Composting is simply the process Mother Nature uses to dispose of her organic waste materials (in other words anything that was once living). In its commonest form it is the carpet of leaves, sticks and other material on the forest floor that is gradually recycled into the soil. Composting is carried out by various scavengers such as earthworms, fungi and bacteria that use the organic materials as their food source and in the process break it down into tiny little pieces of organic matter known as humus. This humus is extremely useful in adding nutrients to soil in boosting the soil’s ability to store water and nutrients. In addition it glues the soil particles together which helps to allow air into the soil and improve drainage therefore assisting plant growth.
Whilst we would all love to be environmentally friendly and recycle all our own organic matter (such as kitchen scraps and garden clippings) in our own garden the reality is that many attempts at composting end up as a smelly embarrassment at the bottom of the garden. To avoid such disasters we will look at two foolproof methods that will allow you to recycle the majority of your organic materials.
‘Soil Composting’- The hole story
Some of the best material for composting consists of your kitchen scraps – these materials are very rich in nutrients and will rapidly break down in any sort of composting system. Perhaps the biggest problem is their tendency to attract fruit fly and other insects.
Step 1 Accumulate several days worth of scraps in a bucket with a snap-on lid to keep odours contained. Unfortunately it is not practical to include dairy products or meat scraps, these are best left as a treat for household pets, backyard chickens or the bin.
Step 2 Select an area in the garden where the soil needs revitalising. An area in a vegetable garden that is between plantings is ideal but a suitable spot can also be created by removing a tired old shrub or perennial that is past its best. By the time you have finished your soil will be brilliantly prepared for your next planting.
Step 3 The area you have selected should ideally be large enough to accommodate 10-15 small holes depending on how much material you have to bury each week.
Step 4 Simply bury your accumulated scraps at least 5 cm below the soil surface. You will be surprised at the population of earthworms that springs up to digest the meal you have provided.
Step 5 All you have to do now is wait a about 6 weeks for the material to break down and you can replant virtually any plant into the enriched soil there.
Depending on the nature of what you have buried you are likely to find fruit and vegetable seedlings coming up – the most common ones are tomatoes, pumpkins and melons. There are two simple solutions, don’t include the seeds with your scraps or simply pull them out or dig the seedlings back into the soil when you are preparing to plant there.
This is an old time honoured method. As the name indicates, you can do this form of composting by burying organic matter methodically, marking out your trench in advance. You then begin your trench by digging your hole at one end, about a foot deep, putting the soil to one side. Empty your scraps or other organic matter (raked up leaves, lawn clippings, manure) into this hole, and then dig into the next patch of soil, using it to bury the organic matter you emptied in. You then have another hole which is in turn filled up with organic matter and the next patch of soil, proceeding along the marked trench until you are finished. You can then use this patch of ground to plant into…..the soil will be well dug and loosened and the underground organic matter will release plant food as it decays and attract lots of worms.
Both of these methods are great where you don’t have the space or inclination to have compost bins or worm farms, but you still want to build up your soil and recycle your organic matter. You can also incorporate shredded paper into these methods, a great way to add soil carbon. A sprinkle of wood ash is also fine, and some seaweed if you live near the beach.
One final bonus is that you get a bit of exercise as you dig!