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Compost at Home

There’s more to composting than just tossing bits of unwanted food in a bin every now and again.
Yes, it is eco-friendly, yes, it is natural and yes, it can help your garden enormously, but only if you remember a few things.

When you start don’t be pressured into investing in a whole composting system that looks great but is totally unnecessary.

Firstly, think about the nature of rain forest and remember that the luxuriant growth of the South American rain forests exists on only 600mm of constantly composting material with practically no soil to speak of.
In Australia we are faced with some of the shallowest topsoil on the planet so it can work here too.
There are a few different methods of composting that can be applied to every type of home.
Whether it’s a plastic bin with a few holes in the side, a ‘pile’ in a corner of the backyard, a serious timber or wire box made from old wooden pallets and chicken wire, or a very serious set of adjoining boxes with removable slat walls, the principles are still the same.

1. Ensure that wherever to locate your compost heap there will be sun for more than 4 hours a day. (compost is heat activated)
2. The ground should be reasonably level to help with drainage. If you have no drainage in your bin, drill holes in the side and make sure they are always free.
3. Remember that you must be able to turn or mix things up in there.
4. You need to balance the amount of green and dry materials in your heap. (50/50 is good. Green adds nitrogen and Dry adds carbon)
G. Fruit and veggie scraps, green leaves and spent flowers, grass clippings, Coffee grounds and tea leaves.
D. Shredded paper (including newsprint, excluding magazines and mail-outs), lint from the dryer or vacuum cleaner (do not use this lint if it is predominantly synthetic) and sawdust.
5. Never add any animal materials such as meat scraps or bones, animal fats and definitely no dog or cat poo. (this is not manure, this is poo!)
6. If you add dry leaves in Autumn, well and good, but, if you do not turn the mixture often they will never break down and can stop the whole process of composting for years.
7. Turn or mix your bin, heap, pile at least once a week, as this creates oxygen exchange, moisture equalisation, and encourages decomposition.
8. Water your compost at least once a week. Dry compost is a contradiction in terms. Once it dries out it takes ages to get the rotting happening again.
9. Give it time to become ‘soil’. Don’t be impatient, it it rot away at it’s own pace. Some plants like Yarrow will speed the decomposition up a little but generally be patient.
10. It can help to occasionally spread a layer of dirt or potting mix on top (not too thick) to add texture and volume to your compost.

Once your bin or whatever is full, simply carry on with the above activities.
You will know when it is ready to use by the sight and smell. It actually looks like good soil and smells a kind of ‘earthy sweet’ that is quite comforting.
The volume of your bin will about 15% of it’s initial volume. It really takes that much in compression and conversion.
Hopefully, after your first bin was full you found it necessary and imperative to start another one while you waited.

 

 

 

The success of ‘making dirt’ in your first one will encourage you to keep going further.

Now, as I mentioned, there are hundreds of composting products available and, if you feel the need to spend money on the project, all and well.
But, if you want to take the roll of waste management fundamentally, then I would suggest obtaining (for free ideally) five timber product pallets that are usually only made for one use and then discarded.
Four sides and the base of your compost bin is done! A few self tapping screws to hold it together will give you a very ‘airy’ box.
A 10m roll of chicken wire wrapped around the sides and the bottom and your bin is complete.
Fill and wait.

Usually the timber used in pallets is low grade and generally untreated with chemical.
This means that, naturally, the same organisms that compost your waste are going to have a go at your bin as well.
Personally, I don’t see a problem with that as the bin was never intended to be an architectural addition to the garden.
Your bin will probably be a one metre cube which is pretty well an ideal size to use for an average family and garden waste disposal and it’s not too large to turn.
The bigger the bin, the more effort is required to layer and to turn it so keep it real. I know from experience that leaning over a large compost bin and tumbling in is no party.

Remember that your compost bin is ‘supposed’ to be full of life. Worms, snails, slugs beetles and other weird looking creatures can live out their whole lives in your compost bin and the circle of life is so complete that it’s just magic.

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Winter can be Green too!

Ya gotta love Winter in the garden!

After the onslaught of the Australian summer and it’s ever changing gifts of unbearable heat, stifling humidity, unpredictable storms, and drying winds we are greeted in late Autumn by a slight chill in the air and the promise of, at last, being able to spend an hour or so in the yard without melting into a puddle of sweat.

Now, while many plants take this opportunity to become dormant, it leaves plenty of room for the ones that could never cope with the heat.
I often hear gardeners complaining that they hate the way their gardens look barren and wasted over winter but ours are always so full of colour and especially ‘green’ that it’s hard to tell the difference.

Winter is especially wonderful for the vegetable gardener.
It’s time to plant the best greens for the table, such as, Mustard Greens, Miners Lettuce, Corn Salad, Celery, Fennel, Broad Beans and Cos Lettuce.

Then, there are Culinary herbs that enhance everything that you cook during winter, such as, Coriander, Parsley, Rocket, Chervil and Chives.

And, there’s more.
Winter vege’s that you cannot live without are, Kale, Kolrabi, Radish, Leeks, Onion and Silverbeet. Siberian Tomato, Tatsoi, Pak choi, and Sugarbeet,

In the medicine garden, we sow Herb Robert, Borage, Cinqfoil, Dandelion, Fenugreek, German Chamomile, Common Mallow, Mustard (Yellow and Black), Calendula, Red Clover, Mullein, Stinging Nettle and Lupins.

For fruit we sow, Goji and Cape Gooseberry (Inca Berry).

but best of all…..it’s PEA season.
Now, I know that there are a lot of pea varieties available but we have narrowed down our preferences over the years to ensure that we have as much as possible for as long as possible.
Greenfeast is our favourite dwarf variety.
It bushes up nicely but rarely grows higher than 50cm. Perfect for large tubs or in front of other taller varieties.

For the full ‘pod and all’ effect in a dwarf variety we really enjoy Sugar Ann. It crops quite low as well and is literally straight off the bushes and onto the plate.

If you are layering your vegetable garden then just one step back from the Greenfeast or Sugar Ann you can sow the Bikini Snow Pea.
These are low climbers, rarely growing above 1 metre tall and they bush up beautifully.
We prefer to grow them on a low trellis so that we never miss a pod.
You can harvest these at almost any age and the taste and texture is fantastic.

Next step back at the rear of the garden is a sturdy trellis that will support the Mammoth Melting Moment variety.
This is also a Snow Pea and you can enjoy the pod and all. Ours routinely grow well over 2 metres, so it is necessary to convince them not to go any higher than the top of the frame.
Mammoth have a long season and are really worth the extra space that they require.

Because we believe that you can never have too many peas, we are very partial to varieties that just go on and on.
Probably the longest lived and consistently abundant variety is the very old fashioned, heirloom variety called the Field Pea.
These peas grow and look more like the festive Sweet Pea, in that the flowers have a wide colour range.

They bush up on a trellis or against a wall and will have a complete display of flower, young pod and mature pod at any one time.
They seem to be forever producing and every day there will be something to pick.
The flowers are also a wonderful edible addition to your plate and they taste just like the peas that they will become.

Towards the end of their long season, they are still producing pods regularly and, if you allow them to begin to dry on the vine, you can store them as dried peas to re-hydrate as you wish during the ‘off’ season.

Kept in this way, they are perfect for sprouts.
They will germinate quickly from the first soaking and are very nutritious pea sprouts. Because the bushes are so generous, it is easily possible to enjoy them right through the year.

While I am on the subject of heirloom varieties, I cannot forget to mention the fabulous Prussian Blue Pea.
Probably the oldest of the traceable pea varieties, Prussian Blue is a prolific producer that is tough enough to bear for just about any gardener.

First catalogued in the 1700’s, it’s name comes from it’s geography, in Prussia, rather than the tenuous connection to the vague green blue tint of the dried pea.
It is delicious as fresh pea but it’s real strength is that once dried, it will store for years for re-hydration later.
Ideal for Pea soups or simply pea salad, it is a reliable favourite.
Being one of the easiest vegetables to grow, the Prussian Blue is perfect for kids to start with.
It can be grown easily in a container but it will need some support to climb on.

As with the Field Pea, the season is very long and therefore well worth the space that you allow for them.

All peas produce terrific much as well so at the end of their season, they can go back into the garden to provide nutrition for the Spring planting.