Composting is nature’s oldest method of waste disposal and every garden should have a compost heap.
Compost forms as a result of the natural breakdown of organic material. This is carried out by millions of tiny creatures too small to be seen. Heat is generated in the compost heap by the organisms as they decompose the organic matter. Compost acts as a fantastic mulch and soil conditioner.
Apart from your grass cuttings, leaves and shrub clippings you can also help the environment by disposing of your household’s organic waste in this way. Irish householders produce millions of tonnes of domestic refuse every year. This is dumped in landfill sites, which is the main source of methane in Ireland. This greenhouse gas causes global warning and methane produces a liquid, leachate, that can enter and contaminate our water supplies as well.
Apart from this, composting is an excellent way to feed your plants and improve your soil without having to buy fertilizers from the garden centre. You can also put weeds on your compost heap, as the heat generated during the breaking down process will usually kill them. Eliminating our reliance on peat is another reason we should adapt to composting more
A compost bin can be bought in a DIY or gardening centre and these are useful if you have a very small garden. However, a traditional compost bin can be constructed very easily using warehouse pallets. Five or six is usually sufficient to make one bin. Construct the four sides and then use the leftover pallets to fill in the ‘walls’ so as to ensure there are no gaps. Place the bin on grass or soil so that worms can get in and out as well as for drainage. Leave enough room for access for yourself to turn it from time to time. Ideally two or three compost bins side by side at different stages of decomposition is optimal. When the weather is cooler the process slows down but all in all you should have richly textured crumbly compost within one year.
We spent the whole weekend mulching our vegetable beds. We must have brought about 20 wheelbarrow loads of manure across the road from our neighbours. I gave heaps to the raspberries and am looking forward to a fantastic crop later this year. An earlier mulching and forcing has provided us with huge rhubarb plants and we baked our first batch of muffins for the school lunch boxes yesterday.
In the vegetable plot you could also sow French marigolds anytime between now and May. These cheerful annuals are actually from Mexico and are excellent at keeping white fly at bay. I plant them near tomatoes. This year I am sowing ‘Red brocade’ which I just picked up in Nangles. Keep deadheading and they will keep flowering.
Cut and come again leaf salads can be started in a pot if positioned in a sunny spot outside over the next few weeks. Cover with a plastic bag or cling film until the seeds germinate. Start another batch a few weeks later to keep a constant supply, depending on your household’s consumption of salad.