Summer’s here at last, and the garden is looking its most luscious. Everything’s putting out shoots left, right and centre, and we won’t even mention the weeds…! Why not put some of that green growth to good use, and start composting this summer?
Composting is by far the ‘greenest’ way to handle kitchen and garden waste, and it brings the significant bonus of lots of free soil improver to add to your garden. If you don’t already have a composting corner, now’s the perfect time to create one. With plenty of cuttings, grass clippings and weeds to add, and (hopefully!) enough heat to break down the organic matter, you can really kick-start your composting habit. Be warned, though – it’s easy to become just that little bit obsessed!
Think outside the box
First, you need to choose what you are going to compost in. A plastic compost bin is an ideal way to start composting, since they retain moisture much better than an open heap. These bins are available very cheaply from many UK local authorities; check www.getcomposting.com to see if the scheme is available in your area. And the bigger, the better, since larger bins can hold a greater mass of compost, and are therefore able to generate and retain the necessary heat much better than smaller containers.
Place your container on an earth base, to allow free access to the bacteria, worms and creepy-crawlies which will work their magic. It’s better to use a shady spot, to avoid ‘cooking’ the life within in very strong summer sun – plus, you probably want to use that sunny spot for something a little more aesthetically pleasing.
A balancing act
You probably know about ‘greens’ and ‘browns’, and how you need to mix it up. But getting the right balance really is crucial, or you’ll end up either with a bin full of dry twigs which won’t break down, or a dribble of smelly mush seeping from the bottom of the bin. A good compost mix is around 25% green to 75% brown material.
So what type of materials are we talking about?
- Grass clippings
- Leafy green growth from perennials
- Fruit & vegetable kitchen waste
- Annual weeds (although be careful with adding these)
- Woody prunings & hedge trimmings
- Wood chips
- Paper and cardboard
- Dead leaves
When adding material to your bin, try to avoiding letting one type of waste build up in a solid layer. In particular, grass clippings can become quite compacted in the summer months, forming a dense mat which won’t break down, so do try to avoid adding too much of this in one go.
Turning the compost regularly is the best way to help the waste break down. Introducing air throughout the compost helps the bacteria do their work, and dramatically accelerates the process. Our flexi compost aerator works like a giant corkscrew – simply twist it into the heap, then pull out to mix things up a bit! Use every week or two to keep waste moving around the bin and breaking down efficiently.
Turning the compost also gives the opportunity to check how moist it is – if it gets too dry, the bacteria in the compost stop working. Remember, they’re most effective at a level of dampness that’s around the same as a squeezed-out sponge. If the compost starts to look too dry, give it some water. Try to use rainwater, as some people believe that chlorinated tap water can have an adverse effect on the bacteria in the compost. Alternatively, use tap water, but let it stand for a few hours before using it.
War on weeds
A lot of gardeners avoid composting weeds. They are, after all, famously tough, and can survive in conditions which would kill off many more tender plants – in a compost bin, for example. You definitely do not want to add any weeds with seed heads or fresh roots to your compost, as a small domestic compost bin will not reach the temperatures necessary to kill off these unwanted nasties. They’ll lurk in the compost until the day you add it to your soil… only to discover that you’ve given your garden a liberal sprinkling of couch grass, or bindweed roots. Every gardener’s nightmare.
A good way of ‘disarming’ weeds is to drown them. Place the weeds in a bucket, weigh them down with a brick or rock, and cover them entirely with water. Cover the bucket to keep out light and stop evaporation, and leave it alone for at least a month. After this, you can use the strained ‘weed tea’ as liquid fertilizer (dilute it first), and the soggy remnants of the drowned weeds can be safely added to the compost.
And that’s about it. You can add a compost accelerator to the mix, but turning it regularly brings about a comparable acceleration – and lets you check it for moisture levels, creepy crawlies, and other indicators of a good, healthy micro-environment. In around six months you should have rich, crumbly dark compost to add to your soil – gardeners’ black gold!