Alice Toklas once said: ‘The first gatherings of the garden in May of salads, radishes, and herbs made me feel like a mother about her baby – how could anything so beautiful be mine. There is nothing that is comparable to it, as satisfactory or as thrilling, as gathering the vegetables one has grown.’
Whether you’re into healthier home-grown vegetable or enjoy seeing flowers thrive in a garden or green-house, time spent in the garden can do wonders for your mind, body and soul.
A great way to start or return to gardening is by cultivating your own healthy and nutrient-filled compost pile. And, if you’re new to composting, spring is the best time of year to give ‘grow-your-own’ another go.
Compost for healthier soil
It’s rare that you’ll inherit a gardening plot in pristine condition, so in most cases, a dose of extra nutrients will encourage healthier soil for your plants and vegetables, or whatever else you decide to grow. So, why do you need to compost? Well, in addition to helping you minimise waste and reducing your carbon footprint, it also saves you money when working on your allotment and benefits the plants you choose to grow.
Plants, herbs and vegetables need a range of specific minerals to thrive, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which clever composting can provide them with. It keeps your soil’s pH levels maintained and also helps to prevent disease in plants since it balances soils that are too acidic or alkaline. Mixing healthy compost into your beds can improve the texture and aeration of your soil and feeds the microorganisms that maintain the health of your allotment.
Get the clipping ratio right
You will need a mix of carbon and nitrogen at a ratio of 8:1 (that’s 8 parts carbon to every 1 part nitrogen). Your brown materials can be sawdust, torn cardboard or shredded paper, wood ash and old straw or hay. For this layer, you can also add old dry plant stems from your outdoor or household plants, and it’s a great way to make use of fallen leaves that can become a burden for gardeners during the autumn season.
Green materials can include veggie tops, tea leaves and coffee grounds, weeds and plant clippings, and flowers. You can also use grass clippings when you mow the lawn. To bolster your compost even more, you can also add comfrey which may be viewed as a prolific weed to the standard allotment owner, but to a composter are incredibly nitrogen-rich and can speed up decomposition.
Know what to avoid
Make sure you avoid meat and fish and cooked food, as this can attract vermin, as well as plastics, metal and glass, and glossy magazines. You should also avoid diseased plant material as this can affect the rest of your compost and spread the disease to your other plants when you eventually use it.
Make it easy to break down
When you’re adding items to your compost bin, make sure the pieces have been chopped or torn into small pieces so that they can break down more easily. You don’t want to add unnecessary time to the already lengthy process if you don’t need to, so break up twigs and woody material, tear up or shred paper, and make sure veggie scraps aren’t too big.
Use your compost
Well-rotted compost can then be used on your allotment to work nutrients back into the soil, improve texture and aeration, and help the soil retain moisture more efficiently. You can use your compost at any time during the year, but autumn is often the time when most gardeners will use homemade compost for their planting endeavours. However, if you’re taking a no-dig approach to your allotment, you can use compost as a mulch in early spring too.
With a compost bin, you can make use of clippings, dead leaves and paper scraps to better use for the benefit of your garden, minimising your carbon footprint and aiding your gardening efforts. With fresh compost, you can add nutrients back into the soil to help vegetables, fruit trees and flowers grow healthier and stronger, while also preventing weeds and plant disease from developing.
So, with the arrival of warmer weather, why not reap the unique benefits gardening provides and nurture a plentiful stock of healthy vegetables and fruit for the year ahead.
Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.