GARDEN TIPS - 26/10/18
Now’s the time of year when we’re doing some pruning, cutting back, giving the lawn a final cut for the year and dealing with autumn leaves. The waste generated is crammed full of some great stuff for plants and soil, so rather than throw it away, now’s the perfect time to have a go at making your own compost.
Home composting is the most environmentally-friendly way of dealing with kitchen and garden waste and makes an excellent soil improver.
It’s really not difficult. There are just a few things to bear in mind, to ensure you have some lovely home made good stuff to use around your garden next year.
Credit here to the Royal Horticultural Society for their advice and guidance on the matter.
COMPOST - The Low-down on All Things Degrading!
Composting is useful in all gardens. Only in the very smallest gardens will it be difficult to find space for a compost heap and material to fill it. Owners of such small plots could consider worm composting instead.
Although councils do offer green waste collections, it does seem a shame for the council to then reap the benefits of turning our green waste into compost, mostly for its own uses.
Site and Container
It’s important that the site is not subjected to extremes of temperature and moisture, because the micro-organisms (bacteria and fungi) that turn the waste into compost work best in constant conditions. Position your bin in light shade or shade; it’s often more convenient to use a shady area of the garden anyway - a space under tree or behind a shed, where you rarely go, for example.
An earth base allows drainage and access to soil organisms, but if you have to compost on a hard surface, then add a spadeful of soil into the bottom of the compost bin before you get going.
Plastic composter bins retain some warmth and moisture and make better compost more quickly, but even an open heap will compost eventually.
Any of the compost bins on the market should produce compost as long as they exclude rain, retain some warmth, allow drainage and let in air.
Getting the right balance of composting materials
Aim for between 25% and 50% soft green stuff (grass clippings, annual weeds, vegetable kitchen waste, manure - even used tea bags) and coffee grounds) to feed the micro-organisms and get them pumped to help you out.
The rest should be woody brown stuff (prunings, wood chippings, paper, cardboard, straw or dead leaves) - although avoid large branches and bits of wood - with the best will in the world it’d take an eternity for our organism friends to get those converted. If you do have anything big, hire a wood chipping machine to break it down as much as possible before putting on the heap.
The bacteria and micro-organisms that produce the compost function best when the balance of green and brown materials is right, so don’t be tempted to stray too far from these proportions. Overdoing it on the grass clippings, for example, will in all probability leave you with a slimy, smelly mess to deal with.
Kitchen waste and grass clippings are best mixed with the brown woody stuff, as they tend to be naturally loaded with water and easily compacted. When that happens, air can’t circulate. If air can’t circulate, you will get stooge, not compost!
A Few Common Composting Materials
Green Stuff: Grass clippings; soft, leafy plants including annual weeds; fruit and vegetables and uncooked kitchen waste.
Brown Stuff: Prunings and hedge trimmings (ideally shredded), wood chippings, leaves, paper and card (torn up or shredded), straw and plant stems.
Accelerators and Activators: Products like ‘Garotta’ can be added to the heap if green waste is ever in short supply. These contain high levels of nitrogen (a key nutrient found in green waste), but this shouldn’t be necessary if green waste is plentiful. It is also possible to purchase activators containing carbon (a nutrient found in brown woody waste); these are aimed at composting grass clippings or other green waste where there is insufficient brown waste. A quick chat with a neighbour or two will usually mean you can avoid all that and simply share the goodness around, keeping you all ‘balanced’.
The Myth of Lime: Some people think you need to add lime to a compost heap. There’s no need or benefit to this at all, as far as we are aware.
Turning the Heap (this is critical)
Turning the heap keeps good air circulation - and air is essential in the creation of compost. If the heap gets too wet or becomes compacted, then the composting process slows right down because only limited air is available.
Ideally, turn your heap maybe once a month with a garden fork. Poor air circulation due to not turning the heap is the main reason for people not getting good results. We must have removed and disposed of literally hundreds of full, but not composted, bins over the years. This would be the main cause of the problem.
Remember to keep the heap moist in dry weather – turning will give you an opportunity to assess the moisture level.
When’s it Ready?
Garden compost can take between six months and two years to reach maturity. Mature compost will be dark brown, with a crumbly soil-like texture and a smell resembling damp woodland.
It’s unlikely that all the material in the heap will be like this, but any remaining un-rotted material can just be added back into your next batch.
Wet, slimy and strong-smelling compost: Too little air and too much water are often to blame. Turn the heap then cover it, to protect it from rain and add more brown waste and to balance things again.
Dry and fibrous with little rotting seemingly going on: Usually caused by too little moisture and too much brown stuff. Add more green stuff.
Alternatively, add fresh manure at one bucket for every 15cm (6in) layer of compost and give it a good turn/mix.
Flies: Well-run compost bins don’t produce swarms of flies, but if you do see any, make sure you cover the kitchen waste with garden waste after adding it to the heap. It’s probably fruit flies going after the sugars in your kitchen waste.
Of course, if making you own compost doesn’t take your fancy, you could always buy it from us - we’ll even deliver it for you!
A Few Other Things…
Raise any planting containers onto pot feet to ensure good drainage through winter and prevent water-logging.
Cover any brassicas with netting to stop pigeons getting at them in the coming months.
If you’re packing away petrol-powered garden tools and mowers, remember to empty out the fuel. Unleaded petrol has a pretty short shelf life, so may cause you issues come spring when you try to start them up again.
Prepare your taps for winter. Use foam lagging to insulate all outdoor taps and pipework against freezing temperatures. If they aren’t protected, water in the tap or pipe will expand, causing cracks and leaks when they thaw out again.
In winter, central and under floor heating dries the air out in your home. Help your house plants survive by misting them occasionally (just get an inexpensive misting bottle) or placing the pots on a pebble filled tray of water to ensure adequate humidity and moisture. Avoid putting larger houseplants directly onto tiles where there’s underfloor heating, because this’ll cause them to dry out really quickly - put them on some sort of plinth or piece of furniture if you can - or use a self-watering pot.
Pot up some prepared flowering bulbs for indoor colour and fragrance during the winter. Store the pots in a cool, dark place, until new growth emerges from the soil. Then move them to a bright window sill. Hyacinths, Amaryllis and Narcissus are easy to grow. They also make a fun rainy-day planting project for kids.
You can get the secateurs out and start to prune your apple trees and pear trees as soon as the leaves have fallen and they become dormant. Beech, hawthorn and hazel should also be pruned around now, as well as climbing and shrub roses. Get some decent shears and give any topiary a trim too.
Vigorous growers like Buddleja, Dogwoods and Lavatera can be reduced by half to lessen problems of wind rock over the winter.
Leave plum and cherry trees until next Spring. Winter pruning leaves them susceptible to diseases like ‘Silver Leaf’. Evergreens are also usually best dealt with in early Spring. After they’ve finished flowering is usually the best time.
The most important part of autumn pruning is removing dead, diseased, or misplaced branches. Always aim to make a clean cut, either back to a bud on living wood, or back to the stem it’s growing from. Try to make the cut on an angle, so that rainwater will run off the cut, rather than sitting on it, which may lead to rot.
After pruning, mulch with some compost around the root area of shrubs to stimulate root growth over winter. A few handfuls of bonemeal is still popular too with some gardeners, but we find that this encourages squirrels and foxes to come digging, which can cause more damage than simply not using bonemeal in the first place!
If you have grapevines, you’ll need to prune these around now too. Cut back all fruited shoots to one or two buds from the main stem. This can be done between November and late winter, but If your grapevines are under glass then it’s best to prune them soon, so that winter sunlight doesn’t get blocked out of the glasshouse.
Please do check bonfires before you light them, for any sheltering and hibernating animals. Or just get a few ECO Torches instead of a bonfire this year. They’ll make life so much easier and you’ll avoid any unfortunate ‘wildlife incidents’.
Stop winter moth damage to fruit trees using grease bands around the trunks.
Now’s the time to clean out bird nesting boxes. If you don’t clean them out they can harbour wintering pests like mites, as well as bird diseases. Remove old nesting material give them a good scrub with clean water. Let them dry out thoroughly before re-hanging them.
That’s it for this week. As usual, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
Have a great weekend.
The Lancasters Team.