Autumn – some gardeners love it; some gardeners hate it – but there’s no escaping it.
And there’s no escaping one of autumn’s more unusual bounties – vegetation. Keats might have seen the season as one of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but to most gardeners it’s a time for collecting heaps of dead and dying vegetation – and composting it.
Not only does it encourage nature to turn waste into something that can be returned to the garden to help next year’s plants to thrive, but it’s also something of a very Yorkshire thing – getting something for nothing.
It doesn’t require a lot of land to start composting, and if you get the technique right, you can create a surprising amount of compost in just a few months. The key to success is layering.
Don’t just dump a mass of sodden lawn clippings into as plastic bin and expect it to turn into friable, sweet-smelling, soil-enriching compost, because it won’t. It will continue to be a sodden mass of lawn clippings which will gradually become a very unpleasant smelling mass of lawn clippings. So, when you have your bin – or a space for your heap – think “air circulation”, “moisture” and “heat”. The wonderful bacteria and tiny worms that break down vegetative matter and transform it into compost, need oxygen to do their work. Moisture is essential because if the bin/heap dries out, the process will stop. The same applies if things get too wet. And heat helps keep things simmering away nicely.
Make your compost bin/heap in layers like a giant sandwich and between each layer scatter a bit of garden soil rich in unseen but very active natural composters.
Start with something like a layer of grass cuttings, then a layer of vegetable peelings, followed by the easily broken down bits like flower heads, soft stems, more peelings, grass cuttings .... Avoid adding tough, woody stuff and discarded food. And if the mixture seems a bit too dry, add a drop of water. With a bin, the lid will help keep in the moisture and stop the heat from escaping, thus speeding up the decomposition; with a heap, it’s best to cover the contents with a piece of old carpet or something similar.
As the process continues, the mulch will settle, allowing more space for more and – eventually – lovely, garden-friendly compost should start to appear at the bottom. Go on, get composting. You know it makes sense.