Saturday 11 May 2013

Topping-up the compost

Over the Bank Holiday weekend I did a task that I can't claim to enjoy, but which is very necessary - and ultimately very rewarding: emptying a compost bin. The bin is question is one of the 330litre black plastic "Dalek" bins - ugly, but with the addition of a few thousand worms, a very-efficient compost-making machine.

To get at the dark crumbly soil-like compost, I had to remove the top 50% or so of the material, which was in various stages of decomposition / digestion by the worms, but even so I ended up with a very pleasing quantity of the "good stuff". This has now been distributed in a thick layer over the most needy parts of the plot. No.1 priority was the raised bed in which I hope soon to be planting Runner Beans:

The next-door bed which houses the last of the Purple Sprouting Broccoli also got a dose. This bed will play host to my Climbing French Beans.

Incidentally, this is what the broccoli looks like now - the secondary spears are at a useable size - but once these are gone, the plants will be pulled up and consigned to the same compost bin that I have just been emptying.

Round the base of the fruit trees I put a thick layer of compost. I don't expect it to stay this neat for very long - the Blackbirds will be kicking it around before the day is out, I know.

The Raspberries got their share too:

Applied like this, as a mulch, the compost will help mainly to conserve moisture in the soil, but later on it will gradually get absorbed into the soil itself, adding nutrients and contributing organic matter to improve the soil structure.

I have been gardening on this plot for 22 years now. Each year I do this distributing of compost at least twice (emptying my bins in rotation), and I use a fair bit of commercial compost for tubs of potatoes, tomatoes and such-like, but the level of soil in the raised beds never seems to rise significantly. Where does it all go? Just think what the plot would be like if I didn't apply this compost. Presumably the levels would be a lot lower.


  1. I wonder if you saw Harry Dodson on the Victorian kitchen garden tv programme he reckoned outside the walled garden the depth of loam was about 150mm before hitting chalk inside the walled garden thanks to the generations of gardeners adding compost it was 450mm so you have a way to go yet Mark.

  2. That's a job I keep putting off, I really need to get round to it before the beds are planted up.

  3. I have been doing that too Mark - also emptying out containers with old compost in and mulching with it. I reckond the worms have a lot to do with keeping the levels down dragging all that lovely stuff under where they can work their magic.

  4. I really need more compost bins. I have just one wooden one; it doesn't get as hot as those plastic bins - but then it doesn't get smelly either! Doing this job must give you a great sense of satisfaction, knowing you've set your plants up well for the season ahead. Looks great!!

  5. Where it goes is a mystery Mark! I suppose as it decomposes it just takes less space - like us!

  6. Well organic matter is made up of mostly carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen. I'm guessing as it decomposes a lot of it just goes into the air as CO2, H2O, and N2 - all gasses. The smaller bits (and the nitrogen) are used by the plants so those you eat. Some things are probably water soluble and as they break down more they get washed away in the rain.

    I think Jeavons said that you need to add about 1/2" of compost every year to keep the organic matter at reasonable levels because it does disappear over time. I add way more than that every year. But it really does keep the garden productive.

  7. Compost is your friend! I have a huge pile (one of the hip and expensive 'healthy foods store' had some for free on Earth day) that I will distribute once the next four raised beds get installed. I don't think you can really garden well with raised beds unless you amend the soil regularly. So, kudos! Your composting is why I'm sure you produce such great results ever growing season! Cheers, Jenni

  8. I rather like emptying the compost bins too, its a great feeling knowing what your waste products make for you over a course of a few months.

  9. How wonderful! What would we do without compost? It is really essential in organic gardening. I was sieving my compost yesterday because I need as an ingredients for the soil mixture for the balcony and terrace planters.

  10. Very satisfying. We did our annual turning-out of a compost heap the other weekend too, riddling it spadeful-after-spadeful to get a lovely rich compost, and returning the big bits to the other heap to continue rotting down a little more. Always hard work, but the sweet dark compost is great reward.

  11. One of my favorite topics. Just turned the compost yesterday should be ready in a week or so. Do you purchase worms to add to your bins?

    1. David, no I have never purchased any worms - they just arrive, of their own accord. And there are thousands of them - HUGE numbers of them.


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