We Made Compost!

In a fair-sized garden like ours we can get through a lot of compost.  My partner in grime, Stevie, grows our fruit and vegetables, whilst I grow the flowers.  We have twelve raised beds between us.

So we need to make our own compost.

When I had a small garden on my own I had one dalek compost bin.  It made something resembling compost, and was a good way to get rid of garden waste.

Now we have three wooden bays made out of old crates.  We have compost at three different stages.

1. The bay being filled with fresh stuff. 

This includes:

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It is good to get a balance of fresh green and dried-up brown material in a rough ratio of 1:4.

The green stuff will provide heat as it rots down. The brown stuff provides bulk and air pockets for good compost structure and beneficial microorganisms.

Too much green and you will get smelly sludge. To much brown and you won’t get the heat for quick rotting.

The green stuff provides nitrogen; the brown stuff provides carbon. Both are important for fertile compost.

What we don’t put in the compost:

  • grass clippings.  The grass clippings go on my rose hedge and around the fruit trees as a mulch.  If we added all the grass clippings, our compost would have too much green, and would be sludgy and smelly.
  • woody material.  We have plenty of this after pruning and hedge-trimming.  Woody material won’t rot down quick enough for compost.  We chip it and use it as a mulch on the rose hedge or the fruit trees, or we burn it.  Wood ash is also wonderful for roses.
  • cooked food waste.  This would attract rats.  We try not to produce cooked food waste.  We tend to eat any leftovers in the next day’s packed lunch.  I think this is probably a natural consequence from growing food.  You realise how precious it is.

So that was the first bay.  Now for the second.

2. The bay filled last year, which is being left to rot.

We cover this with sacking or tarpaulin.  Some books say that you can make good compost within a year.  We don’t.  It might be because we don’t chop it up or turn it.  We leave it be. Slow worms and lizards have taken up residence in our compost and we don’t want to upset them.  Worms and microorganisms are very busily doing their thing, breaking the material down, making nutrients available again.

Our compost looks like this after a year:

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It’s ok, but it’s not compost.  We need more time.  If it’s sludgy and smelly, add more brown stuff.  If it’s not rotting down and has no heat, add more green stuff.

We have one more bay:

3. A bay with two-year old compost.  Yes, compost!! 

In our experience, the second year is when the magic really happens.  Things start to heat up.  You could have a sauna from this compost.  You could roast marshmallows from it.  It is steamy in there.  It doesn’t smell, other than a lovely earthy, fertile smell.

This two-year old compost is good to go!

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Stevie is flirting with a no-dig regime in his raised beds.  The jury is out about the scientific evidence for no-dig, but we are giving it a go.  Mainly because it seems easier.

Let’s take a typical bed that was harvested a couple of months ago.  This one had peas and beans in it.  Look how the weeds have grown since then!  Stevie has a slightly more relaxed attitude to weeding than I do in my flowerbeds.

Eventually he gets out his hand fork and pulls them all out.  If I have nothing better to do I might help him.

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We are preparing this bed for a winter rest.  It gets a sheet of cardboard first.

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And then it will get a thick duvet of compost.  Any weeds that self-sow will be easy to pull.  The compost and cardboard will rot down, ready for a spring sowing.

That’s chard still growing.  Chard will continue producing through the winter, and the kids will be completely sick and tired of it by spring.

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But it’s ok, kids, because we also have leeks, and kale, and broccoli, and cabbage, and Brussels Sprouts!  We have to keep them in a cage to stop the children fighting over them.

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Just in case this post seems too good to be true, I would like to confess here that I will order at least one palette (and possibly two) of well-rotted manure this winter.  This is for my roses.   We just can’t produce enough compost for all of our needs.

But it is satisfying to know that we have enough to replenish our vegetable beds, and that our grass clippings and prunings will be recycled back into the garden to make apples and roses.

There might even be a life lesson here.  Let me speak as a divorcee for a moment.

Sometimes you have to prune out dying or diseased wood.  Sometimes you have to deadhead.

Don’t feel your time and effort was wasted.

Plonk the detritus on the compost heap at the bottom of the garden and step away.  You don’t have to keep turning it all over if you don’t want to.

Have a bonfire or shred the really stubborn stuff.  We’ll all be ashes in fifty years and none of the minutiae will matter.

Let the lizards and worms do what they will.

Come back to it in a year.  Maybe two.  Has it stopped stinking?

It is fertile ground for new growth.

What are you going to grow?

This blog is about gardening and about mindfulness, and about musings on life.  It is a positive and nurturing space for growth.  If you would like to join in, then click on the ‘Follow’ button at the bottom of the page.  You will receive an email each time I post, and you can leave a comment if you feel moved to do so.  If you don’t that’s fine too.

Most posts are prettier than this one.  Fewer worms, more flowers.

35 Comments Add yours

  1. cavershamjj says:

    Your 2nd year compost looks like good stuff. I am currently obsessing about composting speed,having come across a method of generating good compost in 3 weeks. I haven’t yet achieved this, a couple of months being the best I’ve done, but still much faster than my previous slow heaps. As you suggest, the right mix is important. I seek compost perfection! Most importantly I seek tonnes of compost. Good stuff.

    1. Ali says:

      A couple of months is very impressive!

  2. Chloris says:

    Your compost looks good enough to eat. I cheat on the speedy compost by having a hot pot which produces good stuff very quickly. Expensive but effective. It’s handy to keep by the back door for kitchen waste.
    I have no dig raised veg beds, they are so easy to look after. I have done the cardboard trick on some of them this year because of an invasion of chickweed.

    1. Ali says:

      I’m intrigued by the hot pot…

  3. bcparkison says:

    I just love your take on gardening. Keep up the good work you and your sidekick are doing.

  4. Cathy says:

    Great post Ali! We are currently thinking about how to set up a compost area for next year at the new garden. By the way, I love worms for what they do and we have recently acquired a wormery… still in its early stages but hopefully it will tide us over till the compost bins are ready for use. 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      Wormeries don’t seem so popular in the U.K. I wonder why?

      1. Cathy says:

        Not popular here either… I believe I don’t know anyone who has even heard of one here!

      2. Ali says:

        There is a danger of them drying out or overheating, isn’t there?

      3. Cathy says:

        Lots of things to keep an eye on, and not easy to get the balance right at first, but the worms look fine at the moment. (They are in the cellar) 😉

      4. Cathy says:

        Not popular here either… I believe I don’t
        know anyone who has even heard of one here!

  5. You are so patient! And, I love your thoughtful, reflective analogy at the end! Compost is great! I’ve made some with worms (vermicomposting) but found it does take work, patience, and dedication. Kudos to you for having all three!

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Carol. It is good to know we can do it now; I don’t think I ever really believed we would get such rich stuff.

  6. Beautiful compost! I like your setup a lot – I think the three-bin setups are the best!

    1. Ali says:

      It does make things easier to be able to just forget about two of them.

  7. Nice low-effort patient composting system you’ve got going – the two-year compost looks good! I can imagine with all your flowers, you must have a lot of compost fodder. I’m intrigued that your heaps warm up in the second year. Mine just went colder… so we’ve switched to warm composting, but the regular turning is HARD work.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, I think the amount of plant material I produce does help. It is amazing how it towers over my head and a week later has sunk right down. A few grass clippings or green stuff might heat it up again in the second year??

  8. Eliza Waters says:

    Black gold – I can get quite excited about compost!

    1. Ali says:

      Me too Eliza! It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

  9. Island Time says:

    I really enjoyed this post on many levels, thank you.

    1. Ali says:

      You are welcome. X

  10. Island Time says:

    Especially the part about caging the brassicas because the kids fight over them! Hilarious!

  11. I am so jealous – this is something I never got the hang of. And it is not due to using grass clippings as digging up all the lawns was the first thing we did when moving in😊

    1. Ali says:

      We were surprised by our success! We will have to see whether that was a lucky batch…

      1. It look great stuff. I always visit the compost heaps at the nursery where Susan works, just to see the slow worms!

      2. Ali says:

        I do love having reptiles!

      3. You are so fortunate. Except for one common lizard 20 years ago we have always been reptile-less. But have had 3 species of newt as well as frogs and common toads. Our old house was a mile from a Natterjack toad reserve and we got the occasional visit.

      4. Ali says:

        That must be some advanced newt-spotting! I can only manage ‘newt’!

  12. Cathy says:

    Lucky you having space for 3 bays – we only have 2 so sometime in the next few weeks I need to empty our 2017 compost heap and spread (most) or bag (some) the contents to make way for the 2019 batch. All part of the ritual though, so not a chore even though it’s hard work shifting it!

    1. Ali says:

      Brilliant exercise. For body and soul!

  13. Another fab post Ali! We also leave our compost but I need to tweak the system as I only have one box with 2 compartments and I like your 3 box method better. I’m also going to put cardboard under the vege bed compost. Thanks

    1. Ali says:

      I’m making all sorts of uses of cardboard. Also great for lining the food scraps bin – doesn’t go slimy and stinky at the bottom!

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