All that once lived

Heavy feeders thrive on handfuls of compost applied regularly, and the odd drop of compost tea....
Heavy feeders thrive on handfuls of compost applied regularly, and the odd drop of compost tea. Photos supplied.
Putting a handful of compost in the hole when seedlings are planted produces strong, healthy plants.
Putting a handful of compost in the hole when seedlings are planted produces strong, healthy plants.

Ben Elms, known as Dr Compost, has a little bit of advice about compost.


Compost makes the world go round. Big statement, but wouldn't it be great if it was true?

Imagine a world where anything and everything organic had to be composted.

When we say organic, we're referring to anything that once lived and grew.

Bring out your old tea-towels, T-shirts, woolly jumpers, cardboard boxes, wood shavings and used tea bags.

You name it, and so long as it was once alive, we can almost certainly compost it and turn it into a new life force.

That is what that beautiful black crumbly compost mixture is, billions of microscopic bacteria and fungi.

Making compost can be easy, but it often takes a little bit more effort than chucking everything into a pile randomly in the farthest, darkest corner of your garden.

As well as classic hot and cold compost heaps, there are other ways to composting nirvana.

Bokashi buckets, worm farms, trench composting and chickens are just a few ways to transfer your food and garden waste into a resource.

I've yet to meet anyone who makes too much of the compost goodness.

Remember that it's OK to buy compost, especially when you're first starting out or if you've had a system failure.

Just be aware that (at least in theory) you get what you pay for.

There are plenty of municipal composting sites through Otago where you can buy compost for good value.

It's worth checking with smaller community composters what they do with grass clippings.

Their compost will be good so long as they're not putting grass clippings in there.

A lot of people, in their quest for the perfect lawn, spray with various herbicide products.

Clippings from these lawns in turn pollute the compost.

Avoid putting this compost in your vege patch, as these residues are often still present and can affect your plants' health and stunt their growth.

So once we've got our hands on some compost, what are we going to do with it?

Ten ways to use your compost
1. Big isn't necessarily better. When applying compost to vege gardens, fruit trees and flowerbeds, a little often can be more beneficial than going large. Sprinkle 1-2cm of compost over your bed at the beginning of the season and every time you clear a bed ready for resowing.

2.  Every time you're planting a seedling, chuck a handful of compost in the hole. I do this with all my seedlings. My garlic cloves also go into the ground with a healthy handful of compost, with fantastic results. Not only are you providing for the plants' needs, you're keeping your soil biologically active and healthy. In Central Otago you're increasing the soil's water-holding capacity through the region's regular dry spells.

3. As plants get bigger, give them a couple of handfuls of compost from time to time, especially heavy feeders like broccoli and tomatoes. You can do the same with most of your vegetables. They're all going to respond well to this.

4.  Save all that old seed raising and potting mix and give it a spruce-up. Mix around 1 part compost to 3 parts potting mix. This will give it a second life and save you a few dollars in the process. You can also make up your own potting mix with compost, either mixing with other ingredients or using it straight. It will go a lot further mixed with some topsoil and sand.

5.  Don't forget all your potted plants. They're often well-loved with watering but neglected when it comes to getting a good feed. Simply sprinkle some compost in the top of the pot, little and often. Again the results will speak for themselves, with increased vigour and disease resistance.

6.  Make a simple liquid compost feed for your plants. There's a whole world of ''compost tea'' brewing going on out there with great recipes and ingredients. At home you can make a liquid lunch for your plants just by putting 1kg of compost into a container with 10 litres of warmish water. Give it a stir up for five minutes. Stick it in the watering can and water your plants. You can get more technical by adding seaweed and molasses. Check it out online.

7.  Foliar feed. This is just a variation of No 6, really. Pour the liquid compost via a baker's sieve into a spray bottle (easier said than done). Go round spraying your foliar feed directly on to the foliage, especially on any plants looking a bit tired or under the weather (your roses will love this, too!)

8.  When sowing drills of carrots, get some of your finer compost (you might have to sieve it) and put five handfuls in an ice-cream container, mixed with five handfuls of fine sand. Pop half a packet of carrot seed in and mix well. Sow this mixture into a drill. Water in, protect from the wind and wildlife, and water as needed.

9.  A whole lot of energy can go into keeping green blanket lawns looking good. Sprinkling compost on to the lawn instead of artificial fertilisers keeps everyone happy, especially those who like to roll around on them.

10. This one is a bit more out there, but is handy if you've got a steep bank and need to stabilise it against erosion and heavy rainfall. A 5cm layer of compost will aid the process, while you wait for plants to grow. There are other uses less relevant to us, but all the same interesting, such as using compost as a bio-filter in industry to filter bad smells from the air.

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