Christmas compost

by James Alexander-Sinclair

Like politics and football, everybody seems to have an opinion about compost. About the only thing that we all agree about is that compost is a good thing...

View from compost heapLike politics and football everybody seems to have an opinion about compost. About the only thing that we all agree about is that compost is a good thing; at the same time there are moments when it gets a little competitive for my liking.

It's true that one of the most satisfying things in gardening is a well built, well maintained compost heap, but it is a bit much when people get smug about what is really just a pile of rotting vegetation. I do not claim to be an expert but what we make ends up brown and crumbly and smelling of fertility without much effort.

I am lucky enough to have a fair bit of space to use as a compostery (I am almost certain that is not a real word but I rather like the sound of it) and the way that my garden is planted (with lots of herbaceous stuff) I have a great deal of raw material. My compostery is in an old cowshed which was divided into bays. One bay is being filled and the other is quietly rotting away. It has the advantage of being big but the disadvantage of being inside so I occasionally have to water it in order to stop it drying out. Of course, you can build a compost bin in a much smaller area.

We took advantage of the recent rainy days to turn the compost heap so it looks unbelievably beautiful at the moment - I often have an urge to roll around in compost but so far have managed to restrain myself. The next task is to rent a shredder in order to get rid of two years' backlog - a pretty scary mountain of old growth (I have to be a bit careful as I found two hedgehogs in it last year).

In amongst this shredded stuff we put all vegetable waste, old leaves and cleanings out of chicken houses (and, when we had such things, hamster cages). I also add the lawn mowings but, in order to stop it becoming a soggy mess, I mix in shredded paper from my office: envelopes (although I have to cut out those annoying see-through plastic windows), bills, scrap paper and everything then ends up in the compost heap rather than in the bin.

"What is all this compost for?" I hear you cry. Because 'Tis the Season to be mulching - every part of the garden should have at least 2" (50mm) of mulch over everything. This is, I think, the most vital of all garden tasks. In spite of all the chipping and tipping I still cannot make enough for more than a fraction of the garden so still have to bring in more. I am lucky in that I know of a farmer locally who has tons of well composted muck but not everybody is so fortunate. Any local council worth its salt should be recycling green waste and should have the end product for sale - so that is a great place to start.

Christmas is a good time to start composting - just think of all those Brussels sprout leaves, and a bit of shovelling and barrowing is perfect for blowing all the mince pies and cheesy festive television out of the system.

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Gardeners' World Web User 19/12/2007 at 14:41

I'm a compostaholic and I have been dirty for too many years. The best bit about the mulch spreading is the rich look on the soil without the digging. At the moment it is just too damn cold to go out there and I know the bulbs will be too high by the time I do!! Also my soil is always so hungry it all totally disappears by the spring.

And where do all the worms come from? Our bins were started on totally virgin soil that seems to be the most un worm friendly there is out there but, behold, within a few months of there being compost there are thousands of worms!! Bless 'em! We now have a worm factory too. It's not so much the compost I'm looking forward too, it's the liquor for feeding. I can almost hear the plants drooling at the thought already.

Gardeners' World Web User 20/12/2007 at 13:51

I have a compost beehive at home and a huge green mesh thing at the allotment. I am looking forward to another great composting year. However I would just like to warn readers that if your council does green waste recycling and sells it back to you, Please check if they sterilise it too - our council doesn't, as I found out last year - ivy seedlings everywhere, tomatoes everywhere, and a friend was unlucky enough to get japanese knotweed from the council compost too (which they then charged her lots to get rid of!!). Thanks folks.

Gardeners' World Web User 20/12/2007 at 15:33

I am looking forward to starting composting. I live in Portugal and thought it was too dry here for Proper Composting, but now I hear that, as long as the bin is sealed to keep in the moisture, it works fine. I have just built raised vegetable beds (to compensate for living on rock)and hope to have my first harvest this summer!

Gardeners' World Web User 20/12/2007 at 17:39

Two homes, two gardens and seven magical compost heaps!(Well, three Council black compost bins, two wooden compost bins and two heaps to be precise) Great, but still they never seem to be ready when we are - I cannot resist filling them up when they drop down on rotting, so they are perpetual. This really is a compostaholic! My New Year's resolution is going to be "Leave the compost heaps/bins etc to rot down! I will let you know what happens next year.

Gardeners' World Web User 27/12/2007 at 11:48

I would to build a compost bin using old pallets but don't know where to buy them, can anyone help?

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