In The Garden

A lot of us have been spending more time in our gardens, those of us who are lucky to have a garden. Now realise that the plants need feeding and sustenance to look beautiful and thrive.
          There are many tricks as to how you make your garden look beautiful. You can cheat and pump your plants with manufactured fertilisers. Though the aphids, slugs and snails can spot that trick a mile away and move in quickly. The garden centre is full of plants in full bloom waiting for you to replace tired ones, so nothing looks too ragged or aged, overgrown or faded. Your pocket and the environment, the peat bogs, your watering bill, your fuel bill, all feel that expense. There are rows of bottles offering small chemical miracles in every garden centre for this purpose. But the best gardeners, make the magic ingredient of great compost. They understand their soil and marry this with the right plants.
          Compost is everything: itís the beginning and end of life; it solves most, if not all, of your garden problems. If your soil is too heavy? It breaks it up. Your soil is too thin, too hungry? It bulks it out and offers up food. It locks in water, suppresses weeds (when made well; when made badly it does the opposite), it keeps the soil warm in winter and cool in summer, it prevents erosion and compaction.
          All you have to do is take the waste from your kitchen and your garden and pile it up somewhere not quite in view, but not quite out of sight either, in a somewhat orderly manner and wait a bit. A good Gardnerís rule is spread mulch out in autumn on clay soils and in spring on sandy soils.
          A thick layer, a couple of inches deep, around every bare bit of ground you can see. Donít pile compost right up around the base of trees or shrubs, they donít like it, everything else doesnít care much.


Compost is best made somewhere contained. A bin, a box, a heap, it breaks down quickest if there is mass that can keep warm. The right ratio between carbon and nitrogen is also important, it will only break down quickly if this is right. You need about 25-30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen. Very simply: carbon is seen as brown stuff and nitrogen as greens. You need roughly equal parts of Ďgreensí and Ďbrownsí by volume.
          Greens include grass clippings, fresh weeds, fresh soft plant growth such as pruning, vegetable peels, tea bags, coffee grounds, animal manures from vegetarian animals (everything from cows to hamsters) and their bedding. If the animal is a lion then you need to rot their manures down separately before adding it to your compost. This prevents pathogens entering your soils.
          Browns include cardboard, pizza boxes, waste paper, shredded paper, newspaper, (I tear up the newspaper into strips and soak them in water before adding them to the heap) toilet roll tubes, tough hedge clippings, woody pruning (the smaller you chop them up the faster they disappear), old bedding plants, old compost, sawdust, bracken, wood shavings, fallen leaves, paper bags, dried plant stems.
          Never put in cooked food, like meat, fish, unless you have a specialist composting system like a bokashi bin, hot box or green cone biodigester (all designed to take food waste) you should avoid dog or cat faeces, disposable nappies. Never put coal or coke ash into the heap because it just remains as it is, gets wet and makes a big mess. All of these carry the potential to either pollute your compost or harbour pathogens. Mostly though they attract rats, and nobody wants rats.
          Compost is easily made as long as you remember to layer up, a layer of brown, green and so on. It's quickest if the layers are not too deep. It matters that the compost is neither too wet nor too dry.
          If it starts to smell itís usually because it is too wet and the conditions are becoming anaerobic; add more browns to soak things up. If it's too dry, water it and add more greens.
          If you have lots of perennial weeds like bindweed, couch grass, docks, brambles and dandelions. My father said to put them into the bin. Because your compost system wonít have the volume to be able to generate the heat that will kill them. If you want to recycle these, first rot the weeds down in a bucket, this makes a smelly weed soup. If your compost gets too dry, water it with the biologically active and nutritiously smelly weed soup - that way nothing is lost from the system. Your compost is ready when it is dark brown, crumbles, holds its shape when scrunched together, but instantly breaks down again, it smells sweet and you canít see any of the constituent parts, though if you look closely youíll see itís teaming with life.
          I built a three bin system, year one add the ingredients over the year. Cover it and leave for a year. Turnover the first year into the empty bin. After about six months you should find it ready to use, I usually sieve it because there are always some branches that have not fully broken down.
          You should see your compost like a savings account. It is your future riches; it means healthy soil, lots of worms, and happy plants and bees. Never let anything out of your system; if you can rot it down, put it on the pile. You want to keep all that gold for your garden.

How long does it take to decompose?

Paper towel - 2-4 weeks
Banana peel - 3-4 weeks
Paper bag - 4 weeks
Newspaper - 6 weeks
Apple core Ė 8-9 weeks
Cardboard Ė 8-9 weeks
Cotton glove - 3 months
Orange peels - 6 months

Plywood- 1-3 years
Wool sock - 1-5 years
Milk cartons - 5 years
Cigarette butts - 10-12 years
Leather shoes - 25-40 years

Tinned steel can - 50 years
Foamed plastic cups - 50 years
Rubber-boot sole - 50-80 years
Plastic containers - 50-80 years
Aluminum can 200-500 years
Plastic bottles - 450 years
Disposable diapers - 550 years
Monofilament fishing line - 600 years
Plastic bags 200-1,000 years.

Compiled from articles on the Internet.