Providing pretty much all the goodness a growing plant needs, compost is the world’s best fertiliser and soil conditioner, writes TINO CARNEVALE
On why making compost just makes cents
Making something for free that you can’t even buy is pretty cool.
Compost is the result of the decomposition of organic matter. For the home gardener it is a way of recycling waste products from the household as well as the garden into what is one of the greatest tools in a gardener’s kitbag. It can sometimes be easy to forget how useful this gorgeous material is.
I suppose it is always in the background as something that gardeners just do but I feel I need to give it the respect that it’s due. In my opinion it’s the world’s best fertiliser as it contains all the goodness a plant needs, and makes those nutrients readily available to the plant.
It is also a soil conditioner. Not only will it improve the structure of your soil but also increase both its water holding capacity and drainage and it acts as a natural soil fungicide inoculating your soil with beneficial microbes and fungi. You may have heard of manna from heaven, well compost is manna from terra. Anything that was once alive but now is dead will decompose but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you want it rotting in a pile in your bag yard.
Certain ingredients come with repercussions. Your average backyard compost system is not set up to process human waste or animal bones for obvious reasons. Technically meat can be composted but it is guaranteed to attract some unwanted squatters of the furry kind, and putting in weeds with viable seeds or diseased plant materials can simply spread your problems.
There are four basic elements that these helpers need to create compost: air, water, nitrogen and carbon. The ratios of each of the ingredients used will greatly dictate the speed and quality of break down. The first two are pretty straight forward. If your heap is dry then add water and if it is too wet and low on air, lift it with a fork and give it a turn.
In general, nitrogen is your green stuff, grass clippings, green leaves and food scraps. Not all green is equal though, it really depends on how fresh the material is. Fruit contains a lot of nitrogen and adding too much can cause your compost to be acidic and sludgy. If you are low on
green material you can use a nitrogen fertiliser to assist. Then there is carbon, this is brown and consists of dried leaves, stems and roots. If you are short of brown, then shredded paper and cardboard can be used to bulk out your mix but it is best to steer clear of glossy paper if you are planning on using the compost in the veggie garden.
Texture is one of the most important aspects of speedy composting. There are many organisms that help you in your compost bin: bacteria, fungi, worms and nematodes, slugs, snails, spiders and flies … you get the idea. Worms have tiny mouths and although tenacious they tend to struggle on dense materials like stems and lumps of wood so the more you can smash, cut or break up your material the easier they will find it to process.
There are a number of ways that people approach the composting process. The Latin word composita translates to something put together, meaning composting can be as simple as a pile.
You may have heard the terms hot and cold composting and really, these are pretty much the same thing. The only difference is that with a hot pile you need to collect all the materials at the same time and create one dense mass. This means there is a greater amount of decomposition happening at once, which generates the heat. With a cold bin you are adding small amounts regularly, so the rate of breakdown is spread over time.
Composting can be as simple as digging a hole or even better a trench, putting in a good layer of fresh organic matter and then filling it back in. Make sure not to make the layer too thick as you want to avoid sludgy, anaerobic conditions. When done right this is one of the most effective ways of improving the lower level of your soil.
If you need to break down larger pieces of twigs and wood, the hugleculture method works a treat. Though it requires a bit of patience, work and planning, it’s basically the big brother of trench composting. I dig a trench, lay in the wood and cover with green plant material, cap it with soil, and mulch with straw. You can then plant the whole thing out with pumpkins and let them ramble.
Making something for free that you can’t even buy is pretty cool. It saves room in the rubbish bin without taking up too much space on the garden. A compost pile would have to be the best gift you can give to your garden.