May is the month for compost
Although International Composting Awareness Week was first celebrated in Canada in 1995, May’s surely a much more seasonally appropriate month here in the Southern Hemisphere where we’re in the depths of autumn. This is the season when the leaves that fall from deciduous trees and the luxuriant garden growth provide an abundance of material for composting.
What to compost
The sweetest smelling compost is made of a good mixture of different types of components. The first group – called ‘greens’ or ‘wets’- is high in nitrogen and includes green grass clippings, weeds (remove seed heads), manure and vegetable scraps.
The other group – the ‘browns’ or ‘dries’ – is high in carbon. Included in this group are sawdust, shredded newspaper, fallen leaves (especially leaves from deciduous trees), dried grass and straw.
As well as the ingredients mentioned you can add such things as wood ash, chopped-up prunings, vacuum cleaner waste, coffee grounds, tea leaves, eggshells and cooking oil. Just remember the golden rule: never too much of any one thing.
What not to compost
Avoid using meat (because of the vermin it will attract), plastic (watch out for Lego blocks in the vacuum cleaner waste!), weeds with seedheads or pieces that may survive composting, diseased plants, and plants that have been treated with herbicide or a pesticide.
Other composting tips
- Oxygen, while it’s not strictly necessary, does make the whole composting process a lot pleasanter. Regular forking, stirring, turning or tumbling will usually add sufficient oxygen.
- A small amount of moisture aids the breakdown process. Even leftover drinks can be poured into the heap. The idea is to have enough moisture to encourage the breakdown microbes, but not so much that oxygen is excluded.
- Large pieces of material take a very long time to break down. If you need to get rid of a lot of garden prunings, consider buying (or hiring) a mechanical or electric garden mulcher to reduce the pieces to a compostable size. Large, tough leaves can be run over with the mower and collected in the grasscatcher.
- The composting process works best if it’s not too hot and not too cold. This may mean building a compost heap in a sunny spot during winter, and moving to a shadier position for summer.
- Like yoghurt, compost needs some natural microbes to get the process started. A small amount of old compost will do, or even a handful of garden soil. Add some Dynamic Lifter pellets occasionally to encourage microbial activity in the heap. Blood & Bone’s good too. An occasional handful of Yates Garden Lime will keep the compost sweet.
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