Composting with Miles Ferrante

Compost is the single most important supplement you can give your allotment. It’s a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus to your plot that fuels plant growth and restores vitality to depleted soil.  It’s also free, easy to make, and good for the environment.  However, composting also has other benefits.

  • Introduces Beneficial Organisms to the Soil
  • Microscopic organisms help aerate the soil, break down organic materials for plant use, and ward off plant disease.
  • Good for the Environment 
  • Composting offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers when applied to your plot.
  • Reduces Landfill Waste
  • Great soil conditioner, also known as black gold.
  • Retains moisture in your soil.
  • Adds nutrients.

What Compost bin should I use?
I have a large pallet compost bin, a purpose build compost bin, and five dalek compost bins, I use one of the dalek bins for manure, one for holding my brassicas nets, and three for compost. 

What to Compost
There is a lot of differing opinions on what you can or can’t put in your compost bin, personally I put everything except weeds which have seeded, bindweed, couch grass and mares tail, this is because I use my compost every year, and this won’t have been enough time to get rid of those pernicious weeds.  I don’t put kitchen waste in either as this tends to attract rats, I put mine in a wormery which doesn’t yield a massive amount of compost, but gives off a worm juice which I use to water my compost when it gets dry.       

Leaves are a good source of carbon

Carbon
Carbon-rich matter (see table below) gives compost its light, fluffy body.  A healthy compost pile should have much more carbon than nitrogen.

Nitrogen
Nitrogen or protein-rich matter (see table below) provides raw materials for making enzymes.

A healthy compost pile should have much more carbon than nitrogen. A simple rule of thumb is to use one-third green and two-thirds brown materials. The bulkiness of the brown materials allows oxygen to penetrate and nourish the organisms that reside there. Too much nitrogen makes for a dense, smelly, slowly decomposing anaerobic mass.

Tips Making the best compost

  1. Start your compost pile on bare earth.This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost and be transported to your plot. 
  2. Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
  3. Add compost materials in layers, alternating moist and dry.
  4. Add manure, this activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.
  5. Keep compost moist. Water occasionally, or let rain do the job.
  6. Coverwith anything you have – wood, plastic sheeting, carpet scraps. Covering helps retain moisture and heat, two essentials for compost. Covering also prevents the compost from being over-watered by rain. The compost should be moist, but not soaked and sodden.
  7. Turn. Every few weeks give the pile a quick turn with a pitchfork or shovel. This aerates the pile. Oxygen is required for the process to work, and turning “adds” oxygen. You can skip this step if you have a ready supply of coarse material like straw.

Related: 10 Pro Composting Tips from Expert Gardeners

This table details how the items in your compost are likely to be classified

Material

Carbon/Nitrogen

Information

Wood chips

Carbon

High carbon levels, use sparingly

Wood ash from your fire

Carbon

Only use ash from clean materials, sprinkle lightly

Straw or hay

Carbon

Straw is best, hay (with seeds) is less ideal

Shrub pruning’s

Carbon

Woody pruning’s are slow to break down

Shredded paper

Carbon

Avoid using glossy paper and coloured inks

Leaves

Carbon

Leaves break down faster when shredded

Garden weeds

Nitrogen

Only use weeds which have not gone to seed

Green comfrey leaves

Nitrogen

Excellent compost ‘activator’

Grass clippings

Nitrogen

Add in thin layers so they don’t mat into clumps

Fruit and vegetable waste

Nitrogen

Add with dry carbon items

Flowers, cuttings

Nitrogen

Chop up any long woody stems

Eggshells

Neutral

Best when crushed, or use in wormery

Chicken manure

Nitrogen

Excellent compost ‘activator’

Cardboard

Carbon

Shred  or cut up to avoid matting