Tuesday, 13 March 2007
Making compost - the basic recipe
Me distracting Marley from the sheep
To my great delight some of you expressed an interest in my compost making and wanted tips. Since you all live in very different climates with different 'ingredients' I'll give you a general recipe for success and answer any more detailed questions (if I can) in the comments section of this post so everyone can benefit.
A BALANCED HEAP
The main tip is to treat it like a balanced healthy diet, an even mix of things will generall produce the best results. Whenever possible mix rough with smooth, wet with dry. And as a rule, don't add cooked foods, meat, fish or oily things as they attract vermin and flies etc. and can upset the mixture or make it gross to work with later on.
'Moist' ingredients like fresh veggie choppings, soft garden prunings, grass etc. should be mixed in equal parts with dry materials like torn or shredded paper/card/cardboard or fallen autumn leaves. I would say ideally aim for a 2inch layer of moist with a 1inch layer of dry (try to mix them about a bit so they blend). The smaller the shreddings and choppings the faster and better it will compost. Things like hair from your brush or your pets can go in too.
If, like Tracy, you live somewhere dry, or if you have a high proportion of dry ingredients then you'll need the magic elixir of the compost heap - urine. It's beneficial in all heaps but especially good for making rich beautiful leafmould* or for dry heaps/places. It acts as an activator so it gets the process going and it speeds it up.
Yes ladies, it's true, I really am that dedicated to my compost. Now, clearly, men are more equipped for this task us as they have the equipment to do the deed on the spot, so to speak, though if you have neighbours they may only be willing under cover of darkness. And according to Gardeners Question Time recently male urine is actually better than female urine, I think they said it was stronger.
So, our stuff isn't as strong, but it's still very good so for a single gal with a devotion to making beautiful and, ultimately, sweet smelling compost- grap yourself an empty bottle and a funnel. I'm not joking. When I had my big garden with multiple heaps I kept a 5 litre bottle in the bathroom. I made a lot of fantastic quality compost and as long as your pile has a lid, or an old piece of carpet or card or board over the top then it won't smell like a public loo (unless you lived in a student flat and 10 guys were peeing on it night and day).
HOW MUCH URINE?
It's hard to generalise as climate, ingredients and size all make a difference but I'd say basically you want your heap to be damp- not soaking, not dry. MrP (ha ha) and I used to put all our pee on my 3 heaps and they could have handled more.
TURNING THE HEAP
If you can be bothered to 'turn' the heap every 3 months to get it mixed more, then that speeds things up a bit and helps identify any problems like wetness, dryness or things that just aren't breaking down (so may need chopped smaller in future). I tend not to turn mine as I'm too busy and my mix is fine.
So that's a basic recipe. If there is any interest I'm happy to talk more about different kinds of composting (aerobic/anaerobic - ie. with/without air), different ways of gathering (bins, pens, wire frames, bags) and really anything else that I may know. I hope this has been helpful, or at least interesting!
Leafmould is simple, fill a heap or even a black bin bag with deciduous autumn leaves, pierce a few holes in it, pee on it, pop it somewhere out of the way and come back in a year- beautiful compost.
Same can be done with a 50/50 mix ofs grass clipping and paper shreddings from offices (or torn up card). Mix it really well, pee on it and leave it for 6-9months. If you shake up the bags occasionally it will happen faster.