Sunday, 11 November 2012

Composting and Digging


The end of season tidy up of the garden and allotment creates a lot of green waste that is invaluable to build up your compost heap. Grass cuttings, kitchen waste from preparing fruit and vegetables are all compostable. Harvested vegetables such as peas, beans, sweet corn, onions all need shelling and cleaning before they are ready for storing, giving more waste for the compost heap. Autumn and early winter is also a time for tree and shrub pruning, and for those keen gardeners with a decent sized garden it is well worth while buying a small shredder to chop up your pruning fine enough to assist breakdown on the compost heap. At home we all have heaps of old newspapers and unwanted mail which can also be shredded with a small cheap electric shredder giving us more compostable waste. By early winter most trees and deciduous shrubs will have lost their leaves, so gather these up and add them to the heap
If you have access to horse, cow, pig or hen manure these can be added to the heap.
However don’t add diseased plant material, (blackspot infected rose leaves or clubroot infected cabbage roots) or perennial weeds, unless you have already killed them by spraying with glyphosate or leaving out in the sun on a hard dry surface to shrivel them up.

The compost heap
Most councils and garden centres will have compost bins available to purchase, and you can even buy the appropriate strain of composting worms, but making a compost heap is really very simple and once you have sorted out a location worms will soon appear in their thousands and be very happy to break down all your garden waste. I always build my heap on a soil surface so the worms can find a rich source of food.
Compost heaps are best put on spare land in the shade, but with good access for adding to the heap, turning it over a couple of times a year and then digging it out to transport it where ever you want it.
Allow for a heap up to about four feet in height and three or more feet width and length. Support the sides with old pallets, corrugated iron or construct your own with good well preserved timber so it lasts a few years.
I turn my heap three times a year so it rots down quickly and compost is ready to dig into the ground by early winter every year.
It is beneficial to mix ingredients and chop up rhubarb leaves, cabbage leaves, old sweet corn and broad bean plants. If you are adding grass cuttings always mix these into other waste to allow air and water to penetrate the heap. Cover the heap with old carpets or similar material to prevent it drying out, but remove it from time to time to let rain in to keep it moist, and if there is ever a dry spell make sure the heap is well watered and covered. Worms, fungus and bacteria need warmth and moisture to do their job.

Winter digging
There are different schools of thought on digging and some of the no digging believers get good results, but I have always been into digging. The exercise benefits are huge, providing you only do as much as your body can handle. I tend to dig for about two hours, twice a week. I start in November and try to complete my allotment digging by Christmas. Only dig when the ground is dryish on the surface and in a wet winter you may not get completed till nearly spring. I spread my compost over the ground to be dug, take out a trench and make sure the compost is buried as I dig. Leave the surface as rough as possible to expose a large surface area of soil. Winter frosts will break this down to a nice tilth by spring.
Areas that have been green manured with mustard, clover, rye grasses or other crop can be left till they show signs of flowers. At this stage, trample them flat and chop up stems to make it easier to bury them when digging. If growth has been excessive you can cut down the foliage and put it on the compost heap, but add some rotted compost before digging to compensate.
In those areas intended for brassicas, you may want to give a dressing of hydrated lime to improve the pH which helps to discourage clubroot. However allow a few weeks after manuring before adding the lime.

Plant of the week

Pyracantha, commonly known as the firethorn, is one of the most prolific berrying shrubs in the garden. The berries can be red, orange or yellow and usually last well into winter. It can be grown as a large spreading evergreen shrub or hedge, but more often used as a wall climber where it can reach twelve feet or more. It is very thorny and perfect as a deterrent to burglars around vulnerable windows. It is quite happy on a north facing wall, but needs tying in on wires or a trellis framework, as it has no means of support. Prune it to shape in winter to keep it in its place, cutting back any straggling shoots.


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