The Real Men Sow Guide to Making Your Own Compost
Ever mowed the lawn, tossed the cuttings into the green bin and thought ‘there must be something better I can do with all that?’
Well, ponder no more, because those lovely, fresh clippings can be easily and cheaply transformed into compost – a cheap and highly nutritious soil improver that will help your plants to thrive far more than anything you can buy in the shops.
Heap or Bin?
Making good compost is a doddle, either using the traditional ‘heap’ method or a ‘Dalek’ style plastic bin. Heaps are big piles of compost ingredients kept together by walls on three sides and are often been made by joining three old pallets together and then covering the compost in carpet to keep the heat in. Purpose made compost bins are now common however, many come with a door on the front to allow easy access to the well rotted stuff at the bottom of the bin.
They are also lightweight, simple to move and heat up quicker than the pallet heaps. Being that much more compact, they are easy to hide away neatly in a corner of the garden too.
There are a massive array of bins available, so check out this post on Lawn Mower Hut for in depth reviews of the best bins on the market before parting with your hard earned cash.
A good, balanced compost is normally made up of 50:50 grass cuttings and kitchen scraps (the nitrogen rich ‘greens’), mixed in with equal amounts of carbon heavy ‘browns’ – woody, brown materials such as dead leaves, prunings, wood chippings or straw. Remnants of old plants pulled up from the garden can also be used as browns too.
When adding old plants to the compost, chop them into 6 inch lengths with a spade so that they don’t take too long to rot down. Never add perennial weeds or diseased plants to your compost, especially those that have suffered blight. Break any egg shells from the kitchen waste down too, as they compost very slowly.
Try using a kitchen caddy to collect all your teabags, fruit and veg peelings and egg shells over a week and then dump them into the compost bin in one go. Don’t compost meat, fish or acidic fruit such as lemons.
Getting the 50:50 mix right is important as the compost can become sloppy otherwise, especially if you overdo the greens. You’re aiming for a dark, crumbly substance that will trickle through your fingers. The good news is that you can keep an eye on developments and top up the decomposing mixture with anything it requires as you go along.
If your compost does become too slimy, add in scrunched up pieces of paper or strips of cardboard to increase the carbon levels, and if your compost is taking too long to rot down, shovel in some manure to raise the heat and speed up the decomposition.
Turning the Compost
Checking the quality of your compost can be done when ‘turning’, which simply means flipping the top and the bottom of the pile, normally using a fork. Turning introduces air, which brings the compost on faster and is ideally done once every 3 to 4 weeks.
Positioning the Bin or Heap
Although not essential to composting, warmth does help speed up the process. Grass cuttings are useful for increasing temperature, and if you can spare it, site your bins in a sunny spot and make sure the lids are kept on tightly to keep the heat in and quicken up the decomposing. Space permitting, try and place your bins next to each other so you can compost in stages and never be short in supply.
It can take between 6 months and a year to get your first batch of lovely compost, and although summer composting is faster, you can add to your bins all year round as and when materials are to hand.
When Is My Compost Ready?
Once the compost has turned dark and crumbly, the chances are your compost is ready. The acid test is the smell – if you’ve ever taken a walk in a damp woodland, you’ll know that familiar mossy, dank aroma – when your compost smells like that, then it’s ripe for use.
As a little cheat to speed up the final stages of the composting process, try filling big plastic bags with compost from the bottom of the bin, and tie the bag at the top. This warms up the compost and finishes it off faster.
Don’t fret if you’re compost looks a bit lumpy, or the eggs and plants haven’t fully broken down. This is pretty standard for homemade compost, and the materials will continue to rot, or you can always pick out anything too chunky and throw it back into the bin.
To use your compost as a general soil improver, spread the compost about 5cm thick over your empty bed, and gently dig in with a spade. There is no need to be too fussy with any lumpy bits.
You can also use the compost to reinvigorate soil in containers. This is easy if the container has no plants, but if you don’t want to remove plants, take off the top few centimetres of soil and spread a layer of compost in it’s place.
Your compost will make an excellent mulch by adding a spadeful around the base of plants. This will not only feed the plant, but help hold moisture in around the roots and keep the weeds at bay.
My favourite thing to do with compost is to make soil for sowing seeds in pots. The compost needs mixing with equal parts earth (molehill soil is good) and leafmould as compost is too rich for seeds, and works best if everything is passed through a garden sieve first. This ensures a light, crumbly and consistent growing medium.
This post was written in association with the Lawn Mower Hut, Lawnmower and Garden Machinery Reviews.