Save money, protect peat bogs – and start making your own compost! Muck in with my step-by-step guide to this magical mulch…
Hollywood actresses Julia Roberts, Bette Midler and Alicia Silverstone can often be found fertility boosting, top dressing and conditioning – but it has nothing to do with their close ups.
Despite their glamorous lifestyles, the actresses are part of a growing number of celebrities turning to the dark, crumbly side: composting kitchen scraps and garden waste to make sweet-smelling, humus rich ‘black gold’.
And it’s not just a load of old rot.
Far from being the preserve of green-fingered gardeners, composting has benefits for everyone – transforming old food into new and reusing waste that would otherwise be destined for landfill.
Add to this the way it reduces our reliance on precious peat, cuts down on chemical fertilizers and provides a home for hundreds of beneficial insects – and composting is the one-stop shop for the eco warrior.
Heap or bin?
It’s handy then, that we have the ultimate in waste disposal at our fingertips. Red, tiger, or brandling worms love nothing more than eating their way through organic matter, turning scraps into super soil – and while this process happens quite naturally every day and all around us, with the right ingredients we can speed up the process.
An informal pile at the bottom of the garden is fine for the beginner, but in reality containing your waste makes it easier and quicker to extract the good stuff. What you choose depends on your space too – where a wooden compost bin holds more debris and naturally aerates, a black ‘Dalek-style’ bin benefits from being compact, so is a good choice for small gardens.
Black bins tend to compost faster too because they heat up more quickly, and the worms do better when conditions are warm. If material is added quickly and regularly, you might be able to create a ‘hot heap’, which has the benefit of destroying weed seeds and diseases too. But be careful, as too much heat will kill the worms.
Two heaps are also better than one, as you’ll need one for new material and one for composted material, and all compost bins need to be sited directly onto the soil so the beneficial microbes can get in and the composting liquid can get out.
The right mix
Like a good coffee everyone has his or her favourite blend, but there’s no mystery or magic involved in making compost.
For the perfect garden stew, you simply need a good balance of carbon (browns), nitrogen (greens), and air and water.
Browns can be provided by shredded paper and cardboard, while greens such as plant and kitchen waste inject the nitrogen – and you need roughly 50/50 of each. Good things to compost include coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, egg cartons, vegetable and fruit peelings and garden cuttings, but go to www.recyclenow.com for a complete list of what you can and can’t compost.While many believe you should also turn your heap regularly – forking the bottom layer onto the top – others allow the worms do the hard work, and, if you’ve got your balance of ingredients right, this should work a treat.
Once the base of your bin turns crumbly and darkly coloured, dig it out and use as a soil conditioner around hungry plants such as fruit bushes and trees (avoiding the stems and trunks), as a top up for containerised plants (scrape off the top few centimeters and mix in a handful) or for feeding your lawn.
Compost acts as the perfect mulch in the summer to stop water evaporating, prevents soil erosion in winter, suppresses weeds, and adds much needed nutrients to your soil. In fact, although it takes 12 to 18 months for your scraps to transform into crumbly, spongy goodness – composting is worth its ‘wait’ in gold.