Did you know that Shakespeare knew all about compost? In Hamlet Act 3 he has Hamlet pleading with Gertrude not to ‘spread compost upon the weeds, to make them ranker’…. sounds erious stuff! While you can, of course, spread your compost on weeds if you really want to, compost is actually brilliant for the garden and we’d recommend saving it for using with the plants you really want to cherish.

First of all, compost is a great growing medium. When added to our plants before planting it helps them to thrive by improving the environment for their roots.

Secondly, when spread as a mulch around plants it also supresses’ weeds – so you have more time for relaxing! Have a look at our blog on mulching for more about this – A Word About Mulching.

I think compost is quite a magical thing. After all, it transforms waste material – potato peelings, leaves, grass cuttings, shredded paper and card – into something which adds nutrients to the soil; aids the retention of moisture; provides food for worms and is full of beneficial micro-organisms. Your plants love it!

Which compost to use? 

There are several sorts of compost but all do a good job in the garden. Branded products are usually just described as ‘Multipurpose compost’. If, like me, you prefer not to use products with peat in, check the list of ingredients carefully as the majority of such composts do. They also usually include various added nutrients. However you can easily add these nutrients yourself by mixing in a granular plant food, so I don’t really feel the premium cost is justified.

Any good garden centre or nursery will also sell products such as ‘Farmyard manure’ (that’s well-rotted horse poo plus straw to you and me), or ‘Mushroom compost’ (the waste product after mushrooms have been grown in it – careful with this one as it also contains chalk so don’t use it on ground where you are growing plants that need acidic soil conditions). Or it might just be described as ‘compost made from waste green materials’.

Councils frequently sell their own compost nowadays – shredded twigs, leaves and grass piled up in big steaming heaps until it turns dark brown and has a lovely crumbly texture and a woodland-y smell. You get the odd bit of glass or shredded crisp packet in it but they’re usually easily picked out.

Make your own 

What could be more satisfying than making your own compost? A small space will do and if you’re concerned about the aesthetics, there are ready-made compost bins on the market that look pretty upmarket. A wooden one can be stained to match your fencing, or you can buy one shaped like a beehive (yes, really!), or it can just be a heap positioned out of sight behind the shed.

Making your own compost is very straightforward: you need access to a variety of kitchen and garden waste; some straw or paper waste; and somewhere to put your compost heap, and then you’re good to go. There’s a great 4 minute video on YouTube which shows you how to get great compost every time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1kIpCBD3UI. Some councils aren’t keen on shredded paper going into peoples’ recycling bins; if this applies in your area then using it to make your own compost usefully solves that issue for you too.

Folk are somtimes concerned about things like flies, smells and even rodents being attracted to a compost heap. However a compost heap which has a good amount of straw, twiggy plant material, shredded paper and the like mixed into it will be very unlikely to be slimy and smelly or attract unwanted pests. This is because it balances up the squishy stuff like vegetable peelings and grass clippings and so the micro-organisms can quickly get to work. It is however only sensible not to put your compost heap by the patio door!

The heat generated by a compost heap can, however, attract some of our less common garden creatures. Hedgehogs may use it as a safe place to curl up for the winter…and so may slow worms or even grass snakes! If you’re not too keen on that idea, then be reassured that you’re unlikely ever to see them as they will be long gone by the time you are out and about in the garden in the spring. And you will be doing your bit for your local wildlife too.

Poetry in motion? And finally – I came across this piece of poetry about compost by an American teenager. I think it sums it all up nicely:

Please Be Green

No dairy or meat, for they will start to smell rotten

Though everything else should be considered and not forgotten.

Save some money and create less trash,
Its s really easy to find a spot for your compost stash.

In a container, or a distant pile outside,
Store leftover food until it’s decomposed and dried.

You can use the nutritious mixture to enrich a garden or patch of land,
And anyone can compost because it is easily done by hand.

So before you go to throw your extra food away,
Ask yourself if you could help save the earth in some way. 

Conner Renee LaFromboise. Grade 11, Chelsea Public School, Wisconsin.