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Compost Making

The Power of Compost

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Compost has lots of proven benefits for the garden. JUSTIN RUSSELL visits a historic property in Toowoomba and shares the story of an old eucalypt saved by a top dressing of remedial "black gold".

Yesterday I had the opportunity to photograph The Boyce Gardens, a beautiful old property in Toowoomba that was started back in the 1930’s. Finding myself surrounded by 50 metre tall trees, 80 year-old-shrubs, huge clumps of perennials and a thick patch of remnant rainforest, I had to take stock half way through the shoot just to stop and take stock of my surroundings. If ever I’ve been in a garden that felt like a hidden paradise in the middle of the city, it was this in one.

While not strictly organic, the property’s three gardeners are pretty old school. Daryl, the estate’s manager since the 1970’s, told me lots of interesting stories about the garden’s establishment and it’s ongoing maintenance, all of which was punctuated with the odd rant about the grief he continually gets from OHS officers. Suffice to say, gardens made in the 1930’s weren’t made with the same obsession with safety we have today.


One of Daryl’s tales was particularly interesting. For years the garden was having lots of problems with the root rot fungus phytophthora and the parasitic honey fungus armillaria. The latter fungus in particular had been wreaking havoc with some of the very old eucalypts, at one point even colonising the trunk of a big and important blackbutt.


Fearing the worst, Daryl and his team started applying compost as a remedial top dressing around the base of the tree. Within months, the honey fungus disappeared, presumably dominated by the beneficial fungi in the compost. These days, the gardeners apply liberal amounts of compost throughout the garden, and the benefits are plain to see – when I visited, the garden looked supremely healthy. This is quite a feat in a old garden, where pests and diseases can sometimes gain a foothold and many mature plants and in a stage of decline. But in this case, the garden actually looked youthful, like an eighty year old that had been given a young bloke’s heart and was keen to live his life anew.


Such is the power of compost. I often remark to people that the stuff is black gold, and it’s true. Nothing is better for your garden or farm, and the more dedicated you can become to its production, the more likely it is that we’ll all get to enjoy a sustainable future. At Boyce Gardens, Daryl and his team make a huge amount of compost each year in the estate’s original “compost pit”. This is essentially a big 75 cubic metre hole in the ground into which they throw grass clippings, fallen leaves, chipped prunings and so on to create a continual supply of garden ready humus. You don’t have to compost on this kind of scale, of course. But if you don’t compost, why not get started, even if it’s with a bokashi bucket in the kitchen or the traditional three bay system in the backyard. Chances are, you’ll get so hooked on the black stuff that you’ll become a dedicated composter for life. It’s that good!




Photo courtesy of Milkwood Permaculture.