I’ve had a special request for a blog on compost, so here it is Chelsea! But I think you may be disappointed. Compost is one of those things that I SHOULD be good at, but am not.
Composting is one of the cornerstones of waste reduction and healthy gardening. It involves taking ‘scrap’ organic waste, such as left-over food and garden clippings and turning them into a rich earthy compost to return nutrients and carbon to the garden. Good composting requires the compost heap to reach high temperatures, encouraging particular suites of micro-organisms to do their thing. There are many factors to creating perfect conditions. Sometimes I get them right and produce awesome compost. But most of the time I keep missing them.
- Carbon to Nitrogen ratio. You want this at about 30:1, and achieve it by modifying what you put in – items such as grass clippings are very high in nitrogen, straw and newspaper are carbon rich. I (naughtily) throw in what I happen to have at the time, resulting in spikes of one or the other, rather than a balanced amount.
- Moisture. Composting is a living process and thus needs air and water. I have too much air (the sides of my compost bay are far too open, allowing lots of air movement through). And, particularly in summer, my compost dries out – partially due to the openness of my bay, and partially because I forget to water it…
- Volume. Ideally, you need at least 1m2 of pile to create the right conditions in the middle, so that temperatures can rise. I don’t seem to have enough green waste to ever get this size, so my pile is always too small and therefore sub-optimum.
- Particle size. As logic would suggest, breaking down large items before putting them in the compost bay assists with the speed of breakdown – pieces of around 1 inch in size are best. You guessed it – I’m guilty of not always doing that properly with my garden trimmings.
Right – so now I sound completely useless despite a reasonable grasp of the theory, so you’re wondering if I ever get any benefit out of my compost?!?!
Surprisingly, yes! I think ‘compost’ is a robust process, and does what it can with what it has. I still achieve break-down of my organic ‘waste’, and don’t have particular issues with smell etc. Whenever I am shifting crops through a section of my garden bed, I dig into the soil whatever compost I have at the time. and I continue to achieve good yields in my vegetable garden – with my compost being the main source of nutrients added to the beds.
I like it. And one day I just might get it right all the time, instead of just occasionally!