How do I make compost and what shall I use it for?

Composting is easy - you don't need any special equipment to make it. A simple heap on the ground, around one metre square in size, will compost well.

  • Compost containers make things tidier and easier to manage. You can use any material to make one but ideally it needs a lid to keep out the rain and for easy access for adding, turning and removing the compost. The container should be placed directly on the ground to aid drainage and allow easy access for worms and insects.
  • Your compost needs to be kept moist but not too wet or too dry. If the heap is dry, wet any material you are adding to the heap. If the heap is wet, leave material out in the sun to dry out before you add it.
  • Air is essential to allow good micro-organisms to grow in the heap. If there is no air, the heap will begin to smell. You can stand your heap on bricks or clay pipes to increase air circulation but turning the compost regularly will achieve the same effect.
  • Composting can be completed in as little as 6 weeks, or as much as a year. In general the more effort you put in, the faster the compost will be produced. Mature compost will be dark brown, crumbly and smells earthy. To get finer compost, you can dry it and pass it through a coarse sieve.

One wheelbarrow full of compost provides a rich soil for five square metres, or six square yards, of ground. You should use compost in spring and summer, when the plants are growing:

  • To improve the condition of the soil, as well as increase fertility, dig the compost into the top 15 – 20 cm of soil.
  • To feed established plants, such as herbaceous perennials and soft fruit trees, use the compost as surface mulch and apply to the soil around the base of the plant.
  • Lawns can be fed by top-dressing with fine compost in the spring or the summer.
  • Roses may need feeding every 1 – 2 years if they are pruned hard every year.
  • Avoid over-feeding annuals: the more nutrients they get, the more they produce foliage at the expense of flowers.
  • Garden compost should only be used for potted plants and seedlings if it is mixed with other ingredients. As a general guide, two parts of compost with one part of loam/good soil and one part leaf mould or coir, is a good starting mixture.

Posted in: Sustainable Gardening on 12 June 2015

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