Composting is more than a heap of trash; it is a carefully developed mix of elements. With the right balance, a compost heap will decompose, creating a nutrient rich substance that can then be spread over a garden or allotment to facilitate growth. Compost can enhance any plant or green space and, unlike many other fertilisers, it is safe and free of chemicals.
We all know that fertilizers can improve the appearance of our plants, and, more importantly, make them grow bigger. However, they can also create health and environmental dangers. Fertilizers have a real negative impact on the environment:
- Groundwater Pollution – fertilizers can contaminate groundwater, which in turn leads to the pollution of lakes and rivers. This can seriously harm wildlife, as well as potentially harming human health.
- Health Dangers – Fertilizers can also be dangerous to pets and children, causing increased risk of leukaemia, asthma, allergies, birth defects and decreased fertility.
However, fear not. You can still grow fantastic vegetables and beautiful flowers without harming the environment in anyway. In fact, by growing your own produce you will be helping the environment as it means less transport around the globe. And the best way of getting the most out of you vegetable patch is by using your own homemade compost.
Like so many things, getting started is all about location, location, location. The most important element when placing a compost bin is direct sunlight. A compost bin should be placed in a moderately shady area in order to help with the breaking down process. For this reason, many individuals choose to place their compost bin behind garden sheds or near the back of the property. However, I would certainly recommend having it down wind, as the smell of rotting vegetables isn’t for everyone! No matter where the bin is placed, it is probably ideal to anchor it, possibly using the ground, garden sheds or trees in order to prevent anything from tipping the bin and causing an unseemly mess.
Once you’ve found the ideal location to place your compost heap, it’s important to find the right container for it. Now whilst there are specialised compost bins out there on the market, it is also possible to make a bin out old garbage cans or barrels. And, obviously, using any recycled material will only add to the environmental benefit of your compost heap. Make sure to drill holes in any container, in order to provide proper oxygen to the compost inside.
The next step is to create the right balance of elements in the compost bin. There should be two distinct layers in healthy compost. First, there should be plenty of carbon which is basically dry leaves or dead plants from the garden or shredded paper. The carbon should alternate with nitrogen layers. These layers consist of grass clippings or fresh weeds as well as scraps from the kitchen. A healthy compost heap will have a three to one ratio of carbon to nitrogen.This basically means three to one ratio of dead vegetation to live vegetation.
Many people also opt to add a compost starter, such as manure, in order to accelerate decomposition. Either way, a compost bin must be watered consistently in order to keep the environment damp. While water is critical, the bin should never be sopping. Then, every few days, it is important to mix the compost with a shovel in order to maximise the breakdown process. New scraps may be added to the pile but should always be thoroughly mixed in, if only to avoid creating too much stench.
This cycle should be repeated until the compost is ready, which may take up to a year in cooler climates. Compost is ready to be used when it has a fine, consistent texture. At this point, compost may be added liberally to a garden or allotment in order to enrich the ground and help plants grow. Ultimately, compost is an environmentally friendly way to save money and reduce waste, with the benefit of creating the best fertiliser possible.
(Guest post by Dave Harrison)
(Image Created 6/12/2006 Photographer: Kessner Photography, GNU Free Documentation, via Wikimedia Commons)