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The Glorious Compost Heap!

Each time I open up the mature compost heap (12 months of green material) the excitement is like receiving a rather special Christmas present. The heap looks dry and straw-like in its shrunken state and you wonder “has it really worked this time?” Nervously you begin to remove the outer dry fibre, tossing it onto the adjacent and current compost heap. 10 minutes later you begin to reach the deeper layers of heavy dark peaty soil which is the fuel for almost everything that grows on Earth. “yes”, the bugs, beasts and fungi have done their work and the compost is ready to spread.

On a cold dry day it's a satisfying labour of love to swing your spade into action, filling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow and trundling each to empty on the waiting soil. I tend to limit myself to say a 10 wheelbarrow target for each day – maybe a couple of hours of pleasant labour. It's always a shock to find small bits of plastic, completely untouched by the composting process, staring out at you from the pile – usually old plant labels or bits of plastic bags. There are many twigs and small branches too, to be tossed into a pile for the bonfire.

It will take 22 wheelbarrows, filled to capacity (say 100Kg), to empty the bin – just over 2 tons. This will be swallowed up by the garden with ease. If you think about it, 2 tons of compost represents the fermented residue of at least 5 times the quantity of “raw” input (rough grasses, weeds, vegetable tops, nettles and thistles cut from the field). Typically 80 percent of the weight of what we put onto compost heaps is actually water. So over the year I have piled (stacked) more than 10 tons of raw input onto the heap (at least 100 full wheelbarrows).

You really have to get your minds around the importance of recycling soil nutrients and replacing the humus in our soils. When I occasionally visit formal gardens which are showcased to the public (particularly those run by the National Trust) the first thing I look for is their composting arrangements. In 9 cases out of 10 there are simply NONE! Not for the gardens and certainly not for the cafes and restaurants. I find this incredible and the tragic waste of an opportunity to educate the general public about the vital recycling of nutrients. But it seems composting (like the flush toilet) is seen as rather a dark and almost sinister art. Our modern “make believe” culture simply does not want to take responsibility for dealing sensibly (dare I say 'sustainably') with what it calls “waste”. We really would just rather bury it as what we call “landfill”. It hurts my head just to think about it and all the hollow rhetoric of “sustainability”. We should be spending our taxes on building modern bio-digesters, converting ALL organic “waste” into methane (to power generators) and compost (for the soil) instead of buttressing the greedy construction industry by commissioning thousands of un-sustainable (they last about 20 years)wind-turbines.


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