Making Your Own Compost
When you make a compost heap, you are doing what nature does all the time — turning the remains of dead plants into food for yet more plants.
If the heap is well made, with a mixture of leaves and more fibrous material, conditions will be ideal for countless millions of micro-organisms to begin breaking down the waste into plant food.
It is best to make a compost heap directly on the soil, so that any excess water can drain away. Naturally, the soil beneath should be well drained.
The heap can be free-standing, but for neatness and convenience it is better to make it within a framework of wooden shutters or chicken netting. Alternatively, you can use a proprietary compost container.
Most garden waste is suitable — for instance, the tops of peas and beans, lettuces that have gone to seed, beetroot leaves, lawn mowings, dead flowers, leafy hedge clippings and annual weeds. To these can be added straw litter from rabbit hutches, and waste from the kitchen such as tea leaves, the outer leaves of vegetables and fruit skins.
Do not use perennial weeds, such as docks and nettles; woody material that will not decompose; or scraps of food that may attract vermin. Chop up hard roots and stems, such as those of cabbages, before adding them to the heap, and mix the material thoroughly.
To start a compost heap, spread a layer of garden waste about 9-12in (230-305 mm) deep, water the material if it is dry, then cover this with a layer of animal manure about 2in (50 mm) deep.
If no manure is available, use sulphate of ammonia as an accelerator, sprinkling it over the compost at the rate of 1 oz per square yard (15g per square metre). Alternatively, use a proprietary activator.
Build a second 9-12in (230-305 mm) layer of waste material and cover with manure. If sulphate of ammonia was used on the first layer, sprinkle the second layer with garden lime at the rate of 4 oz per square yard (120g per square metre).
Continue building the heap, sprinkling lime on alternate layers if you use sulphate of ammonia as an activator. Never mix the two together.
If sufficient material is available, build the heap to a height of about 4 ft (1.2 m), finishing with a layer of soil an inch or two deep. In most gardens there is rarely enough waste to make a heap of this height in one operation, so cover the top with polythene or sacking to keep in the heat until the next layer can be added.
Heat will build up rapidly at first but will die down after about a month, when the heap will have shrunk to about one-third its original size.
At this stage it is an advantage to turn the heap so that the outer material, which is slower to rot, can be placed on the inside of the new heap.
If you have compost bins of the type shown alongside, simply transfer the contents to the second bin. Mix the contents thoroughly as you do so, making sure that unrotted material is buried.
While the material is rotting, and also if the heap is to remain undisturbed for the winter, protect it by covering with polythene held down by bricks or stones, or tucked down between the compost and the rails of the bin.
Compost made in a proprietary bin is unlikely to need turning, and the cover will protect it from rain.
When ready, the compost should be moist, dark brown and of uniform consistency, with a smell resembling that of leaf-mould. In summer, composting may take only a month or two, but in winter it usually takes at least twice as long.
HOW TO MAKE COMPOST BINS
It is best to make a pair of bins, so that the contents of one are maturing while the other is being filled. To save money, use second-hand timber and vary the dimensions of the bins to suit the sizes you are able to obtain.
For a medium-size garden, dimensions of 3 x 3 x 3ft (1 x 1 x 1m) are satisfactory.
If you do not have a regular source of second-hand timber, ask local demolition merchants whether they have old floor boards for sale. Manufacturers of timber buildings often have offcuts.
To inhibit rot, soak the butts of the uprights in a non-toxic preservative, such as Cuprinol, for several days. Brush parts above ground liberally with preservative and repeat every two or three years.
Use galvanisedfor fastening. As the boards are secured inside the uprights, the timber — not the fastenings — takes the strain.
To make a bin, place the uprights for one of the side sections flat on the ground and nail the rails between them. The space between rails should be the same as the width of the rails.
Make the other side in the same way, then fasten the back rails between. Notch the back upper rail to the upper side rails.
Shallow notches in the removable front rails slot over the side rails, and prevent the uprights splaying under pressure from the compost. Secure the finished bins in position by sinking the base of each upright into the ground.