26: Autumn 2010

Author: Anthony Ewin

Composting thoughts

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Composting thoughts
Anthony Ewin

I have just been extracting leaf-mould. It is rich and brown like fruit cake and looks good enough to eat; well, the worms think so. Lawrence Hills, that doyen of organic gardening, charmingly suggests that the fungus that you see on some leaves (such as the black spots on sycamore leaves), are as good as mushrooms on toast for the worms. (‘Organic Gardening’ by Lawrence D. Hills is a mine of information about composting.) However, I shall use the leaf-mould for planting lime-haters and woodlanders, as my soil is alkaline. It is two years old I think, but I can’t quite remember when I laid it down (like a good wine). I have been fortunate to inherit a large old galvanized water tank 1m by 0.8m by 0.8m high, with a hole at the bottom. Into this I tip the leaves. Then I get in and trample them down; I imagine that I am treading the grape harvest. When I have put in as many leaves as the tank will hold, I add water and a heavy weight such as a paving stone to keep the material compressed. The leaves seem to rot down best under these anaerobic conditions.

I love making compost. In my opinion it is like making a cake: a little bit of this, a little bit of that and a little bit of something else and stir it all up. I like to put on the heap a thin layer of hedge trimmings followed by the kitchen waste peelings et al. (very slimey), followed by a layer of weeds, some stinging nettles, and then grass mowings (en saison). The layer of grass mowings has to be thin, otherwise it becomes too slimey. Stinging nettles are ideal as they are fibrous and yet rot down easily and they have the bonus of containing lots of minerals. I have acquired a shredder which is ideal for shredding twigs and tough woody stalks such as Jerusalem artichokes or sunflowers; the product is a fine dry material which is good for soaking up sliminess. A little nitrogenous additive to feed the micro-organisms and get them going is applied from time to time. I add a sprinkling of ground limestone, as I understand that the micro-organisms prefer slightly alkaline conditions, and mix all the material with a fork.

I find that it takes about a year to rot down. This would certainly be speeded up if I tipped it all out and mixed it up. In making compost it helps to keep it airy so that the micro-organisms continue to do their work. The trouble is that digging out and putting back a large volume of compost is very tiring. Members may remember in a garden we visited on the bus trip a couple of years ago an elaborate machine that had been constructed by the owner and which automatically mixed the compost and even heated it. I certainly do not aspire to such sophistication. However, I have seen advertised large cylindrical compost tumblers. But are they effective? If anyone has one, I should really like to know if it works.

First published in the North East Group Newsletter, January 2009
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 26.
© Copyright for this article: Anthony Ewin

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2010. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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