1 July 2020
Compost - get it cooking!
Those of you who read my gardening column regularly may know I’m a keen composter. Some (like Peter) would say even an obsessive compost anorak. It is just lovely stuff, great fun to make, free of charge, saves an expensive gym membership fee* and is wonderful for the health and vitality of your plants. Our soil here is really heavy clay; compost helps to break it up and make it easier to work so I dig it in by the barrow load when I plant something new. It can contain a fair few weeds but I can live with that given its benefits and there is always the hoe.
The rain will have made your grass grow like mad. Grass is really good in a compost heap as long as you mix it with other things. If you don’t, it can end up a clumpy, soggy mess. Think of it as a steamed fruit pudding with a range of ingredients designed to make it really yummy. There is a lot of science and a fair bit of rubbish attached to the composting process but don’t let that put you off. As in a decent pudding, it’s the mixture that makes it work. Combos that work for me over the years: grass clippings, shredded paper, uncooked veggies and fruit peelings, old bedding plants and annuals such as forget me nots, annual weeds not yet forming seeds, comfrey chopped up a bit, egg shells, the inside of loo rolls, bedding from your rabbit/guinea pig/hens, any non woody prunings. Give it all a good stir and if you feel able and safe doing so, add some of your wee. I know that sounds weird but trust me, it really gets it going!
What doesn’t work: anything too woody, anything cooked, perennial weeds, especially the roots, nothing that harbours a plant disease such as black spot or rust. Leaves can be added in moderation, but they are best kept in a separate heap to make leaf mould. Compost works best when it has enough green material to get the heap heated up: leaves decompose via a fungus so stay cold. The other key to keeping your compost healthy and decomposing is to turn it a couple of times when you have time and energy*. If it is a bit dry, water it. It’s not compulsory though if you can’t manage it, the heap will just take longer to cook. I usually give it a month and then get stuck in with a fork, then turn it again a couple of months later. A run of three bins is good if you’ve space so you can have one in use, one cooking and one ready for spreading round the garden.
The summer garden here has several plants I wouldn’t be without. One is Penstemon (see photo), a much underrated perennial in my humble opinion. They flower from June right into early winter if dead headed and aren’t too fussy as to soil and aspect, although they don’t like poor, dry soil or deep shade. Although perennial, they do run out of steam after a few years but are easily propagated by cuttings, I usually take cuttings around August time and at that time of the year they pretty much all root. Their colour range is from white through purple, pink and red. My latest Penstemon purchase is a lovely bright red one named after King George V and there are several named after birds: ‘Raven’ and ‘Blackbird’ are, as you may imagine, shades of deep purple.
Last year the birds got to my gooseberries before I got to pick them. So this year I picked them early when still quite hard in the second week in June to make jam. I added some grated orange rind and juice to the mixture and it is delish.
I hope you are enjoying your gardens this summer, stay safe and well everyone.