– The joy of compost is that one can turn waste material, any waste, even other people’s waste material into something immensely beneficial to soil and all our plants in the garden.
So every in winter, we can be making nice compost.
Let’s have a look at what ingredients are good to add to the compost heap and how one can improve them by how you look after your compost heap and what the results might be.
I have here a selection of ingredients, things you can compost, and I’ll just show you some to give you some ideas of it.
So for example, here we have waste from the kitchen in the house, and this was, we had a courseter yesterday.
So it’s bits and bobs of vegetables that Steph was pruning and trimming.
Leeks, bits of parsnip.
And here’s something that confuses people a bit because there’s rumors that you can’t compost citrus.
Well, you can actually.
Possibly something to worry about is if you non-organic ones that might have a bit of wax on the peel.
Even those actually I have composted before at different times.
They will disappear in the end. Compost teams are amazing.
They’re like a sort of alchemical process that degrades pretty well everything, actually.
So all of this and go on, there’s a bit of an egg box there.
And then here’s something from the house, oh, by the way, this is probably more green than brown.
You know, it’s good to have in mind what’s green and what’s brown.
Here’s something that’s definitely brown. That’s wood ash.
And you could put that, in theory, you could put that on the garden, but actually it does contain soluble potash.
And I find it works well to put it in the compost heap.
Then that turns into a nutrient-insoluble form and so that becomes good compost ingredient that balances other things as well in the heap.
Now here’s something that’s definitely more brown than green.
So that’s actually just one stalk of a Savoy cabbage, which I chopped up and split up at the same time.
And if possible, it’s good to do that to hard, woody-like ingredients.
And that means you’ve got more surface for bacteria to enter and help to degrade, it’ll break down more quickly.
And also you’ll less likely to encounter an annoying large woody stalk, which you’ll need, you would then need to recycle into the next compost heap.
And here’s an example, taking that one step further.
So I actually bought a shredder last year after 30 years of saying I wouldn’t, I decided, well, I’d like to get more woody ingredients into my heaps and also to compost more stuff, basically.
So having the shredder has enabled me to, for example, this was a stem of, a semi-woody stem of alder, which I’d cut from my garden hedge.
And I’m able, through the shredder, to put that, ’cause the shredder turns it into an ingredient which is compostable more by both cutting and breaking it up.
The shredder struggles a bit with more green wood, like this was a bit of willow stem, and it hasn’t got enough really for it to get ahold of.
So shredders, I think, are more suitable for if you’ve got a lot of woody ingredients that you’re not sure what to do with and might be thinking of a bonfire.
Well, in that case, a shredder will help you turn them into compost.
And here we have a nice example of things that are not what they seem, or not all of them anyway.
This one, particularly,that, it looks like compost, it’s actually coffee grounds.
So this is some coffee that I secure when I’m delivering vegetables to the local restaurant, they are very happy to give me this coffee grounds and coffee is not compost.
It’s actually, this is a green ingredient in terms of category because it’s quite high nitrogen.
I think it’s something like 3% nitrogen.
And it’s also, you’ll sometimes see it said that coffee grounds are acidic.
They’re actually not. The pH is around 6.8 on average.
So that’s fine.
That’s not gonna cause any problems anywhere, but it is good to compost and think of it in terms of green.
So it’s going a bit like green leaves, you know, in terms of what it’s gonna do for your compost.
It’ll break down very nicely and add lots of goodness, rather like, here’s another green.
Obviously this is green, ’cause you can see it’s green, but this is a broccoli leaf, which I took off the plant this morning.
Good thing to do actually, because as they start to go yellow, they’re not contributing anything to the plant for photosynthesis and they’re probably gonna fall on the ground and then you’ll get slugs involved.
So they’re good to take off the plant at that stage of the life and add to your compost heap.
And here’s something which is actually green and brown.
So this is a bit of a weed, a bit of grass we didn’t want where it was going last week.
And it’s got some brown on, which is the soil.
So soil is brown, whereas the leaves are green.
So actually if you put, you could pretty well make a compost heap of ingredients like that because they’ve got some green and some brown, that’s good.
And also this one has a nice root of couch grass.
And this is perfect to be able to show you because it’s often said that you shouldn’t compost roots of perennial weeds, pernicious perennial weeds like couch grass, because it’s thought or said that they will grow again.
Like you can see this one is trying to grow at this very moment.
It’s sending a new shoot of white root, which will turn into a white leaf as it grows.
I find that in a heap where one is continually adding things, rather than just leaving it for six months with nothing happening, in which case this would regrow.
But in a normal heap, I would say normal to most gardens, roots like this will just be smothered before they can regrow.
And they are not indestructible.
They are destructible.
They will decompose and degrade.
So you can put roots like this and bindweed roots I put on my compost heap, dock roots, a lot of the things that one is supposed not to sometimes.
And yes, they will break down and add goodness to your heap.
So they, along with many other things, are suitable ingredients for compost heap in a reasonable balance of green and brown, roughly half and half.
This is the current heap at Homemakers.
So first ingredients went in in November.
It’s now February, so three months of all the waste from my three-quarter acre garden in the winter.
So that’s the big difference.
Winter compost heaps are receiving less because things are growing less, but also they’re receiving, the balance is different.
It’s more brown and less green, which means brown paper, woody stuff.
Stems is brown and green is leafy stuff.
So if I just take this off, that’s screwed in, normally, I’ve unscrewed it, and we can see very nicely the series of breakdown at the bottom is more decomposed already.
There’s a few worms, they’re retreating.
They don’t like daylight, the worms.
And the fact that this stage of the composting process, there are not many worms happening, doing much.
They come in later on as the material is more broken down and they finish the digestion composting process.
And it’s their casts, actually, which is some of the best compost you can make.
So you can see, I’ve been putting in quite a bit of straw, and I get straw, old straw, from the neighbor who happens to have quite a lot.
So for me, that’s a useful brown ingredient and there will have been some grass mowings in here as well.
So that’s green and brown as we go up and you can see it’s more or less layered, but I’m not deliberately going out to make precise layers.
You know, it’s just putting in a bit of this and a bit of that as we go.
And then, because we recently mowed the grass here rather bizarrely in February, because it’s been mild, that pushed the temperature up.
So that’s what happens when you put more green in, you get hotter.
How much heat does one need?
Well, you can make compost not hot.
You can make cool compost.
There’s not a problem about doing that.
So heat is not a prerequisite for making compost, but if you do get heat, it will happen more quickly.
That’s the main difference.
And at the moment that temperature is actually reading 60 degrees centigrade, which is good heat for compost, it’s enough to kill weed seeds and most pathogens, but it’s not too hot, so it doesn’t kill beneficial microbes.
If you aim for between 55 and 70 centigrade, that’s a good level of heat.
How does one know when a heap is finished or when you move on to the next one?
Well, you can go on a long time.
If you haven’t got a lot of ingredients to add at any one time, you can keep on going up.
And in fact it’s worth, in that case, having a smaller bay or even one of the enclosed containers you can buy, which have hatches at the bottom doors that you can pull out the compost from below while you’re still adding ingredients from above.
Here at Homemakers, 3/4 acre gardens, so I have a large heap and it’s five by four, roughly, feet.
This will make about a ton of compost and I’m gonna stop adding to it very soon because it won’t be long before we have a lot of new additions and that will merit starting a new heap.
So then I will leave this heap here, fermenting away with no new additions for about one month or two, maybe, see what happens.
And then we shall turn it into an empty bay next to it.
In terms of containers, again, options here.
This is an interesting one because last summer a neighbor was having some bricks delivered for a patio and they arrived in this container and we went and scrounged it, basically.
So it was a ready-made, for me, compost container.
And also last summer we made a bit of compost in a different heap in another part of the garden.
And just recently I moved that, it was rather rough and ready compost, and chopped it up a bit and put it in here.
So that was like a turning process, which introduced new air, fed the bacteria, and got them all working again.
So what’s in here is eight-month-old compost and I’ve put a polythene sheet over the top because that keeps the rain out.
And this is quite a critical part of the process is getting the moisture level right.
In some parts of the world where it doesn’t rain as much as here, maybe you don’t need to cover it, but then you actually might need a cover to keep the moisture in.
What you want is compost that is moist, but not wet.
If it’s too wet, the excess moisture excludes air.
Air is probably the most critical ingredient that is often missing, or not often, but missing too often.
And you can check for moisture level by squeezing your compost.
Like I am there, actually I can’t get any moisture out, which is brilliant because two drops is maximum that one wants to see when doing this little check here.
I would say that that is good moisture level because you can see it’s holding together, but it’s clearly not got any spare moisture.
Now, down here I have some other compost, which is on the edge of a heap just up there, which is allowed the rain to get in and it looks wetter to me.
So I’m just gonna squeeze it and see if moisture comes out and well, that’s very interesting, actually.
I can’t even get any moisture out of this one.
I’ve done this test before and with compost that looks not much wetter than that and got quite a bit of moisture out, which shows actually how this test is valid because you can’t always tell just by looking at it.
But by squeezing, do do that every so often if you’re worried about moisture levels, ’cause that can tell you, but one other clue as to the state of moisture in a compost is, do you see the color of this one is quite dark, almost going to black and this one is more brown?
It’s not a big difference.
It’s certainly visible to the naked eye, and dark brown is the color of choice.
If you can get dark brown, that’s definitely better than jet black.
And we’ll see that again in a minute.
Turning compost is not obligatory.
It’s an optional extra, and you only need to do it once at most.
It’s a way of introducing fresh air, oxygen, which feeds the bacteria, and they help to promote further decomposition.
And you can also be breaking up lumps you find and mixing the ingredients a bit more thoroughly so that your finished product is nice and even.
This heap is three months old and as I move it, I’m breaking up the lumps and introducing fresh air.
Here are some different composts.
All organic matter decomposing becomes compost.
So I just want you to show you some possibilities of the compost you might use in a garden.
And for example, here, this one is green waste compost, and it contains quite a bit of wood.
Those woody bits there, they’ve been shredded, it’s garden waste that’s been shredded.
It’s quite big bits of wood.
And this compost is very black, and that’s almost certainly because it got very hot and that’s not always a good sign.
It probably means it’s quite low in microbes and organisms.
So a similar-looking compost we have here, but with less woody bits, is well-rotted cow manure.
So this was manure.
It’s now compost, which is where a lot of confusion can arise because calling manure compost or manure, I refer to it as compost, even though it was cow manure, and it’s three years old, actually, but just look how beautiful that is.
So that almost certainly is full of microbes, has quite a few organisms, and visible ones in there, and worms and things.
And then lastly, this is the homemade compost that we’ve been looking at how to make.
And you can see that it’s not quite so dark as either the cow manure or the green waste.
It’s a little bit more brown.
And I would back this one to be the fullest of life in all forms and very, very good to use in the garden.
Compost-making, like gardening as a whole, actually has quite a few myths involved and a lot of them are a bit annoying ’cause they involve extra work.
One, for example, is about separating out things that are supposed not to go in a heap, for example, roots of perennial weeds like bindweed and couch grass.
Well, I put those all in.
As long as they’re covered enough that they can’t regrow before they decompose, they’re fine.
And they’re adding extra goodness to your heap.
Blighted leaves is another one, so blighted potato, tomato, even bloated potato tubers, I put all of them in.
And the reason for that is blight spores cannot survive in soil and compost.
They can only survive on living plant tissue. So it’s fine.
Once it’s broken down, you’ve got no more blight spores to worry about, and I’ve done it where I’ve added blight leaves and tomato tubers and things to a compost heap in the autumn, spread that compost in the spring, and grown lovely tomatoes.
No problem at all.
And then there’s rhubarb leaves, citrus peel, all the other things you’re suppose not to add, well, you can.
I do, other people too. They’re fine.
Two other things to mention is sides of a heap.
It’s sometimes said you need like pallet sides, slatted wood that allows air in the sides, which is obviously good, but in fact it doesn’t make much difference.
And I am using here plywood, mostly solid sides.
Sometimes I’ve got pallet.
It’s basically not too important.
The main thing is to, I think, have a side, it really helps.
You could make an open heap, but having sides keeps it tighter and more tidy.
And lastly, as speed of assembly, it’s sometimes said, you need to make a heap in a day or two and get it really hot, all that kind of thing.
Heat is often cited as an important factor, which it is in some ways, but it’s not the most important.
And it’s not the governing factor.
The main thing is to get the balance, the ingredients right, which changes all through the year.
And that is one of the joys of compost-making, that you then have a different product each time, you can have fun making it and see what happens.
And this is it.
The finished product.
We now have compost ready to use.
After turning, I leave it for a few months, however long it takes, until it’s looking something like this, where you can run a fork down through like that and it breaks apart quite nicely.
So I’m finding that I can break up the lumps with a fork, the four-prong manure fork is very useful for that.
And you can even lift it with that, you know, you don’t need a shovel to spread this compost, load this in the wheelbarrow.
And when spreading, I also do that sometimes, just breaks up the lumps even more.
There’s no need to sieve compost like this.
You can put it on with lumps in, that is absolutely fine.
They will break down in the weather, and it’s all extra goodness that you want to make every little last bit of.
So this compost is about eight months old since it was started, the heap was assembled over about six weeks, then sat there maturing for another six weeks.
Then we turned it by moving it into here about five months ago.
And that is it, the finished product that will give you so much success with all your gardening.