This morning I decided to tackle some garden jobs that I had been putting off: making some compost, weeding, and moving a raised garden bed that I wanted in a different spot.
The raised garden bed took a little while. We have three of them: those galvanised Stratco jobs, filled with a mix of compost, mushroom compost, mulch and potting mix. I’ll move all of them eventually, but two of them still have some plants in them right now so I will wait a few more weeks to shift them. This one only had a couple of beetroot in them, so I picked them and got cracking.
Before I could shift it I needed to dig all of the compost out and move it around the back. Unfortunately our wheelbarrow is on its last legs so it took a bit longer than it should have. Note to self: invest in a new wheelbarrow.
It took about an hour and a half all up, and once I shifted it, I transplanted a very sad little lemon tree from the backyard to the spot where the raised bed had been. I think it will be much happier there, and the raised bed is much more useful around the back where the rest of our veggies are happily growing. I am planning on using the raised beds to grow our winter greens and lettuces.
The front yard is home to our fruit trees (an apricot, mulberry, and pomegranate tree, and a prolific passionfruit vine), flowers, and many healthy herb bushes. When we moved here three years ago, it had been much neglected and overplanted with an enormous date palm and a gum tree, and a bizarre mix of vines, roses, and ferns. Even worse, the owners had made the mistake of trying to combat weeds by laying black plastic under the soil and then laying dirt and gravel on top. This does not combat any weeds (most weeds are pretty shallow rooted and just grow on top of this so-called ‘weed mat’), and it makes it difficult to grow anything useful. It has taken us a long time to dig through the stupid plastic, remove the vines, ferns, and trees, and replenish the soil and replant with fruit trees, herbs, and flowers that attract beneficial insects.
Initially to combat the black plastic problem, and because the backyard was equally weirdly planted with three enormous conifers, we installed the raised beds to start growing some vegetables. Now that we have replanted the front yard, made the soil healthy, and have slowly removed the black plastic, we can move the raised beds to the backyard – where we have also removed the giant conifers.
Anyway, once I moved the raised bed and planted out some cauliflower seedlings (Cauliflower Macerata) I had been raising, I made some compost. Or rather, I added to my compost.
Making compost is an ongoing process. It is something I am pretty passionate about. I have been known to gasp in shock if my kids throw a banana skin in the bin instead of the compost bucket.
“What do you think you are doing?” I cry, waggling my finger at them. “That banana skin is nature’s protein shake.”
To which they walk off, grumbling about their slightly insane mother, while said slightly insane mother rummages in the bin to rescue the banana skin and transfer it to the correct bin.
Our compost bucket lives under our sink, and was purchased from IKEA for the princely sum of $8. The lid seals well and I don’t think it smells, but that is probably because I am used to it…
The contents of the bucket comprise anything that was once a vegetable or fruit (peelings, cores, etc), paper, tea leaves or teabags, coffee grounds, or washed eggshells. I don’t put meat or fat in there.
I tip it in the black plastic compost bin that I bought from Bunnings for $40. Along with the garden fork I bought from The Diggers Club, it is probably the best money I have spent in the garden (the worst was the in-ground worm farm, may they rest in peace). I have tried several different composters, and this one seems to work really well. Forty bucks, people.
You can see below the kind of things that we toss in there: coffee grounds, some carrot peels, some old watermelon, a bean.
Yeah I know, it’s gross. My sister says I should take up knitting.
You can also add other things from the garden: weeds, garden waste, trimmings, etc. Try not to put big chunks in there as it will take a long time to break down in a home composter like this.
Try to include a good mix of wet and dryer ingredients – by “wet” I mean household fresh waste, and by “dry” I mean paper or straw. Some people like to think of these as “greens” and “browns.”
All of these things are important, but they are not as important as the magic ingredient.
What is the magic ingredient, I hear you ask?
Poo is the magic ingredient.
Or as we gardeners prefer to call it, manure. It’s a nicer way of saying poo.
Every few months my beloved Mother gives me a bag of poo from her chooks. It is combined with straw as that is what her chooks are bedded in. This gift is fantastic and frankly, I would be happy if instead of a birthday gift, she just gave me a monthly subscription to “Mum’s Poo Service.”* This is because a bag of chook poo is the magic ingredient that turns my compost bin from a slowly rotting pile of carrot peelings to a hot bed of quick activating fertiliser.
Manure activates the compost pile and helps it rot down and turn from rotting organic matter into compost. Compost is critical for gardens. It creates healthy soil, feeds the beneficial bacteria and fungi in the soil, and creates a home for the earthworms and other friendly little critters that live in the soil. Without a healthy soil, you can’t have healthy plants. You can’t have healthy humans.
At least every few months, the composter needs a dose of
poo manure. My neighbour raises pigeons, and sometimes he is kind enough to pass a bag of pigeon manure over the fence. Otherwise, a bag of my Mum’s chook manure will do the trick. I could buy a bag of sheep manure from the nursery, but it is not as good as bird manure, in my opinion. Bird manure is high in nitrogen, so it activates the compost very well.
I also know that my Mum’s birds are healthy and fed very well on fresh food, so there is no nasties in the manure from there.
Composting is an ongoing process, because as the manure, straw and compost bucket contents break down, I keep adding to it. Every eight weeks or so, I upend the bin and dig it out, taking some compost from the bottom to wherever in the garden needs it. Then I dig the rest back into the bin, and keep going. This is the cycle of composting: food that comes from my garden (the zucchini trimmings, carrot tops, pumpkin guts) go into the composter and come back out again to feed the garden once more. It’s a pootiful thing.