Compost is a crucial element of any well-managed garden.
A well-built hot compost can break down several cubic metres of organic material in a matter of weeks, and is an excellent way to concentrate large amounts of material quickly; or you can take the cool, slow route, by generating an environment worms will be happy in. Both will create high quality plant food which your leafy friends will love!
Get started by keeping a scrap bucket in your kitchen. An old ice cream container is ideal because it fills up quickly and needs to be emptied while it’s reasonably fresh. Into this container goes all your organic material – food scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, veggie off-cuts and old tea bags. If you wish, you can keep a separate bucket for soup stock ingredients (refrigerate if necessary). Simmer this up while it’s still good, strain it, make soup from the liquid and put what’s left into your compost.
Try to keep animal products to a minimum. If you do produce bone, try burying it in scattered places around the garden as soil acidity functions in such a way as to break down calcium and alkaline material quickly when needed and more slowly when not, so think of bones as slow-release calcium, nitrogen, and phosphorus banks in the garden. If in doubt, trust your dog.
Compost piles and worm farms come in many forms and you don’t need to buy anything especially – remember, all the magic is in the food you’re contributing. Choose an enclosure you feel comfortable having in your garden. Compost containers are generally open to the soil to encourage worms and bacteria to migrate in, and sealed with chicken wire on bottom and a lid on top to keep larger vermin out.
Besides scraps, your compost needs two parts carbon. Generally, this is brown – old leaves, sticks, coffee grounds. See how it goes as your compost ages. Healthy compost smells good, so if it gets stinky or slimy it needs more carbon and aeration; this might occur if there are a lot of fruit scraps. If it’s dry and not much is happening, water it and add more scraps. You want the scraps and carbon material fairly evenly distributed. What’s doing the work in there is aerobic bacteria, and those guys are tiny. Save them a long commute and mix your compost well.
Seal your compost in with a hessian sack (which will break down eventually) or a few inches of leaves and put a lid on it. Once it’s balanced and on its way, stir it occasionally but otherwise let it go. You’ll know your compost is ready when it feels and smells like dark, rich soil.
If you’re pressed for space, feel free to drop your scraps to the compost area of our community garden at the Addison Road Centre! We’re usually around Sunday afternoons and always keen to make new friends and see more people learn how to garden organically.
Words: Matthew Moore, Addison Road Community Garden. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.