Compost may seem to be a strange subject about which to write a blog post; but it is a subject that has frequently occupied my mind. I am not, I hasten to add, a compost expert, but it is something that I have been trying to learn a little more about so that I can improve the crops in the pots. In truth, my approach to compost has always been somewhat less than scientific; more akin to making it up as I go along and hoping for the best. I usually reason that most things will break down eventually, at some point giving me something more or less resembling compost. I am here to inform you that system only works up to a point. I do need to plan and manage what goes into the compost bin more than I have been doing up till now.
To give us some compost inspiration, we have the Rotters Guide Compost Chart (courtesy of ENFO and Wicklow County Council) stuck up on the kitchen wall. As you can see from the illustration, it is a basic, but very handy guide for what to put and what not to put in your compost bin. As I am now reading this properly for the first time in a while, I might be encouraged to add a little more variety to my usual compost concoction. For instance, it never occurs to me to put the vacuum bag and its contents in the compost bin. We have been putting extra coffee grounds into the mix lately, due to the fact so many cafes are now environmentally aware enough to leave bags of grounds out for people to take. Eggshells, I find rather vexing, as they really need a thorough crushing to ensure that they mix in and break down properly.
I have also been consulting my copy of the RHS book Nature’s Gardener: How to Garden in the 21st Century by Matthew Wilson (Mitchell Beazley, 2007, 2011). Compost is obviously very dear to Wilson’s heart, as he starts the relevant chapter thus:
Successful composting constitutes one of life’s unsung pleasures. Taking raw waste material and turning it into the stuff from which plants grow is tremendously satisfying. Some of my happiest moments have been spent sniffing handfuls of sweet-smelling compost (I really should get out more). Compost is, after all, one of the oldest means of recycling.
He then goes on to point out that, ‘The key to good composting is to understand how the raw ingredients are broken down and to manage the way these ingredients are mixed and added’. This compost management is where I have gone wrong before (see above) though I am now trying to balance the leaves, grass cuttings and kitchen waste more than I did formerly. The Rotters Guide colour code differentiates between brown and green ingredients, which is useful. I have concluded that if I treat mixing compost in the same way that I would a cake, then I will be on the right track.
We relocated the compost bin (one of those bottomless green plastic bins with a lid) to a warmer spot the year before last, which was a great improvement. The change in location has meant that much more heat is generated which speeds the process along. I have made more effort to shred the ingredients (both woody items and vegetable waste) and to give the mixture a regular turnover. The reward has been an abundance of busy worms in the bin and more promising results. I probably need to be more patient however because I tend to keep anxiously checking the progress of the concoction. Much like peering into the oven too soon, this probably achieves very little.
One of last year’s successes was putting leaves in bags to make leaf mould. Matthew Wilson suggests using black bags, which we have tried previously. What we have found works well are old mail bags (salvaged and re-purposed), which let the air in without the need for punching holes in the bags. So far, I have used some to put on top of pots and beds to help retain moisture. I will also probably use some in the compost bin. Meanwhile, we have also discovered that the bags of leaves give the lightweight mini greenhouse some useful ballast in windy weather!
My only problem now is how to get rid of the cloud of annoying tiny flies in the top of the bin. Any suggestions?