Confessions of a compost lover

20:21, Jan 27 2013

I was talking to a friend recently who said that she didn't feel like a real gardener unless she grew tomatoes. I get it, I said, I fret over mine too and feel as if I'm less of a gardener if I can't grow them in abundance. But she paid a gardener to come and put compost on her vegetable beds - compost was "yuck", she said. I shook my head in disbelief - yes, I guess you wouldn't want to put your head in a pile that was in the business of becoming compost, but gardening for me is about growing a garden, not just a crop, growing an ecosystem where the soil's health generates food and biodiversity and ultimately eye candy for me. Making compost is at the heart of that.

I love several things about compost: not least that it's super-amazing for soil - it's food for plants and micro-organisms in the soil, it improves moisture retention in sandy soils, it opens up claggy clay soils. It's like a Miracle Cream that promises to take away your wrinkles and tighten pores and give you a glow, but it's for soil and it actually works. 

But I also love to make compost. I love it for:

The thriftiness of it: I can make compost out of practically anything that's once been alive. Old weeds (those not in seed or with antisocial tendencies to sprout from stem or root pieces like convolvulus or wandering willie) can go in the compost bin. So can my kitchen vege and fruit waste, the contents of my vacuum cleaner bag, used tissues, shredded newspapers, shreddings from my autumn tidy-up, coffee grinds, spent plants, sheep and horse poo from farms, seaweed, grass clippings, the neighbour's comfrey, autumn leaves, the list goes on. I don't have to pay for it in bags from the garden centre, and it doesn't cost me anything in ingredients. All I have to do is pile it up and turn it once in a while. 

The tranformative process: The miracle of compost is that it changes from chunks of all of the above into friable sweet smelling goodness for the soil. Sometimes I give the compost heap a turn just so I can monitor how things are being broken down and be reminded of that miracle going on in the boxes at the end of the garden. 

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How it's a magnet for worms: Whenever I turn compost I am astounded at the flocks of worms I find wriggling around in there. Worms are the real workhorses of soil, I reckon. They chew stuff up, poo it out and make a nutrient-rich compost that your plants and soil will feast on.

Pictures of cute compost bins: These, like this one above from the Garden Organic Book of Compost, just make me happy.

Even with all the traipsing out to the beach to get seaweed, coffee grinds I beg the local cafe for, bags of autumn leaves I collect and buckets of sheep poo I get from a secret woolshed location (I tell you, if sheep poo were gold we'd all be rich with what's lurking in that woolshed), I can't make enough compost to keep my beds happy. I do occasionally have to buy it in, and this autumn I'll get a trailer-load to top up my raised beds, and continue working on making Shirley's garden an edible paradise. But I bet it's not as good as my homemade stuff.

Do you make your own compost? What do you put in it? Do you have a secret ingredient? Does making your own compost make you a "real" gardener, or does it not matter?

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