4 February 2013 - 11:35am

Confessions of a compost anorak

Compost has been on my mind a lot lately. To be honest it often is, I absolutely love the stuff. When we moved to Charnwood in 1987 the soil here was horrible, really dense, heavy clay. Since then we’ve dig tonnes and tonnes of compost in, using it as a mulch as well as to improve the soil. As result, the longer established beds now have good, friable, reasonably well drained soil. Garden compost improves the conditions of the soil as well as it’s nutritional value. We will keep adding it, or it will lose it’s condition. I’ve been even more than usually preoccupied with the subject since my kind neighbour gave me a huge pile of well composted horse manure. It is fab stuff, full of those little red, wriggly worms that turn your composted material into gorgeous dark, crumbly stuff over a few months. If you can’t get hold of any for free, you can actually buy worms for compost bins (yes, really!) from www.wigglywigglers.co.uk telephone 01981 500 391. Just make sure you don’t tip them on top of your compost heap or they will end up straight down a robins throat, they adore red worms! Getting compost right isn’t rocket science. A mix of dry stuff like paper or cardboard, especially if shredded, is good mixed with green material such as grass clippings. This time of year I’m tidying my borders and I end up with a wheelbarrow full of twiggy stems and soggy plant remains. As long as the twiggy bits aren’t too big and woody they will be fine. Vegetable peelings are a good addition and I pop in little boxes and the insides of loo rolls to add a few air pockets. When you start mowing add the clippings to the heap and give it a stir. A good mixture is best. Don’t add big layers of leaves, they are best put in a bag on their own to make leafmould. Compost works best when the heap has some heat in it; this will kill off any weed seed. Leafmould works through slowly decomposing, it’s a different process. Use you common sense – if the heap looks too dry, water it or add more green materials. If too wet, add some shredded paper. Turning the heap will help speed the process up a lot. So don’t go to the gym, turn your heap and feel a glowing sense of a job well done! Some folk worry about compost heaps attracting rats. We have nine bins here, sited well away from the house and I can’t say it’s ever been a problem. But here are some tips to keep them away: • Keep the compost wet, like us, rats prefer to stay dry; • Don’t add fish or meat , dairy products and anything cooked, oily or processed; • Keep pet manure out of the heap. February is a good time to prune your wisteria. Once a good framework is established and tied in securely with tree ties, you can prune the smaller side branches down to 2 or three buds. It sounds, and looks ruthless but it works. Pick a mild spell or the pruning plus frost may give it too much of a shock. Give it a spade or two of fresh but cooled bonfire ash or sulphate of potash to encourage flowering and look forward to a lovely show in May.