Whether your interest is hedging, flowers and/or vegetables, composting is one of the fundamentals of horticulture – the simple process of turning seemingly useless waste material into one of the most valuable materials into which a gardener can dig his spade…
Incidentally, while councils run green recycling collections and/or sites, the RHS is right in pointing out that these schemes are reliant on transport and so have an attendant environmental cost while home composting is about as green as it gets…
When to compost
• Composting is a year-round activity. Regardless of the month, if your garden has generated suitable organic material, on the heap or in the bin it goes!
Tips for Successful Composting
• The compost bin/heap should be placed in shade
• It must be at least 1 cubic m.to work – a larger volume will be a lot more effective
• If it is positioned on a hard surface (concrete etc.) rather than soil, add 3-4cm of soil before you start adding the garden waste
• The bacteria and fungi that do the work, work best at a constant temperature – extremes of temperature and moisture can halt the process
• The four golden rules are:
1. Keep rain out
2. Retain warmth
3. Provide effective drainage
4. Allow air in
• It is essential to maintain a balance of 25 – 50% soft green matter (weeds, grass cuttings, vegetable waste, manure etc.) and 50 – 75% woody brown matter (pruned clippings, wood chippings, straw, dead leaves etc.). Green and brown matter should always be mixed together – a thick layer of, say, just grass clippings can kill the process
• It is not essential to add an accelerator or activator unless either green or brown matter is in short supply. If you are short of green matter, add one that is high in nitrogen; if brown matter is the issue, then add one that contains carbon
• NB: there is never any need to add lime to composting material!
• Turn your compost every month to ensure air can get in and it doesn’t become waterlogged or compacted
• In hot, dry weather you may well need to water your compost – it needs to be moist but not drenched!
How long will I have to wait?
• The composting cycle takes from 6-24 months to complete depending upon size, situation and the material it contains
• Mature compost has a crumbly texture, is a rich dark brown and smells of woodland after rain
• Also, the whole heap/bin will not reach maturity at the same time – material that isn’t ready should be left and can be added to
NB: Kitchen vegetable waste can, of course, be composted though if the compost bin/heap is small, adding a disproportionate volume of banana skins and potato peel etc. can have somewhat slimy consequences. A wormery (worm bin) is a good solution. They are inexpensive and readily available. Choose one with two compartments – the kitchen waste goes into the top one where the worms do their stuff and the liquid collects in the bottom.