Erica Neustadt of Change4 Chal­font

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GREEN SPACES -

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, as well as 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 po­tash-rich sun­flow­ers, which boost its nu­tri­tional con­tent, and com­frey, which is rich in nu­tri­ents.

Don’t add meat, fish or bones 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 break down, you can buy or­ganic ac­ti­va­tors con­tain­ing herbs, honey and seaweed. Other nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents, in­clud­ing net­tles, will also help rot down the pile, and 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.

Sheart. In 2010, Change4Chal­font, a char­ity that takes com­mu­nity ac­tion to try to coun­ter­act cli­mate change, or­gan­ised the plant­ing of a com­mu­nity or­chard in Chal­font St Peter, with a some­what ironic slo­gan, ‘sav­ing the planet one ap­ple at a time’.

On the morn­ing of the plant­ing – a dull, damp Novem­ber day – more than 60 vol­un­teers turned up to dig. And once in, the new trees, with hand­made wooden frames, stark and win­try with just ves­tiges of fo­liage, looked very lovely.

Buoyed by this suc­cess, we or­gan­ised a sec­ond or­chard plant­ing in 2012. This time, we had ‘an em­bar­rass­ment of riches’ as 120 vol­un­teers turned up to help.

With all the trees planted by lunchtime, Chal­font St Peter’s Ju­bilee Or­chard was born.

We couldn’t have done this with­out the help and co-op­er­a­tion of lo­cal coun­cils, even though some­times the bu­reau­cracy threat­ened to over­whelm us, but it all takes land, good­will and work­ing to­gether – all good com­mu­nity stuff.

Since then, I have been dream­ing of another, slightly dif­fer­ent or­chard; one that doesn’t de­pend on pub­lic land, which OME­TIMES a ca­sual com­ment is a mood changer and to­day some­one said some­thing to me that lifted my mar­ries com­mu­nity ac­tion with peo­ple’s love of tend­ing their gar­dens.

I have been dream­ing of a ‘Vir­tual Or­chard’; only vis­i­ble from the air, it grows and flour­ishes over the years in peo­ple’s gar­dens. This au­tumn, the dream is be­ing played out and I can tell you how a Vir­tual Or­chard is planted.

Take some ap­ple trees (very kindly do­nated at the end of their sea­son by Van Hage Gar­den Cen­tre, in Chor­ley­wood) and of­fer them to lo­cal peo­ple to plant in their gar­dens. Record the lo­ca­tion of each planted tree on an on­line map – and bingo – very real fruit trees in a Vir­tual Or­chard!

We still have some trees to dis­trib­ute, so if you would like to take part in this project, and have fruit for ever in your back gar­den, please con­tact us at info@change4chal­font. org.uk or via our Face­book page.

Oh, and the source of hap­pi­ness this morn­ing?

A friend came over to choose a tree and men­tioned that when out cy­cling with his chil­dren, they passed the Ju­bilee Or­chard and saw that the ap­ples were ripe. Pick­ing one from a tree that he had helped to plant, he bit into it.

It was, he said, ‘the best ap­ple I had ever eaten’.

The sweet taste of suc­cess.

The se­cret to good com­post is to break up the bulky stuff be­fore it goes in. If you don’t have a shred­der, chop up your prun­ings into small pieces. Then you need to al­ter­nate the ma­te­ri­als in dif­fer­ent lay­ers.

Add grass clip­pings in thin lay­ers – there is too much grass, 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 about 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, 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 fruit-cake-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.

Erica with some of the fruit tree saplings she has yet to give away

Your com­post heap does not need to be in a fancy con­tainer

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