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Gone to rot

By garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin. One of the most enjoyable parts of gardening for me is making compost.

There is nothing more satisfying than emptying my compost bins at the start of the Autumn and seeing all that lovely composted material just waiting to get dug back into my borders. If I'm busy I don't even bother to dig it in but just spread it on the beds to let the worms dig it in, add nutrients to the soil and help mulch my plants during the winter.

Composting is big business these days because getting rid of waste has become so expensive. We produce more and more household waste and our local authorities have to get rid of it for us and this pushes up refuse costs and our Council tax. So it's a double whammy - by composting we can help keep those costs down and get free compost for our gardens.

There's even a national composting week in the Spring where we are all encouraged to start composting. Its one of those few campaigns which you think actually makes sense. Just think of what you throw away that could actually add something to your garden beds - and its all for free!

So how do you start? Well the easiest way to compost is to get a ready-made compost bin. These are the black plastic dalek-like bins that come ready constructed. All they need is a space where the base comes in contact with the earth to encourage all those insects and worms that will do your composting for you to get into the compost and start their work. It takes less than a minute to get started. Even better, in their efforts to encourage composting our local authorities are keen we have these bins and you can get them very cheaply. For example Merton Council offers them at 10% of the retail cost. I've just added another bin for just £4! Just look on your Council's website or in the library.

You can use timber composting bins in larger gardens. They look better but remember that the black plastic bins are also great because they are pretty much rodent proof and in a London garden where we have small spaces next to houses that's going to be vital. Timber constructions are a bit more open to rodents.

It's easy to compost. Like any recipe, your compost relies on the right ingredients to make it work. Compost vegetable peelings, fruit waste, teabags, grass cuttings (greens) that are quick to rot and provide nitrogen and moisture. Egg shells, egg boxes and fallen leaves (browns) provide fibre, minerals and important air pockets. Don't add cooked products, even vegetables and definitely no meat or dairy products. I do add weeds into my mix but only those that haven't seeded so that I don't introduce weed seed when I spread the compost.

The key is to get the mix right with a proper mix of all these greens and browns, keeping the mixture damp with enough air mixed into the structure. My tip is to use shredded paper for the air. We're all avoiding identity theft these days and I know that my old bank statements don't even leave the house but end up in my garden now!

Your finished compost should be dark brown, spongy and a bit smelly but rich in nutrients. Spread it on your borders to improve the soil, help retain the moisture that is so important this summer and repress the weeds. Couldn't be easier could it?!

By Andrew Fisher Tomlin

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