There are fewer habits a gardener can develop that are of greater benefit than composting. Dedication and persistence are rewarded with a cost effective means to fertilise your garden, not to mention a practical use for your garden and household green waste. So, this week’s editorial will focus on how to begin your own compost areas and what (and what not!) to include in the base ingredients.
There are a number of ready-made options for bins available on the market, but, if you go the homemade route, then there’s the question of how to store your compost so that it doesn’t end up an unsightly pile on the lawn. The simplest type of bin you can make yourself is an enclosed cylinder or cube of chicken wire supported by cane or posts, however, this will not be as effective as boxed in compost as it will not contain the heat required to encourage bacterial decomposition. Aside from this, once the material rots down and becomes finer, it will begin to leak through the holes in the wire.
To remedy this you may wish to take another DIY route and construct your own rustic bin from (preferably) reclaimed timber, or even old wooden pallets. Ideally you would have two, or even three, such bins, so that one can ‘cook’ while the other is still being added to. A piece of old carpet on the top will keep the heat in, whilst loose boards slotted into the front of the bin will allow for easy turning of the heap to encourage even composting.
Or, if you’re feeling particularly ingenious, you might devise a self-turning composter from a pair of old rubbish bins. Placing the smaller of your two cans inside the large, begin your compost pile with a few inches of brown matter (shredded newspaper and cardboard are excellent for this) followed by a fistful of soil and a few inches more of green matter (fruit and vegetable waste or direct plant matter). Give the whole pile a few seconds under the hose and be sure to drill holes in the base of both bins so the compost does become asphyxiated and anaerobic. The inner barrel should be then well shaken twice a month and this will save you the labour of a pitchfork, whilst turning your compost effectively.
You can compost most of your green garden waste, though not pernicious weeds, nor any diseased material, (which is best burned), and all your kitchen green waste. Generally speaking most conventional composting methods cannot cope with meat or fish as they cannot rot them down efficiently and they may also attract vermin. It is also quite important to add a mix of materials. A compost bin containing just grass cuttings, for example, would soon become a slimy mess! Interlacing the layers with shredded newspaper is a good way of keeping the compost sweet. If you have access to horse manure, this will also make a valuable contribution to your heap (but never use it fresh on your garden as it will be too acidic).
Other composting containers include the microbe composter, a small indoor waste bin that you lace with a dose of Bokashi microbes, making it a cheaper means of breaking down your compost, not relying on the use of electronic heat.
The wormery, another naturally based method, utilises earthworms to reprocess the apple cores of yesterday to benefit the orchards of tomorrow.
There are of course more efficient and time saving composters, however the price tag is relative to the convenience they provide. There are the top of the line robotic composters, for example, that regulate both the heat and mixing of your waste automatically. The combined effect of extra heating and aeration means these suckers can churn through five pounds of matter a day on average, be it the fish, dairy or meat – materials many conventional composters struggle to break down. However aside from the initial expenditure remember you’ll also have to deal with the extra energy cost per month.
So there it is – the choice is yours. But whichever method you choose, when you spread that beautiful sweet, dark compost, rest assured your garden will thank you for it, with much improved flowering and produce yields, so it will be worth it!
By Josh Ellison