Heaps of Fun

Compost is good for plants, gets rid of rubbish and makes a home for all sorts of wildlife. It's a must for every garden says Michaela Strachan

Well it's that time of the year when the lawn seems to grow quicker than David Beckham's bank account and you're constantly trying to hide bin bags full of cuttings amongst the rubbish so that the refuse collectors will unknowingly dispose of it. But help is at hand, not with cutting the lawn (I'm actually a bit busy for that) but I can certainly solve the other bit.

Yes this month I'm talking rubbish - compost to be precise. If you haven't already got a compost bin or heap, I can recommend that you invest in one. If we're talking 'wildlife friendly gardens' it's a must.

You'll always know that the compost you're using is organic and environmentally friendly, and that you're reducing the amount of rubbish going into landfill sites. And you'll attract a small compost community that will be unwittingly helping your garden grow. These include woodlice, worms, hedgehogs, toads, and a variety of insects and, if you're really lucky, grass snakes.

You could buy a compost bin - anything from a very simple dustbin type to a really fancy one that has a handle to turn the compost - or you can make your own. Again, depending on how Handy Andy you are, you can either construct a simple wire bin made out of chicken wire stapled to 4 posts and lined with cardboard. Or, if you're feeling more adventurous, you could make a wooden slatted one. And we have a workshop telling you how to do it: 'How to make a compost bin'.

It's important that the compost doesn't get too sodden. So it's a good idea to cover the top with something. When I bought a compost bin a few years ago I found it hard to get a small one. So I bought a plastic rubbish bin and cut a few holes in it so it could aerate. I also cut a largish hole in the bottom for access (for wildlife as well as to get at the compost) that I covered loosely with a piece of wood. Anyway, mine seems to have worked very well.

There are plenty of things you can put into a compost bin apart from grass cuttings although don't put too many in and mix them well with other materials, otherwise they make the compost too wet and slimy. As with everything in life, variety is the spice!

You can add lots of other garden waste and plenty of kitchen waste. Weeds, soft prunings, old pot plants, old straw and hay, hedge clippings, autumn leaves, sawdust, ripped up woollen and cotton fabric, bedding from vegetarian pets like hamsters, brown cardboard, paper bags, vegetable plant waste, used tea bags, egg shells, fruit and veg scraps, used kitchen roll and even human urine if you feel so inclined! [Phew.]

Things that are a definite no no include dog or cat poo, cooked leftovers, meat or fish (it could encourage rats), disposable nappies, seeding weeds, bindweed, and coal ash.

Composting should be a very simple, straightforward way of recycling but there are a few things you can do to help it along.

* Include both soft and tough material, too soft and your pile could end up too slimy, too tough and it could end up taking forever to compost.

* Inspect your compost regularly. If it seems too dry add a bit of water. Too wet, mix in shredded paper, cardboard and air.

* Don't pack the waste down. It's important that air can circulate. Put the lid back on each time to keep in the heat.

* Don't put your bin in direct sunlight.

* Turn your compost regularly - about every 6 weeks - unless you discover any nesting wildlife in which case it's best left alone. C

* Compost takes on average a year to turn into dark brown, crumbly, nutrient rich pile so be patient!

Many locals councils provide compost bins free or cheaper than buying one from a garden centre - it's worth checking whether yours does. In some areas there are community composting projects. These are great to contribute to if you've used up your own compost bin. In fact, it's a good idea to invest in 2 compost bins, one in the process of composting and one of well-rotted compost ready for use.

If you're a junior composter then why not join Wildlife Watch ( the junior section of the Wildlife Trust). Not only is it a great organisation to get involved with, but you can also get a fab composting poster so you know what creatures to keep an eye out for. For more detail call the Wildlife Trust on 01636 677711.

Happy composting!

Articles reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com



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