The post How to Grow Your Own Vegetables covers books that focus on how to grow your own veggies, including not using animal-based fertilisers and using no-dig methods (earthworm-friendly). However, to grow good veggies, you need good soil. And making your own compost is one of the best ways to do this, so you don’t have to buy heavy bags of compost, from the garden centre.
Keep pets away from fresh compost, as it contains mould (also keep cocoa mulch away from pets, it contains the same toxin as chocolate). Many plants are toxic to pets. Blue Cross & PDSA have good info on pet-safe plants. Learn toxic plants to avoid near dogs, cats, rabbits & guinea pigs. Many plants are toxic to horses, including oak and yew trees. Also see the post on how to kindly deter slugs and snails (to avoid slug pellets, which are toxic to pets, wildlife and children).
Compost is a simple mix of ‘greens and browns’. But adding them together in roughly equal amounts, you get to watch nature in action. In just a few short months, you have beautiful rich compost, which is wonderful for your plants (leave a little gap when adding it around plants and trees, to avoid burning the stems). First of all, choose a compost bin to suit. Some councils give discounts, or else you could buy one online from EvenGreener, which covers them for all sizes, most are made from recycled plastic with optional latches to deter unwelcome visitors:
- Standard compost bins are fine for most people
- Larger compost bins are ideal for restaurants, businesses and schools
- It’s best to avoid ‘hot composting bins’, as they don’t have soil. So if worms or other creatures find their way in, they will die. Likewise, it’s best to avoid wormeries, unless you really know what you are doing. This is because when transferring the little red worms to the soil, some inevitably die. Also, sending them through the post puts them at risk. Just make normal compost, and earthworms will naturally find their way in.
- You can usually leave grass clippings on the lawn. But if you have a lot of them, a tumbling compost bin will make faster compost, and stop your compost bin from being too slimy.
- If you have lots of leaves, then rake them up and put them in a jute leaf sack. Leave it to biodegrade with the leaves over winter, and you should then have nice leaf mould.
Many people are scared of composting, because they wonder if they will attract fruit flies and rats etc. Fruit flies are harmless, so just leave them be. Rodents are very shy, so if you can, site the bin somewhere near where human feet will be heard. Rodents visit usually if the compost bin is too dry, or incorrectly adding animal foods and faeces.
Greens & Browns
Try to have a healthy mix of both. Only put in things that would naturally compost:
- Greens are rich in nitrogen. They include flower stems and vegetable cuttings, but don’t add these if they have been treated with chemicals (a good reason to garden organically). Other green items are eggshells (if you eat them), seaweed, grass clippings and herbivore manure (from rabbits, horses etc). You can also add coffee grounds, but ensure old tea bags are made without nylon string (organic brands tend to be fine).
- Browns are rich in carbon. They include shredded paper and cardboard (avoid magazines with toxic coatings), old leaves and twigs, pine needles, corn stalks, straw and hay.
Things not to Compost
- Faeces from animals that eat animals (dogs, cats) or your own!
- Alliums (onions, chives, scallions, garlic, shallots) and citrus peels have strong acidity. So they may kill earthworms (and take forever to break down). If you do use a wormery, never add these.
- If you use soap nuts (from an Indian tree, sometimes used by natural types to wash clothes), don’t add these. They contain a natural insecticide that again will harm composting friends.
- Animal foods (any of these will attract unwelcome visitors (flies, maggots, rats etc)
- Glossy paper from magazines (also never compost veggie scraps, until you have removed plastic sticky labels).
- Coal ash and treated wood (like sawdust with chemicals)
- Big twigs (only compost small twigs that can easily break down)
Books to Help You Compost
- Grow Your Soil is a beautifully illustrated guide to make your own beautiful healthy soil. Get to know microbes like never before and use permaculture principles to make rich, dark and crumbly soil that is teeming with life, using very little work and a no-dig approach (earthworm-friendly!) No fertiliser is needed to make the soil recipes in this book. Diane shares simple ways to cover plants, make mulch and includes a simple recipe for compost tea.
- Compost City is a fun book by a former fashion journalist, who gave it up to teach people how to compost. Whether you live in an apartment or have a garden, this book will teach you to compost, from a single teabag. Includes tips to avoid unwelcome visitors.
- How to Make and Use Compost is the ideal A to Z guide, whether you have a balcony, a garden or community compost. Just look up what you can and can’t compost, and learn how to tackle common issues. Make your own liquid feeds and potting composts.
Bokashi Composting is a Japanese method that composts all foods in the kitchen. You buy 2 bins (so one is always in use, while the other ferments) that add cooked and raw foods. Over a couple of weeks, the used bin breaks down and you are left with compost to put in the garden. You can drain off the water to use as liquid feed. You have to buy bran refills.
If you do use added fertilisers, avoid those made with bonemeal or fishmeal. Not only are these byproducts of the animal food industry (often from factory farms) but they are unsafe for pets, and can attract vermin. There are now companies that offer plant-based alternatives like Flax Farm.