Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Compost Heaps

There's no two ways about it. A compost heap is pretty much an essential if you have a garden.

Let's start with the basics. According to a well renowned (quickly googled) online dictionary, compost is defined as "A mixture of decaying organic matter, as from leaves and manure, used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients."

That pretty much covers it. You put organic matter that will decompose in a heap, and after some time a material is produced that you can use on the garden that will improve growing conditions.

This article explains in some depth the reasons why and how a compost heap works, from bugs and bacteria to temperature, what you put on it, and how damp it is. I'll go through a lot of that in a lot less depth below.


So, why compost? Well the two main reasons I compost are to feel a wonderful sense of smugness at not throwing huge amounts of kitchen waste to landfill, and to create a material that will improve the quality of my soil, and therefore the quality of my plants.

Adding compost to the soil will improve the nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and magnesium. It's open and crumbly nature will, when dug in help to improve the drainage in soil, and oxygen levels. In a selfish respect, digging compost in to the soil makes further digging a lot easier as, especially for clay soils the heavy material is mixed up with that light organic material making it a much better substance for you to work with. If you add compost to sandy soil on the other hand it makes it heavier and better at retaining the moisture it needs.

Basically compost makes everything better. There is no down side!


On to the 'How'. There's the 'what to compost?' question.

Great image here, covers pretty much everything you can and can't put on. The only thing I'll add is some citrus fruit (especially limes) seem to be on many 'don't' lists. Although I imagine everything in moderation huh?

There are two generally accepted methods of composting. Hot and Cold. Look here for a quick break down. The hot method is more work but works much faster (and kills weed seeds) the cold method requires little work but takes much longer (also doesn't get hot enough to kill off those seeds, so try not to add too many dandelion heads.) Of course you can mix the two, and start of off 'cold' then turn the mixture often to 'heat' it up (this actually just aids getting oxygen to the mix helping those aerobic bacteria)

Lastly in this 'how' bit I shall send you to google for a comprehensive list of compost bins. Google Compost Bin Search. This I should imagine will cover every style, size and shape of bin out there, from buying ready made to making your own.

My local council provides (and delivers) those slightly conical plastic bins with the hatch at the base at a low cost. I'd advise you look at your local council's website to find if they do a similar scheme.

My plan for myself (when I have a garden big enough to house one) is to build my own wooden (from reclaimed pallets or similar) a three stage compost bin.

This video from Growing Wisdom explains the three bin system. I think this is the system used by Monty Don on Gardeners' World too. It sort of means that you are compromising between cold and hot composting. You put a little more effort than in to cold composting, and you get your compost a lot faster, but you can also keep adding matter to the bins in a continuous cycle.


Um...well, everyone with a garden? (Yes. Everyone...see below)


Anywhere that there is a garden that requires some compost. Including all of you with only a balcony or a courtyard. (yeeah, I heard all you balcony owners starting to whine...)







 (As you may have worked out, I lifted the entire section above, it's all a link to the source)

So. To summarise: Put decomposable matter on heap of choice, getting mix of brown and green right, mix or turn as often as you want, when its brown, crumbly and smells nice, spread on and mix in to garden. There you go, instantly improve your garden!
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