Sunday, 29 November 2009

Composting in a small garden.

I'm the kind of person who goes all out to try and be green. You name it, we do it, energy saving lightbulbs, water butt, recycling, freecycle etc etc The one thing we don't do which I feel incredibly guilty about is composting - but we did have washable nappies for Xanthe so that's got to off set somewhere along the line hasn't it?

I've struggled to find a composting solution for our small garden. I genuinely haven't got space for the traditional kind of compost bin which needs to be in direct contact with the ground. I'm also a bit worried about the smell as we'd be barbecuing/playing/drinking summer evening wine all around it. We tried a wormery in the garage once but fairly rapidly killed all the occupants - no idea how - we felt appallingly guilty and didn't feel confident having another go and risking another massacre until we knew where we went wrong.

The other problem is what to do with the compost once you have it. My tiny yard is about 5m x 6m. The shady side where nothing grows is occupied by a chicken coop. In addition I have 2 borders making an 'L' shape which are crammed with veggies, a mini greenhouse (pictured with it's winter seedlings a few weeks ago), several hanging baskets, a handful of pots and my radish skyscraper. My only real opportunity to dig in compost is around January/February before the main planting season begins and I actually don't need a huge amount of compost for my borders and pots - so what to do with it the rest of the year?

I currently assuage my guilt by using the local council's garden waste collection scheme. They very kindly take away our garden waste and take it to some sort of community composting arrangement. Kitchen scraps are dealt with by the combined forces of our cat, the chickens, the African Land Snails and Adam. But this still leaves me with the problem of how to re-vitalise our hard working soil over the winter period.

Last year I planted green maure (field beans) which seemed like the ideal solution. The only problem with this is that they're really hard to dig in properly, the pesky seedlings kept re-sprouting from the soil like tiny green phoenixes which played havoc with my legitimate broad bean crop though I suppose I could get around that problem with some sort of toilet roll tube arrangement.

My latest idea is the Bokashi Bran system. It's speedy composting, aided by a 'bran' mix which contains friendly bacteria and it can compost stuff that a traditional heap can't, like small bones and cooked food. The mixture is then dug into the soil and allowed to break down for another 6 weeks before crops can be planted on it. My theory is we could just collect kitchen scraps in the Autumn and turn them into compost for early spring. The only trouble is timing is a bit tight at the moment, I believe the box we have takes about 6 weeks to fill with scraps so we'd have to fill the box up really quickly which is fairly unlikely given the troop of scavengers that inhabit this house.

Still, I've sent off for my bran in the hope we can make it work, maybe I'll fall back on the green manure if we don't have enough leftovers to make it work. Or maybe Adam can stop having seconds for a little while - who knows ....


  1. I live in a flat and use bokashi to store waste until I can take it to the allotment. I find the waste attracts foxes and rats the same as normal waste, and put it into a sealed "dalek" bin. I wouldn't dig it into the soil, especially not if your chickens range free!

    If I had any outside space, I'd go for the worms instead. If you have the gear, another bag of worms is cheap enough!

  2. Hi Ruth, thanks for your comment.

    We don't have the worm bin anymore unfortunately but we don't have the outside space either!

    Bit of worry re pests then, although foxes aren't a problem here. The chooks aren't a problem as the veggie area is fenced off to keep them out.

    When I do eventually get my allotment (it's been 6 - 8 weeks since March *sigh*) we're not allowed to compost waste from home so couldn't take anything down there.

    It really is a problem!