Time to start your own compost heap

Published: Sunday 12th October 2014 by The News Editor

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In this age of recycling, there can be no better time to start your own compost heap.

If you have to sort out your rubbish, you might as well make use of the matter which can be turned into a terrific soil enricher.

The container or makeshift frame (ideally wooden) should be at least 1m (3ft) square otherwise it will be too small to generate enough heat to rot it down. You’ll also need a lid to keep out rain and keep in the heat, even if the lid’s in the form of an old carpet topped with plastic.

Good elements include kitchen waste – such as vegetable scraps, eggshells and tea bags. If you want to add newspaper, you’ll need to shred it first. Keep a small, lidded bin by the back door for all your kitchen scraps.

If you’re pruning this autumn, keep the clippings and spent flowers for the compost bin, along with any grass clippings and end of season bedding.

Don’t add meat, fish or bones to the heap because you’ll just attract rats, and keep out really tough weeds such as ground elder, which may survive in the heap.

If you want to give your compost a helping hand to rot down, you can buy organic activators containing herbs, honey and seaweed. Other natural ingredients including nettles will also help rot down the pile, while a handful of horse manure will add bulk and nutrients.

You could also buy some worms from a fishing tackle shop which will work their way up and down the pile, breaking up the debris as they go.

The secret to good compost is firstly to break up the bulky stuff before it goes in. If you haven’t a shredder, chop up your prunings into small pieces.

Then you need to place grass clippings in thin layers – and don’t put too much grass on the pile or you’ll end up with a slimy mess. Alternate the clippings with coarser material or mix it with shredded newspaper. Add moistened straw to bulk up too much green material.

Layers should be peppered every so often with earth, blood, fish and bonemeal, manure or an activator to encourage bacteria.

The dry, woody, carbon-rich materials such as prunings and straw should be combined with the layers of nitrogen-rich soft waste such as vegetable scraps and grass clippings. Ideally use two parts’ woody material to one part soft material. The woody debris allows air to circulate through the heap, while the soft material provides nitrogen, other plant foods and moisture.

Once your container is full, don’t let it dry out in summer or become too wet in winter. A good test is to squeeze a handful and see how much moisture comes out. It should only be a few droplets for perfect compost.

In less than a year, you may have soft, crumbly fruit-cake-like compost to spread as a mulch or just add to your soil to improve its fertility, or sieve it to use in your potting compost.

Copyright Press Association 2014

Published: Sunday 12th October 2014 by The News Editor

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