Guide To Composting
For thousands of years, keen gardeners and farmers have used their own compost to enhance their crops. More and more gardeners are turning from using chemical treatments and are now using compost to enrich their soil. Composting has been consistently popular among growers, so why shouldn’t you try it too?
There are plenty of things that can be used as a compost bin. You can always buy one relatively inexpensively online, but you can also make your own. Wooden pallets are perfect for constructing a sturdy compost bin and can usually be picked up for free at your local rubbish dump. Just nail four pallets together and viola! You have an environmentally friendly compost bin with plenty of space for worms and other critters to get in. Alternatively, you could buy a bin and drill some holes in the top for air flow. When you position your compost container, it is wise to put it in a place easily accessible to get materials into it. Also, make sure it is near a source of water.
Surprisingly Simple Science
It’s helpful to understand the science behind composting to realise why it’s so good for your garden. The two main ingredients needed for compost are nitrogen and carbon. Carbon comes from your ‘brown’ materials like dried leaves and sawdust. ‘Green’ materials like fresh grass clippings and vegetable scraps provide your pile with nitrogen. A good balance of the two ingredients is vital. If there is not enough nitrogen present, the pile will not begin to warm up and therefore, your pile will not decompose into compost. On the other end of the scale, too much nitrogen will make the pile too hot and vital microorganisms will not survive.
Despite common belief, you can’t just chuck a load of grass trimmings in a pile and end up with a nutritious compost mix. You need just the right blend of ingredients for the ideal fruit and vegetable growing compost.
Take your chosen container/area and add a good layer of your brown material to form the base. Then add a layer of your green material. Keep alternating between these two until your container is full. Shovel in some store bought compost or soil from the ground to add in extra vital microorganisms. Finally, dampen your pile with water to begin the process. You should turn the compost pile every week or so to make sure the microorganisms are working evenly through the pile rather than staying in the warm centre.
What To Compost
You must only use natural brown and green materials. These will provide a healthy amount of nitrogen and carbon for your compost pile. The most common things to compost are as follows;
- Grass clippings
- Hedge clippings
- Dried leaves
- Dried weeds
- Fruit and vegetables (Meal leftovers or out of date food, for example.)
- Flowers (not diseased)
- Manure (Be careful when using animal waste. It can only come from herbivores like cows, not household pets. This will prevent the spread of disease.)
- Tea bags (Remove staples if present.)
It is possible to put cardboard items (cereal boxes, toilet rolls etc) into your compost pile. However, you should be prepared for them to take a long time to degrade. They may be there for two or more seasons, depending on how bulky they are. Fruit pits, sawdust and paper will also take a couple of seasons to fully degrade.
What Not To Compost
This primarily means no meat, bones, or dairy. Larger animals, that you probably don’t want to dig up your garden, will come after these things. This could be prevented by burying it deep in the compost pile, however, it’s generally best to avoid it altogether. Weed seeds and diseased plants should also be avoided, this can affect your other plants when you spread the finished compost. It is possible to make compost from diseased plants, but this should only be attempted by experienced gardeners as the compost pile must heat to at least 58°C in order to kill the disease. Although fruit waste is usually fine for a compost pile, it is recommended to avoid the use of limes. Limes are very high in alkaline which can halt the decomposition of the compost pile.
You will easily be able to tell when your compost is finished. It will be dark, crumbly and smell like fresh soil. If immature compost is used it can damage plants as it tends to be acidic. There also needs to be nitrogen and carbon available for the composting process to complete, so the plant will be deprived of it if the compost is not ready. It’s generally fine for your compost to have bits like eggshells in it, just remove larger items (like corn cobs).
Using compost as mulch prevents soil erosion around already established plants. It is best to add mulch after it has rained or after you have watered your plants to help retain moisture. A 5cm layer of your compost around a plant will replenish nutrients that may have been lost in the soil.
Flowerbeds and new borders
Similarly to mulch, spread a layer of compost around your flowers. Take care to leave soft stems bare. Alternatively, dig some compost into the spot you plan to plant your flowers in. This guarantees a healthy boost to the roots from the nutrients in the compost.
Trees will greatly benefit from the use of compost, especially fruit trees. Spread some compost around the base of the tree, but not too close to the trunk. This will also prevent weeds from springing up and depriving your tree of essential nutrition.
Homemade compost is brilliant for herb gardens. Your herbs will come up much tastier, leafier and healthier.
The lawn is often the most neglected part of the garden. A sprinkling of compost on the surface can make your lawn much greener and thicker. The compost will need to be sieved first to remove any large clumps, then simply sprinkle a layer over the top of your lawn. The layer of compost should only be a couple of centimeters deep, you do not want to completely cover your grass.