Our District

Compost

Yes, it’s dry. Even the weeds are wilting, and the soil in my garden beds is already dusty and dry. Sandy soils can become hydrophobic, which means soil particles actually repel water. So you can think you’re watering the garden, only to scratch the surface and find it bone dry underneath. To get the soil saturated again takes time, repeated slow watering, and forking in compost.

The longterm solution is twofold – slow watering (see our website info on sunken clay pots, seep hoses and rope wicking); and building up the soil to hold moisture, by adding compost and mulch.

 

COMPOST:

Making compost is the single best thing you can do for your garden. As well as holding water it provides slow-release nutrients, pathways for roots, and food for worms who in turn aerate the soil. Plus it keeps food scraps and green waste out of landfills – composting is really a no-brainer.

 

 

For beginners: If you can throw a meal together, you can learn to compost. It’s a bit like making chocolate cake: there are many different recipes out there, so experiment to find the one that works for you, based on your available materials, space, time and energy.

Composting is a natural process - any pile of organic matter, left alone for years, will eventually turn into compost. The skill is in speeding up the process through understanding of air, moisture, heat and materials.

Methods: Trenching is the simplest form of composting, great for developing new gardens or revitalizing tired beds. Dig a trench, at least a spade’s depth, across your bed. Add vegetable scraps as you get them, covering with soil as you go. You can plant as you go - things planted on top of the covered trench will have all that food at their roots.

  • Worm farming is great for small gardens where most of the input is kitchen scraps. Worm farms have a very fast turnaround of waste into compost, and are more rodent-proof than compost heaps.
  • Plastic compost bins are great for smallish gardens, holding moisture well, but they need to be managed. Common problems are either keeping the compost too dry (material needs to be wet when it goes in) and lack of aerating material (eg if just using grass clippings and food waste, it becomes sludgy and anaerobic)
  • Larger heaps or wooden/pallet bins are great for larger gardens with big amounts of green waste.
  • Direct composting make a heap directly on a bed for maximum benefits.

Basics: Compost is alive. Millions of fungi, bacteria and invertebrates do the work of breaking down raw material into a form that plants can digest (compost.) All the gardener has to do is provide the best conditions for those creatures to do their thing.

Air + Water + Creatures + Organic Matter = COMPOST

  • Air: Keep layers loose; fork or turn the compost to speed up the process.
  • Water: Water each layer as you add it; cover the heap to stop it drying out.
  • Creatures: Sprinkle on some finished compost, or vermicast, to inoculate the heap with the right microbes and macrobes.
  • Organic Matter: Anything that once was alive.

 

Carbon

Brown, dry material (can be stored near the heap)

Nitrogen

Wet, fresh material

 

Activators

To stimulate bacteria

Sawdust

Leaf Mould

Hay, straw

Shredded paper/card

Pine needles

Ponga fronds

Manure

Food scraps

Green waste

Grass clippings

Blood-and-bone

 

Lime

Liquid feed

Chook poo

Comfrey

Tansy

Yarrow

Seaweed

Cold Composting: A basic recipe for good compost without turning:

  • Each time you have a layer of nitrogen to add, do the following:
  • Start with a thick carbon layer; then a thin nitrogen layer; a sprinkle of activator; moisten; cover.
  • As you layer up your compost, keep the layers flat and spread out so that the heat is evenly distributed. When you come to the top of your bin, finish with a thick layer of carbon, moisten, cover it all under an old sack or carpet and leave it to brew!

Don't use:

  • Diseased plant matter
  • Cat or dog poo
  • Fresh perennial weeds that will spread through your compost (eg: dock, convolvulus, oxalis )

How to recycle pernicious weeds back into your garden: 

  • Either make liquid feed with them; add them back into your compost once drowned.
  • Or sludge them by filling black plastic bags/ barrels with weeds and leave till there is an unrecognisable sludge. Add this back into compost.

Trouble shooting

PROBLEM

SOLUTION

Smells off

Needs   oxygen or is too wet – mix it up, add lime and activator. If too wet add   carbon too

Smells of ammonia

Too   much manure/ nitrogen. Aerate, add carbon and activator

Smells musty

Dying   bacteria – aerate, add lime and scrunched up newspaper and activator

Nothing happening- material just sits there

Too dry - water well, re-layering if needed.

Mice/rats

Not   enough heat. Add activator, lime and correct Carbon : Nitrogen ratio. Get   traps. Or use a worm farm for kitchen waste, and just compost garden waste.

Flies

Don't   add meat scraps or cooked food.

Cover food with a thick layer of carbon.

Fruit flies

Too   acid- add lime.