Suc­cess­ful gar­dens rely on well-nour­ished soil, and com­post or a worm farm can help you on your way


Ev­ery good gar­dener knows the premise “Feed the soil, not the plant”. We all know that soil is the most important com­po­nent of the gar­den, and that a ma­jor part of our bud­get should be spent on look­ing af­ter and re­plen­ish­ing it. Com­post — which many con­fi­dently call black gold — is es­sen­tial to rich soil, and it’s ours for the mak­ing.

Two words hold the key to suc­cess with com­post: air and heat. You want aer­o­bic com­post­ing, the re­sult of cap­tur­ing air and heat: your com­post bin needs to gen­er­ate heat that reaches 55C.

If you have the space, a three-bale bin is best. This is usu­ally con­structed of hard­wood, with front sec­tions that can be re­moved for ease of ac­cess and han­dling, as you can see in this pic­ture of Wal­ter McVitty in his beau­ti­ful gar­den on Vic­to­ria’s Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula.

This also al­lows the es­sen­tial step of turn­ing the com­post­ing ma­te­rial with a large fork.

One bin is a work in progress into which you add, each day, kitchen scraps: eggshells, pa­per tow­els, ripped-up egg car­tons and gar­den prun­ings. Don’t add meat, dairy prod­ucts and fats, which can en­cour­age ro- dents. Grass clip­pings, leaves, old veg­eta­bles, cof­fee grounds and tea leaves, floor sweep­ings, vac­uum cleaner contents and wood ash can be added.

Build up each bin, with nu­mer­ous lay­ers of veg­etable mat­ter, then lay­ers of poul­try, horse or cow ma­nure, in­ter­spersed with lay­ers of soil.

Once this is full, leave it to heat and “cook”, undis­turbed, for a few weeks. This is then turned, daily if pos­si­ble, with a fork un­til the ma­te­rial is com­pletely bro­ken down and dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling com­post has been pro­duced.

Mean­while, the sec­ond bin is filled and left un­touched, hap­pily heat­ing. The third bin con­tains the fin­ished prod­uct.

With this three-bale method, per­fect com­post can be pro­duced each month in sum­mer and ev­ery two months in colder weather. There is al­ways one bin fin­ished, ready to be shov­elled on to the gar­den as a thick mulch and fer­tiliser.

A range of en­closed com­post­ing con­trap­tions for those who gar­den on small city plots is avail­able: one of the most suc­cess­ful is the style in­volv­ing a large heavy­duty plas­tic wheel, which is easy to turn.

Re­mem­ber, com­post piles need carbon (de­rived from woody car­bo­hy­drates) and ni­tro­gen, which comes from lawn clip­pings and kitchen waste, in the cor­rect ra­tio. This is known as the C:N ra­tio.

One kilo­gram of urea per cu­bic me­tre will im­prove the ni­tro­gen level in the heap, as will com­frey leaves, poul­try ma­nure, blood and nettles.

It’s not al­ways pos­si­ble, how­ever, to erect a com­post bin: im­pos­si­ble, surely, if you live in an apart­ment.

The worm farm may be the an­swer to the small gar­den owner’s wish to en­sure that food scraps don’t go to waste. There are sev­eral brands avail­able, in­clud­ing the Can o Worms and the Worm Cafe, which are both easy to as­sem­ble.

You buy a starter kit of at least 1000 worms when you pur­chase your worm farm, which is avail­able from most good-sized nurs­eries. Some packs of worms are sup­plied with bed­ding, which the worms will eat be­fore climb­ing up, into the top tier — known as the work­ing tray — to de­mol­ish the food scraps.

Don’t be too hasty in the first few months to fill the work­ing layer with food. Too much food, sup­plied too quickly, will rot, en­cour­ag­ing the tiny vine­gar fly, which

Two words hold the key to suc­cess with com­post: air and heat

is at­tracted to anaer­o­bic and acid con­di­tions, which will make your unit smell. (Vine­gar flies are an­noy­ing, rather than un­clean, how­ever.)

You should see worms eat­ing and con­vert­ing the food be­fore adding more scraps. This can be slow dur­ing the early months un­til the worms mul­ti­ply, af­ter be­com­ing ac­cus­tomed to their new en­vi­ron­ment, and un­til they de­mol­ish the orig­i­nal bed­ding.

You can bal­ance the en­vi­ron­ment to as­sist the en­tire process by tip­ping a hand­ful of gar­den lime — dis­solved in water as undi­luted lime would burn the worms — over the work­ing tray, af­ter en­sur­ing that the tap is open so that you don’t drown your worms. Keep the tap open, also, if it is rain­ing, with a jug or bucket un­der the tap.

You can then pour the “worm tea” on to your gar­den or add it to your wa­ter­ing can to give your plants a ben­e­fi­cial fo­liar drench­ing.

Each time you add food waste to the work­ing layer add a hand­ful of soil to pro­vide grit and trac­tion for the worms. If you are fas­tid­i­ous, you may chop the food waste finely to as­sist the worms’ di­ges­tion and to speed up the pro­duc­tion of the worm cast­ings.

Make sure your work­ing tray has a layer of news­pa­per, hes­sian or an old towel com­pletely cov­er­ing the food waste to en­sure a dark, moist en­vi­ron­ment, which will en­cour­age the worms to move up into the food layer.

Just about any­thing can go in: avoid, how­ever, onion, cit­rus peel and, of course, meat prod­ucts.


Now is the time to mulch your gar­den, and you can do no bet­ter than use Sarah Curry’s Ma­jors Mulch, clever lit­tle pel­lets of com­pressed lucerne that ex­pand when wet.

If you have a mas­sive gar­den you can con­tact your lo­cal farm co-op­er­a­tive to ask about bales of lucerne that have been spoiled by rain.

(At a for­mer 3ha gar­den in the NSW south­ern high­lands I used 1200 bales each year: once it broke down into the heavy clay the soil was a rich, red loam.) Holly Kerr Forsyth at­tained a PhD in 19th and 20th­cen­tury gar­dens. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @hol­lyk­er­forsyth.

Clock­wise from above, Wal­ter McVitty turn­ing com­post in his gar­den on Vic­to­ria’s Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula; Sarah Curry’s Ma­jors Mulch; bales of lucerne

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.