Think about this – your garden can actually generate its own nutrient supply. We’re talking compost of course, that lovely rich organic material which is made by recycling kitchen and garden waste and is so good for the soil. In an age where we all strive to reduce our waste footprint, it’s a win-win situation – less waste and a healthier garden. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to become a composter.
In small gardens, a compost bin with a lid is the easiest option but if you have more space, you could consider building a three-sided timber bin or even make one out of timber pallets or concrete blocks. Whatever containment you choose, position it on bare earth, so that earthworms and other soil organisms can come up and join the party.
When it comes to what you add to the heap, there is method involved. Compost is a combination of green waste (wet stuff), which provides nitrogen, and brown waste (dry stuff), which provides carbon. A good ratio to follow is about one-third green waste to two-thirds brown. But it’s not an exact science, so work with what you have.
What to compost (and what not to)
The green waste ingredients include green grass clippings, leaves, weeds (with seed heads removed), spent flowers, tea leaves, coffee grounds and fruit and vegie scraps from the kitchen. Brown waste includes fallen leaves (especially from deciduous trees), straw, sawdust, shredded paper and wood ash.
As for the no-nos: avoid any plants that are diseased, any seed heads from weedy plants or any meat, dairy or manure from pets.
Tricks of the pile
- Start with a layer of brown waste, such as a bedding of straw or dry leaves, laid onto the ground. Add some wet material on top of this, then continue in layers. Get into the habit of topping up with garden and kitchen waste as often as possible. Compost decomposes faster if it’s covered, so make sure your bin has a lid or else cover with cardboard or a tarp.
- Turn the pile with a garden fork from time to time, to aerate it and mix the different layers of ingredients together. To help the breakdown process, and to ensure a nutrient-rich finished product, add a few handfuls of organic fertiliser occasionally – cow manure or blood and bone are ideal. You can also buy compost activators, which will help the process along for you.
- Monitor the moisture levels. You want the heap to be damp enough for the waste to break down, but not wet. Check when you’re topping it up and, if it’s too dry, spray it with the garden hose. If on the other hand, the pile gets too wet and soggy, the solution is to add more dry material like straw or paper and fork it through.
- Compost can take a few months to fully break down. When it has decomposed nicely, start drawing it out from the base (most bins feature a little flap for the purpose). You can spread it over your garden soil like a mulch, forking it in lightly, and also use it to improve the soil when planting.
- Peelings and organic waste in a wooden crate create homemade compost.
- Consider adding ‘red wigglers’ to your compost. They make it even better for your plants.