Compost is one of the most nutrient-rich sources of food for your garden and can be used in a wealth of ways. The earthy-smelling material can help improve soil structure, keep the pH level of soil balanced and suppress plant disease.
With more of us taking to our gardens as a hobby in lockdown, some are looking for tips to improve their green spaces.
Adding plants, mowing the grass and trimming hedges are all ways to neaten up the appearance of your garden, but is the soil being looked after?
Compost is a gardening staple which can help plants and flowers to thrive, while also looking after the environment by reducing landfill waste.
You can make compost at home in a few easy steps – but how?
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How to make compost
First, decide the container you’d like to hold your compost in and the area in your garden which to do so.
Try and make sure the area is not one which sees extremes in temperature and moisture, as the Royal Horticultural Society advises “ the micro-organisms (bacteria and fungi) that convert the waste to compost work best in constant conditions”.
So, put the compost bin or container in an area with light shade.
Having an earth base to your compost is advised as it allows for drainage and access to soil organisms.
So if using a solid surface, add a spadeful of soil to the compost bin.
Getting the right balance of materials for composting is important. The RHS advises
Aim for between 25 and 50 percent soft green materials (e.g. grass clippings, annual weeds, vegetable kitchen waste, or manure) to feed the micro-organisms.
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The remainder should be woody brown material (e.g. prunings, wood chippings, paper, cardboard, straw or dead leaves)
The bacteria and micro-organisms that produce the compost function best when the balance of green and brown materials is correct.
Avoid letting any one material dominate the heap – especially grass clippings, as these can become a slimy, smelly mess on their own.
Kitchen waste and grass clippings are best mixed with brown woody material, as they tend to be wet and easily compacted, excluding air.
Some common composting materials
- Green: Grass clippings; soft, leafy plants including annual weeds; fruit and vegetables, uncooked kitchen waste; selected pet waste/bedding
- Brown: prunings and hedge trimmings (ideally shredded), woodchip, leaves, paper and card (torn up or shredded), straw, plant stems
- Accelerators and activators: Products such as ‘Garotta’ are sometimes added where green waste is in short supply. They contain high levels of nitrogen (a nutrient found in green waste), but should not be necessary if green waste is plentiful. It is also possible to purchase activators containing carbon (a nutrient found in brown woody waste); these are aimed at composting grass clippings or other green waste where there is insufficient brown waste
- Lime: People sometimes think you need to add lime to the compost heap, but there is no need to do so
While building up your compost heap, you should turn it periodically in order to introduce air.
The RHS advises turning the heap perhaps every month as if the heap is too wet or becomes compacted, then the composting process is slower as less air is available.
When is compost ready?
Garden compost can take between six months and two years to reach maturity.
Mature compost will be dark brown, with a crumbly soil-like texture and a smell resembling damp woodland.
Compost which is ready can also have a rich earthy smell.
It is unlikely that all the material in the heap will be like this, but any remaining un-rotted material can be added to the next batch of composting materials.
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