I love compost

I’ve come in from a morning in the garden with dirt under my fingernails, feeling very satisfied with planting and sowing and potting on. The runner beans are in the ground, the melons, courgettes and squashes are in larger pots, there are two big pots of mangetout sown and the garden is looking like it might be quite productive this year.

Whilst potting up the curcurbits (as the squash and marrow family is known) I got to thinking about compost… partly because I had my hands in some lovely homemade stuff that I’m sure the plants are going to do really well in and partly because I have been reading blogs about compost this week. It all started of with a post by Fourth Generation Farm Wife describing a composting experiment which involved in situ composting… something I am very keen on. Her experiment didn’t quite work out they way she expected but was, nevertheless, a success. I make compost in my ‘rubbish beds’ and plant directly into them even though not all the material is broken down (because after all, it wouldn’t be in a natural system). This year I have harvested some of the compost out of these beds to pot up those curcurbits I mentioned earlier and it will be returned to the beds when the weather allows me to transplant them outside.

Many people seem to have problems with compost making, although many are very successful and if you search the internet you’ll find a whole raft of advice on how to make compost, what sort of composter to buy and loads of products (some astonishingly expensive) to help you to make ‘good’ compost. Personally, I’m not convinced. I have a variety of compost bins – a couple of wooden ones, which are good and big and easy to empty; a couple of ‘cones’, one big and one small, the big one really heats up if you put lots of grass clippings in it; one made of an old water butt that split; a wormery; and my good old standby, thick black polythene rubble bags.

My honest opinion is that the compost I make is pretty similar whatever the bin with the exception of the wormery and the black bags, because these use different composting methods. The other containers all make ‘slow compost’. Lots of books tell you that you need a big heap that you construct with specific proportions of different materials and that you need to turn the heap regularly and add water and it will get hot enough to form compost really quickly and kill off all the weed seeds. In my experience this simply doesn’t happen in normal domestic situations, where you ‘trickle feed’ material into your heap and it gets whatever is available in whatever proportions there are at the time. I’m fine with this – I just let it get on with it, close the bin up when it’s full and wait however long it takes to turn into compost (and I never turn my compost or add water). I do put paper, willow shreddings, chicken poo, cardboard and nettles on my compost, as well as shredded cotton occasionally in addition to the usual kitchen scraps and I’m generally happy with the results.

The wormery I keep mainly because I want the ‘worm wee’ (more delicately known as worm tea) which I use as a very handy (but smelly) liquid feed. It’s one of those bins with a reservoir and tap at the bottom and serves its purpose well, but is quite unwieldy when the compost needs emptying out. The black bags, in contrast, are very low-tech. I fill them with perennial weeds, such as dandelions or buttercups, including the roots. I then fasten the tops and put them in a heap out of the way for a few months (it’s important no light gets in). The conditions inside tend to be anaerobic (unless you get a puncture) and you end up with smelly fibrous sludge, ready for direct use on the vegetable beds or to go into the main compost bin for further aerobic composting (my preference is the former). I like this sort of composting because it makes use of material that might otherwise be discarded and so lost from my garden system and also because things like dandelions and docks produce really robust roots that are good and fibrous and rich in nutrients… ideal as a compost ingredient.

I never buy compost activators because nettles and chicken poo do the trick and I have no idea how well things like bokashi work (although maybe it’s a great option if you don’t have a garden and want to compost indoors), but I do know that there is something really satisfying about growing plants in compost made from stuff that most people would just throw away without a second thought… what other way is there for you to eat your old teabags and coffee grounds?

%d bloggers like this: