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.
- dead plant material that I have cut back (see my post Secrets of a Hacker)
- spent flowers I have deadheaded (see Deadheading delights)
- spent compost from seedtrays and pots (see My fingers are tingling with magic!)
- plant carcasses, so long as they are not invasive species (see Murder in the flower-bed)
- swept up leaves (you can make separate leaf mulch, if you like)
- fruit and vegetable peelings from the kitchen
- torn up cardboard, paper, tea-bags and coffee grounds
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:
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!
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.
We are preparing this bed for a winter rest. It gets a sheet of cardboard first.
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.
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.
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.