A steam­ing pile of good­ness

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cun­dall

WHEN the fi rst re­ally sav­age frost struck in our gar­den last week, I wasn’t a bit wor­ried. Even the sight of a black­ened, shriv­elled pumpkin patch and bleached- white sweet­corn plants sig­nalled noth­ing more than the end of our warm­est grow­ing sea­son and the start of an­other.

In fact, they in­spired me to get stuck into clear­ing away ev­ery bit of half- dead, frosted and with­ered gar­den de­bris and con­vert­ing it into com­post.

As I dragged the pumpkin, cu­cum­ber, tomato and zuc­chini de­bris into a great heap I was as­ton­ished to fi nd a small har­vest of well­con­cealed, fat pump­kins and even a few ki­los of rea­son­ably- good toma­toes.

The fi nest fuel for a work­ing com­post heap is any kind of high- ni­tro­gen fer­tiliser. So as I forked the still- green de­bris into a huge pile, I oc­ca­sion­ally added gen­er­ous amounts of pel­letised chook ma­nure and wa­tered it in with heav­ily- di­luted fi sh emul­sion.

This is the stuff that gets the micro­organ­isms that break down or­ganic mat­ter work­ing fu­ri­ously. Af­ter hack­ing out the sweet corn stalks – still green – I used a sharp spade to chop them into small pieces. It is easy, pleas­ant work and all the bits were then shov­elled on to the grow­ing heap.

In fact it be­came enor­mous – oc­cu­py­ing about 4m2 of ground and by the time I had fi nished was al­most 2m high and slightly ta­pered to­wards the top. It was the trash from a large bed of sum­mer bean plants and a few bar­row- loads of de­cay­ing hay that added much of the bulk.

Look­ing for even more, I went around all our still- grow­ing cab­bage kale, caulifl ower, sil­ver­beet and broc­coli plants to snap off all old, tough outer leaves and they too were added to the pile.

This ac­tiv­ity ex­posed a sur­pris­ing num­ber of snails and some very fat slugs lurk­ing in moist crevices near the roots.

Nat­u­rally they were im­me­di­ately squashed at the scene of their crimes.

I even chucked in a cou­ple of heavy buck­ets of sloppy kitchen scraps, cof­fee grounds and wet tea leaves, spread­ing the stuff widely so it soaked into the other in­gre­di­ents.

It’s hard to be­lieve, but by the time I had com­pleted this gi­ant heap of de­com­pos­ing green de­bris, it was al­ready start­ing to warm up, deep in­side.

Home- made com­post is the fi nest, most nu­tri­tious of all fer­tilis­ers. It is also the great­est of all soil con­di­tion­ers

I shoved a pointed stake into its heart and it came out steam­ing slightly.

Home- made com­post is the fi nest, most nu­tri­tious of all fer­tilis­ers. It is also the great­est of all soil con­di­tion­ers.

And if it has been made prop­erly and has been al­lowed to heat up – due to the in­tense, fran­tic ac­tiv­ity of the mi­cro- or­gan­isms – the in­ter­nal tem­per­a­ture even­tu­ally rises so high it kills all weed seeds, pests and dis­ease or­gan­isms.

The only part of a free- stand­ing com­post heap that does not get hot is the out­side.

This is one rea­son why the most suc­cess­ful heaps are fairly large. It is also nec­es­sary to “turn” a com­post heap about three times.

Once the in­te­rior be­gins to cool down – af­ter about a week, depend­ing on the weather – the un- de­cayed outer and top parts can be scraped off, made into a smaller pile and the rest then forked over the top to cre­ate an­other heap.

It is also wa­tered and fer­tilised again dur­ing each turn­ing process and each time heat is gen­er­ated, but to a lesser ex­tent.

Dur­ing this en­tire process the pile of or­ganic mat­ter shrinks dra­mat­i­cally, fi nish­ing up about one third its orig­i­nal bulk. How­ever, what is left is the ul­ti­mate gar­den trea­sure, mag­nifi cent com­post with a sweet, earthy smell.

If com­post can­not be used im­me­di­ately, throw a big sheet of black plas­tic over it, weigh­ing down the edges with bricks or stones. This pre­vents heavy rain­fall from leach­ing out most of the nu­tri­ents.

The best way to use com­post is to ei­ther dig it in, or place lots of the stuff deep in any plant­ing holes. Never waste this valu­able, nat­u­ral fer­tiliser by spread­ing it over the sur­face be­cause it sim­ply dries out and loses much of its value.

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