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26 May 2006

Why make compost ?

The simple answer to this question is, the better the soil the healthier your plants will be. Home made compost is the most cost effective and rewarding way of improving and fertilizing your garden's soil. Whether you grow vegetables or fruit, flowers or just have a small lawn, the rotted organic matter applied once or twice a year will show good results. It also acts as a mulch in helping to retain moisture, which with our reduced rainfall each summer can only be a bonus. Another good reason for composting is the fact that all landfill sites are rapidly filling up and a lot of your daily rubbish can be recycled simply and quickly at home for your benefit.

Picture of home made bin on the left and local council bin on right. What is compost and how do I make it ?
Compost is well-rotted, organic material (humus) and although the actual process relies on a host of different bacteria, fungi, nemetodes, insects, worms, air and heat, it is a surprisingly simple and a non time consuming pastime...

Quick and effective odourless (if your compost smells sour something is wrong) composting relies on the correct ratio, approximately 25 parts Carbon (brown) ingredients, to 1 part Nitrogen (green) ingredients along with Oxygen and Water. This is where us humans get involved in 'mother natures biodegradable chemistry lab', by mixing our waste ingredients at the correct ratio of about 25:1, keeping the heap just damp (never wet), and frequently turning it over with a garden fork to aerate it (no more than once every 5 days). Along with the optimum core temperature of 60 ºC (140 ºF) which generally happens naturally if all the above factors are correct. We get a lovely crumbly compost we can use all over our gardens in a fraction of the time than would happen naturally. Hopefully as quick as 3 months or so.

Carbon rich (brown) ingredients include straw, dried leaves, wood chippings, and paper whilst Nitrogen rich (green) ingredients have grass clippings, kitchen waste, and non meat eating animal manure (horses, cows, etc) amongst their throng. Almost anything of organic origin can be composted and the smaller it is chopped the quicker your compost will rot down. I often use my lawn mower to chop every thing up when I cut the grass. Lay the dried leaves, paper or what ever on your lawn then mow over it, this chops every thing up small and mixes it as well...

A good way to get your compost started is to add a layer of healthy garden soil over the top of the heap, or to add male human urine which is Nitrogen rich or plenty of manure.

See table below for just a few ingredients. The list is endless...

Ingredient Carbon or NitrogenDetails
Cut grassNitrogenTry and mix with carbon rich materials. Increases core heat of compost.
News paperCarbonShred as finely as possible. No glossy magazines.
Wood ashCarbonVery small amounts only. Very rich in potash but also very alkaline.
Tea groundsNitrogenRots quickly. Teabags also...
LeavesCarbonVery rich in nutrients. Chop small. Allow to dry a little before use.
WeedsNitrogen/CarbonNo roots or seeds and cut up very small. Best left to dry before adding to heap.
CardboardCarbonNon glossy and shred as small as possible.
ManureNitrogenHerbivores only. The best ingredient by far. Increases core heat of compost.
Coffee groundsNitrogenWorms love coffee. And filters...
Vegetable/Fruit peelingsNitrogenChopped small will rot quickly.
Lint and hoover bag contentsCarbonOnly domestic waste. Carpet sweepings and tumble dryer lint.
Pet and human hairNitrogenCut up small and mix in well. Slow to rot.
Saw dustCarbonNon painted wood only.

See table below for ingredients NOT to use.

Cat/Dog droppings and litter traysDangerous pathogens that may not get killed by the composting process.
MeatAtracts rodents.
FishAtracts rodents.
Fats, dairy and oilsDoes not rot. Smells...
Coal/Charcoal ashAcidic and rots very slowly.

How do I get a compost bin and where do I put it ?
Compost bins come in all shapes and sizes so finding one to fit your garden and needs should not be a problem. Most garden centres sell them, a search on the 'web' always brings up thousands of results, and your local council are generally very keen to supply them at reduced cost as they lessen the burden on landfill sites. Alternatively you could make one yourself. See image below.

Drawing of a simple constructed compost bin.

The image shows a simple construction of pressure treated wood and small-mesh wire, about 1 metre square works well. This allows quick filling, easy turning for aeration and should maintain a decent core temperature which is essential for rapid decomposition. This type of compost bin can be moved around the garden to wherever it's needed most.

The best place for your composting bin is close enough to your kitchen door so you use it but also in a convenient place so garden waste goes into it as well. It also needs to be on open ground or grass in a well ventilated sunny position. This will allow for quick filling and fast decomposition. But any spare space in your garden is better than not having a compost heap at all...

I have a pile of 'lovely crumble compost' what do I do with it ?
Use it. On your flower beds layer about 50 mm thick, dig it into your vegetable plot as much as you like and on your lawns a thin coating mixed with sharp sand will be all the grass desires. The best time to use your compost is in the Autumn or early Spring. Gardeners and farmers, often careful with their money have known the benefits of cheap organic compost for many years. It fertilizes, conditions your soil, retains moisture and adds essential bacterior back into the ground, what more could your garden ask for.

A 'link' about composting...

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