Trouble is mounting down on our allotment. Due to the ongoing Coronavirus upheaval, our green waste collections have been suspended, with local recycling centres having closed their doors to debris bearing vehicles for the foreseeable future. Our feverish gardening activity during lockdown has generated a truck-load of compostable materials with nowhere to go, resulting in a teetering pile of garden detritus which looms large over our shed, threatening to topple and engulf all before it in a landslide of green. We can’t burn it because bonfires have been banned, and sneaking it onto our neighbours’ plot would be bad form. Our only sensible option is to compost our way to victory. Here’s how to make your own compost…
How does it work?
By gathering garden waste and heaping it up in a pile, you will create an environment where microorganisms can thrive. These organisms will busy themselves breaking down the waste, turning it into a nutrient-rich, organic matter which you can use as both a soil improver and mulch. Good composting not only rids you of green waste, but it’ll also help with nourishing your soil. It’s a double win!
What do I need to make my own compost?
First off, grab yourself a composter. You’ll find plenty of choice in shops and online, but it’s easy enough to make a compost bin yourself. Simply grab hold of four standard wooden pallets and arrange them end-up (with their bases facing inwards) in a square. Knock a few nails in for support, add some wooden battens or lash them together and you’ve got yourself the perfect structure for hosting your heap.
Whether you plan to purchase or construct your own, it’s worth bearing in mind that composters need to have the capacity of 1-2 cubic meters or above to work efficiently. Anything smaller and the microorganisms in your heap will struggle to generate the necessary heat required to decompose the green waste. Position your composter in a shady part of the garden or allotment.
What can you compost?
When adding green waste to a compost heap, you need to get the balance right. Aim to have a 1:2 mix of soft plant matter (known as ‘green waste’) and dry ‘brown’ material, such as chippings, twigs, cardboard or dead leaves. For best results, add them in successive layers like a big old garden lasagne. Woody material waste such as large twigs and branches should be avoided, but if you desperately feel the need to add them to your compost pile, run them through a shredder first. Grass clippings are fine, just as long as you spread them in thin layers, sandwiched between ‘brown’ matter. Deep layers of grass clippings will compact together and turn slimy.
Avoid adding perennial weeds and cuttings from diseased plants. It’s also best not to lob any cooked food into a composter unless you want to attract rodents. Rats in particular like nothing more than bedding down in a nice warm pile – especially if you supply them room service in the form of your discarded kitchen waste.
When will it be ready?
Your compost will need turning to ensure a good supply of oxygen in order to keep the microorganisms happy. Use a wide-pronged fork, digging down deep to reach any compacted material at the bottom of your heap. Ideally, turn it every 3-4 weeks. In dry spells, it’s worth giving your compost bin a watering to ensure it doesn’t dry out, and it can be beneficial to treat your heap to an occasional spadeful of manure for a nitrogen-packed boost.
Your home compost should be finished and ready to spread after about four or five months during summertime, but will take longer during the colder months. It should be sweet smelling and crumbly to touch like you’ve just grabbed a fistful of chocolate cake. Spread it liberally, mulch your plants and reap those rich, rotten rewards!
Have you made your own compost before? Let us know your top tips in the comments!