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Garden Composting
Garden compost is plant matter such as kitchen waste, hedge clippings, grass cuttings, cardboard etc that has decomposed and become an important supply of home made compost suitable for top dressing, potting compost, soil improver and more.

A good garden compost needs to be nutrient rich so keeping an eye on what goes in your compost bin is good practice, a mixture of nitrogen rich materials (grass cuttings, soft plant matter and kitchen waste) needs to be mixed with a mixture of carbon rich materials (bark, cardboard and paper) to a ratio of 1:2. Grass clippings need to be mixed with other materials to avoid compaction and stagnation.

In summer, compost can be used to top dress your borders (mulching) to help retain moisture and to keep roots cool.

Air and water are needed to break down the plant material. During this process heat is produced which will destroy weeds and disease spores. The amount of heat produced varies according to the size of your bin or heap.

Compost heaps can aerated by turning the heap or using a specifically designed compost aerator tool.

Do not put any roots onto the compost heap as these may harbour disease. Spring to early summer waste will produce good compost for the autumn.

In a very wet season cover the heap or composter with polythene to prevent the materials getting waterlogged.

Good things to add to your compost heap.

Grass cuttings, hay, kitchen waste including tea bags (some modern tea bags use plastic bags and these need to split open to access the tea), leaves, manure, straw, weeds (avoid pernicious weeds and weeds gone to seed), wood chips, saw dust, shredded paper, human and animal hair, corn cobs and stalks, twigs, coffee grounds, raw fruit, comfrey leaves, cardboard, egg boxes, gerbil/hamster/rabbit bedding.


Bad things to add to your compost heap

Pet waste, plastics, pernicious weeds, bones, fatty foods, human waste, diseased plants, chemically treated wood, cooked food, coal and coke ash, cat litter, glossy magazines, baby nappies. Meat and dairy items will start to smell bad unless your compost heap/bin is tended to regularly and is of sufficient temperature to break them down. It may help to speed up the decomposing process if these items were blended first.


A Wormery is an easy, efficient system of converting food waste into liquid feed and rich organic compost through the natural action of worms. The Wormery is divided up into a number of chambers, one of which houses the worms. Drop your daily kitchen waste into the bin, the worms feed on the food waste and convert it into concentrated liquid feed and Bio-rich organic compost.

The wormery can handle ordinary kitchen waste such as peelings, cooked and uncooked scraps, teabags, eggshells, paper kitchen towels, even shredded newspaper etc. It will produce a strong, nutrient rich liquid feed which you dilute with water prior to use as an excellent plant food for house plants, garden flowers, shrubs, vegetables or as a lawn feed, and a rich organic compost.

The History of Composting

Throughout history the art of composting has played its role in many societies with references made to inscriptions on tablets during the Akkadian Dynasty (2329BC - 2120BC) to the writings from the early Roman era AD23 - 79.

In 1940 Sir Albert Howard made the breakthrough when he published a paper called 'An Agricultural Testament'. This English botanist had spent 29 years in India as an advisor originally sent to pass on his knowledge of western techniques and found that the techniques already being used there were superior to his own ways. Based at a government funded farm at Indore he went on to modernise and revolutionise their methods and created the Indore technique which changed the face of composting.

The Indore technique is a method of making compost that comprises the fundamental basics needed. A layer of leaves and weeds, a smaller layer of manure then a layer of topsoil repeated until the heap was of a big enough size, kept moist and turned regularly was deemed to be the best way of getting a quality compost.

Successful Composting

Compost plays a huge part of everyday horticulture, farming and more so nowadays in household gardening. Generally people who compost now do not use heaps or have parts of their land specifically for compost as compost bins are readily  available. Compost bins work just as well as long as the produce that goes into them is suitable.

Depending on how long you wish to wait for your compost will determine how much effort you need to put in. Good quality compost can be obtained in up to three months however if you wish Mother Nature to do her thing while you sit back and relax expect to wait up to a year.

When choosing the container in which you will be doing your composting it is a matter of personal choice. There are wooded compost bins available which look more natural and seem to fit into gardens better but they can be slightly less productive as plastic ones, if you do not tend to them, as they do not hold the moisture as well. Wooden compost bins will require a bit of diligence to ensure your compost does not dry out. Also if the slats on wooden boxes are too far apart they can allow heat to escape which will also lower the productivity of the waste. Wire mesh bins can be used for composting certain materials but not for multi purpose as they allow too much heat escape. They are however useful on a large scale as they will hold enough material together to generate heat as long as they have a lid or cover on. 

A standard office shredder makes recycling card and paper quicker and easier, definitely one of the best purchases I made last year.

Any container that you look at should be bottomless preferably to allow natural organisms such as bacteria, worms and insects to roam freely around the waste. All containers should be used following manufacturers guidelines to ensure maximum results. Once you have chosen the type of container you will be using you need to choose a site for it. It should be sited on soil or grass but also close to the house for easy access.
Making Garden Compost

The perfect garden compost should contain a mix of carbon rich material such as shredded paper and bark and nitrogen rich material such as grass clippings. Use thin layers of grass clippings to increase air circulation and shred any large pieces of wood to aid decay. If it is not possible for you to shred the woody bits add them anyway and when you come to use your compost simply put them back in the next batch. Add to this the kitchen waste from the above list and you should be well on your way to making compost that will look crumbly, dark and smelling sweet. If you require the compost process to be speeded up then more nitrogen is needed and although you can buy this in the form of a chemical organic gardeners know the best natural source is from manure. Alternate levels of organic matter and manure for the best results. Heat is a major factor in creating the perfect compost but it does not necessarily have to come from the sun.

Making Garden Compost

The heap should heat itself up within a couple of weeks and turning or agitating the soil will aid the process by allowing the heat to move around the pile. Your compost should not smell if it does it means you have an imbalance in the pile. Too much nitrogen and you get a whiff of ammonia simply add more carbon and less manure if that is what you are using. Too little air and you get a whiff of rotten eggs simply turn your compost to aid circulation. A general rule of thumb is to also balance the moist products you put in with the dry ones.
You don't want your compost drying out nor do you want it to be a soggy mess. It should always look wet but not soggy. If you think it is drying out either add water or add more grass clippings or kitchen waste. If you think it is veering towards the soggy side then add more newspaper and cardboard. By combining equal amounts of brown and green waste you will achieve an ideal mix and it won't take long before this balancing act becomes second nature to you.
Using Natural Assistance

Worms are seen by some as a pest but they prove that your garden is healthy and thriving. Worms help to loosen the soil allowing air and water to circulate more freely thus providing a better environment for your soil. A worm's excretion is made up of high levels of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous which soil needs to be productive. Using worms in your compost will provide good air and water circulation, will provide essential nutrients needed to break down matter and will also prevent pests and diseases from taking hold. Worms also speed up the composting process so having a wormery is a good way of ensuring quality compost. If using a wormery it is important to get the correct worm to put in it. Earthworms are usually found in the garden and live quite deep so their job is mainly tending the flower beds and vegetable plots. Composting worms can be bought and your local garden centre or online supplier can offer advice on the best type to use. Worms will populate themselves in relation to their environment so you will never end up with too many. When buying a wormery and the worms to go in it, it is essential to follow the manufacturers guidelines so that your worms do not die and that you get maximum results from them.

Composting in the 21st Century

It is easy today to get started composting on whatever scale you need as there is so much advice out there and places to get equipment and accessories from. Even properties that have the smallest gardens can compost adequately. Biodegradable bags, composting sacks, kitchen caddy's, soils sifters and organic accelerators to name but a few are all on the market aiming to make your composting experience stress free. Of course the die hard few out there will continue to compost with maximum effort using tried and tested methods but for those beginners or for those who have little time on their hands there is nothing wrong with cutting a few corners. In today's ecological state it is vital that we all do our bit to help our planet and composting is a large part of that. We already recycle all of our goods with the help of our local councils so why not recycle the waste we have and turn it into something to help not only our gardens but our planet. Composting in a garden is much more efficient than sending it all to a landfill, as landfills do not offer the correct environment for the waste to decompose correctly. They compact the waste so much that air can not infiltrate the heap thus creating a release of the gas methane which is harmful to the planet's atmosphere. In a garden the correct amount of air can circulate thus decreasing the methane released and giving you a perfect product at the end for use in your garden. It is vital that we all do our bit to lower greenhouse gases and composting is a perfect way of doing this whilst ensuring your garden is given luxury treatment with this nutrient rich food.

To pee or not to pee: That is the question.

Allotment holders like me are used to peeing into a bucket (sorry), but what do we do with it? Well, its nitrogen rich and great for speeding up the rotting process of your compost. Especially if you have a lot of woody material. Add it to your heap in small quantities and keep an eye on the pH levels. Remember urine is 95% water and its free. If your still not convinced, nitrogen compost accelerators are available at your local garden centre or online.

Garden Soil


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