Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The Compost Doctor Is In

When Ms Cowgirl wrote to Doctor Compost for help, he was so moved by her decomposition distress that he wondered how many other lost souls might benefit from his rot remedies. This is the result: welcome to the Compost Doctor problem page.

Ms Cowgirl wrote:

Dear Compost
Doctor why won't my compost heap rot?.. my breakdown rate has broken down, despite vigorous stirring and liberal applications of shop bought compost accelerant...all I see is dried up grass clippings, the only sign of any change are the pale spots left by my dried tears... please, Compost Doctor can you help?

The Compost Doctor lifts a handful of the specimen kindly provided by Ms Cowgirl, lifts it to his nose and breathes in deeply closing his eyes. He nods sagely and then inspects the sorry sample separating the contents with his index figure. Finally his expression changes from one of professional appraisal to one of satisfaction as he sits down to write:

Dear Ms Cowgirl,
Calm yourself, all is not lost. Firstly I notice that this specimen consists predominantly of grass clippings which, whilst they will eventually decompose, are notoriously bad rotters - they are not the ideal basis for a beginners heap. I prescribe daily doses of mixed vegetable matter for this heap: peelings, salad, raw vegetables. If the grass clippings are dry it may be rather too late for them; but if you add a good moist mixture of vegetable matter you may save them.

Secondly, you don't mention worms. Brandling worms (pictured courtesy of British Worm Breeders) are a friend to compost, they are the best of all
compost accelerants. I wonder whether your heap is on a solid base or on soil. It wants to be on bare earth - break up the earth beneath it and then replace your container. If you provide plenty of good food for the worms they will repay your kindness by converting it into rich compost in half the time (did you know people actually buy worms for the purpose?). Incidentally, the addition of fresh horse manure will help to both encourage decomposition and encourage worms to join the fun - but don't forget to stir it all in.

Thirdly I was worried by the dryness - decomposition occurs best in moist (not sloppy) conditions (though undisturbed grass clipping clumps have a habit of looking dry on the outside whilst being wet on the inside). Bottom line: if you are happy that your heap is well aerated and your grass is nicely distributed throughout, it may need watering. Watering your heap is a good thing; watering it with a naturally occurring solution high in nitrogenous compounds is all the better - see where I'm going?

In summary, Ms Cowgirl, compost, like most of us, likes daily love and attention. Invest time and a good melange of vegetable matter in your heap and your reward will be great.

Lots of love,

Compost Doctor

I told the Doctor that I didn't think his signing off was quite professional but he insisted. Watch this space for more compost diagnoses.


UrbanCowgirl said...

Dear Compost Doctor,

Thank you for your kind attention to my decomposition issues. I bow before the swiftness of your service.

My heap is indeed on bare soil and I dug it up a bit before starting the heap. However, I have no worms. Fear not: I will procure some and add them into the mix.

I have been known to water (with water) the compost heap on occasion, but the power of the New Zealand sun is great so perhaps it needs doing more often. I will also add more vegetables. The grass is placed in there by the gardener every week (landlord pays) so I will have a word and ask him to not do so for a while.

With your heap help I am confident I'll be rotting in no time! As soon as I return from sunning myself in Fiji I'll get right to the worm shop.

Thank you!


Lisa said...

You can buy worms?!! I wonder if the new improved Tesco will stock them.

Crofty said...

Cowgirl: Good Luck with the rot.

Lisa: Yes, but no I doubt it; But if you want any I have loads, so you can always take a bag of my half-rotted compost, that's full of worms.

Lisa said...

Erm, thanks!
My mum has a compost bin that is overflowing so much that my dad has banned me from giving her anymore of my veg waste, maybe I have a new person to dump, sorry, recycle my vegetable matter from our Sunday dinner!

Compost John said...

Hi Crofty... I'm a 'Compost Doctor' in all but name (infact,I'm the original York Rotter!) and I enjoyed reading your advice to Mrs Cowgirl.... bu I didn't notice you suggest she use nature's best accellerant, urine!
I know it's easy for chaps (spigot included) and correspondingly more complicated for the fairer sex, who may wish to utilise a bucket or other recepticle... bu I do sugest that weewee is just ace at getting dry/woody things moist and nitrogenised...and on their way to humus.
It also takes the pressure off the overloaded sewerage works and therefore reduces your carbon footprint...

Crofty said...

Hi Compost John,

Thanks for your comment - you are right about pee. I used to regularly add my own nitrogenous waste to the heap until I found that with my new tall compost bins, kindly provided via Oldham council, I couldn't reach up high enough. I drew the line at peeing in a watering can first!