When it comes to making good organic compost, there is a quick way and the long way. If you are about to build your raised bed garden or indeed fill in your pots already – then no doubt you will be looking for the quick way!
Quick Organic Compost
First of all, you need some well-rotted manure, preferably horse or chicken, then mix that with good quality topsoil, mixed with general garden compost from the local garden center. I generally find that a mix of around 60% compost, 20% well-rotted manure and 20% soil makes for a good all-around growing medium.
This mixture may, of course, be changed, for instance, if you wish to grow champion leeks, then heavier manure content should be considered.
Compost takes time to mature, that is the hard facts of decomposition I’m afraid. However, any serious gardener is always looking ahead at least one or two seasons and preparing their growing plans accordingly.
To create your own compost; you should ideally have a composting bin or a box arrangement that has a lid; this will keep away vermin, and prevent the rain from cooling down the compost.
A simple wooden structure made from recycled pallets will often make a very effective composting bin. Be sure that the opening is wide enough to allow for turning the contents with a garden fork occasionally to improve the composting process.
Material to consider for composting; can, in theory, be anything organic in nature, and includes such things as vegetable cuttings, tea bags, shredded paper, garden waste, grass cuttings, seaweed, comfrey leaves, kitchen waste, shrub cuttings, wood ash, and fallen leaves.
If you have a good source of leaves available, then one of the simplest composters to make is perhaps the weld-mesh composter. Simply get some 2” weld-mesh cut from the roll so that it forms a tube about 18 – 24” across. Cut so that there are wire ends that you can fold over, then bend the wire ends into itself where the end of the wire tube meets; so that it forms a permanent tube shape, then stand upright.
You should be left with a simple wire-mesh tube. This can then be filled with leaves to form a rich compost material.
If you make several of these tubes, they can even be arranged to form a kind of ‘compost fence’- a great source of compost and a good talking point amongst the visitors!
Not everything organic is good for creating compost, however, and material to leave out of the composter, include meat by-products, eggs or dairy products. Dog and cat dirt or litter should never be put in the composter. Meat, bones or fish scraps should be kept out. Never put ashes from a coal fire into the composter, as this introduces sulfur to the mix.
Small amounts of wood ash is acceptable however as it introduces lime and potash, as well as magnesium and phosphoric acid, all of which are good for enriching the soil.
When adding or building up your compost, then it is a good idea to layer occasionally with some straw, garden soil, or fine twigs This all helps with the general aeration of the mix and the composting process.
Something that can be in short supply for most people! It does, however, take patience to produce good compost, and usually, a two year period will be required to get the best out of your composting efforts. The results, however, will show in the quality of your vegetables, and the general health of your garden.
Leaves and grass cuttings can take a particularly long time to fully rot down. How do you know if the material is well rotted? In general terms, well-rotted material should have a healthy earthy smell, and not smell like it is still rotting!
It will be crumbly in your hand, and not be over wet and cloggy.
After all that effort, then you will also have the feel-good factor in knowing that you have done your bit for the environment – never to be underestimated!
If you’re buying bagged soil and making your own mix, here is an indication of what you may require. To use a 4′ x 4′ bed that is 12″ high for the example; you first want to get your volume. Remember that 1 cubic yard equals 27 cubic feet. And to get your bed volume multiply the width, length, and height in feet.
4 x4 x 1 = 16 cubic feet. This is how many cubic feet of soil your bed will require. If you’re buying 2 cubic foot bags then the bed will take 8 bags, if you’re buying 1 cubic foot bags, then it will take around 16 bags.
A raised bed measuring 6 foot by 3 foot and 18 inches high for instance, would take 27 cubic feet of compost. A simple calculation will provide the volume you need for whatever size of raised bed you may have.