Getting the Most from Your Compost Heap

You may remember that a few months ago, I flirted with the idea of QR composting (am still flirting with it, in fact) and was fascinated by the whole concept. Well, Andy Davenport who wrote Quick Return Compost Making has agreed to write some guest posts for me!

So the next six weeks will be Compost Wednesday on allotment blog - and if you send in questions I'll pass them to Andy to answer, or you can just make a comment and he'll give us some feedback. Here's post number one!

Making a successful compost heap is probably one of the gardening activities that most conscientious gardeners have high on their list of priorities. After the necessary efforts, there is a certain sense of pride and triumph when you finally get to run your fingers through lovely, cool, dark compost. It is especially rewarding when you think about what went into the compost bin and how you have worked with nature to produce such a wonderful commodity – and it’s totally free!

But this really is just the tip of the iceberg. Good fertile compost such as that made using the Quick Return (QR) method, can literally transform the nature of a garden. By adding the compost to our soils many radical changes can take place benefiting every living creature that exists in the garden (including us) and every plant that has the good fortune to grow there.

The soil in our garden is predominantly heavy clay and when we first arrived there about 8 years ago the borders were pretty difficult to work. However, with the addition of a yearly mulch of QR compost the soil has become loose and friable and this penetrates many inches down - and that is without digging. All manner of creatures including birds, small mammals and worms all help by doing the job for us. Our soil doesn’t get heavy anymore and is very free draining and yet it doesn’t need as much watering. Not only does the soil have greater water holding properties but plant roots are able to penetrate the soil more easily and thoroughly allowing them to extract greater reserves of moisture during drought conditions. We all know that water drains down through soils but compost fed soils also allow water to move laterally through the soil- this can be a tremendous help to plants under cloches for example which can take up moisture without the need for lifting the cloche to water.

Weeding must be the most disliked job in the garden – sometimes enough to actually put people off gardening. But with the nice loose soil structure created by the addition of compost the weeds can be pulled out with ease – roots and all. Suddenly, weeding becomes quite a pleasure, especially when you add them to the compost heap, knowing that they are full of minerals that will be returned to the soil in the future. If the compost is applied as a nice thick mulch and renewed on a regular basis then weed seeds are suppressed and don’t get the chance to germinate. Mulching also has the added benefit of helping to retain moisture within the soil.

As more compost is applied to the soil over the years it becomes darker and darker. This helps the soil to warm up and can extend the growing season. Dark soil acts like a big heat sink - particularly under glass. Cloches and compost fed soil go hand in hand.

Probably the most important thing we can get from compost is our health. Bacteria and other micro organisms abound and flourish in the compost and in turn in the soil where it is added. These organisms are the building blocks of life and the beginnings of the food webs that exist in the soil. Their abundance, health and vitality is paramount to the health and vitality of all the plants and animals that exist within the ecosystem in the garden. Quite simply this health means greater resistance to pests and disease. In our own interest, we can inherit this health and robustness when we eat the fruit, vegetables and herbs grown in our compost garden.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Anonymous allotments4you said...

wow you sure have done a lot of research...what is this Qr method you talked about?? I started a compost heap when I first got my allotment but 2 years down the line it still isn't useable.

March 17, 2010 at 11:16 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

I have a question. I purchased the book Common-sense Compost Making by the Quick Return Method, by M. E. Bruce. Does Andy know from where the herbal powder she recommends can be had? It includes Wild Chamomile, Dandelion, Valerian, Yarrow, Stinging Nettle, Oak Bark, and Honey. The only thing I have in this list is the dandelion and the honey.

I'm very interested in the QR method and look forward to more posts regarding it. Thank you!

March 18, 2010 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Okay, we had two comments but Blogger helpfully lost them in loading! The first was about the super-secret recipe for making compost the fast way, and the second was about how long Andy has been working with his composting techniques. Here are his answers:

In answer to the first question:

The herbs used in the activator are nettle, dandelion, chamomile (note - this is the german chamomile which is the annual type of chamomile, not roman chamomile which is used for lawns) yarrow and valerian (note - this is valeriana officinalis, not red valerian otherwise known as centranthus ruber which is a rampant self-seeder).

The flowers and leaves of the herbs should be picked before midday so that they do not lose any of their essential oils. Dry the herbs until they are tinder dry in a food dryer, over a radiator or in a very low oven with the door ajar so that the temperature does not rise above 40C (104F). Keep the herbs seperate and crush them in turn in a pestle and mortar so that they make a powder.

Prepare a small quantity of powdered oak bark which can be made by filing or grinding the bark.

Prepare a small quantity of honey by rubbing a drop into a teaspoonful of powdered milk.

Take equal amounts of each of the herbs, the oak bark and the honey mixture to make the activator powder. To make into a solution, take one teaspoon of the activator powder and add to a pint of rain water. Shake well and leave to stand for 24 hours before usage. Alternatively, you can purchase the activator from QR Composting Solutions (tel 01434 672594) or from Chase Organics (tel 01932 253666).

The books that Maye Bruce wrote are 'From Vegetable Waste to Fertile Soil' published in 1940 and 'Common Sense Compost Making' published in 1946. Both books provide the formula and are available from QR Composting Solutions. Hope this helps.

And in answer to the second question:

The actual research for the book took about a year but my interest and fascination with composting stems back to my childhood when the lawn and hedge clippings we piled up beneath our hedge would heat up and after a while would turn to lovely friable compost. When I became a homeowner and acquired my first garden about 16 years ago, I was able to start my own composting which re-ignited my interest. I came across the QR method about 7 years ago and have to say that it has had a marvelous effect on my composting, my garden and my life. I found it very surprising that having once been so popular that not many people knew about it. Initially my main aim in writing the book was to help gardeners struggling with their composting and put QR firmly back on the map. However I also realised how critically important sustainability is considering climate change and fuel problems that we now face. In short, good composting techniques such as the QR method can go a very long way to making our gardens into sustainable, productive and beautiful places for us to enjoy.

March 24, 2010 at 3:06 AM  

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