I thought composting was a complicated process, where you had to add special ingredients to piles of organic matter to get good soil. But actually, it is so easy you will wonder why you haven’t tried it before to get yourself some free quality soil.
If you haven’t already got a compost heap and thought maybe in the heat of Portugal the last thing you need is a pile of rotting stuff attracting flies and rats, think again, and read on.
The first thing you’ll need is a sunny space to start – perhaps an area where nothing grows anyway, and a vessel to start it off in. Dig a slight hole in the centre of your space, and put the saved soil aside.
You can buy a proper composting bin, or stake out an area with some shade material or even open out plastic sacks to become sheets, with some upright stakes fixed inside to give it a ‘tub’ shape, overall size is up to you. You can even use a large tub or bucket or a series of them, but make sure they have holes in the base, or totally open. For the base layer, sticks are recommended, and any thick fibrous stalks, which will help improve aeration at the base.
Next – stuff for composting. You need two types of material for composting, ‘green’ and ‘brown’, with a ratio of 4:1 - 4 parts brown to 1 part green. ‘Green’ is high in nitrogen and usually wet, so this could be grass clippings, skins and waste from fruit and veg, even coffee grounds and t-bags. Take the time to cut everything into smaller pieces, as this will speed the decomposition. Some things will take forever to compost – such as avocado skins and stones – so don’t include them. Even eggshells can be added, just scrunch them up into bits first. If you don’t have enough stuff immediately, all this can be stored in a sealed plastic box, and you can add to it daily until you have enough.
Now the ‘brown’ stuff – this is all dry and high in carbon – tubing from loo rolls and kitchen rolls, egg boxes, cardboard boxes - shredded if possible (waxed cards will be slow to decompose), small dry wood chips, paper towels, dry blossoms from your plants. Add in dry leaves, and again scrunch them up small. If you have been cutting bushes back, the branches shouldn’t be used unless at the base as they are going to be too ‘woody’, so strip the leaves off and use them when dry.
Now it’s just a case of layering everything in the composter, and top it off with the soil saved earlier. Add enough to cover everything, which will keep it from getting smelly, attracting ‘beasties’, and will keep the heat in, an important part of the process. Sit back and wait, and just add some water now and again. After a while, you can remove the top layer of soil, turn over what’s inside which will add some air, and replace the topsoil ‘lid’, or simply turn the whole lot over with a garden fork and add a new lid, and you will find there is now room to add the layers all over again. Eventually, you will have some super new compost to dig around your fruit trees or plants.
Experienced composters will tell you it should be turned - or not; it might take months - or years to be ready; if it smells - add leaves. If it is dry - add water. You can add beer to accelerate it (and maybe waste money!). You can add mature compost to new to quicken up the decomposition rate. You can use chicken wire, pallets, dig it all in anyway, or pile it up and leave it to rot for a season.
It’s not an exact science by any means, but it gets rid of your organic waste. It’s an eco-friendly thing to do, and reduces your trips to the bins! You can put as little or as much effort into it as you wish.