We are now moving rapidly towards Spring after a long and very cold winter. We are dreaming of long summer days in gardens full of flowers, fruit, herbs and vegetables. The reality is often that our soil seems to be lacking something that will boost the vitality of the plants we are growing.
Home composting is a way of turning your kitchen and garden waste into an excellent substance which improves your soil and in turn your plants. It is also very environmentally friendly. I try to follow the rule “always put in more than you take out” in the garden so the fertility of the soil improves year by year. I like to think that we are only guardians of our plots of land and we should leave them in better shape than we found them, for wildlife, for feeding ourselves and for looking beautiful too.
New gardeners sometimes struggle with the different terms we use in gardening. The stuff we buy to fill our trays, pots and containers is called compost, but so is the stuff in a pile or bin in the garden. I am looking at home-made garden compost.
Although councils have green waste collection, it has an environmental cost, with collection done by heavy vehicles. Garden compost is suitable for all gardens that have beds or large containers.
Composting garden and kitchen waste
The site of your compost container should be in shade or semi-shade. If it is sitting on earth it will drain and soil organisms including worms will get into the container. If it is on a hard surface it is worth adding a shovelful of soil every now and then. Large bins are better than small ones. Bins keep in warmth and moisture, but even open heaps will compost eventually. There are a lot of different types of bin for sale, but you can make your own from old pallets if you are handy with tools.
The basic principle with composting is to have the right mix of materials. Aim for half to be soft green materials such as grass clippings, coffee grounds, tea bags if compostable, vegetable kitchen waste, human and pet hair. The other half should be brown waste such as prunings and hedge trimmings, woodchip, cardboard and paper which has been torn up or shredded. I like to layer roughly 25cm green then 25cm brown then a thin layer of animal manure if I can get it. Dried seaweed is also good if you can get it. When your bin is piled high, leave it to mature. If it is very dry in the summer warmth, you may need to water it. As the material rots it will sink. Ideally you will have two or three bins if you have the room, one ready to use, one full and maturing and one in the process of filling up. You can turn your heap once a month to make sure that the material on the outside reaches the middle where it heats up in the composting process.
Using your compost
I leave my full heaps for a full year before taking them down for mulching with, but compost can be ready in much less time than this depending on the bins you use. I remove anything woody which is not completely broken down and add it to the next bin. The compost can then be moved by wheelbarrow to your flower and vegetable beds and added as a thick mulch before planting and after weeding. The compost will vanish as the worms take it down and mix it into your soil and your plants will grow better than ever.
Good luck and good growing.