Uneaten school lunches make great compost for keen gardeners
Winter may be a dreary time, but keen gardeners can still use the colder months to their advantage. A bit of effort and preparation now and your garden will positively bloom in the summer months.
The trick at this time of year is compost, and lots of it.
Composting your garden is like putting high-performance petrol in your car.
It gives the soil a good rev-up and generates extra nutrients in time for spring growth.
Composting improves soil structure and reduces the need for synthetic fertilisers. It also adds structure to your soil, improving drainage in winter and helping with water retention in summer.
Another bonus is that it allows you to recycle kitchen scraps and household waste, thus reducing the volume of rubbish which goes into the environment.
The key to good compost is having the right mix of nitrogen and carbon materials.
Fallen leaves are the perfect carbon component. Grass clippings provide the nitrogen component and should be mixed with the leaves at a rate of 25 parts grass to one part fallen leaves.
Alternatively, if the fallen leaves are on the grass, simply mow them up with the grass. This mixes the leaves and clippings perfectly. It’s not an exact science!
Heap the compost into a pile and cover with a tarpaulin or place it in a plastic compost bin, preferably a rotating one, which can be purchased from your local hardware store.
The next big secret is to stir your compost, weekly if possible.
This will ensure the ‘right’ bacteria are working on your compost.
If your compost is composting well it will start to ferment and heat up. A well-fermenting compost can heat up to over 80 degrees celsius, which will kill unwanted bacteria and weed seeds.
Tiger worms can also be used to make compost – they provide nutrients to plants and are brilliant at breaking down food scraps.
Instead of mixing leaves and grass, create your compost using food scraps found at home. This can include potato peelings, bread scraps and those uneaten school lunches found under beds and in sock draws!
You can still add grass clippings, but only 2cm at a time to ensure the worms can make a meal of your compost – grass can be quite acidic. If you're using tiger worms for your compost I recommend purchasing a specific bin for this purpose.
The worms are easily identified by their vivid stripes or rings around the body.
This composting method doesn’t require any stirring. Simply add new layers of food to the top of the bin. The worms eat it and the finished compost can be taken from the bottom layer of the bin as it becomes ready.
Compost will take about 12 to 14 weeks to be ready in winter. When it looks like potting mix you are all ready to go.
Why should I use compost on my garden?
Compost is the most valuable substance you’ll ever add to your soil. In all its final, decaying glory, compost is a rich source of nutrients. It provides the soil with minerals like fibrous humus, which is crucial in assisting the breakdown of heavy, clay soils. Light soils are catered to also, the compost helping them to achieve far better water retention.
Where can I find composting systems?
Composting systems are available at most garden retailers, or online at stores like Julia’s Compost Shop, where you'll find some of the most popular ranges. As well as specials, Julia offers hints and tips, and recommended reading on the subject.
What should I put in my compost?
For a start, weeds, lawn clippings, fallen leaves, and pruning remains (if soft) are fine ingredients for a compost party. But there’s more than just the garden debris to add. Forget chucking away those potato peelings-they and any other organic waste from the kitchen can be added as well.
How do I store my compost?Obviously, while the ingredients for your compost can be piled in a heap outdoors, a more efficient solution is to invest in a commercially-available compost bin. These come in a variety of styles; and two together will always provide enough space for your regular waste dumps.
Any bin that’s used needs to have some gaps built into it to allow sufficient air ventilation. Aeration can be assisted by turning the compost with a fork once a fortnight.
How can I give my compost a kick start?
To give your burgeoning heap of compost the best possible start try adding a little chemical aid in the form of lime and ammonia sulphate. A few handfuls of each will suffice. The lime maintains a steady acid balance while the ammonia gives your compost bacteria an extra shot in the arm to break down the organic matter.
What is the key to making good compost?
Final success in the growing of compost is determined by a single ingredient, moisture. Too much of it and, to the horror of your neighbouring barbeque owners and their guests, the compost will foul the air and become a soggy, anaerobic mess. Too little moisture and nothing will happen. The bacteria will take a holiday and the entire mound will stagnate. As a rule, it’s best to regulate the moisture in accordance with the seasons. So during summer, for instance, you’d add the occasional bucket of water. Whereas, during winter or in especially wet times you’d be putting a cover of some kind in place.
How do I find worms for my compost?
If you find your compost is not attracting worms it could be because you have been adding too much citrus material to it. If you would like to add some worms to your compost I suggest you use tiger worms (flat and striped). The best way to gather these worms is to ripe some paper up and wet it then place in your garden. And the best time to find new worms is on an early, nice, damp morning when they are squirming from floods and before the birds gobble them up.