Archive for the ‘Compost’ Category

‘Making earthy good looking, sweet smelling compost is easy, once you know how – 2nd week of May 2012

Compost rejuvenates the soil in the garden every six months.

The oldest occupation in the world is not what you might think, it is (as far as I am concerned), composting! Before humans fashioned forks, moulded plastic composters, or constructed wooden, brick or straw compost containers, Nature has recruited myriads of micro-organisms to turn un-used food, fallen leaves, seaweed etc in to friable soil-like compost. Worms then mix this with the existing soil, returning nutrients to the roots of new plants, which later die, get composted, and the cycle goes on.

In my garden, I allow one year for converting vegetable waste in to friable soil-like compost. During the first 6 months the vegetable waste is collected from the kitchen and stored and partially composted in a plastic compost tumbler. Turning the tumbler helps aerate the mixture preventing any bad odours. Before the next 6 months, that tumbler mixture is transferred to the brick compost maker, a 1 cubic metre box. This mixture is interlayered with hedge clippings and coarser garden waste. This compost box is closed off and opened in 6 months time, when the mixture will have become proper compost, ready for digging in around the garden

I hope you enjoy this short video which Lorcan and I made the other day. The benefits of composting are many but include, (1). tidying the garden, (2). getting some good exercise (3). improving soil structure and (4). making food for healthy plants. Two things I forgot to mention in the video (a) place on old piece of carpet or even cardboard on top of the compost mix before replacing the lid to keep off rain. This ensures the composting making bugs are happier in this dry, dark and warmer environment. (b) Some people (discreetly) add a high nitrogen activator to the compost mix in liquid or in powdered form. The composting bugs tend to like it as it speeds up their work. They won ‘t really mind if you buy it in powdered form in the garden centre or otherwise!



Last Sunday 17th October was a perfect dry crisp sunny day to work in the garden. Out came the compost and grass got cut and green roof on shed got trimmed back too. This growing pile of  cut greenery will in due course become layers in the multi decker ‘sandwich’ along with kitchen organic material currently stored  and breaking down in the compost tumbler. The pile of compost does contain some woody remnants which need more time to break down into a useable form. So I’ll extract these by garden fork and mix them back into the new batch of compost.


Made a start on clearing the spent pea and bean stalks and haulms. I did not dig them out, just chopped them at ground level so their roots remained in the soil. These legume roots have nodules of nitrogen fixed from the air during their growing season. I’m told this is valuable for the cabbage plants I hope to plant in this patch shortly as all the brassica family are hungry for nitrogen.

Still have beetroot to dig up and bottle for storage over the winter. Before long I will need to spread the mature compost from the composter around the garden and make a new batch by layering the compost tumbler contents with the greenery from spent veg and hedge clipping. However I’ll need to set aside a Sunday sometime soon to get a good run at that job which comes around every 6 months, autumn and spring.


April is like the New Year for a kitchen gardener. The New Year resolutions are made to keep the garden tidy and have a productive compost making system. First, I tidy out the pond to re move the prolific excess reeds and their mat of roots, all for composting. Likewise, bag , bags and boxes of greenery from weeding, grass cutting, hedge clipping and veg stalks beyond their productive lives. Also kitchen waste collecting week by week in the compost tumbler is ready to be added to the mix in the metre cubed compost box. Mine is a brick construction but I’ve seen wooden ones and even straw bale ones.

I enjoy digging put the half full and half composted mix. Once the box is empty, I refill it like a multi-decker sandwich starting with woody hedge clippings, then some softer green material like weeds and kitchen waste, more tough stuff like stalks or clippings and so on. I sprinkle on some wood ash every now and again and some accelerator. Once the box is full, an old layer of carpet keeps it warm and working well until it comes time to dig it out around November.


After the rain, snow and ice, a dry weekend, not to mention a still and sunny Sunday was in relative terms, heaven on Earth. Although growing fruit and vegetables is my main activity in the kitchen garden, the cultivation of roses is very rewarding. For anyone concerned about ‘carbon footprints’, the sad reality about roses is that ALL roses sold in local shops are imported as far as I can see. So if you want an Irish rose for yourself or for some other special person, you will just have to grow it yourself!

Ingrid Bergman rose. Pic. courtesy

I confess I had a bed of five Alec’s Red rose bushes but they were neglected over the years. I had wanted red roses but strangely, that variety is more crimson than red. However they had a lovely perfume

and in their hey-day, they served me well. I had even harvested the petals one year and made the most delicious and aromatic rose petal jam. Mind you it took the petals from five bushes to get one pound of jam but what a treat!

To replace rose bushes, it is recommended to not plant new bushes in the same soil. Therfore, my first job was to remove the soil and replenish the bed with compost and humus rich soil, well mixed. The old soil is perfectly good for vegetables however, so nothing is going to waste except the old rose bushes which I have dug up and stacked with the firewood to dry.

I have no shortage of well rotted compost at present which is covered by old carpet so that rain does not leach thegoodness out of it. A couple of barrow loads of fresh soil and compost refilled the new rose bed easily enough. The five new hybrid tea rose bushes are called ‘Ingrid Bergman‘. I am assured this variety is truly a red rose and has a very strong perfume. With the rose bed freshly prepared with loose friable soil, the planting of the five bushes was almost effortless with the help of a trowel.

Having welcomed Richard Corrigan and Duncan Stewart to graze their way through my little garden, it was a pleasure to now welcome such a classy guest as Ingrid Bergman!


There is certainly a shortage of money in the country but there is no shortage of leaves, in my garden atleast. And as the Mamas and the Papas would say ‘all the leaves are brown’. Time then to make leafmould.

Leafmould is similar to composting. However on a forest floor it is fungi more than microbes and other ‘compost friendly’ bugs which break down  layers of leaves. Leaves are more fibrous than the soft vegetable matter in a compost heap. Therefore making leafmould can take about three years whereas reasonably good compost can be made in about one year.

This is why leaves are collected and stored separate to a compost mix. The result of waiting for leaves to break down is worth it however. The end result is a crumbly, clean and earthy ingredient for seed compost minus the egg shells and twigs that often appear in rotted down compost.

I had a mind to just let the leaves rot down in the garden naturally. However when a friend almost slipped on the leafy driveway surface, I resolved to bag the offending leaf fall.

I also resolved to do the bagging quickly as spare time is in short supply these days. First I took as large and heavy duty a plastic bag as I could find. Using rake and gloved hands, I stuffed the bag with any leaves covering the paths and driveway. I tied the top of the bag with an old shoe lace to close it. Leaves need air to attract the fungi required to make the leafmould. Final job therefore is to jab the bag a few times with a garden fork so the air can circulate inside it. Then I tidied away the 2009 collection of leaves. This collection will be joined by a 2010 bag of leaves next winter and so on. In 2012 I look forward to opening the 2009 bag and using the leafmould which I hope to find mature and ready be an ingredient in my home-made seed compost.


This is now the week to look towards the jobs that come around each autumn. Cutting back of raspberry canes and blackcurrant bushes marks the beginning of autumn.

I’m glad to report another good year for the blackcurrant bushes. The raspberry canes were new so I did not expect a bumper crop but hope for great things next year. Cutting back the canes is going to encourage new growth but also in a small garden keeps things tidy enough for myself and visitors to walk around.

The blackcurrant pruning involves taking out branches which fruited this year and this also de-clutters the bush which helps air to circulate and keeps any disease at bay. The cuttings also serve as useful sticks which can be used again for climbing plants next year, or if dried can be used to help start a fire in the winter. The ash from the fire will return to the compost heap, keeping the cycle of life going full circle.