Posted: Monday 3 November 2014
by James Alexander-Sinclair

... at this time of year, as the garden begins to fade and the winter closes in, we are all faced with an awful lot of dead and dying vegetation.

In the autumn a young(ish) man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of … compost.

Before I explain I must offer my apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

The reason for my taking his words in vain is that at this time of year, as the garden begins to fade and the winter closes in, we are all faced with an awful lot of dead and dying vegetation. Perennials fade and need cutting back and trees drop their leaves. (The larger, more robust perennials can be left standing for as long as possible to give food for birds and shelter for insects and small mammals.)

All this stuff is potential compost and needs to be stashed somewhere to make sure that there is sufficient organic compost to gives next year’s plants a good start in life. Every gardener should make room for a compost heap - even if it just one of those ones that look like inverted dustbins. If you are lucky enough to have space then, in an ideal world, you will have three heaps. One in use in the garden (which we shall call heap ‘A’), one quietly rotting away (‘B’) and one being loaded (‘C’). As ‘A’ is emptied you then turn the contents of ‘B’ into the space vacated by ‘A’ and then turn ‘C’ into ‘B’. Almost every gardener will have different ideas about making compost, but this is my preferred method.

The important thing is to have a good mixture: not too many grass clippings as that just turns into smelly mush but if mixed with shredded paper and leaves and other stuff it will be fine. Try to rent or borrow a shredder in order to properly chop up the woody stems of some perennials as they rot down much quicker that way - and do it regularly. At one point I procrastinated and ended up with an enormous heap of stuff representing about two years worth of garden debris. Pure laziness, but eventually I had to put on the ear defenders and knuckle down!

I have just spent a sweaty, noisy, dusty and headachy weekend in close companionship with a shredder. The purpose was to work my way through a huge mountain of garden debris and to make it ready for the compost heap. My fault entirely as I have been a bit lazy and for the past two years I have piled up the stuff delaying the moment when I actually had to pull on ear defenders and get down to it! After a few hours I emerged filthy, partially deafened and spluttering from inhaled dust but with the beginnings of a very fine compost heap. Add kitchen waste (nothing meaty or cooked) in about a year or so it will be ready to go back on the garden. Shredders of varying sizes can easily be rented from your local hire shops.

Making compost is one of the most satisfying things about gardening: you are re-using ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away, it creates something that will increase the fertility of your garden and it provides a lot of HPL (Hard Physical Labour) that is good for both heart and soul.

A neat and effective circle of life.

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Talkback: Composting
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Rooster3 18/11/2014 at 07:12

Shredders are the best thing ever for compost.All my prunings and larger debris go through the shredder to reduce composting time.Wood does not rot from the outside, but from the cut ends (otherwise all the trees would fall over)so make as many cut ends as you can.

Alan4711 18/11/2014 at 10:23

I love that touch,now which is the shreader to get its been asked so many times and i still haven't decided yet,

Outdoor girl 18/11/2014 at 15:50

I asked for one on our local freecycle and got one. It is amazing - but very noisy and a bit temperamental. It stops when I try to put too much in and sulks for a while then carries on.

philippa smith2 18/11/2014 at 16:35

I have 2 an old French one ( electric ) and the other I bought this year (petrol driven ).  Both I find will bog up to a certain extent if the stuff is too green/wet.  Handy things tho and I wouldn't be without one

davids10 18/11/2014 at 16:48

i use a rotary electric lawnmower-it's fast and quiet and almost never clogs-can handle half inch branches. this week i shredded a pile 6x6x8 in about an hour which from my experience with shredders would probably have taken all day or longer. sometimes i dream about the kind of shredder arborists use-neighbors might think it was excessive.

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