Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I like compost. That I REALLY like compost. However, since I started my permaculture design course this summer I have started to have some new ideas on the most effective way to make compost on my allotment.
Traditionally we have made compost using an array of different bins and receptacles from the typical plastic "daleks" we bought from the council to the lovely wooden compost caddies that my partner in gardening crime created for me. However, this year I have started looking more towards surface composting when ever I can.
Surface composting means that you compost garden waste on the surface of the soil instead of moving it away to compost it somewhere else like a compost bin. Traditional allotment holders may think this looks messy but it is actually beneficial for a variety of different reasons. In summer it means that you are creating a good layer of mulch that will keep valuable moisture where you want and need it in the soil and around your precious plants. In winter this same mulch will protect the surface of the soil from heavy winter frosts which can really damage the soil structure. It will also act as a layer of insulation over the colder months of the year meaning that the soil will stay warmer and warm up more quickly in spring, thus be ready for planting earlier in the season than it would have been without this natural layer of protection. It's also worth noting that in nature soil never stays uncovered for long - anyone who has gardened for any time will vouch for the fact that bare soil surfaces will soon cover themselves with weeds if left to their own devices! With this knowledge in mind you may also be glad to hear that the natural mulches that surface composting creates will also act as a great weed suppressant - especially if they are allowed to build up to a decent thickness over time.
The other major benefit of surface composting is the amount of time that it saves you in its creation. Instead of moving all your garden waste away to a compost bin just to move it back to the beds it has come from later in the year as compost you will just need to leave it pretty much where it has come from. Good news huh? Of course it's worth noting that rough plants such as brassica stalks or twigs will take a long time to compost so are best moved to a more traditional composting method.
So there you go, the allotment traditionalists may turn their noses up at your new methodologies but I hope that the improved productivity and health of your soil will be enough to convince them that surface composting is definitely the way forward.