black-gold-sifted-compostGuest article by Master Composter, Jill Wragg

The days are getting longer and it won’t be long before we are hard at work in our gardens again – time for a bit of planning and preparation…

The key to a good garden lies in the soil.

Providing the right soil conditions will produce good looking, healthy plants, resistant to pests & disease – and you can improve the structure & fertility of almost any soil by adding organic matter in the form of compost.

There are all sorts of myths and misconceptions about composting – many people think of a stinking, slimy heap covered in flies, or a pile of dried up old plants, which harbours rats and other pests. But compost is nature’s way of recycling; breaking down and reusing the organic materials for the plants we eat, or use for shelter and pleasure.

So, how do you make this wonderful compost stuff?

• find a suitable container, purpose built or out of scrap wood, old carpet or chicken wire and newspaper,
• place it on the soil or grass in a warm spot
• then fill it over time with a balanced mixture (about 50/50) of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’

A healthy compost bin needs nitrogen, carbon and oxygen. The ‘greens’ provide the nitrogen, and the ‘browns’ provide the carbon, and create spaces & air pockets in the bin for oxygen.

compostGarden waste is not the only thing that you can put in your compost bin.

At least 30% of most people’s household bin could be composted – helping to reduce the impact of global warming by cutting the amount of methane gas produced at landfill sites.

The ‘browns’ can include: egg boxes & toilet/kitchen roll tubes (not crushed, but left whole to provide space for oxygen), cereal boxes, corrugated cardboard packaging, newspaper, straw & hay, bedding from vegetarian pets, vacuum bag contents, tissues, paper towels & napkins, old natural fibre clothes (cut up your old woolly jumpers and cotton T shirts), feathers, egg shells, wood & paper ashes as well as your garden prunings, twigs, hedge clippings, pine needles and cones.

Your ‘greens’ can be: tea bags, grass cuttings, vegetable peelings, old flowers, fruit scraps, nettles, coffee grounds & filter paper, rhubarb leaves, annual weeds, pond algae & seaweed, spent bedding plants, comfrey leaves.

wpID233imgID316Then just leave it…

… for thousands of bacteria, fungi, insects and worms to make it their home, and turn it into rich crumbly compost – absolutely FREE! If you want to speed things up add a nitrogen rich ingredient such as farmyard manure (chicken / horse) or even human urine!

For more information see ‘handy hints and essential advice’ at www.homecomposting.org.uk

Current agricultural practices can be extremely damaging to soil, leading to erosion and exhaustion of valuable nutrients. We are all dependent on soil for our food. The United Nations estimates that a third of the world’s topsoil has already been degraded, and that if things don’t improve we may only have 60 years of healthy usable soil left! To raise awareness of the issues, 2015 has been declared ‘International Year of Soils’.

Do your bit for soil – start composting today!

Old School Gardener