Han­nah Stephen­son looks into how to cre­ate a com­post heap

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GREEN SPACES -

Nthis age of re­cy­cling – plas­tics in one bin, glass in another, gar­den mat­ter and food waste also be­ing sep­a­rated – there can be no bet­ter time to start your own com­post heap.

If you have to sort out your rub­bish, you might as well make use of the mat­ter which can be turned into a ter­rific soil en­richer.

How­ever, it isn’t just a mat­ter of pil­ing up your veg­etable peel­ings and grass cut­tings and turn­ing them ev­ery so of­ten. In ev­ery suc­cess­ful com­post heap, there is a bal­ance to be found.

The con­tainer or makeshift frame (ide­ally wooden) should be at least 1m (3ft) square oth­er­wise it will be too small to gen­er­ate enough heat to rot it down. You’ll also need a lid to keep out rain and keep in the heat, even if the lid is in the form of an old car­pet topped with plas­tic.

Re­mem­ber, the hot­ter it gets, the faster the com­post ma­tures.

Good el­e­ments in­clude kitchen waste, such as veg­etable scraps, eggshells and tea bags. If you want to add news­pa­per, you’ll need to shred it first. Keep a small, lid­ded bin by the back door for all your kitchen scraps.

If you’re prun­ing this au­tumn, keep the clip­pings and spent flow­ers for the com­post bin, along with any grass clip­pings and end of sea­son bed­ding.

Some gar­den­ers have be­come so ob­sessed with the qual­ity of their com­post that they grow plants specif­i­cally for it, in­clud­ing potashrich sun­flow­ers which boost its nu­tri­tional con­tent, and com­frey, which is rich in nu­tri­ents.

Don’t add meat, fish or bones to the heap be­cause you’ll just at­tract rats, and keep out re­ally tough weeds such as ground elder, which may sur­vive in the heap, and dis­eased plants, which should be binned or burned. Woody prun­ings should also be omit­ted be­cause they will take an age to rot down.

If you want to give your com­post a help­ing hand to rot down, you can buy or­ganic ac­ti­va­tors con­tain­ing herbs, honey and seaweed. Other nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents in­clud­ing net­tles will also help rot down the pile, while a hand­ful of horse ma­nure will add bulk and nu­tri­ents.

You could also buy some worms from a fish­ing tackle shop which will work their way up and down the pile, break­ing up the de­bris as they go.

The se­cret to good com­post is firstly to break up the bulky stuff be­fore it goes in. If you haven’t a shred­der, chop up your prun­ings into small pieces.

Then you need to al­ter­nate the ma­te­ri­als in dif­fer­ent lay­ers. Place grass clip­pings in thin lay­ers – and don’t put too much grass on the pile, or you’ll end up with a slimy mess.

Al­ter­nate the clip­pings with coarser ma­te­rial or mix it with shred­ded news­pa­per. Add moist­ened straw to bulk up too much green ma­te­rial. Lay­ers should be pep­pered ev­ery so of­ten with earth, blood, fish and bone­meal, ma­nure or an ac­ti­va­tor to en­cour­age bac­te­ria.

The dry, woody, car­bon-rich ma­te­ri­als such as prun­ings and straw should be com­bined with the lay­ers of ni­tro­gen-rich soft waste such as veg­etable scraps and grass clip­pings.

Ide­ally use two parts woody ma­te­rial to one part soft ma­te­rial. The woody de­bris al­lows air to cir­cu­late through the heap, while the soft ma­te­rial pro­vides ni­tro­gen, other plant foods and mois­ture.

Once your con­tainer is full, don’t let it dry out in sum­mer or be­come too wet in win­ter. A good test is to squeeze a hand­ful and see how much mois­ture comes out. It should only be a few droplets for per­fect com­post.

If you are mak­ing com­post for the first time, turn the new heap after about a week to al­low the cooler outer ma­te­rial to en­ter into the hot­ter cen­tre, then turn it again two weeks later, after which you should leave it for around six months.

If you are filling the heap grad­u­ally, the ma­te­rial at the bot­tom of the pile should almost be ready for use by the time the con­tainer is filled. Ide­ally, have two heaps on the go at one time, so you can move the up­per lay­ers of un­com­posted ma­te­rial into a new heap when the lower lev­els are almost ready for use.

In less than a year, you may have soft, crumbly fruit­cake-like com­post to spread as a mulch or just add to your soil to im­prove its fer­til­ity, or sieve it to use in your pot­ting com­post.

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