This picture shows just a single years worth of hedge cuttings, grass clippings and wildflowers etc all piled into the corner of a walled garden. It’s over 4 feet high in places and in need of sorting. This pile illustrates the need for a basic understanding of composting and proper management. In the past the solution has been to bring in the skips and remove from site. The decision has been made to design an effective longterm solution for the garden.
The approach here is to construct 3 large covered bays sized for material turning by a compact tractor. In sections the top layer of the material will be removed and the compost harvested for re distribution around the gardens. This will be rich in seeds that will need to be monitored. What remains will be shredded and turned regularly. A maturing bay will be set aside.
This is the current composting area consisting 10 X1 cublic metre bays. Each bay is full to the top with either dry woody material that is breaking down at a very slow rate or grass which is dry and again just sitting there not breaking down quicly. When the bays were filled the overflow resulted in the heap above. We need a plan of action that allows for the large volumes that are incoming this time of year twiggs ,leaves, veg and flowers while at the same time starting to reduce the corner pile.
We made this cage to put leaves into. In tIme we will harvest leafmould. Leaves take a long time to break down so in any quantity are best composted separately. Any incoming leaves raked of of the lawns will find their way in here. If we run out of capasity we just make more bays.
We dug out the first compost bay to find the bottom 1/4 to be usable. This is now being returned to the garden as mulch around fruit trees , soft fruits, flowerbeds and topping up the raised beds. We re filled the bay using a browns and green layering technique with a 1/2 foot of brash at the base to encourage are circulation. This was done last monday and today 3 days later there is steam rising of the surface when forked lightly. In in the short time the pile appears to have slumped a little also. The plan for 5 of the bays is to empty and repeat this layering technique for each. The opposite bays will be emptyed and used for turning by forking from one to the other in a fluid movement, across and back. This will be a great activity for staying warm in the wintertime and the penalty if caught walking atop the raised beds. ha ha …
From now on woody materials will be cut up using a secetares, chipper etc and used as a sort of home made mulch on the paths between the raised beds.This has the effect of increasing the surface areas available for material breakdown to take place. Pine needles will be used directly as mulch around trees and mixed with some grass to help breakdown.
In general there is an imbalance of carbon based materials. We are considering growing a patch of nettles and Bocking 14 comfrey specifically as compost activators. Any wild flowers in the wrong place will be removed before setting seed or otherwise if seeded composted in the big pig tumbler to ensure they are heat treated. We are also setting up compost teas using excess wild flowers which can be added as liquid feeds to retain moisture. The soaking process should render some of the seed unviable but I must look into this in greater detail for the common species.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes to get the composting system working properly and have everyone involved knowing how to deal with the various ingredients. Like all things gardening its just a matter of time.
Say no to skips as the easy option