Posts Tagged ‘compost’

The Heap

August 12th, 2010

This morning I headed out to the compost bin and gave it a bit of a stir with my trusty fork, then gave up on the fork and got stuck into it with a stake.  It never fails to make me feel better, both I and the heap give off a good bit of steam.

When I was first learning about gardening, I put my hand on the top of a compost heap one chilly morning and I remember the shock I got to find it warm.  It was like a living thing.  It seemed to me to be a wonderful thing that a heap of rubbish and manure should become a living, steaming thing.  I still feel this today.

This winter I have built a very good compost heap.  More organised than other years with layers, sort of.  I have put in weeds, kitchen scraps, leaves, duck poo & the shredded remains of my old tax files.  I feel a sort of pride as I mush it about, it is very nearly ready!  Excitment +

There is a science in compost but there is also alchemy, a kind of magic.   The things I have learned about compost make up a corner of bigger lessons about life itself.  Everything that lives must die.  Everything decays.  Life springs from death.  These are matters at the heart of things, and at the heart of the compost heap.  A compost heap is all about life from death, but it is also about muck and muck is the stuff of life.  If  life is getting a bit on the mucky side I recommend going out to the heap and giving it a good old going over with the fork!

Happy gardening.

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June jobs

June 10th, 2010

Waddles & Hazel amongst the leaves

It is June in Melbourne, Australia and baby it is cold outside!  The ducks, Waddles and Hazel are beside themselves with excitement with all the wonderful puddles!  Can’t seem to contain their excitement and have taken to looking under fallen leaves for little tasty duck treats like snails & slugs.  You need fingerless gloves working at the weeding now and I must admit it is not as appealling getting on out there as it was a week or two ago.

bulbs are pushing up!

At this time of the year you can buy and plant bare-rooted deciduous trees and shrubs.  Last year I indulged in one of these – a fig tree.  It was quite exciting, and yes it did survive and got leaves and even some figs, not that I got to eat any, but the possum enjoyed them.  She is always ready to try something new, even if it is not quite ripe yet!  Now my little fig once again looks like a dead twig, but at least I know that the leaves will come back, that is if it doesn’t drown!  Because the rain has come at last and we are awash in my backyard!  Much to the ducks’ delight!

Hydrangeas need pruning!

My little task for this month, aside from pushing myself to just get outside,  is to prune back my hydrangeas.  I quite enjoy this little task!  I love those plump buds you see on the canes.  I aways prune back to a pair of juicy ones!  I prune right down to the base all wood that is over 3 seasons old to give the plant more room to send up new shoots.  But I don’t cut back the shoots that have not flowered, I just tip-prune these to encourage more flower heads.  After it is done I pop some nice rich compost around the roots this makes the garden bed look all neat and tidy and I feel quite proud of myself! 

Hardwood cutting

Hardwood cuttings can be taken now, and I have my little list!  Fuchsias are on the list and – hydrangeas!  So after cutting back the hydrangeas I might have a little go at making a brand new plant!  Always heaps of fun!  I have indulged in some hormone powder this year but over past years I used honey.  What I do is, I take the cuttings approximately 20 to 25 centimetres long from last season’s growth.  If you are using cuttings taken from the pruning it is very important to remember which way up the plant was growing, trust me, they wont grow if planted upside down.  Fussy, aren’t they?  So, when I prune my hydrangeas I put some likely cuttings aside with the bottoms all together, so I don’t forget and stuff them in the wrong way up.  Having found the bottom of your cutting you make a slanting cut just below a node (swelling). 

plant right side up!

A slanting cut gives a greater rooting area.  Cut the top off straight, this helps to avoid confusion, something I seem to be quite good at, when planting.   Moisten the slanting end then dip it into hormone powder.  Then it is a simple matter to plant it to one-third its length in moist propagating mix or perhaps a sheltered part of the garden.

Happy gardening!

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Healthy Soil

June 7th, 2010

If a garden has healthy soil it makes all the difference to the end result.   Healthy soil is pure magic with a fragrance and texture I learned to love early in my gardening life.  I find that the plants growing in healthy soil will grow stronger, faster and might I say happier?  Compost is a good way to feed the earth the lazy way!  It helps to build good soil and then your garden rewards you with great plants – and it doesn’t cost a great deal either!  A beautiful abundant soil is not only the foundation of a great garden, but the foundation of my gardening philosophy.

Gardeners of the past dug everything diligently and it took many years to resist the temptation to follow their lead, but I have now reduced my compulsion for turning the soil to a minimum.  The truth is that worms don’t like having their little tunnels destroyed, or being flung into the cruel light of day on the end of a garden fork.  I have found that if I need to create a new garden bed the best way is to use newspaper as a mulch with organic material spread on top.  I learned to put down enough paper to smother the grass and weeds, about 6 to 8 sheets does the job.  This seems to be enough to smother the weeds, but not so much that the worms give up and go elsewhere.  I want to attract them with lush manure, hay and other organic things that they are fond of.  They are my greatest allies after all.  It is, of course tempting to bring in topsoil, but I couldn’t afford it, and this method works so well!


There are probably as many variations on compost making as there are compost makers!  My method doesn’t involve turning heaps over, and takes time, but in the end there is year-round compost.  I have two bins and I rotate them every 6 months or so.  This means that while one is being filled up with weeds, duck poo and other soil yummies the other is emptied onto beds as needed.  This allows loads of worm-laden soil food to be available through all seasons.  My drums are bottomless so worms, natural soil microbes and their many friends and associates can come and join the party.  From time to time I will throw in some compost worms and the odd sack of soil and of course at this time of the year the leaf litter. 

Some ingredients that I throw in include: garden waste, spent crops and weeds, grass clippings, autumn leaves, kitchen compost, wood ash, duck poo and hay from their pen.  Throwing in a sprinkling of lime or wood ash over the layers every so often helps sweeten and moderate the pH.  My bins have lids, but you could use a tarp or flattened cardboard.  The covers stop the compost from drying out and shade it from the heat in summer.  Worms like the dark.  To aerate the mix I shove a stake or crowbar down a few times and wiggle it about, I do this when I feel the need for letting off a little steam!  Garden Therapy in action!  But I find that mycompost doesn’t need much air as the bins are wide and shallow, allowing it to naturally ventilate.

Happy Gardening!

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May Jobs

May 17th, 2010

It is time to make an assault on weeds, for these will accelerate in growth at this time of the year with the rain!   My most invasive weed at the moment is oxalis!  I have known people to go mad at this time of year over this little plant!!  It is enough to drive you to the weed killer – but we won’t go there!  We want our garden to be free of all that!  No, it is best to remain calm and try to look positively at all that extra time spent in our garden bed pulling it out.  A dear friend of mine told me that if I could get all the oxalis out (including all the little bulbs) before it flowered I could be rid of it forever.   I have never succeded, but I live in hope. 

Another ongoing little chore is raking up all those lovely autumn leaves for the compost bins!  It is fun to do this – it keeps you warm and gives you exercise!  If you have too many leaves to fit into your compost bins you can spread them at the back of the flowerbeds  or under shrubs, whatever you do with those autumn leaves – don’t waste them by burning them!

The dahlias are all looking a bit sad now but it is important to let the foliage die back naturally to allow the tubers to take in food for the following year.  Around the end of the month they are usually ready for me to cut the stems of the plants to within 15 centimetres of the ground and leave the plants in the ground for a few more weeks to allow the tubers to mature.  At this point some people lift and store them for next year.  I have never had much success with lifting dahlias; inevitably they become too dry and shrivel or they fall prey to slaters, or I forget about where I put them and they die a sad death in the dark corners of the shed, alone and forgotten.  I find that my dahlias will usually suffer less by being left undisturbed – something I do very well – until it is time to divide and replant them around November.

While raking up the leaves I saw my little clump of violets – they will be flowering soon, so it is time to give them a little bit of TLC with some fertiliser and maybe tidy up the old leaves by giving them a little bit of a trim back.  Dear little things that they are!

Well, I am off out into that garden bed to pull out some more oxalis!  Happy gardening!

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Autumn Days

April 20th, 2010

Autumn colours are at their best at the moment.  I have not got around to that walk in amongst the tall autumn trees in the nearby hills as yet but it is high on my agenda as the autumn colour season passes so very quickly.   But there is less time to garden in the evenings now.  So that means most of the work outdoors must be done on the weekend.  This leaves little time to get on with things, and there is so much to do!

I have been very busy emptying the compost bins and using the contents for mulching and digging in to improve my soil.  Garden compost does the soil a power of good, and using it up at this time of the year makes room for more material, which is on its way, in the form of autumn leaves.  Then the next batch of compost is ready for the spring!

My baby broad beansMy broad beans have started to come up!  So my vege patch is not looking quite so bare.  I will add a few garlic bulbs quite soon.  It is nearly time to harvest what is left of my basil for it will not survive when the weather gets colder.  I do this by having one  last beautiful feast of pasta with my basil & cream sauce, served with, of course a lovely red.  Then I take all the rest of the leaves & freeze in ice cube trays topped up with water.  Then when I need some fresh basil over winter I have just to pop in a cube from the freezer.  The next best thing really!

I have been having lots of birds visiting my garden lately, beautiful garden friends, garden birds are a joy.  The little finches love to splash about in the little water bath I put out for them and I can watch them from my kitchen window.  They are so cute, but don’t stay in the one spot for a quick picture, unlike the rosellas & parrots.

Any way I am off out to pick some basil, while I can.

Cheers, and happy gardening!

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Garden Postcard

March 30th, 2010

GardenMarch10 002

March is nearly over, and this month in Melbourne we have had a mixed bag of weather!  From grey damp days that made the garden subdued, or was it just me, to hot and relentlestly sunny.  To complete the mixed bag we had huge hailstones, that broke roof tiles and stripped all leaves from some trees!  The days leading up to the storm I had been hoping for some heavy rain to renew my flagging garden, but I had not wanted it quite so heavy!  Waddles and Hazel are still a bit spooked!  But then when you are a duck most things are a bit scary, especially at this time of the year!

GardenMarch10 007As we move from summer and the days shorten, the mornings are delightfully cool and it is a treat just to be outside in the garden early after a drop of rain the night before has made it all smell just wonderful!  Perhaps autumn is not quite here yet, but it is coming and the temperatures will soon start to drop.  It is safe to visit a nursery and buy something without fearing that it may burn up if you plant it out!   What bliss!  The autumn colour is beginning to show as I drive about the hills of home.

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I am just about finished clearing up after the storm, it took a few weekends, and I still have to do a little repair pruning on some bushes.  I needed to buy new buckets and a watering can as they were torn to shreds.  The creek out back turned into a torrent that Saturday and took with it a lot of my top soil and a couple of plants, but being sheltered in my little shady grove my tall trees protected my roof from the worst of the hail and all I lost was my sky light.  In fact hardly any Sky lights managed to cope and Bunnings have a waiting list, still. 3 weeks later! 

GardenMarch10 015So a very exciting month – weather wise!  What will April bring?  Well, I am off out to fertilise my azaleas, all of whom are looking much the worse for wear after a long hot summer, will they pull through?  Who can tell.  But my sasanqua camellia is covered in buds, the bulbs are all pushing their way up and I have plenty of room in my compost bin for those leaves that are about to fall!

Happy gardening!

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Today in my Garden

March 28th, 2010

Silverbeet still doing well

Silverbeet still doing well

Today the ducks & I had fun spreading compost in the vegetable patch.  I removed the old tomato plants – always a sad little chore.  No more summer red juicy tomato salads!  But the basil is still doing very well and I might still get one or two egg plants if the nights remain as warm as they are at the moment. 

I can still enjoy some basil with my pasta!

I can still enjoy some basil with my pasta!

The tomato plants were just about finished and needed to be removed to make way for some little broad bean seeds to go in.  If I plant them now they can be up and moving within the next fortnight.  Hopefully they will continue to grow slowly until the really cold weather, then they sort of slow down until August when they take off again and start bearing from the end of September.  Hopefully I will get a good crop before I need to rip them out to make room for my next tomatoes!  A gardener needs to plan ahead! 

little shoots coming Up!!

little shoots coming Up!!

In the next week or two I will pop in some new seedlings of Silverbeet.  I don’t like to be without my silverbeet, and my parsley needs to be replaced as the plants are beginning to go to seed.  So today I spent mostly in the vege patch but I did discover a lovely surprise!  That pot of layered bulbs have some shoots springing up already!!  What fun!

It was a real race between me and the ducks with the compost.  They thought they had died and gone to heaven with all the bugs & worms in the compost heap!  But I wanted as many worms moved into my vege patch so we were working a little at odds with one another.  But a fun day in the garden was had by all!

Happy gardening!

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March Jobs

March 9th, 2010

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March is the month for planting sweetpea seed!  St. Patricks day is said to be the best day for that – so I need to look about for a likely place where the sweet little peas will get plenty of sunshine!  I have never planted them before but I might just give them a go! 

GardenFeb2010 028In the vege patch the tomatoes are nearly finished and in the next week or two I will be pulling out the old plants and getting the patch cleaned up and ready for planting out some broad beans and swiss chard etc.  Last year I tried pulling the plants before all the tomatoes had finished and hung the plant upside down over the fence, the tomatoes continued growing red and juicy and I was able to dig about and do what needed to be done to prepare for the next winter crop, it worked very well, so I might just do that this year too.  Then  the compost must be put on and  all compost bins emptied ready for the autumn leaves to fall and me to pick them up and have somewhere to put them.  I have a few other plans for the vege patch as well.  But I will let you know how I get along.

GardenMarch10 028March is also the beginning of the big bulb planting madness!!  One that I love to indulge in!  I have big plans to head out and get some bulbs very soon!  It is a tough job – but someone has to do it!  So, a busy month ahead, and the month is almost half way through already, I had better get going!!

Well, happy gardening!

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Mulching around

February 8th, 2010

Garden -Dec09 001

I do believe that the very best mulch of all is lucerne, which I discovered a few years back while creating my ‘no dig’ vege garden.  Lucerne fixes essential nitrogen in the soil.  Now that I have ducks I have super enriched lucerne that the ducks prepare for me.  Super!  Of course, coming up very soon, in the Autumn there are the leaves and might I say raking them up is an Autumn Job that I love!  I do not own a leaf blower!  No, no no!  Apart from the exercise, raking them is just so much better, you can use them as they are; put them into plastic bags for later or add them to your compost.

Tomatoes in my vege plot

Tomatoes in my vege plot

But the autumn leaves are not around yet  we have to wait for them.  In garden centres there are heaps of different mulches you can use, rice husks are good and I have used the sugar cane stuff too.  But wandering about in Bunnings the other day I came across  an excellent coir mulch in a small, easy to carry to the car, easy to store little block.  It looks a bit like a brick.  I had to investigate!  When you want to use it you dunk it into a tub of water and leave it to do its stuff.  It increases at least five fold!  Super!  So you are left with a lovely mulch that is damp to pop over your garden bed.  This is wonderful in summer as you can use it on the days you water – pop a brick in to soak; go away to do your good soaking then top it off with some damp mulch.  What could be better? 

My ducks love to dig in mulch

My ducks love to dig in mulch

Last year we had a limb come down from a tall gum tree and when the lovely tree man came to fix it for me he asked if I would like it mulched.  Lovely!  Luckly, I had read that if you are using wood chips as mulch in the garden you should leave it sit for 6 to 8 weeks, because it took me that long, working every weekend to spread it all over my front garden beds.  I knew also that I would need to add in some fertiliser before putting on the mulch, as wood chips drain the soil of nitrogen while the wood chips break down.  So, I weeded, fed, watered and then spread the mulch.  It has been very effective at suppressing the weeds.  Wonderful! I think it true to say there is nothing like mulching around!

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February 4th, 2010

images[48]There is amost nothing in the garden that can’t be returned to it, and most of us hate to throw our food scraps, newspapers and garden prunings. But when you are beginning in the garden making compost can be surrounded with mystery. We all have heard horror stories of compost bins that don’t work or become a sodden, smelly mess or, worse still, attract vermin and become home to other unpleasant creatures.

try to layer the ingredients

try to layer the ingredients

Making compost is not hard at all and to achieve healthy and deliciously scented compost, there are just a few rules that should be followed.
Many readily available ingredients, such as grass clippings, leaves, vegetable kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, floor sweepings, paper, hair and wood ash can all be composted down. You can also add some soil, old spent potting mix, comfrey leaves, poultry manure, or blood and bone. These last 3 act as activators speeding up the process.

The things to avoid are pretty obvious – don’t add dairy products or meat scraps and not any weeds that spread with bulbs such as onion weed.
images[51]Compost bins need air. We want to promote aerobic composting; if there is not enough air in the bin or heap, the process becomes anaerobic, which is slower and also causes unpleasant odours. Straw, leaves, paper (torn into strips) can provide essential structure – and that means air – to the heap. Don’t add papers and magazines with coloured inks, however.

the end product

the end product

Compost bins can take many forms.  You can buy them ready to assemble, or you can make a very simple one with 4 star posts & running chicken wire around them then line it with cardboard.  Or, if you have the space you can make a hay-bale bin by surrounding your composting material with a double stack of lucerne or hay-bales then you could plant pumpkins on top of your hay walls.  Or if you want something really simple try putting leaves and grass clippings into black plastic bags – store out of sight until well composted.  This last is a bit hit and miss but can sometimes be a lovely surprise!

To discover the magic of compost, however, you will need to have the most important ingredient of all -Patience.  With a capital P.  There is nothing instant about compost making.  That is one of the things so very special about gardening in general. It teaches you patience.


Your flowers will thank you

So, go out there and poke about in your compost heap.  Turn it over with a fork. It is good exercise and it add that important ingredient: air.

Happy gardening!

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