Compost Fundamentals

Follow the do’s and don’ts of compost making for healthy plants.

| April 2018

  • Good compost contains the right amount of water, oxygen, and worms.
    Illustration courtesy of Pavilion
  • Garden compost is a mix of rotted-down kitchen waste and other wet 'green' material, plus dry 'brown' material.
    Photo by PixaBay/Antranias
  • “SowHow” by Paul Matson and Lucy Anna Scott break down the key steps of sowing, planting, and harvesting each featured vegetable.
    Cover courtesy Pavilion

SowHow, (Pavilion, 2017) by Paul Matson and Lucy Anna Scott features a fresh bright design and clear-cut instructions, it includes entries on more than 30 easy-grow vegetables to sow throughout the seasons, form kale to runner beans and carrots to cucamelons. Matson is a visual designer he uses beautiful design and clever infographics to simplify gardening and help first –time gardeners produce first-class vegetables. Scott is a writer with an artistic interest in stories that explore how plants, trees, and landscapes help us better understand ourselves. The following excerpt is from the “Things to Know” section.

There are many different composts available from general purpose compost to those that are more specialized. Use the best quality you can afford, ensure it is fresh, and try to make sustainable choices by using soil from renewable sources.

Multi-Purpose Compost: Can be used at any stage of growth; is cheaper than specific-use composts

Ericaceous Compost: Lime-free for acid-loving plants. Azaleas, heathers, blueberries and camellias



Seed Compost: This is free­ draining and can hold plenty of moisture. Both qualities are necessary for seeds to germinate. Contains low levels of fertilizer

Potting Compost:  Use this for young seedlings or rooted cuttings, but not seeds. Nutrient levels are right for encouraging further growth but would damage seeds

Know how — John Innes explained

Well-known in horticulture, John Innes mixes are seed and potting compost recipes, designed to suppor t plants through all stages of growth. JI seed compost is for sowing seed. JI No 1 is for pricking out or potting up young seedlings or rooted cuttings. JI No 2 is for general potting of most houseplants and vegetable plants into medium-sized pots. JI No 3 is for final re-potting of hungry vegetable plants and for mature foliage plants and shrubs.

What's in multi-purpose compost?

Multi-purpose compost, the bags of soil that you buy from garden centers, is made from a mixture of loam, peat (or ideally a peat alternative; see below), sand and fertilizer. It is commonly referred to as 'compost' but true compost is actually the product of your compost bin.

Renewable Peat Alternatives

Peat provides excellent water-holding capacity, aeration and structure. But it is a non-renewable material, harvested from bogs that formed very, very slowly, years ago. Once peat bogs vanish, co-dependent plants and animals are lost and cannot be replaced. These peat-free composts offer more sustainable alternatives:

Composted bark: provides excellent aeration and drainage.

Coir: Coconut fibre — airy and water-retentive.

Mushroom compost: leftover from mushrooms farming, a great soil conditioner.

Leaf mould: Homemade mixes of leaves, rich in micro-organisms



Garden compost: Straight from the compost bin, nutrient-rich

Worm compost: Ideal in mixes needing plenty of nutrients, with great water-holding capacity

Animal manures as soil conditioners

Well-rotted manure can be dug into soils, improving plant growth and yield.

Farm yard manure attracts worms to the soil and increases soil fertility.

Chicken manure sold as pellets a great source of nitrogen.

Zoo Poo “exotic manure” with sky-high nitrogen levels.

Making Compost

Garden compost is a mix of rotted-down kitchen waste and other wet 'green' material , plus dry 'brown' material. Good compost contains the right amount of water, oxygen and worms . Here's what should be in your bin and what should not.

Greens: for adding nitrogen

Fruit and vegetables: Peelings and other scraps

Coffee Grounds: may also help repel slugs and snails

Cut flowers: check that they’re not diseased

Eggshells: broken and crushed

Tea leaves and bags; tip the leaves in but recycle the bag

Grass clippings: Let them dry out before adding

Browns: for adding carbon

Dry leaves: Brown, dead, fallen (but not diseased) leaves

Cardboard: soaks up excess moisture

Wool: Great water-retaining qualities

Straw: Slow to decompose; perfect for heavy soil

Paper: Avoid glossy magazines

Vacuum cleaner lint: Packed with organic material

Don’t Compost

Meat and Fish scraps: May attract pests

Coal Ash: Could be harmful to plants

Petwaste: Contains harmful bacteria

Bread: May attract pests

For more from SowHow:

Simple Solutions to Deter Garden Pests
Do’s and Don’ts of Sowing Seeds
Reprinted with permission from SowHow: A Modern Guide to Grow-Your-Own Veg: by Paul Matson & Lucy Scott, published by Pavilion Books.




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