Manure in, compost out

Compost Heap

For the last few months the residents of my little village (Hampton, Qld, pop 500 or so) have been holding a kind of hybrid apple sale and produce swap. We've been buying cartons of apples direct from an organic grower down at Stanthorpe, picking them up from a central location, and swapping some of our excess produce at the same time.

Even though it's a fairly lean time of the year in the edible garden, the whole experience has been lots of fun. It's a great chance to catch up with old friends and make some new ones, and we've scored some pretty nice produce as a part of the bargain. Yesterday I traded an apple tree for a borewurst sausage, picked up some incredible looking lemons and a new neighbour dropped off a few bags of horse poo. To be honest, as much as I love a good sausage and adore the flavour of lemons, I'm most excited about the poo. Who'd have thunk it!

Fresh manure of any kind should never be applied directly to plants, of course, so I'm planning to empty the bags on my compost heap and let the contents rot. Problem is, the nitrogen-carbon balance will be thrown way out of whack if the ingredients are manure alone, so for every bag of poo, I'll chuck on at least a full bale of straw, layering the two as I go. The ideal ratio of carbon to nitrogen is about 25:1. I'm not exactly sure what the poo and straw will work out at, but assuming I can also get air into the mix, and keep the pile moist, but not wet, I should end up with a finished product that's a bit higher in nitrogen than usual and ideal for the vegie garden.

You might have had a similar compost making experience at your place. It's rare to have the perfect ingredients in the perfect quantities at hand ready to make the perfect heap. Home gardeners are more likely to make cold compost over a longer period of time using whatever materials are available, be they weeds, vegie residues, chook bedding, scraps, lawn clippings and indeed, occasional bags of poo. That's fine. Be comforted by the fact that anything that was once living will eventually rot, with no assistance from the gardener whatsoever. All we can do, is help things rot well.

Remember the basics of carbon and nitrogen. Keep the heap (or bin, or tumbler) oxygenated to encourage aerobic bacteria. Use a diversity of materials if possible and mix things up if you can. Try not to let the decomposing matter become too dry, or too wet. Do these things and odds are, you'll produce lovely home made compost that will be absolutely relished by the garden. And who knows? Your black gold might be so good that your neighbours will want to swap it for a sack of...rutabagas. One can only hope!

By: Justin Russell

First published: September 2012

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