Good gardeners will say there is no such thing as a green thumb – just good compost and regular watering and feeding.
Neville and Mim Burkett from the Yellow House (previous post) are gardening gurus and have a lifetime of experience in creating organic gardens. They are always sharing their knowledge with novice gardeners like myself and here is Neville’s fail-safe guide to making great compost.
Compost – The Recipe to Garden Success
After over 70 tons of concrete had been removed from their garden, Mim and Neville realized they would have to build up the topsoil from scratch.
“We didn’t want to introduce imported topsoil as we didn’t want to bring in any more weeds than we had already,” says Neville. “Compost is living soil, with many millions of various microbes which are essential to plant growth, and our garden needed lots of it!”
The Burketts used organically certified pelleted chicken manure on the garden, but also needed lots of compost to keep the garden fertile and to improve the soil. They have tried various methods of making compost but find the traditional method of three open bays is hard to beat.
Neville has constructed a row of three compost bins, each containing about one cubic metre. “This allows me to have composting at various stages – one bin starting off, one composting and one ready to use,” Neville explains. “I then have a continuous supply of compost.”
He uses the one cubic metre bins, constructed from used pallets, because a volume of one cubic metre is required to generate the temperatures inside the compost heap – necessary for fast composting and to stop weeds germinating.
The plastic compost bins are generally too small to generate temperatures of 60 degrees and are slower to compost and the finished product is likely to contain seeds which will germinate when the compost is spread.
Composting needs a continuous supply of air to produce the right microbes which are the actual digesters of the vegetation being composted. Neville turns the heaps from time to time, especially when he has emptied one bin and can fork in the contents of the next bin, giving it a really good turning.
The proportions of dried to green vegetation in the compost is very important. The green material provides nitrogen for the composting process and the dried material provides carbon. Neville uses a mix of one part green to at least four parts dry.
For green waste he uses all the tree prunings, grass clippings, plants and vegies which have been pruned or reached the end of their life.
For brown compost he uses straw and the partly decomposed scraps from the chook-pen and dried lawn clippings. Essential to the recipe is also the addition of a little garden soil to provide a nucleus of microbes to start the composting process.
Neville layers the compost heap in the “lasagne” method – a layer of green, a layer of brown, some fresh or pelletted chicken manure, cow or horse manure and then waters it in well. Continue layering until the bin is full, making sure the heap is damp enough is really important.
“Don’t put in too much green stuff as the good bacteria will not thrive and the heap will smell,” Neville advises, “And of course, no animal products and not too much citrus as they are difficult to compost.”
Depending on the season and the heat inside the heap, compost should be ready in six to eight weeks.