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What I Wish I Knew About Composting

What I wish I knew about composting when I first began my gardening journey would have saved years of hard labour!

What I wish I knew about composting would have speeded up my successes. The images shows a handful of rich friable compost.
Adding compost to your garden will enrich your soils and produce strong, healthy plants.

It’s easy to be one or two steps ahead and forget the basics. Every gardener has a starting point, composting can be a minefield for the beginner gardener. If you perfect this technique your garden will reward you time and time again.

Composting for the beginner and why Compost?

I guess we really ought to start with the question why compost? The answer is quick and easy, it helps us to get rid of our garden waste. That is the first thought that may come into your head.  You may believe it is a great way to recycle your garden waste and contribute to the environment. As your journey continues you will look upon composting your garden waste from a different perspective. This will come when you see the results of composting. Your garden waste will turn into black gold, and this will be a big boost for your plants. There are many more hours to be spent on why composting, but this is a starting point.

A wooden box filled with compost ready to use.

What I wish I knew about composting is a science in itself

What I wish I knew about Composting like gardening is a science in itself. When you get the science right your composting is truly turns into black gold! This is the term given to a rich and friable medium that is the end product of composting. When you begin to make your compost getting the balance between the different materials can sometimes be tricky. If your compost is beginning to smell or smells when you turn it over that’s not good. When this happens it’s an indicator that there is not enough oxygen entering the heap. This article from the Composting Magazine explains in greater detail the science behind composting. 

What I Wish I knew About Composting

Composting for the beginner gardener ideally starts with two wooden compost frames as the images shows.

A compost heap has around half of the oxygen levels or lower, than the oxygen in the atmosphere. Within the decomposing garden waste and food scraps, there are trillions of microorganisms going to work. These beneficial microscope creatures feast on the contents and devour the waste effectively. The optimum oxygen level is 5% for them to work at their fastest. When we don’t get the right oxygen levels this can slow the whole process down considerably.

Composting on a large scale

Cow manure stacked in a pile waiting to be used.
Large pile of cow manure, this is my top choice for new beginner gardeners

Now most people do not compost on a large scale. I had the fortunate opportunity to see the chimney effect of composting in action when working at Powis Castle Gardens. We would create huge haystack compost heaps.

The heat would rise from the centre and be drawn up and out through the top layer. This action cause oxygen to be drawn in from the open sides then move through the centre. The centre builds up heat which in turn speeds up the breakdown of materials to create compost.

We would turn the big haystacks with a front-end loader on a tractor. Turning the compost means what is at the top goes to the bottom and vice versa. By doing this the whole stack gets heated up to breakdown the garden waste. The stack will sit for six months before turning and remain for a further six months.

If the materials have broken down within that timescale, the whole heap would be used in the garden to mulch and feed the borders.

What can we compost?

Many gardeners wish they knew more about composting. the image shows a mix of waste vegetables in a compost heap.
So many things can be composted just like these unused vegetables

We have covered some fundamental points so far. Now it’s time to take a look at what we can compost! Materials fall into three main categories browns, greens and manures. These are the main items gardener’s compost. To find out what other items can be composted go to Composting Green and Browns for a more comprehensive list.

Is composting really worth it?

You could be asking yourself is composting really worth it? From my own experiences I believe it is. Using homemade compost you can bring back to life nutrient deprived soils. Within five years of being consistent with compost and mulching you can transform a heavy clay soil.

If you enjoyed this, you might like

How Composting Changed My Gardening Philosophy.

Composting for the Beginner Gardener

Happy gardening, Kristian

Have you subscribed yet? It’s the easiest way to delve deeper on this topic. The following articles in this series will be coming soon and I would hate for you to miss out on this!

3 Critical thing to consider when composting green and browns – what does this mean and what ingredients do I use? 

Making compost – 3 methods of success – here we take a look at 3 easier methods to composting success. 

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