How Garden Waste is Composted by Reliance

Words: Julie Velosa

For many suburban and city dwellers the idea of composting might seem like something that is reserved for those who farm or have veggie gardens. But what you may not know, is that you might be inadvertently contributing to an innovative composting process, when you deliver your garden waste to one of Cape Town’s many refuse sites. Sadly, much like throwing waste in the bin, when garden refuse is delivered to one of the drop off points around the Cape, not much thought is given as to where it may end up, but what is quite fascinating, is that this is just the first step in its journey to eventually making it back into your garden.
Garden refuse arrives at one of the 25 municipal drop off sites in the Cape daily, in the past it would have been burnt or sent to a landfill to dispose of, neither of which are eco-friendly nor useful solutions. About 15 years ago, Reliance sought to change this by opting instead to use this garden waste to create rich organic matter, which could be returned to the soil to improve quality and structure.
Reliance Chipper
At the Kraaifontein Waste Transfer Station a behemoth chipper stands like a rumbling, hungry giant. A large crane manoeuvres to scoop up and feed garden refuse including sticks, branches, leaves and even tree stumps into the funnel. The chipper processes the organic material in a matter of seconds, out the other side of the machine pours fine, chipped organic matter – this is one seriously powerful piece of machinery.

The organic matter is then transported to the Reliance farm in Klipheuwel, where it is laid out in long lengths known as windrows.

Another piece of machinery, called a turner, with a bow shaped centre, drives over the windrows, turning the matter, and adding a small amount of water and clay.
Reliance Compost Turner
This composting and turning process continues for a period of 6-8 weeks. Any inorganic matter that may have made it into the compost (through what was dumped at the refuse site) is removed by hand. The matter then undergoes natural aerobic decomposition that is effected by microbes, natural fungi, and bacteria. A by-product of this interaction is heat, so if you look closely you can see steam rising. It could be mistaken for smoke, but in fact this is just the natural reaction and is tangible proof that nature is at work.

Once the matter has been through its composting process, it is tested to ensure PH levels are stable/correct and then moves on to be bagged, or sold in bulk. Bagging is done by hand, and from there, makes it’s way to a nursery, and ultimately back into your garden.
Reliance Compost Packing
So, why is this such an important process? Other than the obvious reclamation and usage of waste material, the other, and equally important point, is the adding of quality organic matter back into soils. Through years of over usage, soil becomes depleted of nutrients and eventually it is reduced it to a sandy structure, devoid of the fertile qualities needed to cultivate healthy food. Soil erosion and degradation is a massive global problem and has a huge impact on food production.
Whether you are gardening for leisure or cultivating acres of food, the step of adding quality, nutrient rich organic matter back to the soil is a critical, restorative action that should be a top priority. Each small action results in a greater gain overall and since we cannot do without food or trees to sustain life, it would seem that this is an imperative, if not the only way forward.

Change starts from the ground up, and there could not be a more literal interpretation than the need for healthy soils, which are ultimately the starting place for all natural food sources and life-sustaining trees.

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