Top compost’s all in the mix
ONE of the things I like most about gardening is that it’s one of the few subjects where we celebrate rotting vegetation, blood, bones, urine, having worms and admitting a fondness for poo.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your garden is the gift of compost and by far the best compost is the stuff you make yourself.
Making compost is not unlike baking a cake, except you use a slightly larger fork to whisk the mix.
With compost as with a cake, it’s about having the right ingredients and adding the right ratios of those ingredients.
Technically you can add anything that was living but is now dead to your compost bin and it will compost but adding meat can, and will, attract rodents.
‘ This may require a small amount of sweat on your behalf. The more often you can turn and mix up the materials, the more often you will get compost ’
There are four main ingredients you need to make compost. Nitrogen – green stuff such as vegetable scraps and lawn clippings and carbon, brown stuff such as dried leaves and woody material and fi nally, air and water.
Bacteria and fungi which are responsible for composting the materials in your bin use the carbon as energy like we use carbohydrates and they use the nitrogen to grow and multiply.
Your bin or pile needs to be at least 1m ³ for quality, quick composting to occur, ideally they should be placed in a sheltered spot out of direct sunlight to stop the piles from drying out.
If you have no shade in your garden, covering the top of your bin with a piece of old carpet or tarp will help it stay moist.
Keep the amounts of air and moisture in the mix even; not too wet or too dry.
Fresh compost smells like the sweetest earth. If you get the mix right, your compost will not smell.
If your bin is too dry the material will eventually break down, it may just take a little while longer.
To rectify this, simply wet it with the hose and add some more green. If it is too wet the material will turn to slop and release a rather bracing perfume, if this is the case you will need to add some brown and turn the compost.
This may require a small amount of sweat on your behalf. The more often you can turn and mix up the materials, the more often you will get compost.
The ideal ratio of ingredients to keep these composting organisms happy and healthy and doing their job is between 25- 30 parts of brown to one part of green.
I’ve never bothered to be that exact though because not all brown and green was created equal. Some green contains more nitrogen than other green and some brown has more carbon than other brown.
Generally I like to put a 10cm- 20cm layer of brown with a thin, roughly 2cm layer of green. Your organisms break fi ner material down faster than denser material so breaking material up will provide you with compost sooner.
Fleshy stalks and roots can be bashed with a mallet to break them up whereas paper, leaves and other vegetation can be laid out and run over with a mower to separate into fi ner material.
If you are ever short on brown you can use paper or straw, in fact a couple of bales of straw is a great way of making a decent amount in one go.
If you need some green you can use a small amount of blood and bone, used coffee grounds or if you’re really desperate, some wee. It is the best plant fertiliser and soil conditioner you will ever use and it’s absolutely free.