Back to more crofting related matters!

As I’m sure you are aware, this week is Compost Awareness Week!

Composting is the purposeful biodegradation of organic matter, such as yard and food waste with the decomposition being performed by micro-organisms, mostly bacteria, but also yeasts and fungi. More simply, it is the decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance that is excellent for adding to houseplants or enriching garden soil. It is the way to recycle your yard and kitchen wastes, and is a critical step in reducing the volume of garbage needlessly sent to landfills for disposal.

Bizarrely one of the side-pleasures of the lambing season is the shovelling of the good ol’ sh1t! It’s a necessary but nice bit of physical labour that rewards you with not only a healthy and clean environment for your ewes but also provides you with a truly massive pile of poo and straw – perfect composting material. Animal dung and urine, known as manure, may be the most important agents of any compost pile. An ancient means to a fertile end, manure has been used by gardeners and farmers alike for centuries. As a successful compost ingredient, manure has few rivals. The only ironic fact about manure is that so much of it is wasted and not used in the garden to its full potential.

The beauty of composting is that it completes one of the great cycles you come across in crofting. The animals eat the crops which makes the poo which makes the compost which feeds the crops which feed the animals and so on. Sheep poo makes excellent compost and is a “hot” manure ie it requires composting before using and is somewhat dry but very rich. Manure from sheep fed hay and grain will be more potent than manure from animals that live on pasture.

So here’s how I’d construct a croft’s composting system:

  1. To make a simple compost bin, firstly get four pallets of roughly the same size. You might also find pallets on building sites or in skips
  2. Rest the four pallets next to each other forming a square and tie up with strong hessian gardening string or wire. They should stand up on their own if you have tied them tightly. If not, you can support them with wooden stakes at least 5cm x 5cm around and taller than the pallets.
  3. Continue to create three bins next to each other using 10 pallets in total. This os so that you can keep turning the compost from one to the other, the third houses the composted compost.

Now add your compost!

You can compost loads of stuff: manure, hay, grass, leaves, kitchen wastes, weeds, wood chips and so on. These materials are generally sub divided into The Browns and The Greens. The Browns are generally dead plant materials while Greens are fresher, contain more nitrogen and will take longer to break down. A good mix of browns and greens is the best nutritional balance for the microbes. This mix also helps out with the aeration and amount of water in the pile. Browns, for instance, tend to be bulky and promote good aeration. Greens, on the other hand, are typically high in moisture, and balance out the dry nature of the browns.

Our massive pile of lambing poo would prove ideal as it contains a good mix of ingredients and the straw provides a good structure for allowing air and moisture to pass through the pile keeping the microbes happy as they go to work. This material would simply be spread out and mixed thoroughly then piled into the first pallet box and covered with a weighted down tarp and left to it’s own devices. When you have more stuff to add, simply move the compost from bin one into bin two and repeat the process. And then again as you add more.

Depending on where you live it will take anything from 4 months to a year for your materials to break down to make useable compost. When it does you can return it to the earth to help grow your plants and veg and allow the cycle to repeat again.

With the price of commercial fertiliser rising all the time it’s a good thing to have a go at if you’re inclined to grow your own veg and save some money. It can be done on a domestic scale with bins, sacks, trenches etc and could even be, dare I say it, fun…

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