As leaves fall, remnants of Halloween pumpkins rot steadily by the roadsides and mushrooms burst forth under almost every tree, my thoughts turn to death and decay. It’s not a bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder, honest; it’s something magical and weirdly satisfying – the alchemy of compost making.
But how on earth do you turn your manky old bean stems, lawn clippings and swept-up leaves into sweet-smelling crumbly compost like the presenters on Gardeners’ World seem to have abundant barrow loads of?
Well, having worked on said gardening output, I can offer a few insights, and add a few of my own techniques. Making good compost is relatively straightforward; for most of us it’s simply a question of mixing hard/dry/woody brownish stuff with soft damp green stuff. You could almost think of it like a cake; you need to balance the flour (dry) with eggs and butter (moist). So in compost terms this could be dry autumn leaves or plant stems mixed with grass clippings or veg peelings from the kitchen.
In summer when it’s easy to have too much green wet stuff (especially lawn clippings) I add layers of scrunched up newspaper or cardboard. If you don’t have these to hand, keep a bag of finely chipped bark or sawdust next to your heap and add couple of handfuls with each mower-load of clippings. Patience is key – the home-made compost you see on telly invariably looks fabulous because it’s at least a 18 months old.
This time of year is always compost time for me, as after the last of the summer veg are cleared away, suddenly there’s a lot less work to do, and plenty of fresh material in the heap. In France we had three heaps – one to tip fresh material onto, one rotting, and one ready to use. That’s the ideal, so today I separated my heap into ‘rotting’ and ‘ready’. Mixing up the rotting material greatly helps make a decent finished product as it gets rid of any problem patches, for example areas that are too squelchy or too dry.
After just over a year and a half back in the UK, spreading my first proper batch of compost and going from one to two heaps feels like quite a mark of progress. Yes I am a compost geek!
(A tiny mouse wasn’t amused to find her hiding place disturbed…)