Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Easy composting

Ready to be dug in: a handful of the good stuff.
Compost (noun and verb)! It is truly wonderful stuff. Producing your own eliminates waste, cuts costs and contributes in a big way to the very pleasing symmetry that emerges as you build your own garden ecosystem.

There are many methods, all with their own fanatical devotees and all of which can yield excellent results. Some folk get deeply into the science of it and go to considerable lengths to get all the parameters tweaked to perfection, but at its simplest it should be very easy indeed and still yield excellent results.

The starting material
So, here's the way we do it: Bung everything into a simply constructed bin of (pressure treated) wooden slats, with gaps to encourage air flow. Approximately 3'x3' (1 metre each side) is a good size. Cover with a piece of (natural fibre) carpet, to retain warmth and keep out weed seeds.

When I say 'everything', I mean a good chunk of your garden and kitchen 'waste' (more on this below), plus other things like chicken droppings (if you keep hens), seaweed (if you're near the sea), and maybe a bit of wood ash (if you heat with wood). It's important to include some woody bits (shavings from the hen house or hedge clippings are perfect). You can even pee on it, if you feel so inclined.

The compost cascade
Then, when 'Bin #1' is full, turn over your row. This is the clever bit. Regularly turning over the heap thoroughly mixes and aerates the material and enormously accelerates the breakdown process.

We have a row of six identical bins, so when it's time for the turn, Bin #5 gets emptied into Bin #6, Bin #4 into Bin #5 and so on. We're talking months to finished product here, not years.

As well as being the clever bit, this is also the one hard work bit. A removable front section to the bins vastly improves the ergonomics of shovelling and forking out the contents.

Bins #5 and #6 (and sometimes even #4) have good, usable compost, ready to work its magic wherever needed in the garden.

What to include:
Cats optional
  • Harvested out vegetable plant remains, like bean stalks and carrot tops
  • Kitchen 'waste', like (crushed) egg shells, coffee grinds, vegetable peelings, apple cores, etc.
  • Hedge clippings
What to go easy on:
What to avoid:
  • Meat (if you've got any to get rid of, feed it to the dog, hens or whatever)
  • Raw tubers, or portions thereof (it's an incredibly fertile sprouting environment)
  • Weeds (the last place you want weed seeds)
  • Any other sort of seed heads
  • Citrus peel (these make fantastic fire lighters when dried)
Quick growing, vigorous comfrey
Useful extras:
  • Manure
  • Seaweed
  • Comfrey

Composting comfrey
A comfrey patch makes a super useful adornment to the garden, but make sure you get a variety that can only propagate by root cuttings and also that you have a single permanent home for it. It's unfussy, but if you have a damp bit of ground that you'd like dried out a bit and don't have much other use for, this is ideal.

Comfrey has several desirable properties. It sends down a very deep root system (up to 10 metres, according to some sources) and thus brings to the surface minerals and nutrients that others can't reach. It grows quickly: we can crop it three times in a single season. It breaks down rapidly, whether in compost (also works as a compost accelerator) or as mulch.

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