One of the things that we've been asked more and more is where we can get compost at the moment during the lockdown. If you're lucky you might find some at your local supermarket...…….
We've been lucky and been able to get our hands on large sacks at the local timber merchants that we use - yes, timber merchants (well actually they're a bit more than a timber merchants as they supply garden materials too - obviously). And the local farmers' supply store has had a ready supply too.
Our other local supplier has also recently started to supply bark, decorative gravel, top soil and peat free compost in bulk bags, and we know that the local DIY store has recently reopened so you can also go there - as long as you maintain a 2 metre distance between yourself and everyone else who will be there with you.
The thing is though making your own compost is really easy and means that even though it's No Mow May and you probably have been mowing your lawn you won't then need to worry about how you're going to get rid of all those cuttings...…..
One of the services we offer is grass cutting and lawn maintenance - but more on that another day. As you might imagine however the lawns that we lovingly look after generate an awful lot of grass cuttings. We know that you know what they look like but here's a picture of our recently filled grass box!
So what do we do with them? Well we use them - along with other stuff that we'll talk about later - to make compost!
You can buy purpose built compost bins that are made from recycled plastic that come with a lid to keep everything nice and warm - we'll tell you why that's important later - and with a little door so you can get it out when it's ready. Although they do the job we like to keep the use of plastic to a minimum - whether it's recycled or not - so we made our own!
It's a really simple affair - just four old pallets that we happened to find when we were out on our travels - that we knocked up to form an open fronted bay. The front pallet slides up and down so we can more easily access our compost when we need to - again we'll explain why that's a good idea later.
And then we simply put the clippings in it. Here's what it looks like after a few months.
The important thing however is not to use just grass cuttings on your compost heap. If you do then what you'll end up with will be a brown slimy mess and something that you'll then probably end up taking to the tip.
What you need to do is add other materials. The reason that's important is that grass cuttings tend to pack down as once you've cut your lawn they tend to be short and wet. What we need to do is mix them up with coarser material. Doing that means that air can get between the cuttings and with the addition of some heat then the bacterial reaction that is needed to start the compost process can more easily take place.
So what can we add to the cuttings?
Well here you can see some of the stuff that we added to ours. You can just about make out egg shells, tea bags, the remains of a pineapple and a load of fibre pots and seed compost that we used to bring our seeds on. However it is important that we don't add cooked food as that will inevitably attract rats - and whilst Oscar the Jack Russell likes nothing more than digging around the compost and chasing after them it's something that we really ought to avoid!
Another thing we add to the compost are weeds. Only the small, shallow leaved annual weeds that we find popping up at the allotment at this time of the year. We don't add the perennial weeds like couch grass or dock - the ones with longer roots - as although they seem to die back over the winter you just know that deep down under the surface those roots as simply waiting for spring and to spring back into life! We also wouldn't add weeds that are in seed - if you do all that will happen is that they'll set seed in your compost and start to germinate when the time is right.
We've also added chicken manure to our compost. We get it quite fresh from a local egg supplier - at that stage it's considered to be "hot" and if applied to the ground or our plants at that stage it would do more harm than good. Not wanting to waste it however we add it to the compost bin. Ok so it smells strong and adding it on the morning of the allotment being opened as part of the National Garden Scheme might not have been such a good idea but...…...
Fresh horse manure is also good - anything that can be mixed in with the grass cuttings and makes sure they're well aerated is good.
The final thing that we sometimes add is household scraps and rubbish - well dampened paper, newspaper and card can all be added to the mix.
It's important to build the compost up in layers. We tend to start with a coarse layer of a few inches then add the cuttings. We then mix it all together - one of the reasons it's good to be able to lift out one of the sides of the bin. Then we add alternate layers and build it up like that - every few inches we add either a compost accelerator or calcified seaweed as that all helps to get the compost going.
Compost develops due to a bacterial reaction. To do that the compost will need some heat - so it's best to site your heap or bin in a spot that gets some sun. Some people cover their heap with an old piece of carpet. We've tried to avoid that as we've not found it necessary but there's no harm in doing that if yours doesn't enjoy a sunny spot.
After a few months its time to remove the side of the heap and get your fork out. Turning and mixing the heap helps it all break down - and gives us some excellent exercise! If you're lucky and if the compost is working you ought to see worms - they help with the bacterial reaction - and what was once grass cuttings and all manner of other stuff should be starting to look like compost!
Give it a few more months and you should then have something that looks brown and crumbly and smells delicious! The late, great Geoff Hamilton used to say it should look good enough to eat! Not that we've tried that or would suggest that you do either...…..
You can then either spread the compost over your garden, place it into sacks until you need it or mix it with something else to use it in other ways. Like what? Well we mix our compost with leaf mould that we've made in our adjoining bin to form our own potting and seed compost.
We tend to collect leaves from a lot of the work that we do over the late autumn and early winter months and again rather than see those leaves go to waste we do what we can to make good use of them. We do add some to our general compost - as that can help create space between the rest of the "ingredients" but we also add them into a separate bin that we made by simply knocking four stakes into the ground that we then stapled chicken wire to.
Unlike compost leaves decompose mainly by fungi - rather than the heat we spoke about earlier. You need an awful lot of leaves to make some leaf mould but if you can get your hands on some then we'd urge you to give it a go! Leaf mould helps condition the soil and is something that we'll talk about when the leaves are in abundance.
And there you have it. Ok so you need some space to have a compost bin. You also need to have a supply of different types of garden and other waste to make a successful compost. But we'd urge you to give it a go. Making your own means that you'll know exactly what's gone into it, you'll have had fun and exercise making it, and you won't have had to waste time at the tip getting rid of your garden waste like all of these people!
and let us know how you get on.
Good luck and don't be afraid to give it a go!