The biggest challenge I have faced had in establishing my home garden has been the soil. I live on a coastal plain and the soil is essentially sand. It’s lovely stuff between your toes at the beach, but in my garden, it’s plant kryptonite.
It’s salty, water-repellant and alkaline. But thankfully, as with most problems, there is a solution.
Compost: The Cornerstone of Organic Recycling
Compost, often hailed as the garden’s black gold, is the lifeblood of flourishing gardens. This nutrient-rich, dark, decomposed material is the key to transforming barren, sandy soil into a fertile haven where plants thrive. My garden, a demanding entity, requires a substantial amount of this miraculous substance.
Thankfully, my lifestyle yields an abundance of compostable materials. Leftover food (courtesy of my children), plant remnants from the cyclical refresh of my vegetable beds, pesky weeds, shredded office paper, and recently, a treasure trove of chicken manure, all contribute to my compost pile. Since committing to composting, the waste we send to the council has drastically reduced.
Discarding what could be transformed into compost into landfills seems wasteful and illogical. I want to share the methods and processes I’ve integrated into my household routine to create this invaluable compost, turning everyday waste into a resource that immensely benefits my garden.
- Enriches Soil: Enhances soil fertility and stimulates healthy root development.
- Reduces Waste: Decreases the amount of waste sent to landfills.
- Conserves Resources: Minimizes the need for chemical fertilizers.
Vermicomposting: Worms at Work
My worm bin is an efficient, sustainable system that turns household waste into valuable garden resources. It’s a thriving ecosystem where worms consume a variety of organic materials such as fruit and vegetable scraps, leafy garden waste, paper, eggshells, and even hair from home haircuts. This process results in the production of nutrient-rich worm castings, which are an excellent addition to seed-raising mixes, garden beds, and even for brewing worm tea, a potent natural fertilizer.
Each spring, I engage in the practice of selling some of these worms, which not only provides a small source of income but also represents a sustainable cycle of waste reduction. This activity is both financially beneficial and environmentally conscious, as it involves selling what essentially is transformed household waste and worm by-products.
- Faster Decomposition: Worms speed up the composting process, producing compost in a matter of months.
- Reduced Odor and Pests: Properly managed vermicompost bins emit minimal odor and are less likely to attract pests.
- Nutrient-Rich Compost: Worm castings are highly valued for their nutrient content and soil-enhancing properties.
- Suitable for Small Spaces: Vermicomposting can be easily done indoors, making it ideal for urban settings or those with limited outdoor space.
Chickens: Natural Composters
Myrtle, Joy, and Biddy, named in homage to my Nanna and her sisters, are not just pets but crucial contributors to our garden ecosystem. These chickens, a recent addition to our garden, have quickly proven their worth. While they are fed a specially purchased crumble mix, they also help in reducing food waste by consuming leftover fruits and vegetables that my children don’t eat. Additionally, they have a particular fondness for garden weeds, especially clover, aiding in garden maintenance.
One of the more unexpected yet beneficial aspects of keeping chickens is their contribution to composting. A healthy chicken can produce over 10 kilograms of manure annually, which is an excellent source of nutrients for the soil. We use the free weekly community newspaper as bedding in their roost to absorb the manure. Daily cleaning of the roost is essential to manage flies and odors, especially in urban settings. The collected manure and newspaper are then added to my tumbling composters.
At Milkwood Farm, the gravity-fed chicken run serves as an inspirational model for rural chicken keeping. In my suburban setting, I manually manage the chicken run. Every fortnight, I clean it by raking the mulch, now enriched with chicken manure, and apply it directly to the garden as nutrient-rich mulch.
The positive effects of this practice are evident, particularly in the rejuvenation of our previously flagging lemon tree, which has shown remarkable growth this spring, undoubtedly benefiting from the chickens’ contributions.
- Dual Purpose: Chickens provide both eggs and composting benefits.
- Pest Reduction: Helps in controlling pests in the compost.
- Soil Enrichment: Chicken manure significantly enriches the compost.
Compost Tumblers: Convenient and Efficient
For those who find traditional compost bins or heaps physically demanding to maintain, compost tumblers offer an efficient alternative. These large, plastic tumblers, which amusingly resemble beige versions of the iconic R2D2, can be rotated easily, ensuring regular churning and aeration of the compost material. This rotation method is particularly beneficial for those who might struggle with the physical aspect of turning over a compost heap.
I utilize two compost tumblers in a rotation system – while one is being filled, the other is left to mature. This continuous cycle ensures a steady supply of compost. The enclosed nature of these tumblers is advantageous in harsh climates, as it prevents the compost from drying out. It also offers protection against pests and vermin.
A key aspect of successful composting in tumblers is maintaining the right balance of ingredients. For example, adding comfrey leaves enhances the process by speeding up decomposition and infusing extra minerals. This method underscores the simplicity of composting, which is essentially a controlled process of decomposition.
Despite the market being flooded with various compost accelerators and products, I’ve found that the core requirements for effective composting are heat, aeration, and moisture. Adhering to strict compost “recipes” isn’t necessary as long as these conditions are met.
The efficiency of composting can be significantly improved by adding waste in smaller pieces. Using secateurs or a mulcher to chop up large chunks and plant stems before adding them to the bins can expedite the decomposition process.
The readiness of compost can be determined when the original materials are no longer recognizable. If the compost still shows visible chunks of waste or emits a strong odor, it usually needs more time. Adjusting the moisture level is crucial – add water and green waste like used coffee grounds if it’s too dry, or incorporate dry materials like cardboard or paper if it’s too wet. These simple adjustments can significantly impact the quality and readiness of the compost.
- Speed: Faster decomposition due to easy turning.
- Odor Control: Sealed design helps in controlling odors.
- Pest Prevention: Limits access to pests and animals.
Weed Tea: Liquid Gold for Plants
Weed management is a common challenge in gardening, and while many opt for chemical sprays, an eco-friendlier and equally effective method is the creation of weed tea. This technique not only helps in disposing of weeds but also transforms them into a valuable plant tonic.
The process begins by filling a bucket with weeds, ensuring they have not been chemically treated. Cover the weeds with water and then cover the bucket with an old towel, which allows for air exchange while keeping pests out. Adding comfrey leaves can expedite the decomposition process and enrich the tea with nutrients, although it’s not mandatory.
Be prepared for a strong odor during the fermentation process, which can be quite potent. Therefore, it’s advisable to place the bucket in a secluded area, away from children and neighbors sensitive to strong smells. Stirring the mixture daily aids in aeration and helps break down the plant material.
Typically, within four weeks (or less in warmer temperatures), the weeds will have released their nutrients, resulting in a brown “tea.” This liquid can then be strained and diluted with water in a 1:10 ratio before being applied to plants. The remaining solid matter can be added to the compost bin.
However, since introducing chickens to my garden, I’ve found less need for weed tea, as they efficiently consume most of the weeds. One downside to consider is that stagnant water used in weed tea can attract mosquitoes. If mosquito larvae appear, it’s best to dispose of the mixture immediately on a sunny patch of soil to prevent breeding.
In terms of household waste management, I avoid composting dairy and meat products. Fortunately, a visiting cat helps by consuming leftover milk or meat scraps, occasionally showing gratitude in her unique way, like leaving a dead rat at my doorstep.
- Resourceful: Uses garden weeds, turning them into a resource.
- Easy to Make: Simple preparation and application.
- Nutrient-Rich: Provides a variety of nutrients to plants.
I would love to hear your favourite composting tips. What’s your preferred composting technique?