Making your own compost
Why composting makes sense
First of all you can turn your fading flowers, grass and hedge cuttings as well as coffee grinds cardboard and kitchen scraps into something very valuable – without any expenses! Its free compost!
By making compost you also create less waste (landfill sites are full already)
By turning your plant material and weeds into humus rich and fertile compost you complete the cycle and return something full of nutrition and live to your soil. Which in return produces new crops . Composting is so much more sustainable then adding chemical fertilizers and letting your plant material go to waste .
For organic and biodynamic gardeners the compost heap becomes the source for fertile soil and healthy crops. Adding compost to your soil also improves the structure of the soil (breaks up clay soil and makes sandy soil more moisture retentive
WHAT can go on or into the compost heap?
Any compost heap needs a mix of materials like green plant material (grass clippings, leaves, old bedding plants, weeds, vegetable and fruit peelings and also brown material like twigs, shredded branches from pruning, cardboard, non glossy paper. Some materials decays faster than others and shredding or chopping very fibrous material (like cabbage and broccoli stalks..) helps to speed up the process into compost.
DON’T add any plastic, meat and bones,cat litter or dog faeces, Cardboard with plastic film, glossy magazines or diseased plant material to your compost.
HOW does it work?
Your compost heap is a bit like the digestive system of your garden. By adding nitrogen rich plants plus material high in carbon and making sure there is enough air (oxygen) and water (or moisture) in your compost heap you start a healthy decomposing or ” burning” process. There are millions of micro organism at work and it is important to keep an eye on the ratio of Carbon and Nitrogen.The ideal ratio for compost is 30:1 The higher the content of carbon (leaves, cardboard,straw, sawdust) the slower the burning process.
IF you have enough material ready to start a compost heap in one go (needs to be at least 1.5 meters by 1.5 meters in size) it’s called a ‘hot compost heap’ as the temperatures will reach 60 to 70 degrees C in the first 3 days and then slowly degreases. The compost is ready after 6 weeks if the conditions are right. Most of us will add a little bit at a time but it is still advice able to have a fair amount of mixed material ready when you start a compost heap and add as much as possible at a time to keep the temperature up in the compost heap. Always make sure there is enough air and moisture in the heap to keep the burning process going. Too little air or too much water in your compost and you end up with a slimy smelly mass of fermenting plants, attracting flies and other unwanted visitors.
In the summer the rotting process is of course faster and adding comfrey leaves or already de-composted soil from an old heap increases the speed.
WHERE should the compost heap be situated ?
As a rule of thumb the heap should be sheltered from extreme weather , heat, wind or shade. So if you live in a hot country you need to find some shade and in cooler and wetter climates the compost heap will need some sunshine and shelter from too much rain (an old peace of carpet or plastic should do)and also protection from too much wind. Some shrubs can be planted as shelter or comfrey plants or other ornamental plants as well as willow hurtles can make a good and eye catching shelter to your compost heap.
For practical reasons, the compost heap should be easily accessible and if possible a source of water (rainwater) nearby. Make sure you have access with a wheel barrow
Always place the compost heap on living soil and prepare the area (if possible 1.5 by 1.5 meters)by either adding sand and grit for clay soil or clay on sandy soil. There are many kits available in garden centres or build your own using old wood, palettes,or whatever is available. Other options for composting are bins, or wormeries but they work slightly differently.
The Biodynamic gardener adds special compost preparations to the heap (available from the BDAA) which come with instructions. The compost preparations are made from dandelion,chamomile, oak bark ,yarrow,nettle and valerian. They have been stored under special conditions and represent minerals like Sulphur, Iron, Calcium . By adding small amounts to your compost heap, you bring live force to your heap and soil and make it easier for the plants to absorb nutrition during the growing process