How to make compost

Making Compost
Want to do something good for the world and save money, too? Then stop buying fertilizer and make compost instead. This time of year is a perfect time to begin making your compost heap as their is such an abundance of autumn leaves, weeds and spent plants.
In the world’s wild places no-one improves the soil or spreads fertiliser, yet they are packed with plants. It’s one of the amazing things about plants and soils – they’re in perfect balance. Plants grow by extracting nutrients from the soil and the soil is replenished with material that falls from plants. Fallen leaves, bark, twigs, fruit and branches all rot back into the soil, breaking down into the original nutrients the plant took up in the first place.
You can encourage this natural cycle in your own garden by minimising the amount of plant matter you discard, returning it instead to the soil. The more compost you can add to your soil over time, the more fertile and well-structured it will become, and the less fertiliser you will need to apply.
Sweep & spread
Some material can be swept up and spread on the ground between plants – fallen leaves and small twigs, for example. Even leafy hedge clippings can be raked up and spread thinly around the place. Lawn clippings can be disposed of this way too, as long as you spread them thinly so they don’t form a thick, dry mass.
Larger pieces of plant material, such as woody branches take too long to rot as they are and may look unsightly if just stuffed between plants. They need to be shredded or chipped into smaller pieces first. Additionally, fallen fruit will smell as it ferments if spread in large quantities. It needs to be composted first.
If you don’t like the idea or look of raw material, no matter what it is, then everything can be composted first. Some people argue that placing raw material on the soil leads to nitrogen deficiencies in plants (nitrogen is consumed by the rotting process and can be drawn from the soil) but I have not experienced this with my regular, thin spreadings of small amounts of garden waste.
How to compost

Composting is the process of decomposition, which turns plant matter into a soil-like substance that’s nutritious for plants and soil organisms and good for the structure of the soil itself. You don’t need any equipment other than a garden fork and a tarp, although you can buy various bins which minimise the space needed for composting. You may think they look nicer than a heap, too.
Let the worms in
Whether you buy a bin or just pile up the material, make compost on the ground so that soil organisms, which help in the rotting process, can enter. Otherwise add some completed compost to an above ground bin.
Fine rots fastest
Add material to the compost heap or bin as it becomes available. The finer the material you add the more quickly it will turn into usable compost. Break up twigs or run them over with the lawnmower before adding. If you have a mulcher, pass branches through the mulcher first. There’s no point adding thick woody pieces as they will take years to rot.
Balance of ingredients
Good compost is produced by blending leafy ‘green’ matter with harder ‘brown’ matter. ‘Green’ matter includes grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and soft green prunings. ‘Brown’ matter is shredded woody branches, dried leaves, straw and shredded newspaper.
Try to add brown and green matter in layers, not making any layer too thick. If you put in too much green matter, the compost may go sludgy and smelly. Too much brown matter and it won’t break down quickly. With a good balance of the two, composting will proceed quickly.
Too much waste
One problem many gardeners face in making compost is that they generate too much of one material. Lawn clippings are a good example as they often make up the bulk of waste generated in a garden. If you just pour them into the compost bin they often do not compost properly and if you don’t have enough balancing ‘dry’ matter, you cannot layer the clippings as you should.
Compost tumblers were designed primarily for grass clippings as the tumbling action aerates the grass and assists in its rapid decomposition. If you don’t have one, either spread the clippings thinly over garden beds or pile them up separately, moistening them down between each grass-catcher load. Cover the moistened heap.
Excessive fallen fruit can be another disposal problem. Its moisture content will make compost bins sludgy if it is all tipped in so use some in the compost bin (preferably with other materials) and bury the rest in holes in the garden.
What not to add
Don’t add meat or fish scraps, or prawn or crab shells (dig a deep hole and bury them instead – they’re great for the soil). Likewise, dog or cat poo, or weeds with seeds attached to them should not go in. If you see flower heads either on the grass or on lawn weeds when you cut the grass, don’t add that lot to the compost or you’ll spread the seeds around the garden. Only add vegie scraps that do not include seeds.
Cover heaps
If you have a compost heap, cover it with a tarp to stop it becoming too wet with rain. In dry times, you may need to wet layers down as you add them as the heap needs moisture to work properly. As the heap grows, turn it periodically so that the outside matter is transferred to the centre.
The composting process
Both bins and heaps soon become alive with worms and many other creepy crawlies. By feeding on the material, these critters are helping to break it down into compost. They’re completely normal and useful. As the material you add rots, its bulk reduces dramatically making room for more. Only when the rotted material fills the bin or the heap can be made no bigger should you consider using the compost.
When fully decomposed the compost will have a pleasant earthy smell and you will see little or nothing of the original ingredients.
How to use
You can spread compost onto any garden bed as a thin mulch (about 5cm deep is ideal). Organisms in the soil will begin to feed on it and in doing so will drag it beneath the surface where it will eventually form humus, the vital ingredient of all fertile soils.
Fallen leaves
If your biggest ‘waste’ problem is leaves falling from deciduous trees, you can do several things with them. You can add them to a compost heap or bin as ‘brown’ matter. You can spread them directly onto the garden as a mulch (though they might blow around if the wind gets up), or you can stuff them tightly into big plastic bags, which can be piled up in an out-of-the-way spot. Make sure the leaves are moist when you put them in the bags and punch two to three holes in each bag to let air in. By spring, the leaves will have partly decomposed into leaf mould, an excellent mulch and soil additive.


Tasks to do in April

Tasks I intend to complete this month include:
1. Liquid Manure: With the colder soil in winter, plants do not absorb nutrients from the soil as readily as they do in warm weather. Plants such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leafy greens will all benefit from the addition of liquid manure. This provides much needed nutrients in a readily available form boosting growth rates and ensuring a tastier product. Liquid manure is easily made by soaking a cloth bag of poultry manure in a tub of water for 2-3 weeks. Remember to always dilute the liquid manure 1 part to 10 parts water – it should have the colour of weak tea before using each week on your winter vegies.
2. Asparagus: When the leafy growth has turned yellow, it should be pruned off to ground level and then the crowns need to be fed with blood & bone, manure and compost as these plants are gross feeders. Then the plants need to be covered by a layer of straw, grass clippings and/or autumn leaves to protect the crowns from frosts. Lime should also be added to increase the soil pH.

3. Brambleberries: These berry canes are very vigorous growers and an effort is needed to keep them contained. Long canes which are in contact with the soil will produce roots and start to produce another plant and the canes which are underneath will die off creating a mass of dead tangled canes under the productive canes. Every 2-3 years we trim the canes completely away from one side of the trellis, this reduces the crop slightly the next season but is essential to allow control of the plants. The next year the other side of the trellis is pruned off, then the canes are allowed to grow for the next 2 years except for trimming off any canes which come into contact with the ground.
4. Raspberries: Old raspberry canes need to be trimmed off but it is essential to leave the new canes intact as they will produce the next year’s crop. Apply lime, manure and compost to keep the plants vigorous and productive.

5. Mulch and Manure: As the other summer crops, such as the sweet corn, finish; these beds will be covered with a layer of manure, compost, some lime and a layer of autumn leaves. This will act to revitalize the soil as well as suppressing weed growth.
6. Clean up: Collect all fallen fruit from under fruit trees and prune away any mummified fruits. This prevents the carry over of disease causing organisms. Trim away long grass from under trees and, if possible, allow poultry access to the area around the trees to clean up grubs and other pests from the soil. Adding grease bands to apple trees will act to capture codling moth grubs as they move down into the soil for the winter. Don’t forget the importance of collecting any fruit which has formed on ornamental trees such as Japonica – these fruits can act as an over-wintering site for the dreaded fruit fly which appears to have arrived in several gardens in Wooragee this summer.
7. Tidy the herb garden by pruning back the chives, oregano and sage. Plant coriander now (it tends to rush up to seed in the hot weather). Coriander repels aphids so plant near broccoli.
8. Pick and store your pumpkins:
Look out for signs that the plant is ‘dying off’. This includes the leaves turning paler and then browning at the edges
Give the pumpkin a little ‘knock’, like knocking gently on a door. If it sounds hollow, it’s a good indication that the pumpkin is ripe.
The colour of the skin gives another indication of ripeness. If the fruit has developed a rich colour and is becoming covered in ‘warts,’ the pumpkin is ready to harvest.
Smell the neck of the pumpkin (where the fruit meets the stalk). If it smells ‘pumpkiny’, that’s a good sign it’s ready to pick.
When you harvest a pumpkin, always leave a length of the stalk attached – like a handle – but don’t carry it by the stalk as it could rip the top of the pumpkin.
Check the pumpkin for damage as only unblemished pumpkins should be stored.
Harden the pumpkins in the sun for a week before storing in a cool, dry place.
Always store pumpkins on their side, to prevent moisture collecting.

What to plant in April

Plant seeds of: broad beans*, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, kale*, kohlrabi*, lettuce*, onion* (mid-season) silverbeet*, spinach*, swede*, turnip*.
*sow these direct into garden, others into punnets for transplanting later.
Onions can also be sown now and right through the colder months. Cold weather means bigger bulbs. Summer onions are all green tops and no bottoms. Start putting in the brown skinned long keeping onions now till the end of winter.

Plant seedlings of: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, celery, lettuce, leeks, mustard, and silverbeet.

Green manure crops:
This is also an excellent time of year to establish a green manure crop in an empty bed. Green manure crops are an excellent means of increasing the quality of your soil by raising the levels of nutrients available and also enhancing the organic content.
When the tomatoes are finished cropping, I will plant a green manure crop. This involves tossing in seeds of broad beans and mizuna into the loosened soil and raking over the soil to cover the seeds. The plants are then allowed to grow until their flowers begin to form and then they are chopped off at ground level leaving them to mulch down into the soil ready for the first crops in spring. This is cheaper than constantly buying in mulch and doesn’t introduce new weeds.
I use the excess broad bean and mizuna seeds collected previously. Commercial seed mixtures suitable for green manure crops are readily available and these packages will contain a wider range of suitable varieties. Be sure to select a mixture suitable for this time of year in your area.
broad beans

Tasks to do in March in the Vegie Patch

• Choose positions for new fruit trees, start preparing the site and order the trees for winter planting
• This is an excellent time of year to start a compost bin or heap – there will soon be an abundance of autumn leaves which make wonderful compost when mixed with some manure.
autumn leaves
• Check plants (esp. citrus) for scale- spray with white oil on a cooler day, if necessary.
• Keep a close eye on cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and other brassica plants for grubs – remove and squash them at the first sign to help minimize the damage.
• Pick pumpkins and melons. Test melons for ripeness by sniffing them, (a fruity smell indicates ripeness) and by tapping them to see if they sound hollow. Don’t pick pumpkins till the stems turn dry near the base of the pumpkin, then let them ‘cure’ or harden on a hot roof or dry cement for a week or two. This will help stop them rotting in late winter. Store them on their edge on open shelves. Pumpkins that aren’t quite ripe will still be sweet- but they won’t store well – use these ASAP.
• Continue to trim and tidy your herbs – don’t let the leaves get too old.
• Enjoy harvesting all your veggies and make lots of tomato sauce and pickles of all kinds.
Now that the summer heat is going, it’s time to get serious about raising seedlings. This time of the year is the best for getting them started, provided they’re in the shade during the heat of the day, otherwise they’ll dry out too quickly. I’ve sown lettuce, mustard, pak choy, tat soi, bok choy, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage. While it hasn’t been hot, I’ve been watering them each morning to make sure the seeds don’t dry out during germination. I keep them well fertilized to ensure rapid growth and will shortly plant them out into the garden beds as space becomes available.

At this time of year I like to do some serious fertilizing, both with our homemade compost, animal manures, liquid manure, and other organic materials you can buy such as, blood and bone and potash. I also try to establish some green manure crops as it helps replenish the soil after the previous season’s busy efforts.
Green manures can provide outstanding benefits for the soil, crop and you, the gardener by:
• Increasing organic matter, earthworms and beneficial micro-organisms
• Increasing the soil’s available nitrogen and moisture retention
• Stabilizing the soil to prevent erosion
• Bringing deep minerals to the surface and breaking up hardpans
• Providing habitat, nectar and pollen for beneficial insects and reducing populations of pests
• Improving water, root and air penetration in the soil
• Smothering weeds
Growing a green manure crop is as easy as throwing out a handful of seed onto freshly cultivated ground, followed by raking to cover the seed.
“Digging the crop in” at the end isn’t necessary, as by cutting the plants at the base while still green and lush, usually just as flowers form and leaving the green manure crop on the surface you have ‘instant’ mulch. This is cheaper than constantly buying in mulch and doesn’t introduce new weeds. A combination of a legume and a grass works well, the legume providing nitrogen & the grass, such as oats in winter or Japanese millet in summer, the bulk of the organic matter in the form of large quantity of roots. Broad beans are an excellent legume to use for this purpose especially if seed has been saved from last season.
The soil should never be left bare, vulnerable to erosion and weed invasion, always put in a green manure crop or cover an empty bed with a layer of manure and then autumn leaves or lawn clippings.

What to Plant in the Vegie Patch in March

Autumn has arrived and the time has come for the vegie gardener’s big challenge – when is it time to pull out the tomatoes, basil, squash, zucchini, beans etc. and replace them with winter treats!! As the days shorten and the nights get cooler, the productivity of these plants drops markedly and we need to prepare room for our winter veggies to make sure there is always something fresh to serve for winter meals – what could be nicer than a pot of soup made from your homegrown carrots, celery, dried beans and bottled tomatoes?
It is now time to plant some coriander seeds and you could also try some mint and lemon balm but be very careful of these plants and ensure they are adequately contained – it is staggering how far they can spread if left to their own devices!!
Tasty vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, spinach,tatsoi, rocket,silverbeet, broccoli, spring onions, leeks, lettuces, carrots, beetroot and parsnip can all be planted now.
An extensive planting of carrots now will provide carrots for the entire winter and also the early spring.carrots
Other crops, such as lettuce, spinach tatsoi etc. are better planted as successive, regular small crops to ensure a regular supply and avoid a glut!
Broad beans can also be planted now. I like to plant one crop for household use and then another bed full of broad beans to use as a green manure crop.
broad beans

February in the Vegie Patch

scorching sun
February is usually a rather hot and often unpleasant time of year for gardening. Try to water early in the morning or in the evenings to ensure that your plants can gain the maximum benefit from each precious drop. Deeper watering, less often is also the maxim of gardeners at this time of year.
Take advantage of any cooler days to keep the weeds under control and to top up the mulch layers on your garden beds.

PLANT: Seedlings of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, winter cabbage, kale, cauliflower, celery, leek, lettuce, silverbeet and spring onion.
SOW: Beans, broccoli, beetroot, carrot, cabbage, cauliflower, late Brussels sprouts, leek, lettuce, turnip, beetroot, Chinese brassicas, Asian roots, parsnip, and silver beet.
Vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, lettuces and turnips are best sown successionally to ensure a regular, manageable supply

The to-do list

• Water and weed your garden as required. Pick crops regularly – especially beans, zucchinis and cucubers
• Enrich soils with lime and organic matter before sowing broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussel sprout seedlings. They are very hungry plants. Feed fortnightly with liquid manure or worm juice as they are growing.
• Lettuces must be grown quickly to stay crisp and juicy. Feed with liquid manure every 10-14 days.
• Pick silverbeet regularly leaving 4-5 leaves at the centre for quick regrowth.
• Pinch out the growing tips of runner beans once they reach the top of their support. Pick beans regularly.
• Thin vegetables sown earlier before they are large enough to compete with each other.
• Continue to tie up tomatoes to their stakes as they grow. Dust regularly with sulphur powder to prevent whitefly and other pests.
• Harvest herbs regularly. Don’t let the leaves get too old. Excess leaves of basil, coriander etc. can be chopped, placed in ice-cube trays, covered with water, frozen and then transferred to plastic bags or other containers for a ready supply over winter,
• Lift garlic, shallots, onions etc. and hang to dry, out of the sunlight, before storing.
• Thin apples, persimmons etc.
• Tidy up summer-flowering strawberries that have finished fruiting. Cut off old leaves and unwanted runners, control weeds, feed and top up mulch
• Top up existing mulches that have rotted down over the past months.
Harvest peaches and nectarines
If you adore the taste of fresh peaches or nectarines, now is the time to start thinking about planting new peach trees so that you can enjoy this delicious fruit straight from your own garden.
Peaches, like most stone fruits, require an open sunny position with well drained soil which contains plenty of organic matter. A fruit tree is in its position for a long time, so careful preparation of the spot will pay big dividends in the future.
 Select a suitable spot for your new tree
 Kill any perennial weeds (such as sorrel or kykua) by covering the area with black plastic or corrugated iron for 2-3 weeks. At this time of year, the heat generated by the sun under this covering will destroy these weeds.
 Mix in some compost and manure, and then cover the area with mulch.
 Keep the area moist until ready to plant in June/July. Remember to keep the mulch away from the tree-trunk once it is planted.
Peaches are self-pollinating, which means that you only need one tree for successful cropping, and they’re pretty trees that are worth growing for their spring show of blossom alone.
Winter pruning should open up the centre, remove crowded branches and weak stems, and encourage new growth. Keep tuned to this newsletter for news of our winter pruning field day.
Peach trees will need to be sprayed with lime-sulphur when dormant to prevent leaf-curl and fungal diseases in the growing season. Planting garlic under the tree will also help prevent diseases.

Coping with the Cucumber Glut!

Cucumbers have been excelling themselves in production this year, so many of us have excess cucumbers staring at us and DEMANDING some action!
Of course there are only so many cucumbers that can be eaten in salads so here are some ways of using some of the excess.
1. A very refreshing drink for hot days can be made by adding slices of cucumbers and some lemon juice to a jug of iced water.
2. Tatziki
1 cup Greek whole milk yogurt – drained over a sieve for around 10 mins
1 English cucumber, seeded, finely grated and drained
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper


In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, cucumber, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice and dill (or Fennel). Season with salt and pepper. Chill.
For some extra flavor, add some olive oil and some coarsely chopped fresh mint. Serve with crudities at your next party.

3. Cucumber Pickles

3 Capsicums – 1 red
3 Onions
6 Cucumbers (Can also use Zucchinis)


Slice all ingredients thinly and cover with 1/2 cup salt.
Allow to stand overnight or at least 6 hours
Drain and Rinse

Boil 3 1/4 cups white vinegar, 2 cups sugar, 1 packet pickling spice*, 1 tablespoon brown mustard seed, 1 tablespoon whole black pepper.
Add vegetables
Boil until tender – NOT TOO SOFT

Bottle and seal whilst hot
Store at least 2 weeks before use. Preferably longer for best flavour

*Typically British pickling spice can be purchased ready made but I prefer to mix my own altering the mixture according to availibilty
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon whole black pepper
1 tablespoon cloves
3 or 4 dried chillies
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 piece cinnamon stick, crushed
3-4 bay leaves

4. Cucumber and Apple Chutney

3 Cucumbers – Cut in half lengthways, de-seeded and chopped finely
8 Cooking Apples – peeled, cored and chopped
3 cups/650 gm Onions – Peeled and chopped finely
2 1/2 cups/600 ml white wine vinegar’
2 1/2 cups /500 gm light brown sugar
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon rock salt

Place the apples, onions and cucumbers into a pan with the vinegar and bring to the boil. Simmer until softened.
Add the sugar, spices and salt. Stir until all of the sugar is dissolved.
Continue simmering until the chutney thickens, stirring occasionally.
Pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal. Label and store for at least 4 weeks for best flavour and taste.

5. Cold cucumber Soup
This creamy no-cook cucumber soup makes a splendid side dish for summertime meals.
2 large cucumbers, peeled, halved and seeded
1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt SAVE $
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped purple onion
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
In a blender, puree cucumbers, yogurt, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, garlic, dill, parsley, and salt until smooth

Pour into serving bowls. Top with tomatoes and purple onion. Serve immediately.

Happy Gardening and Cooking! Mary