I thought I would share with you a slightly different side to my veggie patch.
It’s not the prettiest area of the garden, but it is probably the most important – the compost area!
Because I have such a big garden, I need a lot of soil to fill it, and the raised beds need to be topped up every so often. I could buy a truck load of garden soil, and we have done that in the past, but there are a few problems with that:
a) it’s expensive
b) commercial soil is nowhere near as good these days as it used to be and you can’t always tell where it came from, or even if it was obtained ethically
c) the pH could be totally inappropriate. (the last load we bought a few years back had a pH of almost 10!!!!! and it took a lot of sulphur and a lot of compost to get it back to where I wanted it)
d) soil alone isn’t likely to have sufficient nutrients for my veggies
So what I need is COMPOST and lots of it!
I never understood in the past how gardeners could get so excited about compost. I thought they were crazy to be so passionate about what is essentially a pile of waste. But since I started growing my own veggies, I have not only come to understand, but I too have become one of those crazy, passionate, compost-loving gardeners!
Every gardener needs compost. Even when I had just a tiny courtyard garden and grew my veggies in pots, I still had a compost bin. I used one of those plastic ones that look like Daleks that I bought from Bunnings. I bought a bag of sugar cane mulch and every time I emptied a container of kitchen scraps into the bin, I’d throw in a handful of mulch and sprinkle over some water from a watering can I kept beside the bin. Once a week I would stir it with my nifty corkscrew-shaped compost aerator tool, and after a couple of months, I had some beautiful rich compost!
These days, my garden is a lot bigger and one plastic compost bin just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.
So now I have a much larger area devoted to making compost!
In my current composting area, there is an area for kitchen scraps, a place to put green waste and clippings etc that I will use in the compost, and another area to put weeds and very woody bits that will either take forever to break down, or that I don’t want in the good compost. Then I have several working bays where the compost is actually made.
I built it all myself, using star pickets, and sheets of colorbond that we got from our next-door neighbour when he had his roof replaced. They are the same kind of sheets I used to make my raised beds in the garden.
This area at the end is my kitchen scraps depot. I have several of those Dalek-like bins now! One is full of cheap mulch hay, and the other two are used to hold scraps. All of our food waste goes in here. Each time I add a bucket of scraps, I cover it with a handful or two of hay. When the bins are getting full, and I have enough other materials, I empty them to make a pile of compost.
Here is where the magical process of compost making takes place – extending out from the kitchen scraps depot I have 4 bays. The first one I generally use for holding green waste and prunings etc until I have enough of everything to make a compost pile.
When I make a new compost heap, I make it in this first bay, or the one next to it.
This pile was made about a week before I took this picture. It was originally almost as high as the top of the bay but it has sunk down quite a lot as it breaks down. And we also had a fair bit of rain this week, so it’s quite wet. It needs turning to get the air into it again. In Winter, if I come out early enough when it’s still really cold, you can often see steam rising from the heap which is a wonderful sign because it means the pile is heating up and the decomposition process is working!
When it comes time to turn the pile, I simply remove the sheet of tin on one side (I made it so the tin can be easily slid out from between the star pickets), and toss the compost into the second bay. Then I can start a new heap in the first bay.
Usually I need to add a bit more water as I’m turning the compost, but this pile is wet enough already thanks to the rain. I turn each compost pile this way usually 2 or 3 times. By the time the compost reaches the end bay, it is ready to be used in the garden.
This is what it will look like in a couple of months (provided I turn it a few times and keep it moist) – a beautiful rich mix, ready to add to my garden beds:
I have dedicated the section of my garden nearest the compost area, to plants that I use when making compost. This bed contains things like arrowroot and yarrow (newly planted) and comfrey – truly one of my favourite plants! Comfrey has incredibly deep tap roots, that reach down into the earth and pull up nutrients that other plants miss. Its nutrient-rich leaves, especially rich in potassium, can be used directly as a mulch, or added to the compost heap to speed up the breakdown of material and add extra nutrients and minerals.
I don’t always add animal manure to my compost. I refuse to buy commercial bags of manure, because most of it comes from feed lots and battery hen farms which I don’t want to be associated with. Occasionally I manage to get some chook manure or horse manure from one of our neighbours and then I’ll use that. And lately, the neighbour’s cows have been venturing onto the lower part of our block more, so I am usually rewarded with fresh manure when they visit! I have found though, that with a good mix of plant materials and food scraps, and especially with several good handfuls of comfrey added, I get a pretty good compost without needing a lot of manure.
I love the feel of mature compost. It has a wonderful earthy smell, and there’s nothing like running your hands through stuff that you have made yourself, using waste from your own garden, and you know it’s full of nutrients your plants will love.
(sorry I did warn you I’d become one of those crazy passionate compost-worshipping gardeners!)