Gardening is not just the art of cultivating good plants but also of cultivating good soil. And the answer to good soil lies in compost: a rich source of nourishment made from home waste. 1.6 million households in the UK create their own compost in this way. And whilst it’s popular and an easy means to achieve good soil, there is a skill involved. To create a dark, crumbly, humus-rich product, you need to ensure you include the right ingredients in your compost bin.
The perfect mix
A compost bin needs a mix of both green and brown organic matter. Green matter comprises fresh plant material and food waste from the kitchen. These are both nitrogen-rich, offering an important source of protein for microbes in the compost that speed up decomposition. Brown matter refers to dry carbon-rich materials, such as paper and cardboard. Carbon is used for energy by the composting microbes.
Striking the balance
Fundamental to the composting process is striking the right balance between the amount of green and brown matter used. It is generally believed that a 1 to 3 ratio of nitrogen to carbon is ideal. But don’t worry too much about the figures; use your judgement. If your compost is too wet, add more browns, and if it appears too dry, add some greens. And don’t forget air. Either mix the contents or add scrunched up cardboard to ensure air circulates through the mass.
Let’s look at the specific ingredients that make healthy compost. These can include waste from your kitchen, garden and paper recycling bin:
· Grass cuttings
· Weeds and plants (free from seeds and disease)
· Cut flowers
· Tea bags and tea leaves
· Coffee grounds
· Vegetable and fruit peelings and tops
· Food scrapings
· Egg shells (crushed to aid decomposition)
· Apple cores
· Hair and fur
· Manure from herbivores eg. chickens and cows
· Dried leaves and twigs (avoid large quantities of oak leaves and pine needles as these are slow to break down)
· Nuts and shells
· Sawdust and wood shavings (from untreated wood and in small quantities)
· Wood ash (in small quantities)
· Cardboard boxes and packaging (shredded or cut down)
· Newspaper (black and white only, printed with 100% vegetable oil-based ink)
· Paper towels and tissues paper
Mix it up and make it nice
This is by no means an exhaustive list but gives a good guide to the most popular ingredients that can be used. Just remember, there are a few substances to avoid: anything that will not decompose, such as plastics, glass and metal; materials that will leave an unpleasant odour, like faeces and urine; and also those that might attract pests, such as dairy and meat. Stick to the list above and when you have your ingredients at the ready, simply follow guidelines on how to make your own compost and you can be guaranteed of a flourishing, vibrant garden.