We all know that the best way to feed a plant is to feed the soil. But buying compost can get expensive, particularly if you are using yours for potting on seedlings and cuttings and for mulching a large garden. Making your own compost is a simple habit to get into and your garden and bank balance will reap the rewards.
These are my tips for achieving compost perfection.
If you have the space, make sure your heap or bin is at least a meter cubed, but the bigger the better, as more surface area allows the heap to heat up more quickly, letting the organisms break things down more quickly. A cheap way to make large bins is to use old pallets held in place by posts.
Have at least two bins, (but preferably 3 or 4, depending on the size of your garden) so that you can fill one up while the other is maturing. Compost can take up to 18 months to make from the raw material.
Compost autumn leaves separately in sealed and pierced compost bags or in a simple enclosure made with chicken wire. This is because they take longer and make leaf mould, which can be used as a separate ingredient in potting mixture and for mulches. Leaf mould is rich in calcium and so can balance the pH of a garden which could become too acid over time, if manure is frequently used to feed plants. It is also very attractive to worms and so a layer on the top of the soil will get the worms working to get to it and aerating your garden in the process. This process will reduce or even eliminate the need for digging, which is a boon for our backs!
Site your compost area in an open spot, where it won't be in too much shade. This will mean that it heats up more quickly, and therefore works at a faster rate. Make sure the the bin is in contact with the soil and away from areas which flood/water courses.
'Green' i.e. Nitrogen-rich ingredients:
Most weeds, spent flower heads, aquarium algae and plants, grass clippings, dead houseplants, finished tender bedding plants, old flowers from the house, vegetable peelings, teabags, horse, sheep, chicken, cow* or goat manure, human urine..
'Brown' i.e. Carbon-rich ingredients:
Crushed egg shells, small amounts of shredded paper, straw, hair from hairbrushes and animal hair, shredded cardboard, small twigs, dead stems eg) from herbaceous perennials, bracken, very small amounts of sawdust.
Banned Ingredients- Just Say No!
Cooked food, meat, raw eggs, cat litter, dog, reptile, pig or cat faeces, vacuum bag contents, lots of citrus peel, diseased parts of plants, glossy paper or cardboard with lots of tape or plastic film, Japanese knotweed, bindweed roots, large branches (unless chipped), hay, disposable nappies (yes, really!) brambles, rose branches and other very spiky things you will regret handling later on!
Aim for a good balance between 'green' ingredients and 'brown' ingredients. For kitchen food waste, you will need two tubs in your kitchen- one of which is now solely for your compost heap!
Not too dry
Water once with a watering can and cover the heap with some weighted down cardboard or an old tarp. Don't use carpets, as the backing flakes off as it degrades which contains formaldehyde, which is toxic to wildlife.
Now you can sit back with a nice cup of tea and contemplate the deep inner calm that is compost perfection.
*cow manure is best left for 12 months to break down because it can contain E-coli, so it's fine, as long as you don't want to use the compost before then e.g. on your prize pumpkins.