Compost and green manures

by Adam Pasco

Several plants can be grown as green manures, sown onto beds and borders and forming a green carpet that can be dug directly into the soil, improving its organic content.

Sowing seed of green manure plantsWho could ever produce enough compost for all their needs? I remember watching the late Geoff Hamilton at Barnsdale week after week on Gardeners' World, using countless buckets of beautiful home-made compost. Every planting hole was filled with the stuff, every shrub and fruit bush mulched with a thick layer, and still the overflowing buckets continued to come!

I'm a keen home composter - who isn't these days - but I do still resort to buying in mushroom compost from time to time. If I lived near a farm or stables then I'm sure I'd be calling in regularly for a few bags of their delicious produce, but now I've discovered an alternative. I'm growing my own compost. Well, actually its correct name is green manure.

Several plants can be grown as green manures, sown onto beds and borders and forming a green carpet that can be dug directly into the soil, improving its organic content. Where areas aren't required for crops or bedding for a couple of months I put the area to good use by sowing green manures.

Types to sow now include crimson clover, fenugreek, field lupins - even broad beans. They germinate and grow quickly and reduce weed growth. Flowering varieties even attract bees and beneficial insects.

Nothing could be simpler, and the green manures help break up my heavy clay soil as their roots grow. All very rewarding, and I'm also spared the expense of ordering extra compost.

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Gardeners' World Web User 02/03/2008 at 09:35

What do I do about persistent moss on my borders, both soil and shrub stems? Would lawn sand kill the plants?

Gardeners' World Web User 11/03/2008 at 10:38

I have a white foam type substance growing in my compost bin. i presume it is bacteria. Do i need to get rid of it, and if so how. I would be extremely grateful for any advice. Many Thanks

Gardeners' World Web User 31/03/2008 at 13:26

Beware, however: In garden centres there are bags of seeds labelled as "for organic growing", but if you look at the small print you'll see that the seeds weren't organically produced! Just something to keep in mind if you're interested in these things

Gardeners' World Web User 07/04/2008 at 16:08

Useful comment Alex. Thanks. Don't worry about the flies, Ben. Lots of 'creatures' get involved in the composting process, and shouldn't be causing any harm. Do remember to mix up the contents of your compost bin from time to time. Either plunge in a fork and turn the material, or tip out all the contents and mix-up as you return it.

Moss in borders and growing on shrub stems indicates a very moist environment, high rainfall, etc. Sometimes you'll be able to improve drainage, fork over borders, and reduce the tree/branch canopy to let in more light and air. If none of this is possible you'll just have to put up with the moss!

Gardeners' World Web User 14/04/2008 at 20:28

I am lucky enough to have a plentiful supply of horse manure from a neighbour but is there something about the fixing and lifting qualities of green manure that warrants alternating these two composting techniques.

Also would composting alone be sufficient to restore the quality of a neighbours soil that I think has suffered from coal ash being tipped on it. Nothing seems to want to grow, we have removed the ash but will it need topsoil as well as manure.

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