Welcome back to Part 3 of my series about ‘How To Grow Vegetables’.
In Part 1 I looked at planning your kitchen garden and in Part 2 at improving your soil. Now I am going to ask you to consider making your own compost. Really I should have called this post ‘How I Make Compost’ as I am not intending to cover everything about the variety and science of compost making right now. Instead I am going to share with you my recipe for good garden compost. Although my method takes a year to ‘cook’, it is the least labour intensive method you can choose and gives me excellent results.
When we first arrived here in August 2009 there were no compost bins on the property. There was, however, a lovely heap of leaf mould in the corner you can see above and a generous pile of horse muck outside the old paddock. I am a great believer in enriching my soil with compost, both when I prepare a new bed and thereafter as an annual top dressing, so my number one priority on moving in was to sort out some compost bins.
The corner where the leaf mould was lying seemed an obvious choice of location – it was off the main walk around the garden and had two good walls to provide a structure to work from. Bearing in mind that the garden exceeds 5 acres I knew that a lot of garden waste would be produced and that I would be able to use all the compost I could make. I opted for brick built bins on the basis that these would last the longest. Wood or corrugated iron would work just as well.
The result was a plan to build four big bins. Within the first month I had a builder in for a day working on my compost bins. These large bins were built with breeze blocks, a dirt floor and an open front that can be closed up with planks of wood as the heap grows. Each year I fill 2 bins with garden waste, stopping at the end of February. The bins are then left untouched until the following January, when we start to spread the compost around the garden beds, aiming to empty the 2 cooked bins by the time grass cutting starts in March. The end result is 2 empty bins in March to take all of next years garden waste and two full bins ‘cooking’ to be ready for the next winter.
This bin is currently being filled. Into here has gone grass cuttings, garden trimmings, kitchen waste, straw and sawdust from cleaning the chickens and rabbits (this is done weekly) and any other dry material we can find such as newspapers and cardboard boxes. The trick is to try to layer the grass cuttings with a generous amount of other materials to stop them becoming a slimy smelly mess. The contents of the bins are not turned – just left to rot down over the year. If any of the content is not quite ready when the compost is dug out, it is left in the open air for a few weeks more and quickly breaks down.
This bin is now full and will be left until January 2015. You can see that already the contents are starting to break down and by next winter this will be a lovely, crumbly consistency.
This bin has been ‘cooking’ since February 2013 and is now ready to use.
This bin has been emptied over the last few weeks. A thin layer of compost has been left in the bottom to help start off the next batch. Compost is full of worms and micro organisms, so it is important never to completely empty a bin as these living things will multiply and break down the next lot of waste more quickly.
I also like to save as many of the leaves as possible and store them in these wire bins to break down into leaf mould. Early next autumn, before the main leaf fall starts, these cages will be emptied and the contents deposited in a heap near to the woodland beds. As I weed these beds throughout the winter months, I will spread the leaf mould over the surface to enrich the soil and keep down weeds.
Here is Hardy enjoying the view from the mound and below are a couple of pictures of the chickens, who add so much good material to the compost.
So there you have it – very simple compost. I think the addition of all that chicken and rabbit material helps to improve my compost, but it is not essential. Also my heaps are extremely large, but this system would work in a much smaller space. If you have the room I would suggest buying ready made wooden bins (Harrod Horticultural is good for this kind of purchase) that are easily assembled. Two bins would work very well, with one cooking whilst the other is being filled.
For small gardens there are now lots of nifty options for small compost bins that will produce compost very quickly. Again a good look through the Harrod Horticultural website would give you some ideas.
I really am quite evangelical about making your own compost! So much of what we would otherwise dispose of such as kitchen waste, paper and cardboard can be made into compost and any vegetables that you fail to eat can be put on the compost heap with a clear conscience, knowing that they will eventually reappear as compost to enrich the soil for next seasons growing.
Finally, in case you are wondering how I manage to move all that compost I need to admit to having help in the garden. Whilst I look after the greenhouse and most of the beds myself, this is a very large plot and I have help each week with the general maintenance, grass cutting and heavy jobs.
Now that we have planned our plots, marked out the beds and started a compost heap to provide a soil enriching mulch for next autumn, it is finally time to think about what we want to grow. Part 4 will look at planning for the year and what I will be sowing in February.
All that is left is to wish you a happy weekend! I will be back with Flowers On Sunday, which this week will feature a Burn’s Night flowery theme.