Category Archives: Soil

Our Soil Blocking Recipe

Soil blocks ready to seed

Just a quick post on our soil blocking recipe. I always get asked about this and usually point people to the All Sun farm recipe, but I have refined this recipe over the last few years.

Here’s my mix:

  • 2.5 part coco peat (aka coir)

I don’t like the small bricks that you can get in Bunnies etc. as you need to soak them. It is very hard to mix all the other ingredients together well after that. I would say that the bricks are detrimental to the mix unless you soak them and then dry them again and that takes a long time (like a week). I buy it by the bale from Elders in Windsor in a dry form. It is compressed but not like the bricks.

Worm castings also work great but unfortunately nothing you can buy  (like potting mix) seems to work

  • 0.5 part fine basalt dust

That can be hard to find for some people so you can use river sand or horticultural sand. DO NOT USE ANY OTHER SAND. Other types of sand (like sand pit or Sydney sand do not work. It’s not that they don’t work as well but they actually make the seedlings fail catastrophically. Sandpit sand, Sydney sand, brickies sand etc. hold too much water. Your seedlings will turn in to a fungal mess. Try it at your peril.

And some nutrients…

I don’t have a specific measure for these but I use a double hand scoop of each for a full wheel barrow as a guide.

  • Kelp meal

You can get this from rural supplies and horse type places. It should cost about $100 for a 25kg bag.

Be aware of what you are getting. The “meal” part is important. If you try and get the finely ground water soluble kelp, it will cost around $800 per bag.

  • Soft rock phosphate

It is a really vital part of the recipe while your soil is poor.Unfortunately this is hard to get in the ‘burbs by the bag (as opposed to the tonne- you can get it from YLAD in  Young by the tonne). If you find somewhere please let me know.

I get it from a rural supplier in Queensland when I visit relatives. I bought 100kg 3 years ago and still have 20kg left.

  • Blood and bone

I only use this is the recipe during the warmer months, ie. Sept – March. Plants don’t feed as much during the winter and I find using it then promotes fungal growth. I would say it’s essential for summer.

*Note: the phosphate and blood and bone should be provided by your compost mix through the use of dynamic accumulators

New series of short workshops

We would like to announce that we are now running a whole heap of short workshops focussing on the essential skills of food gardening. Topics include making compost, caring for chooks and a whole heap of other fun things!

Dates and details are in the link below. We hope to see more of you here soon!
https://healthyharvestnsw.wordpress.com/permaculturecourses/food-garden-favourites/

No bones about it: a smart tip for zero food waste

Just a quick tip today about how to recycle all your household food waste. I was at a friend’s house on the weekend and I asked her what she did with her bones from cooking. She said that she put them in the bin. Since she composted everything else, I had just assumed she would compost the bones too. Then it occurred to me that maybe people don’t know how to deal with them!

Here is what we do. Put all the bones in a plastic bag in the freezer. Add to the same bag whenever you have bones. When it’s full or inconveniently large, use the bones in a hot compost or just simply dig a hole 30cm deep and bury them. That should be deep enough to keep rodents etc. away. Make sure your doggy doesn’t see you though! As long as you don’t let the bag defrost, you can keep using it.
Why should you bother with the bones? Although uncooked bones are a hundred times better than cooked bones, they still contain small amounts of nitrogen,  quite a lot of phosphorus and many other trace elements. Our land needs every bit of help we can give it to grow food. Otherwise it ends up at land fill and becomes a methane issue. Unfortunately 59% of landfill in Australia is organic matter. It’s easy to make a positive difference just by changing a few simple habits in the kitchen.

Compost is hot, but chook mulch is hotter!

Compost vs mulch

Last post, I wrote about some of the finer points of successful composting. Compost is a great addition to your soil and is vital for making good seedlings. Still, making enough compost to regularly apply to your soil (as many books suggest) is often difficult, requiring excessive amounts of time and materials. If you have added lots of organic matter into your soil and you are happy with the state of it,  I do not think compost is regularly required (though it’s still a good idea to use a decent handful in the planting hole before planting out seedlings). However, for kick-starting a new garden with poor soil (or no soil as is the case for my new garden), you might initially bring in large amounts of compost or manures. Avoid “garden mixes” unless you are on clay as they have too much sand in them. If any readers have an entrepreneurial bent, a specially-made soil full of clay (rather than sand) would be a hit in the Blue Mountains!

Assuming your soil is good, here’s what I recommend, and what I do in my zone 1 garden. Make compost exclusively for seedlings and compost tea. For the rest of your garden, make chook mulch!

How to make chook mulch

1. If you have any spare land or lawn that just never gets used on your property, let the grass grow tall (rather than mowing it) and sow it with a “forage seed mix” that you can buy from rural supply shops. If you don’t have one of these places nearby, the grain in a poultry seed mix works just as well. If you don’t have spare space to grow grass and weeds you  might try a few other things:

    • Ask your neighbours for their grass clipping and weeds.
    • Find a nearby vacant block and ask if you can maintain it.
    • Look around. I recently found a place locally that the council mower men stash grass clippings which could be used for this same purpose.

Why grow your own mulch crops? A few words about plant diversity and plant health:

Unless you’re growing your own grasses and weeds to use in chook mulch, you’ll probably be buying it in the form of straw. Most straw is baled from fields of single crops like wheat, lucerne etc. All of those things are good but the real magic comes from having a diversity of plants in your mulch. Why? Different plants contain different essential elements that other plants require. Let’s use comfrey for an example. Comfrey contains: silica (to build cell walls); nitrogen (to promote leaf growth); magnesium (many uses including making other elements accessible to the plant); calcium (cell wall development and general growth); potassium (to help promote flowering and fruiting; and iron (which allows the plant to photosynthesise and transpire).

comfrey

The goal is to get as many of the essential elements plants need from the soil, into your mulch, and back into your garden. Here is a link to a list of plants you can grow that will help you create great mulch. These types of plants are called “dynamic accumulators”. As well as comfrey, some other common accumulators include carrot, parsley, and borage. These guys are great for bringing in beneficial insects too. Get to know them. They’re some of your best friends in the garden!

Grow lots of dynamic accumulators so you can feed them to your chooks, along with your weeds and grasses. That will ensure that the finished product is a feast of essential minerals for your garden.

parsley

borage

carrot

OK, so now you’ve got your mulch crop sorted…back to making chook mulch!

2. Get chooks and make a straw yard (a chook pen that you can throw straw into and collect it again later).

3. Now cut an armful (I use a 60 litre bin) of grass/forage crops/weeds every other day and give it to the chooks.

weeds, glorious weeds!

Buying a hand sickle or a “Kama” knife from Green Harvest here, will make this job (and many others) ten times easier.

Kama knife

Throw all your weeds in there too. This reduces the amount of grain you need to give to the chooks (I have found about 20% less), and they’ll eat the bits they like (including all the weed seeds) and kick around the grasses/weeds they don’t want to eat so they never has a chance to re-root.

Girls getting excited about the new grass delivery!

4. Let the chooks do their thing for a couple of days. Try to keep any new material away from the older stuff, e.g. up the other end of the straw-yard.

getting stuck in

5. Now you have mulch for free, which is also covered in manure! While teaching my most recent permaculture course I was asked if the fresh chicken manure in the mulch would harm the plants. If the fresh manure was dug into the soil, yes it may burn the roots of the plants. Recall from last article that if fresh organic matter is added above the soil, it slowly breaks down over time. We are just adding the mulch on top of the soil so it is of absolutely no harm. In fact, you can’t regularly buy mulch as good as this anywhere!

6. Apply chook mulch to your garden in a layer of approximately 15cm. Don’t skimp- sprinkling it on isn’t enough to work its magic.

Chook mulch is a winner. It gives you free mulch, happy chooks, delicious golden eggs, fantastic soil, and great gardens!

De-seeded and manured mulch: chook mulch!

Open now: weekend intensive “Practical Permaculture” course Saturday 30th June – Sunday 1st July

Practical Permaculture: Creative ways of designing and living for a more sustainable future

A two-day experiential course

Saturday 30th June & Sunday 1st July 2012

Facilitated by Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams

Venue: Private home and gardens in Railway Avenue, Faulconbridge, NSW 2776
(convenient for train, bus and free on-street parking)

Time: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm

Fee: $150 early bird (until 25th June) or $180 after 25th June

The number of participants is limited to 15 people to facilitate an intensive learning experience.

Join Permaculture teachers, designers & gardeners Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams for a weekend of intensive permaculture design, theory and practical workshops for the home gardener or backyard farmer.

Learn how to

  • Harness Permaculture principles and practical strategies to beat rising food and energy costs

  • Understand and apply Permaculture design techniques for a healthy, comfortable home and garden

  • Create your own Permaculture garden design and learn how to bring it to life!

Topics include:

  • efficient energy planning and systems
  • fundamentals of site design
  • climate and microclimate
  • landforms, soil and water
  • waste resources and systems
  • garden layout and design for urban, suburban and cold areas
  • orchards and food forests
  • animal forage systems and aquaculture
  • community strategies for engagement and action including urban food-growing, recycling and economics.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course you will have:

A working understanding of permaculture designs and principles.

Ideas and confidence to create your own permaculture design project.

The pre-requisite skills and knowledge to complete a Permaculture Design Course.

Learning methods

A significant portion of the course comprises experiential learning. Practical demonstrations and small group workshops on key permaculture techniques are designed to bring to life and reinforce core theory and concepts.

The course provides a solid grounding in Permaculture theory, combining this with practical skill development through interactive learning experiences and course handouts. A range of learning methods are used including: presentations, video, experiential exercises, and small group activities.

About the teachers

Gordon Williams is a Permaculture consultant and educator currently working in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Raised in the Blue Mountains, Gordon was able to spend time in the surrounding national parks and bushland where he gained an appreciation for the natural systems within them. His six years of experience as a carpenter has led to a deep understanding of the difference between good and bad building design and construction. As a result of these experiences his passion is to see the built environment blend smoothly into the living surroundings.

Gordon’s journey along the Permaculture path began when he inherited the family kitchen garden. While on the hunt for information on growing food, Rosemary Morrow’s book ” Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture” proved to be a revelation.

Gordon has trained with some of Australia’s most respected Permaculture educators such as Rosemary Morrow, Darren Doherty and Geoff Lawton. He has also worked at the Permaculture Research Institute in both educational and on farm roles.

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

What people are saying

The presenters, Daniel and Gordon, were knowledgeable and friendly. The course was a good mix of practical workshops and theory. The group size worked well and made for a cosy and enjoyable learning experience.

I had read a lot of books but discussing the theories, asking questions and hearing practical examples just helped cement it all. It seems to have stuck better..

Good interactions with the participants, lots of helpful diagrams, reference books and clear and lively delivery from both presenters.

The workshops were tailored really well. The right length, plenty of opportunity to get our hands dirty and a consistent but not overwhelming stream of information to accompany the practical skills.

Lots of fun and really informative. Great to get outside and practice some of the theory. AAA+++

Very good would recommend it to any one interested in growing food

Overall the course was fantastic. Daniel and Gordon were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and willing to share both knowledge and resources. I learnt so much more than I thought possible.

A BIG THANK YOU for the wonderful course, the beautiful venue(s) and the nourishing company. I would highly recommend the course.

Booking

The number of places is limited to 15 to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form below and forward the course fee to D Hatfield, 10 Parkes Crescent, Faulconbridge NSW 2776 by 25th June 2012 for early-bird discount ($150) or by 29th June 2012 for regular payment ($180).

Payment available via bank transfer or credit card (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until 2 weeks before the course. After that time you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516

Weekend Intensive Course: Practical Permaculture for Home and Garden

Practical Permaculture: Creative ways of designing and living for a more sustainable future

A two-day experiential course

1st and 2nd of September 2012

ALSO

3rd and 4th of November 2012

Facilitated by Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams

Venue: Private home and gardens in the lower Blue Mountains
(convenient for train, bus and free on-street parking)

Time: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm

Fee: September course $150 early bird by 18th of August or $180 thereafter.

November course $150 early bird by 19th of October or $180 thereafter.


The number of participants is limited to facilitate an intensive learning experience.

Join Permaculture teachers, designers & gardeners Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams for a weekend of intensive permaculture design, theory and practical workshops for the home gardener or backyard farmer.

Learn how to

  • Harness Permaculture principles and practical strategies to beat rising food and energy costs

  • Understand and apply Permaculture design techniques for a healthy, comfortable home and garden

  • Create your own Permaculture garden design and learn how to bring it to life!

Topics include:

  • efficient energy planning and systems
  • fundamentals of site design
  • climate and microclimate
  • landforms, soil and water
  • waste resources and systems
  • garden layout and design for urban, suburban and cold areas
  • orchards and food forests
  • animal forage systems and aquaculture
  • community strategies for engagement and action including urban food-growing, recycling and economics.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course you will have:

A working understanding of permaculture designs and principles.

Ideas and confidence to create your own permaculture design project.

The pre-requisite skills and knowledge to complete a Permaculture Design Course.

Learning methods

A significant portion of the course comprises experiential learning. Practical demonstrations and small group workshops on key permaculture techniques are designed to bring to life and reinforce core theory and concepts.

The course provides a solid grounding in Permaculture theory, combining this with practical skill development through interactive learning experiences and course handouts. A range of learning methods are used including: presentations, video, experiential exercises, and small group activities.

About the teachers

Gordon Williams is a Permaculture consultant and educator currently working in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Raised in the Blue Mountains, Gordon was able to spend time in the surrounding national parks and bushland where he gained an appreciation for the natural systems within them. His six years of experience as a carpenter has led to a deep understanding of the difference between good and bad building design and construction. As a result of these experiences his passion is to see the built environment blend smoothly into the living surroundings.

Gordon’s journey along the Permaculture path began when he inherited the family kitchen garden. While on the hunt for information on growing food, Rosemary Morrow’s book ” Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture” proved to be a revelation.

Gordon has trained with some of Australia’s most respected Permaculture educators such as Rosemary Morrow, Darren Doherty and Geoff Lawton. He has also worked at the Permaculture Research Institute in both educational and on farm roles.

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

Booking

The number of places is limited to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form below and forward the course fee by May 3rd to D Hatfield, 10 Parkes Crescent, Faulconbridge NSW 2776.

Payment available via bank transfer (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until April 20th. After April 20th you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516

Blocks are back

After having a less than exceptional result using seedling cells to grow my seedlings, I have decided to keep making soil blocks for my market stall. To make this work, I purchased a new blocking machine from England. The new blocker makes slightly smaller blocks (1.5″) than the previous 2″ blocks. At the next Glenbrook market everything is back in 2″ blocks (the new machine did not arrive in time). For the April markets (and the soon to be attended Marrickville markets) most seedlings will be in the new 1.5″ blocks and remain 50c each. Larger seedlings will be in the 2″ blocks and these will cost 85c.

To find out which seedlings grow in which blocks…you are going to have to wait until the April markets or, if you own a copy, turn to page 152 of  “The new organic grower”

Easy DIY chicken manure collection

The one downside to my rotating chook house system is not being able to collect manure from under the roosts. Most chicken coop designs should have the possibility to go in and easily scrape up the manure to be used in compost or in other areas of the garden. In my design, the chook manure just drops straight into the garden bed and is quickly scratched in to the soil and disappears. Great for my raised bed crops, but not so great for the rest of the garden! Manure can be used fresh mixed into compost, or dried out, left to mature and used on the garden at a later time.

I have tried to think of clever ways to easily catch the manure but flaws in the roost design were stopping me.

The old roosts

I wanted to be able to put a tarp underneath the roost so to collect the manure at night time (chickens do the majority of their pooping at night). This seemed impossible with the current roost set-up. I opted to change the roost, not only to aid manure collection but also to make it much easier to move the entire structure from one bed to another after vegetable crop harvests.

Roosts with wire for suspension

To build this coop I used wire mesh which is sold under the name of “rabbit wire” it is much stronger (and double the price) of the usual “chicken wire”. Normal chicken wire is so soft that foxes have been known to stretch the holes to gain access to coops so, despite the name, it’s not ideal material for building chicken housing.

The new roosts are suspended off the floor by hanging them from the sides of the coop. I doubt suspending the roosts would have worked using normal chicken wire, but rabbit wire is strong enough for the job.

I have tested the strength to see if they can hold the weight of 5 or 6 chickens and it seems to be pretty strong. We will see over the next couple of days.

I then placed a tarp on the ground and could lay it flat without roost posts getting in the way.

New roosts in situ

I went back to collect eggs and found that the girls have been kicking soil all over the tarp so I have now tied off the tarp to the walls above the ground making a low hammock. The girls can still easily access the roosts (they’ve already tried them out). Hopefully this will now stop too much soil getting in the tarp and the soil that does go in is welcome….it’s chicken powered awesome soil! I’ll be harvesting their manure every couple of days, so I can use it regularly around the garden and so their coop stays clean.

Poo-collecting tarp hammock!

I paid them a late night visit to check the roost was holding up. No problems: 8 girls on the top roost and it was staying strong.

This morning I went down to the coop and harvested my first manure crop. Super easy, super quick, super poo!

One night's harvest

Easy steps to great soil health (or how to fix your soil and keep it fixed!)

By growing food (and eating it!) you are taking away a lot of nutrient from the soil. You need to replenish this, or over time your crops will become weaker and weaker. Since many people ask me how to improve their soil ready for growing, here’s a short, simple “how to” guide for you to use.

If you already have good soil

Assuming your soil is good, protected by mulch or groundcover to stop erosion, and you have been adding compost or manures recently, you only need to add extra organic matter, fertilizers or any enrichments to your soil if you take away any part of the plant.

Soil with worms

What do I mean by that? This could be something like removing a tomato from a tomato bush, picking a flower from a rose bush, or pruning a tree and taking away the branches, just as examples. Imagine what would happen if there was no human intervention. These things would drop to the ground below the plant, decompose and reintegrate into the soil. If you change this cycle, you need to compensate somehow.

If you were to never take away a rose flower and when pruning the rose bush you left the prunings underneath the bush to decompose naturally (rather than taking them away from the site) your rose bush would not need any additional enrichment. I am careful to chop up my prunings as I go and drop them below the plant to save some extra nutrients. It doesn’t take much longer and saves me time and energy in the long-run.

A prime example of people removing nutrient from the soil (and in most cases not even realizing it) would be by mowing a lawn, taking away the clippings and dumping them. The lawn will get unhealthier and unhealthier over time unless you give back to it. The most simple and effective way to care for a lawn is to cut the grass with the mower set high (3/4 or maximum height) and remove the catcher to allow the grass to fall on the lawn. If you mow regularly then you will only be trimming the grass and what falls to the ground fertilises the lawn without looking messy.

(Weeding is also removing things from the soil. This is a good reason to stay on top of your weeds so that you only need to take out the odd blade of grass.)

If you need to improve your soil quality and nutrient levels

  • Apply 5kg of compost or manure per square metre every year.
  • Mulch your garden with an organic mulch such as straw, sugar cane or lucerne (around your veggies). You can use wood chips around trees. As well as retaining moisture and heat, mulch is extra organic matter in itself. It makes your soil progressively better over time as it breaks down.

Compost is crucial, but the benefits only last about 2 years. For great soil, you also need trace elements. For example, if you fill a pot with potting mix alone, it will last you about 1 year before you need to replace it. If you mix it 50-50 with potting mix and sand, you’ll double its life because of all the extra minerals and trace elements in the sand. (This is why no-dig beds in confined spaces tend to have problems. They should always be bottomless to access the soil minerals.)

  • Your soil needs phosphorus for root growth and potassium for flower and fruit development. You can purchase potash from most hardware shops, but wood ash can be used an alternative to potash, gives you calcium too, and is far cheaper.  Interestingly, to get phosphorous, some people use diluted urine and water their plant with it! Urine is considered safe as long as it comes from a healthy person, however there is much debate about using human manure or ‘hu-manure’. Although there is no doubt it is a great manure, there is still much argument about the safety issues.
  • Most of the required minerals you need are available deep in the subsoil. You can draw them up by growing deep rooted (or tap-rooted) plants, sometimes known as accumulators (because they store minerals). A couple of examples of these plants are dandelion (which adds calcium to the soil) and comfrey (adding potash). Once grown, these plants can be chopped down and used as mulch, or added to compost and re-applied to the soil. They also have the added bonus of de-compacting the spoil with their roots.

However, the soil does not have an endless supply of these minerals and nutrients. Some things still need to be added over time. In nature, animals come by and graze, poop, pee and die around plants, adding the necessary nutrients and organic matter. We need to reproduce that effect.

  • Some ways of replenishing minerals and micro-nutrients in the soil are by using volcanic rock dust or kelp meal. I sell kelp meal in 400g jars for $5 each. This is enough to cover 8 square metres. Larger amounts are also available by request. Please contact me if you would like to buy some. A very cost-effective way of using it is to make a compost tea by brewing the rock dust or kelp meal for a few days and then spraying it onto your plants. This is similar to the seaweed solution available commercially, but much cheaper! Alternatively, you can also mix the volcanic rock dust or kelp meal into the top 10 cm of your soil using something like this three-tined cultivator from Allsun Farms.

The world of minerals and soil health is a complex and fascinating one. If you are interested in finding out more, you might like to check out the  Soil Foodweb site which has lots of interesting information on the topic.

Please let me know if you have any questions or want some help improving your soil or food garden. Happy growing!

How to make a great hot compost pile

I have been working for most of the afternoon making a new compost heap and taking photos for your viewing pleasure. Although I think compost is great for the garden, I also think that it is a lot of work, so it pays to get it right!

Since I have started to keep chickens my scrap bowl (in the kitchen) has turned in to two scrap bowls (one for the chooks and the other for the compost) and the compost bowl contains hardly anything other than a few potato peelings and onion skins. All the green garden waste gets thrown into the chook run where it is either eaten or de-seeded and comes back out as mulch. My main use for compost now is for my market garden beds and as part of my seedling mix, but finding the materials to make compost is now much harder than pre-chicken life. I have, however, solved the problem, but before I go into that with a future post, I thought should do a simple “How to make compost”.

The ingredients required to make compost are a mixture of things that contain nitrogen, such as food waste or grass, and carbon things like straw or leaves. These are mixed to a specific ratio. Many people debate about this ratio but I will tell you the way I was taught and I have yet to find a better ratio (and I have tried other ways). I was taught to use a carbon-nitrogen ratio of 30:1 however in practice this looks more like 3 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen! I don’t want to get too ‘science-y’ here and explain why it works that way, but you can read this great book called The Rodale Book of Composting if you want to learn more about the nitty-gritty of composting.

The materials

I reluctantly (after many discussions with Michelle) agreed to keep a small section of lawn in the front garden for children to play on. Things need to be useful in my garden, so instead of a traditional lawn, I have sown nice fluffy stuff like lucerne, wheat, oats, clovers, lupins and other nitrogen-fixing grasses, which can be neatly mowed should the occasion arise (parties etc.). I let it grow for a few months and then slash it to make the nitrogen-rich part of my compost mix. I have other areas of tall grass that were slashed a few weeks ago and left in place to dry and this dry grass becomes the carbon part of the compost mix.

slashing the clover and lupins

raking dry materials

Raking dry materials

Next, I took a load of soiled lucerne hay (more carbon) from the chook run  and I also found a two year old bag of cow manure (nitrogen) under the house to add for good measure. A couple of other ingredients that I add are old finished compost (which activates the composting process) but you can also use any soil for this so don’t be fooled in to buying compost activating products! The last ingredient is wood ash. Not only does wood ash contain potash it also lowers the acidity of the compost in the same way that lime can be used.This is important because most plants enjoy a relatively neutral pH soil.

My compost bays are in my carport which not only beautifies my front garden, but actually serves a practical purpose. Making compost gets messy, and having compost bays on grass or earth soon creates a slippery mud bath. Keeping my bays on concrete allows me to mix my ingredients on the concrete beside the bays and clean up afterwards very easily.

The compost ingredients

The process

To start making the compost you need to make small batches of your ingredients so you can mix them thoroughly before adding to the bay. If you are on dirt or grass then I would suggest that you use a wheel barrow to make the mix.

Add the ingredients bit by bit according to their purpose. Take some of the brown grass and lucerne (carbon) then take a small amount of the green grass (nitrogen), a couple of handfuls of manure (more nitrogen), wood ash (potash) and a small sprinkling of aged compost (starter) and mix it thoroughly. I use a fork but it you are using a barrow then hands are better.

Once it is mixed, add some water and mix again until it is damp throughout.

Watering the mixture

Add the mixture to your bay and keep the mixture fluffy and aerated (not soggy and compacted) as you do so. I used a garden fork to do this.

Mixing the ingredients

As you will see in the picture, my bays have mesh in the bottom. This not only helps the heap heat up (by allowing air underneath-  just like a combustion stove or convection oven) but stops the bottom layer from becoming saturated with water.

Suspended mesh bottom

Repeat the process of mixing, wetting and adding, until you have used up all your materials. The compost heap needs to be a minimum volume of one cubic metre for the hot composting process to work correctly.

After about two days the heap should be about 50-60 degrees Celsius, which is enough to kill most weed seeds and pathogens; any hotter and the beneficial microbes and bacteria start to die.

You can turn the compost heap as often as every two days and it will be ready in about two weeks but since it is quite a big job I prefer to turn it every two weeks and it is ready in 12 weeks. This extra time also makes a better, more composted compost!

The finished pile

Once the compost is finished, I bag it and leave it for as long as possible. Some people leave the compost for up to two years before using it.

Let me know if you need any help. Happy composting!

%d bloggers like this: