Saturday 9 April 2011


Compost can improve your soil and help manage your garden in order for you to grow more successfully your selection of  plants and vegetables.  Purchasing compost from garden centres can be expensive so making your own compost can be a money saving idea. Nearly half of the contents of an average dustbin can be composted.

Making your own compost can help to make your more self sufficient within your garden. Compost can be used to feed and condition the soil. It can be applied as a mulch, incorporated within planting holes or used as an ingredient in potting mixtures.

Your compost heap
You can either purchase a composter or make your own composter out of old pallets, and cover the heap with cardboard or polythene.  The key is to have somewhere that is enclosed and protected from sunlight, as this will help the heap retain moisture. It needs to be of an adequate size, and a cube of approx 1m is ideal for a medium sized garden. Place the compost heap in a partially shaded area.

What to put on your compost heap
You are aiming to produce a rich, crumbly, sweet smelling compost. Compost is made from recycled garden and kitchen waste and some waste materials such as paper and cardboard. You need to ensure that you are putting the right quantities of materials on to the compost heap at the right time and let the natural processes do the work. It is the aerobic microbes in the compost heap that break down these materials and produce a usable compost.

Some materials such as grass mowing and young weeds act as activators, quickly rotting down to get the compost going. These nitrate rich fast rotting materials are known as Greens. Other materials act as the body of the compost, rotting slowly and evenly, and include wood chippings and older plant material. These carbon rich slow rotting materials which make the body of compost are known as Browns. You will need to layer your compost evenly with both Brown and Green materials to ensure that the mixture is ideally suited for composting to occur. You can put the following items in your compost heap:

Grass cuttings                                                                                           
Young weeds                                                                                                               
Soft green pruning's                                      
Tea bags                                                                    
Animal manure                                                                              

Woody pruning's/old plants
Hedge clippings
Old plant materials
Cardboard & Waste paper (inc. shredded)
Fruit/vegetable peelings (uncooked) 
Pet bedding (hay/straw/paper/wood shavings)

Do not place perennial weeds directly into the compost heap as the seeds will contaminate the mixture.  Do not place meat, dairy or cooked foods into your composter, as this will attract vermin.

Managing your compost heap.
Compost can be made as quickly as a few months, or as long as a year, depending on what materials you place within it.
Layer the heap with alternate layers of green and brown materials at equal quantities. You are aiming to mix items that settle and exclude air, such as grass mowing, with more open items that tend to dry out such as woody pruning's.

Compost should be kept moist to keep it aerobic so ensure that the heap is protected from sunlight at all times and water as required.  You should aim to water the heap at every 30 cm layer. Turn your heap every 6 weeks if in regular use. This will help to add air into the heap and mix the contents of the composter. The new air will provide oxygen to the microbes that decompose the material. Mix the materials', adding water if dry, and return it to composter to mature. At this time, you may wish to separate the lower layers of well composted material to use sooner within your garden.  

For related articles click onto:
Can you keep bees in your garden?
Feeding plants
Grass maintenance - laying turf
Grass maintenance - sowing a lawn from seed
Green manure: Broad beans
How to build a cold frame
How to grow seeds indoors
How to make compost
How to take a stem cutting
How to propagate from root cuttings
How to propagate from seed
Lawn care
Lawn grasses
Laying concrete
Soil structure
Vegetable crop rotation

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