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Composting a ‘win win’ for everyone

Outdoor Living

CREATING GOLD Compost is called ‘black gold’ because of its value in improving garden soil.

Nature and rewilding
Pat Fahy

Sugar and spice and all things nice, these are the things that little girls are made of, at least that’s how the nursery rhyme goes anyways. Of course it’s easy to forget what we really are made of. Every living creature of the land at one time or other or in some shape or form depended on the sustenance from a humble ingredient that shouldn’t be taken for granted: the soil.
An awareness of the importance of healthy soil is thought to be one of the reasons why more and more gardeners are making their own home compost. Another major reason to compost is that you will generate your own alternative to peat, which is extracted for ready made commercial compost. Our peatlands are an endangered wildlife habitat and more important than forests for keeping carbon in the ground.
Home composting is an ideal way in which almost every gardener can make a difference. When made correctly its rated to be of superior quality to ready made compost, releasing essential micro – nutrients and nutrients that would otherwise remain locked up in the soil for healthy plants and nutritious produce. Although it is not the most glamorous of materials there is something very satisfying about making compost, turning all kinds of kitchen and garden waste into a rich, crumbly material that will benefit the garden enormously.
Once again, I am endebted to the wealth of experience of many gardeners sharing the different ways in which they make compost sharing. ‘Composting – a household guide’, available to download from, is another good place to start. The information in this well-presented booklet explains with clarity the ways in which any gardener can make compost in a variety of ways to suit their needs.
How you make your compost is up to you, the most important thing is to give it a try. It isn’t too difficult, nature does most of the work. Spring and autumn are the usual times for making a batch for the compost heap, and if you add green material (such as grass cuttings) and brown materials (such as brown leaves, shredded cardboard, straw, pine needles, saw dust) in equal measure with tiny amounts of soil to act as an activator then the compost heap will heat up, through an increase in microbial activity, thus speeding up the process of decomposition.
If you add shredded nettles into the heap, always making sure there are none of my beloved moth or caterpillars on the leaves, then the nitrogen they contain will speed things up even further. If you have a large garden the best system is to have three bays. One filling, one rotting down and one ready to go. When one bay is emptied, refill from the adjacent bay and so forth. I highly recommend you visit Edible Landscape Project Facebook page for a local gardeners practical guide on this method.
It’s important that it’s open to the soil so that the worms and other organisms can do their thing. In most countries, a compost heap cover is needed to stop the heap from drying out but We have the opposite problem, we need to keep the rain out, If it seems to have the water content similar to a squeezed out sponge then that’s perfect for the microorganisms digesting the material.
In my own experience, and that of other gardeners, vegetable cuttings (which are a green material) should not be placed on an open compost heap, where they are likely to attract unwanted visitors. Instead you need a sealed compost bin open only to the ground and the bottom layer added to the heap in spring and autumn. Others recommend a wire mesh at ground level to keep pests out. This type of compost bin is available at minimal charge from your local council.
All those autumn leaves you clear from your drive, that pile of grass cuttings thrown in an out of the way corner. Add them together, give it a bit of time. Let nature do its work and next spring you’ll have the finest compost money can’t buy, as well as another habitat for a diverse range of microscopic creatures who will invite themselves to the banquet. When you see your flowers, fruit trees and vegetables bloom like never before, you’ll thank them kindly.

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.