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