Compost is the best thing you can enrich soil with, because its recycled organic matter and it doesn’t cost anything to make – just a bit of rubbish sorting and time for it to ferment. You may have to purchase or make a container to keep it in. It’s a good idea to contain compost, although it isn’t essential for it to be covered. I use a compost bin because Sheeba the dog can’t get to it and roll in (or eat) it. I have to shoo her away when I’m turning it because she loves the smell.
I have a book called The Compost Book by David & Yvonne Taylor (Reed, 1993) which advises on compost construction. It has information on compost ingredients and what they do, nutrients necessary for healthy soil and examples of compost records. Anytime I’m unsure of something, The Compost Book provides the answer.
My compost is not the best example of composting in action. It is very slow to break down, and has a few creepy crawlies that you might not want in your compost. On the other hand it does have a lot of earthworms, which are want you want in compost. The only way I aerate my compost bin is by turning the contents and this happens only about twice a year. I do it so infrequently that it’s such a big (and thus undesirable) job. When I do get around to turning it, there are piles of earthworms very upset to be disturbed, so because I don’t need fast compost, I’m happy with the way I do it. When I turn the contents, I spread the bottom bit which is composted on my garden and there’s always a few earthworms that get moved to a different bit of earth and aerate the soil around my plants. Digging compost into soil helps the soil retain water, as well as adding necessary nutrients.
The main reason for my slow going compost is that I have a tendency to throw in whatever I have to hand – kitchen scraps, prunings, grass clippings, hay, sticks, half chewed dead rodents left by well-fed cats. These are all good ingredients, but you need to plan your adding of certain ingredients and sometimes hold off one or increase others. That never happens with my compost. I prune when I can’t get through the front gate, mow when the grass is a foot high (but there are still patches of sand in parts) and add hay when there’s too much to mulch the garden with. The compost even gets manure sometimes, if I’ve finished digging it into the garden and there’s still some left. Also, when adding half chewed dead rodents they need to be added deep in the pile because this is where it’s hottest and the material will break down quickly so it doesn’t smell.
Occasionally when I open the bin there are lots of tiny white insects. I don’t know what they are, and when Michael recently helped me turn the compost, he suggested they were baby cockroaches. I have on occasion seen a cockroach in my compost, but I don’t think that’s what these bugs are. Whenever I see them, I throw some dirt on top, to hide them from sight, and put the lid back on. Lids are great for hiding unwanted sights.
I have a compost aerator that’s a metal pole with a spiral on the end. My dad has one and says it’s very good. I have used it once or twice, but it doesn’t do much hidden in the shed. I need to remember to use it more often.
I have a long term dream of getting a composting toilet, but I’ll have to wait until I build my own sustainably designed house.