Autumn gardening: How to make the most of your compost

Our compost bins are starting to overflow as we squeeze in as much garden rubbish as we can. The heap sinks, but never quickly enough when we’ve got so much clearing on our hands to do just now.

Start by checking what progress the rubbish at the bottom of the composter has made. If you didn’t empty it in the spring, you may find some good stuff which you can remove and bag for next spring or use immediately. If there’s any partially rotted material, why not let it completely rot down by using it as top dressing round shrubs or lay as mulch on bare soil.

You should then have space for more garden rubbish. French and runner beans make a huge pile, so after removing and shelling any overly large pods, pile everything up in strips about 20cm high. Green herbaceous prunings from flower beds are just as bulky, so treat all of this in the same way. Set the rotary mower high, use it like a shredder and run the machine over the pile. The resulting heap will shrink dramatically and you’ll probably manage to fit it in the composter. It should quickly decompose.

The mower obviously can’t handle thicker, woody stems and branches and if the diameter is 3cm or narrower, a shredder will do the trick. For relatively small amounts some electric shredders are fairly cheap. Alternatively, you could use loppers or secateurs to chop up small amounts, but it is fairly laborious. Some shreddings can be mixed with green rubbish in the composter, but they also work as mulch for perennials.

You won’t want to shred prickly rose or gooseberry prunings and there are the stems that are too thick for a shredder, so you could build a dead hedge. This is a slow-rot open unit which is best suited for an out of the way or shady part of the garden. Make the dead hedge whatever size you want. I love growing roses so need a pretty big dead hedge. Sink posts 45-50 cm apart round the perimeter and weave strands of ivy, willow or any other pliable stems between the posts to act as a retaining wall. Then fill with woody rubbish that’s hard to compost. The dead hedge rots down very slowly and is a great shelter for wildlife. I once saw a hedgehog had taken up residence.

In the composter mix in one or two grassboxes at the top of the rubbish in the composter. This seals everything nicely and any extra grass clippings can also be used for mulching. Don’t add spent compost from pots to the compost heap as this does nothing for the pile. Much better to spread on the soil.

Plant of the week

The hips of Rosa rubiginosa, sweet briar, are a bright, glossy red and this year seem particularly abundant and attractive. Birds are not very keen on them so we can enjoy the hips for some time to come. Though deciduous, the leaves have not yet all fallen and still retain their apple scent after rain.

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