanks for your great piece on composting. I too have been making compost for a few years and recently have read a book which lead me to reassess what I was doing particularly about carbon : nitrogen ratios. However on reading your piece I think I have got a bit hung up on that. Thanks for putting me straight.
    The list of herbs which you give under the section ‘Activators’ is really excellent and I certainly can do a lot more with herbs that I grow. I always have thought that worms did the work – microbes weren’t part of my compost picture!!
    I have a couple of questions:
    1. Iodine? Is it necessary to buy stock iodine to water into the heap?
    2. How would you use pony poo in your heaps?

    Thanks for your website – great to have a source of information where the conditions are similar to the Manawatu.
    Palmerston North

    • Hi Graeme – great to hear your thoughts. I don’t use stock iodine and the thought has never crossed my mind! so for me the answer would be no to that. Horsey poo is so full of weed seeds my preference is to rot it first – an old fashioned dung heap is my go to. Pile it up, put a cover on it, have the pile somewhere you will benefit from the run off (mine is tucked into the herbs around the edge of my vegie patch). Use it rotten – fabulous stuff!