Compost Cultivation for the Garden

Traditionally it was the practice to dig most plots on the garden each winter, but on established gardens a method of compost cultivation enables you to cut down almost entirely on digging. Properly done it can be most beneficial to crops and can be an advantage on thin soils or soils that have a lot of stones; hillside ground with steeply sloping ground and very fast draining soils will be able to retain moisture better.

The basis of it is an adequate supply of compost materials and a correctly constructed compost heap. On the small gardens the supply of dead vegetation can be very small indeed and unsuitable for composting, and a reasonably sized heap, preferably 3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft. and the bigger the better, should be made. Smaller-sized heaps than this should be covered with plastic, preferably black and thick, or they will not heat up enough to break down the compost. The plastic should be loosely held down with bricks to permit some air to enter the heap.

Compost is a soft brownish-black substance rather like peat to look at, but richer in plant foods. Good compost which has been thoroughly matured has no perceptible smell and is quite clean and free from disease. Frames can be bought or made to hold the compost roughly corresponding to the size of heap you intend to make. It is a good idea to have two or three heaps going during the course of the year. The reason for this is that good compost heats to over 150°F (65°C) and this kills diseases and weed seeds and even the roots of some perennial weeds. But the sides of the heap will not be quite as hot as the centre, and while the compost drawn from the centre can be put on the garden straight away the compost at the sides may not have broken down sufficiently and can be profitably mixed with the compost in a newer heap. It usually takes up to six months for the compost heap to heat up and break down its contents, somewhat less time in warm summer weather.

Moisture and air are needed as well as warmth, and if you use a plastic sheet to help the heating process you should not put it on until the heap has finished being constructed.

A simple arrangement of boards and posts can be built to hold the compost or wire netting which can be detached from the posts when the heap is completed. Remember the cubic volume of the heap is more advantageous if it is as deep as it is long and broad, as this gives it more ‘heart’. Boards and wire netting permit air to reach the heap, and ventilation can be helped also by the inclusion of river grit in the same way as the inclusion of such substances helps to aerate the soil.

The heap should stand on open ground, which can be dug slightly and covered with a little lime. Build the heap up in layers. Everything can go in which is organic; (even small pieces of newspaper will rot) vegetable waste, leaves and grass sittings, etc. It is best to leave out sticks, leaves poisonous to other plants, grass mowings that have been in recent contact with selective weedkillers, and perennial weeds such as bindweed and the roots of nettles, buttercups, etc. You may find it best to chop up cabbage stumps and other thick vegetation, but this does not have to be done as though desiccating turnips for a stew: it may be enough to crush the material with a heavy rammer and chop it roughly with a spade. Light material should be well mixed with heavy, and the heap well tamped down as big air pockets will prevent proper heating up. In very dry weather it will be necessary to water it. The heap should be built in layers with materials that will help to break it down. Remember you are using bacteria to make a chemical reaction. For every 6-9 inches of compost sprinkle on a dusting of sulphate of ammonia. Cover this with a layer of soil, river grit and sedge peat mixed (there are special peats available for composting). This layer can be an inch or more thick. Lime can be used instead of sulphate of ammonia. There are also several kinds of compost activators which accelerate the breakdown of the compost. If you use these you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Do not rush the completion of the heap. You will find that when you have put what seems like half the garden on the heap it sinks down to almost nothing when properly prepared for composting.

The length of time it takes for the compost heap to mature depends on how well it was constructed. The acid test is to sniff it: if it does not smell it means the process of decay has finished.

The great difficulty of the complete compost system of gardening is that in order to cover the ground with a two-or-three-inch layer of compost to smother weeds and encourage enough earthworm activity to aerate the soil and save digging, enormous quantities of compost are needed in relation to the size of plots. The buying in of peat helps to augment the heap, and straw can sometimes be obtained cheaply and is a good additional item. Ashes from bonfires are another source of supply, as well as animal droppings of all kinds. If there is simply not enough compost at the end of the day to provide a three-inch mulch all over your garden, you will have a very useful commodity for digging into your soil.

04. September 2011 by admin
Categories: Compost Making, Gardening Techniques, Soil Cultivation | Tags: , | Comments Off on Compost Cultivation for the Garden

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