One of the easiest ways to add essential nutrients to your soil is by adding compost, and with the proposed ban on the sale of peat-free composts creeping closer, there’s never been a better time to make your own. It’s not just garden waste that creates the perfect blend, so you’ll be doing yourself a favour as well as the environment. Whilst there are a few considerations, techniques and preferences, to get a compost heap started, you just need to do it!
A compost pile can be started at any time of year, but autumn will see an increase in the necessary waste, although you could see a slowing down of decomposition in the winter months. You can either buy a compost bin (speak to a member of staff in-store to find the right one for your outdoor space) or find a secluded spot in your garden and create a compost heap. There are a few essentials for it’s location: it’ll need to be around 1m², open and level ground, and with good drainage (soggy compost just doesn’t work); partial sun / partial shade will help to prevent the pile drying out or becoming water-logged, and somewhere that won’t be disturbed by pets will prevent unwanted deposits! It’s never going to look pretty, let’s be honest, but you can shield it from view with a few fence panels or some of your favourite, taller plants or shrubs.
Once you have a suitable spot, starting your compost heap is fairly simple: avoid using a sheet or concrete base as you’ll need the ground to help aerate your pile, but if you want to raise it slightly, a pallet would work well. Then, start adding the magic!
You could be forgiven for thinking that garden and kitchen waste were all you needed to create the perfect compost, but that’s not the case… ‘Brown’ waste is just as important, and some kitchen waste is not suitable at all. Ideally a 50/50 mix of Nitrogen – provided by rotting green waste – and Carbon – derived from brown waste – is the way to go; frequent turning of the pile will aerate it and water is key too to enable the breaking down of the waste… though not too much. Rain should provide what you need, but if we have a few dry spells, you’ll need to take action and throw a bucket of water on the pile weekly – it needs to be damp, not soaking. Similarly, if we have an extended spell of rain, turning the pile more often or adding more brown waste will stop it getting too wet and slimy and encouraging the wrong bacteria – wrong bacteria = ruined compost.
Once all the correct ingredients are in place, all that’s left to do is turn the pile regularly by scraping up the outer parts and scooping them onto the middle of the pile, continuing until you find material that’s already decomposing; that should be done every two to four weeks.
If the balance of waste and water is right, you’ll find that the middle of your compost pile starts to heat up, and that heat is necessary to rid your compost of harmful bacteria and seeds, whilst sterilising it. Keep turning the pile, and within two months, you could have your very own compost! If it’s not as quick as you’d like, activators will speed up the process, and they too are available in-store.
So what can you add to your pile? What constitutes ‘brown’, what constitutes ‘green’ waste, and what should you avoid?
Brown waste: dead leaves, branches and twigs, although larger ones should be shredded; hay, straw and wood shavings work well, along with shredded newspaper and cardboard.
Green waste: leaves, weeds, fruit and vegetable peelings, cores and scraps are great, as is farm manure; grass clippings are the ideal material, but a lot of them will mean turning the pile more often as the rapid decomposition can affect the air and encourage the dominance of bad bacteria, and remember what we said about the wrong bacteria…
To be avoided: dairy, fats, oils and meat and fish – the latter might attract vermin, and meat in particular takes a long time to decompose; wood that’s been treated with preservatives or plants that have been treated with pesticides; diseased and pest-infested plants, as well as invasive weeds or any leaves and plants that show signs of disease or fungal spots; charcoal ash and glossy or coloured newspapers or magazines as the dye may make your compost toxic; dog and cat waste as there is always the potential for harmful bacteria or parasites.
There’s a long-held belief that oak leaves affect the pH level of the soil, increasing it, so they should also be avoided, but it appears that is not so…
Be sure to layer your brown and green waste, with bulkier brown waste (twigs and branches) first and between two and four layers of each, add a little water to the brown waste layers and mix them up with a shovel or garden fork, and there your composting begins!
The finished product can be used as a fertiliser, a mulch, potting soil, or even brewed to make compost tea that’s quickly absorbed, and the best part is it can easily be replenished.
It may not be the most attractive addition to your garden, but it will most certainly help the most attractive additions to your garden, so why not give it a go?