Soil Cultivation and Compost Making for the Flower Garden

How to Get the Best from your Soil

For all practical purposes, soil is either heavy or light, or somewhere in between. The two extremes, however, present their own problems and, with flower gardening in mind particularly, the following practical points concerning the management of each will be helpful.

A very heavy clay soil is difficult to work, cold in “nature”, less well drained and gives slower growth in spring than do most other soils. It may go very hard in dry weather and can crack badly, thus leading to loss of soil moisture. The very “close” nature of the clay particles makes such a soil sticky when wet, less well aerated, harder to dig, and manage generally.

beautiful-garden The application of compost to such a soil is a necessity. It has the effect of keeping the clay particles apart, making for better aeration and drainage, and easier working, as well as providing food material. One application of compost, of course, will not bring about this transformation. Several regular dressings are needed to bring about a complete change but even the first application starts to remedy the position. If such a soil is being dug for the first time, the addition of straw, or strawy manure, or other coarse organic material helps considerably. Surface applications of compost are described in many places later in this book, as well as the full use of mulches.

With a very light sandy soil, the disadvantages are, such free drainage that there is little moisture retention when it is most needed in summer, and the leaching out of food materials and humus by winter rains. What compost does here is to give “body” to such soil; it also makes it more water retentive, gives humus and retained food material, and takes away the “hungry” character. Maximum use should be made of green manure crops, as well as normal applications, under these conditions.

The value of earthworms in a soil is well known, and a sure method of increasing their numbers is by using compost – perfect for soil cultivation. On a heavy soil particularly, the beneficial effect of worms is doubly valuable, as the aeration is much increased, and the natural drainage also, as well as the soil being improved by organic material being passed through the bodies of the worms. The fact that worms are present in a soil is a good sign; if there are none or very few, the need for generous compost applications is acute.


Compost Making in the Small Garden

A wooden bin, made from rough un-creosoted timber, with a sloping lid to keep off rain, is good enough to facilitate compost making. The size of the bin should be 4ft. or 5ft. long, 4ft. wide, and 4ft. high, and one side should be movable. It should be bottomless. The pieces of timber used in the sides should not be touching, gaps should be left between them for ventilation. At least two bins will be needed, for the small garden, when compost making is well under way.

Start the heap by placing a 6in. layer of rough material at the base. Thick flower stalks can be used for this purpose, as can hedge clippings, or even twiggy, woody material, the aim being to admit air to the heap, this being a very important factor.


Compost Activators

Usually for small scale compost making, you have to add one layer of compost material at a time, as it becomes available. As stressed elsewhere, I like to have, for example, a layer of lawn mowings, then a layer of straw, or green vegetable matter. Every 6ins. or so, sprinkle on a little lime, and use a compost activator at the maker’s directions.


Layering Compostable Materials

If a variety of materials come to hand altogether, then all can be mixed into the heap at one time. If, as I find is the case, one only gets small amounts of material, sometimes at intervals, the layer method has to be adopted. To prevent “caking” of any one ingredient, mix the layers with a fork every 7 to 10 days or so, or every 12 to 15 inches of the height of the heap.

The amount of water to add depends on the moisture content of the individual materials, all these should be just moist. When water is added, it should not be so much that it runs away from the base of the heap.

When the various materials that are available are being added, sprinkle in a forkful or two of already rotted compost, and let this trickle in amongst the new material, as it is added, every 12 to 15 inches of the height of the heap. This has the effect of “inoculating” the new material, and hastens the rotting down process.

When the bin is full, a pointed stake should be driven down into the centre, or the heap can be built around a stake left in position until the bin is full. In either case this gives ventilation. Finally coat the top surface with tins. of soil, before the lid of the bin is placed in position, and plug the ventilation hole with straw.

After a few days, the heap will begin to heat up, perhaps to 150 degrees F. or more. High temperature fermentation will go on for about three weeks, during which time weed seeds and disease spores should be killed. After about a month, the temperature falls, and the heap can be turned, and water added to any dry areas. Some heating may occur after re-stacking, but the temperature soon falls. For this turning, utilise the second bin – no central ventilation hole is needed at this stage. At the end of the second month, the compost is cold, and can now be left for a further month to mature, at the end of which time the contents of the heap should be dark and rich, and a valuable material for the flower garden.

The rate at which a heap made up of several ingredients will decompose depends on the time of year. In the summer good results can be obtained in three months, but the composting process is slower at other seasons.

In autumn and early winter, when one is “clearing up”, the greatest bulk of compost material may be available. Old flower stems and foliage add a considerable amount of green matter to the compost heap but, here again, use it before it becomes woody. If the stems are long, cut them into pieces about 3 inches long, and make sure they are well wetted. Try not to place too thick a layer at one time; 4ins. is plenty in my experience.

Difficulty is sometimes experienced with composting the stems of herbaceous plants. I find it best to chop them up into small pieces, and to place them in a thin layer on the heap, watering and putting other materials in alternate layers. The stems are best composted whilst semi-green, that is, not allowed to become too dry before being used, but much depends on when the border can actually be attended to, as the “clearing up” may be delayed until well into winter.


12. September 2010 by admin
Categories: Garden Management, Soil Cultivation | Tags: , | Comments Off on Soil Cultivation and Compost Making for the Flower Garden


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