A previous article on composting in this series has highlighted the types of materials which are suitable to use in the construction of a compost heap. Once you’ve gathered enough material it’s then really just a simple matter of maintaining it. This is really about keeping it at the right temperature (which was discussed earlier) and keeping it turned over from time to time. Turning your compost heap every month or so helps to reduce strong odours emitting from the pile and speeds up the process of decomposition which is the ultimate goal.
Here Comes the Science
Healthy composting is not an exact ‘science’ but nature has its own way of giving us clues as to when something might not be right. For example, if you smell a particularly pungent odour emanating from your pile, the likelihood is that it’s too wet. If that’s the case, add more brown items to soak up the excess moisture. If you see ants around the heap, it’s likely that the compost is too dry. You can add water or green vegetable matter to combat this in order to restore the moisture balance. Bluebottle flies and any wildlife which become regular ‘visitors’ to the heap indicates that there is food produce in the heap which shouldn’t be there. It’s then necessary to remove it.
Such produce can include bread, fish, meat and other dairy items. Bees and wasps hovering around the heap, however, indicate that the mixture is too dry so you’ll need to add water to it. If rodents appear, it means that they can sense the scent of vegetable matter so you may need to bury that deeper within the heap.
Apart from all that, if everything seems to be in order, there’s no need to do anything apart from turning the compost over every month or so. Nature itself will take care of the rest.
Using the Compost
Before using your compost, you should be able to determine if it’s ready to use. It doesn’t have to look exactly the same as the stuff you’d buy from a garden centre but, basically, it should be dark brown in colour, feel spongy to touch and have an earthy smell.
The benefits to your plants and flowers will be that the compost will help the structure and composition of your soil and maintain its ideal moisture level. It will also provide key nutrients, stabilise pH levels and can keep plant disease at bay.
You should spread a layer of compost around the base of your plants which will allow the compost to seep down into the roots. You can also use it as mulch and spread it around shrubs and flower beds to prevent the soil from eroding and to provide it with rich nutrients. Spread around trees, it will reduce the likelihood of weeds affecting their health and protects against disease and helps them survive in times of very arid conditions. Mixed with regular soil, it can also be used to make a mixture which is ideal for use in potted plants.