I wanted to get this post out to you now as this may be a project you’d like to start before the main business of sowing in earnest gets underway in a few weeks time. I am hoping to start a really viable composting regime off this year. My ‘council bin’ is OK but quickly fills up and takes a good year to turn the mixture of kitchen/garden waste and cardboard into a compost that is usable for the veg plot. I need something quicker that makes compost good enough for sowing and potting on. I’m trying Ray Broughton’s method which I first heard at a free talk on growing veg that my local Horticultural Society hosted last year that around 80 people attended. So no pictures as yet, but when I get this up and running I’ll post them to let you see how I get on.
The advantages of the quick cook method are:
1) Pretty much all plant material can be placed on the heap including woody material up to a diameter of 1cm.
2) No turning needed.
3) Due to the heat generated plant pests, diseases and weeds will be killed by this method.
4) Vermin will not be attracted to this heap (I’ve had rats in my black council bin before so this will be interesting to test out).
5) Compost should be ready in 3 to 4 months – just what I’m looking for!
The heap can be built up over a period of time but for optimum efficiency it should be no longer than 3 months. Now here’s the important bit – the heap has to have a solid base of paving slabs, we don’t want nutrient loss or worm activity with this method which is what you do get with a standard black council bin-type method.
Bacteria and fungi will break down the plant material into humus which will hold onto the plant nutrients. The heap should reach temperatures of 80 degress centigrade killing off pests, weed seeds, rhizomes etc.
You need to construct the sides out of wood or other suitable material to contain your heap, the best size is 1.5 metre by 1.5 metre. It is important that oxygen is present but you only need a relatively small amount as the material going into the heap is bulky and will trap air. So drill some small holes into the sides. Remember this must be on a solid base. I am going to use old pallets and plywood offcuts for mine and construct two bins side-by-side so I can start filling the second one whilst the first ‘cooks’.
Ok once you’ve built your compost bin, start filling with plant material, you can put pretty much anything in from the garden up to 1cm diameter, including weeds, lawn clippings, and the usual kitchen peelings etc. Fill to 1/3 of the height of the bin. At this stage place two shovel loads of good quality soil over the heap and two handfuls of nitrogen fertiliser (e.g. hoof and horn). If you use organic fertiliser make sure it is ground into a fine powder (amounts quoted are for a 1.5 x 1.5m heap).
Add more material until you are up to the 2/3rds mark. Then add one shovel load of ground limestone (calcium carbonate). This is essential as it prevents the heap from becoming too acidic which is a common problem. Carry on filling and when you reach the top add soil and fertiliser in exactly the same way as you did at the 1/3rd stage. That’s it, there’s no need to cover the heap, and then it’s just a waiting game until the heap cooks down.
This method should be fast and efficient but it’s important you follow the instructions above. If you’re adding your compost directly to a clay soil use your compost before it’s completely broken down to help with aeration and drainage. Sandy soils will prefer well rotted compost containing a high proportion of humus which will help attract water and nutrients to these soils. See my earlier post on soil type, structure and pH for more info. I am hoping this will give me good enough compost for potting on my plants and save me money each year that I would normally waste on shop bought multi-purpose.
Best of luck, happy composting!