Helpful advice for composters

Make your garden — and by extension, your world — a greener place by composting. Here are some things to keep in mind to get the most out of this common practice.

Helpful advice for composters

Making the compost pile

  • The compost pile should be formed right on the top of the soil, never on stones or concrete. It needs contact with the earth so creatures that contribute to rotting can get in without hindrance and the resulting seepage can run off easily.
  • Use the three-pile method for large gardens: use the first pile for garden waste. In the winter it can be moved into a second pile, which can be left to ripen undisturbed. By the following winter, the ripe compost can be sifted and moved to the third pile for use in the garden.
  • A composter with sliding panels at the bottom enables you to remove compost from the base.
  • A wire-bin composter with a hinged front provides easy access.
  • Lay coarse wood cuttings to make up the bottommost layer of the compost. Place a little dirt on top, then pile on the compost material to a depth of about one metre (three feet).
  • Add a judicious sprinkle of lime sand or rock flour on each layer to provide the compost with important minerals and trace elements.
  • Collect leaves separately in a covered circle made of wire mesh. They'll decompose quickly, and their acidic qualities will promote the growth of blackberries, raspberries, and rhododendron.

Encouraging the composting process

A few shovelfuls of garden soil or an herbal slurry can be used to speed up the rotting process.

  • Occasionally spray the compost with an undiluted slurry made from dandelion or stinging nettle, or a thinned-down borage extract.
  • The allantoin contained in comfrey encourages the rotting of straw, as well as other plant remains that contain cellulose.

Cress test for readiness

  • Plant a little cress in a bowlful of material from the compost pile.
  • If it sprouts in two to three days and develops green leaves, the compost is ripe and okay to use even for sensitive plants.
  • If nothing sprouts or the cress develops yellow leaves, the compost is still too fresh for using in the garden — you'll have to wait.
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