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Pile of fresh compost next to a sieve and trowel, with a spider next to the compost Pile of fresh compost next to a sieve and trowel, with a spider next to the compost

Cool compost

By Sarah Ward

It’s International Composting Awareness Week from 5th – 11th May, this is where community groups can really push forward the message and be heard about the crucial role composting can play in helping to keep soil productive and healthy.

Compost adds structure to soils, allowing plants to absorb water, nutrients and so encouraging strong growth. If you are an ardent composter then you have probably already dug out the rich humus from your heap or bin and will be making good use of it around your vegetable patch.  However if this is something you have yet to get to grips with then let Composting Awareness Week be the catalyst to kick-start the action.  This year’s theme from the composting council is Cool the Climate – Compost, which are very wise words as recycling garden waste by composting is an effective way to help reduce your carbon footprint.

Not only is compost great for sustainability it is a valuable resource to help repair some of the damage that happens to the soil through continued growing.  Using bought compost (although there is a place for it) is no substitute for real handmade compost.  It is very different to bought-in lifeless compost, real compost is full of activity and by adding this to the soil we can create an active healthy and productive soil.  If you are buying compost, rather than making it yourself, read our thoughts on the importance of buying peat free compost here.

But how does it all happen? We are not actually the creators of compost ourselves but merely the facilitators in the process where organic changes in the waste material take place by an amazing unseen and unsung force of nature. Bring on the compost critters – there is a whole community of bacteria, fungi and creatures, that given the right conditions will work ceaselessly in the decomposition process.  First on the scene is bacteria and if you have a significant heap of waste they can raise the temperature and increase the speed of all that rotting. They attack all the woody bits and if you have shredded or chopped it up this creates a larger surface area for the bacteria to work on.  As things begin to cool and around the edges of the waste, in come the larger creatures, including red worms, snails and woodlice, who guzzle their way through the waste turning it into a more concentrated form.  Then along comes the fungi, creating white cobweb structures, producing natural antibiotics within the compost, helping to keep disease at bay. So apart from turning the heap once or twice and adding some moisture you really don’t have to do anything else but wait for the magic to happen.

Our Toolshed has a great section on Composting and wormeries, so sign up or log in to the website to get access.  There’s a great compost activity for children, which introduces the art of composting – taking a look at the bug life happening in the compost bin has never been more exciting!

Thanks to Celia at Incredible Edible Conway for this story.