Compost: Organic Magic

In the second of my series of informative articles on Natural and Organic Food, I take a look at that stalwart of any organic garden: compost magic.

The very thought of compost often generates a picture of a steaming, smelly heap of slimy rotting manure in a disused corner of a garden. Well, in the productive minds of those not savvy as to it's true composition.

Nothing could be further than the truth! A properly constructed and well managed compost heap is certainly not smelly or slimy and although it may produce a little steam from time to time due to natures own rotting down process, it is a clean and disease-free pile of goodness.

Clean resource

Composting garden and kitchen waste into a clean, dry odour-free medium is nature's way of providing all the nutrients and structural requisites that your organic garden soil requires.

So how does someone make compost?

It's quite simple to make excellent compost, so easy in fact that it's a wonder so many people with gardens still throw out all their kitchen and garden waste to be dumped into already overburdened landfill sites when its so unnecessary.

How to Make Compost

All you need is a space in the garden about three feet (1 metre) square, although bigger is better if you can spare the room. You'll need to be able to access the heap from the front with a garden fork and a wheelbarrow, so don't put it behind a shed unless you can get at it!

First up, you'll need a container to hold the material together. Plastic composting bins that you can buy at DIY shops and garden centres are ok for very small spaces, but because of their small size they don't produce such good consistent results. Better and cheaper to make your own.

The simplest type consists of four posts driven into the ground then chicken wire wrapped around them to form a simple cage (without a lid). Better is to enclose the area with wooden slats, nailed to three sides with the front side having the ability to be opened to retrieve the finished compost.

Making a Compost Bin

I'll leave the engineering design up to you, but you could get creative here and either form a hinged gate, or double the posts at the front one in front of the other so boards can be slid down between them one on top of the other. A more permanent structure could be built using breeze blocks or ash blocks mortared together.

However you decide to build your compost bin, you must leave air holes down the sides so the air can get into the heap inside. This is of vital importance, because without air, the bacteria that break down the organic material into the finished compost cannot do their job and you will end up with that slimy, smelly pile of green goo after all!

Ok, now that you have the perfect wood, block, brick (if you really want a designer bin!) or simple wire mesh compost bin, it's time to start feeding it with your rubbish!

Now, just any old rubbish will not do here - to produce good quality compost, you need to a little selective of what you add to your heap.

And that'll be the subject of the next article on compost. It really is organic magic!

Compost Article Part 2

To tidy things up in this website, I have combined both articles on compost into a single, more detailed offering. It continues below...

In my previous article about compost, I looked at how to build the structure of the compost bin as well as giving an overview as to what compost is. In this continuation part of the article, I look at building the actual compost heap. This is where I look at what goes into the heap and what should be avoided.

All compost is made of organic matter.

That means all plant clippings and prunings, weeds, grass mowings, kitchen vegetable waste and other organic vegetable material all goes into the compost heap.

Pesticides, Herbicides and Sensibility

WARNING: If you use herbicides on any of your plants and especially on your lawn, you should not use the cuttings from these areas in your compost heap because herbicides do not break down in the heap and the resulting compost will be poisonous to any plants you use it on!

With that out of the way, a responsible organic gardener would throw up their hands in disgust at the very mention of the words "herbicide" or "weed killer". But the ignorance of people who do use those chemicals will also extend to the disposal of their garden waste.

The very thought of actually helping the environment by building a compost heap will not even enter their heads. So they'll just keep dumping their rubbish into landfill and pooh poohing their actions as "Well, doesn't everybody?"

I'm sure I can happily insult the intelligence of those environmentally UNfriendly people here. That's, because the chances of them ever reading this are about as high as their IQ!

Who said controversy equals popularity! Back to the plot! What can you put in your compost heap?

What Goes In

Just about anything that lives or once lived can live again in the compost heap. That includes everything organic in nature. As well as all garden waste, paper and cardboard can be torn into strips and mixed in with all the other organic material to boost the volume.

The bigger the heap, the better it will heat up during its rotting down process and the faster the conversion to good, wholesome organic compost. Remember to keep your heap well aerated as without oxygen, the beneficial bacteria in the heap cannot do their job of breaking down the organic matter into compost.

It also requires moisture, so water the heap frequently in dry weather to further boost its decomposition.

Compost Activator

A good organic activator should always be added to the compost heap to introduce beneficial bacteria into the heap in order to successfully generate the decomposing process. The absolute best organic compost activator is fresh horse manure, which is often readily available at local stables for free if you're prepared to collect it yourself - which usually means the stable owner gets their stables cleaned out for free too!

A good bit of organic give and take!

If horse manure is not available for you, then the second best organic compost activator is a few good bunches of stinging nettles mixed in with all the other organic compost material. Comfrey is another good substitute.

What should be avoided?

Pet faeces should not be placed into the compost heap as it may contain harmful bacteria that you don't want in your soil or on your hands! Leftover meat and bones should also be banned from the compost heap as they may also contain harmful bacteria.

The Built Heap

Once the heap is built up of layers of different organic plant material to create a varied mix that will decompose well, the heap should be watered and then covered with a heavy cover. The best cover is a square of heavy old Hessian backed carpet, or a few used Hessian sacks. Then it can be left for a few weeks to decompose.

Keep it damp and the pile should soon start to sink as the material decomposes.

Every two or three weeks, it is good practise to turn the heap, by using a strong garden fork to mix up the contents to ensure the entire heap is decomposing at the same rate.

Three Months

After about three months or so, the compost should be ready (longer in cold weather) and you can remove the newly made compost for use in the garden. Goof organic compost should be dark brown in colour, clean to the touch and should be almost odourless apart from a faint, clean woody smell.

If your compost is not like that, then you need to mix it up again, add some more activator, ensure the air holes are not blocked and rebuild the heap. Water it and cover it, then leave it to decompose some more.

When your organic compost is ready to use, either spread it around plants as a mulch and let the worms pull it into the soil, or use it to dig into poor soil that is in need of enrichment. Either way, you now have what your ignorant un-organic neighbours do not - an organic, nature-friendly garden that will produce healthier, tastier and more wholesome produce free of nasty chemicals and poisons.

And the best bit is you've saved a space in the landfill site for your ignorant un-organic neighbours to fill with their garbage!

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