Erica Neustadt of Change4 Chalfont
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