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Composing Compost

Alex Birtles attended the Compost Workshop 14th Jan 2023 and came away brimming with practical information. She writes:


"On a very cold and blustery January morning, a group wearing Wellington boots and warm clothes met at a flooded Long Mead Barn to meet Lucille Savin, the Head Gardener at Merton College. She told us about her work over 20 years, which included improving compost at the College. This involves their heating and sterilising compost for meadow seedlings (30 mins at 80 degrees). That might be a step too far for many of us, but she also had lots advice and handy tips.


lucille_savinLucille Savin in the Merton College garden.


Basic compost

  • If you use a plastic compost bin and have too much green matter it will stay wet
  • Compost using wooden slats (pallets) as walls is probably the best way
  • Mix and turn your compost every 6 months by lifting your bin and taking the good stuff from the bottom and creating a new compost for it. Put uncomposted stuff back in the bin – it will shrink as it composts
  • 1 part greens to 2 part browns (dry and dead leaves). Add cardboard ideally or shredded paper and layer brown, green, cardboard


What can you compost?

  • Fruit & veg peelings, leaves, non-woody material (nothing bigger than little finger), lawn clippings, broken eggshells, tea bags, some citrus and coffee granules are good for acidic element
  • Avoid greens that have been anywhere near RoundUp as it doesn’t break down


Very handy tips

  • Put grass clippings round fruit bushes
  • Put bind weed in water for six months – then put on soil
  • Good compost should smell dark, crumbly and be sweet smelling. It should feel like a wrung-out sponge and not completely dry
  • Leave conifer chips (acidic) to become well-rotted and use as a mulch.
  • Wood chip is better than manure as a mulch
  • Organic matter on clay soil helps it to break up
  • Camomile tea has anti-fungal properties and prevents rotting in seed trays
  • Comfrey compost tea acts as a bio-fertiliser releasing nutrients in the soil allowing plants to be fed."