Composting


Compostingencouraging plant matter to rot clown—is an important gardening technique, because when plant material decays it produces nitrogen, the most important nutrient for the soil. Although you can buy compost ready-made, a homemade compost heap is always of superior quality.

You can buy concentrated manures to add to the soil, but they lack the organic bulk of homemade compost and do not benefit the soil structure to the same degree.

You could, 01 course, simply till the dying remains of your garden plants into the soil, but the bacteria that rot the matter use nitrogen from the soil to do so, thus temporarily depleting it of this nutrient. The nitrogen will return to the soil when this process is complete, but it will take a while and in the meantime your plants will be starved of the nitrogen they need. The simplest solution is to make your own compost pile and add the fully decayed matter to the soil a couple of times a year, normally in spring and autumn.

The easiest organic method of getting nitrogen into the soil is to use well-rotted manure I mm farmyard animal sows, horses, and chickens combined with straw from their bedding. Applying farmyard waste to the soil is still a valuable method of fertilizing it, and you can easily get a hold of supplies from farms and stables.

The decaying process

The compost heap decomposes through the action of heal and moisture which, if kept in balance, cause the bacteria in the organic matter to do their work more quickly than if the material were just sitting on the soil surface. The aim then is to ensure that the compost heap has optimum conditions to rot. Do not add anything to the pile that is too large: shred material down to roughly 2 in. in diameter at most. Anything very woody or tough may need to be shredded into even smaller pieces.

Making compost

If you make your own compost, you will discover that it is some­thing of an art, and exponents have their own favorite methods. I he basic principle, however, is to encourage the material you are composting to rot down reasonably quickly and effi­ciently, so that in rough six months time you achieve a good, crumbly, well-rotted mixture that you can add to your soil.

Good size for a compost heap for an average-sized garden is about 5 It. square and 3 ft. deep. Position the heap in a convenient spot in the garden to which you can transport the material easily.

Hip a layer of vegetable matter straight onto the soil to .1 depths of around 9 in. I her sprinkle on ,1 thin layer (around I in.) of animal manure other activating agent, such as sole plate of ammonia or nettles. Keep building the layers in this” way until you reaches the final height. Ideally, mix the materials in “for example, do not build layers of grass clippings, because they will heal up considerably. Mix up priming, grass clippings, and vegetable waste .is much as possible. Water the heap if the material is very dry when it is added. Include a few spade fish of soil from time to lime. Finally, cover the heap with a piece of old carpet or a plastic sheet. Ibis will prevent heat loss, which can slow down the composting process.

Soil fertility

Perhaps the most beneficial effect of composted organic waste is the improvement in soil fertility. Alter the organic matter has been applied to the soil, it decomposes further and organic acids are released. These acids help to release plant nutrients that may be locked in the soil. Soil-borne organisms like bacte­ria, beetles, and worms help with decomposition. Added to a clay soil, compost will help to open it up (allowing in more air). Improve the texture, and make if more workable. In a poor, free-draining sandy soil, extra organic matter will increase the water-holding capacity and fertility.

TIP

Do not use dairy products, meat, or pet waste on your compost heap because they will attract rats and other vermin.

MAKING COMPOST

Organic waste contains some nutrients that are not only valuable to plants, but are also ideal for improving the overall fertility of a soil and compost is very cheap and easy to make.

1 Spread the first layer of material over the floor of the bin, covering ( evenly. Do not press down; allow it to settle naturally.

2 Add a second layer of different materials (such as grass clippings and vegetable waste) to the heap, scattering if evenly.

3 Add an activator, such as a layer of animal manure or a sprinkling of nitrogenous fertilizer, jar every 9 in. depth of the heap.

3 When on have finished layering (lie compost, cover if with a piece of old carpet or plastic steel and allow it to rot down.

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