Compost. Far from being an invention of the humble green thumb, it's actually one of nature's most well-designed systems for keeping the earth healthy. A stark example of effective composting is in a rainforest; leaves & debris fall to the ground, microbes within the soil digest & breakdown that material to produce a finer material we might call soil, now gleaming with bioavailable nutrition for the very plants which dropped the leaves to devour in their quest for growth.
It's a simple explanation of a not-so-simple process; the takeaway? Composting is essential for the health of your soil. Let's look at various steps you can take to start composting to improve the biodiversity & potential of your urban food garden.
Pick a pot in your garden & start a pile of compost. It's literally that simple. You may choose to square off the area with some old planks or leftover pallet wood, but doing this is one of the easiest ways to create a workable, healthy compost. Disadvantages to open composting is that your upper layers will naturally breakdown slower than your lower layers, as you add fresh compost to the heap. Removing the lower, inner areas of compost can be a little difficult, so if you're up to it, just move the pile to a new spot when you're ready to use the area for new plants. The nutrients released from the open compost heap will make for wondrous soil beneath.
Gardening Australia's Sophie Thompson championed this idea in an episode of Gardening Australia, the premise being that you create 3 separate bays for your compost.
Add a significant amount of compost material to the first bay & give it 2-3 months to begin breaking down then move it to the second bay. This allows you to start the process again on the first bay with fresh compost without delaying the initial batch. After another 2-3 months, shuffle both piles down one more time to create remove for a further fresh batch of compost. This efficient, open-composting system is a perfect way to maximise your composting potential & of course to regularly feed your garden the nutrition it needs.
By having a large enough pile you'll be able to create some heat within the inner parts of your compost. This is essential because without adequate temperatures, the beneficial microbes within your compost will struggle to breakdown the plant matter. If you live in harsh cold temperatures, you can make the most of any sunshine by using a 'hot-box'; a simple compost bucket, flipped upside down to create a sauna-like effect on the compost, maximising the microbial potential of your heap.
Fruit trees, flowers & plants will naturally drop lifeless parts of themselves to the soil beneath. By allowing this process to occur, for instance leaving the rotting oranges to the microbes in the soil beneath your orange tree, is a very natural & simple way to improve biodiversity in the soil.
Earthworms constantly move through the soil, processing organic matter through their bodies. This serves to break up the soil and increase beneficial microbial activity, increasing nutrient availability to plants, crumb structure, water holding capacity and allows better penetration of plant roots, water and oxygen into the soil.
Encouraging your earthworms! Check your earthworm population in the cooler, wetter time of the year by simply searching through the soil. If you have too few, or none at all, Introduce some. You can feed them by allowing leaf litter to remain and mulch the surface. Bury your kitchen scraps in holes 10-20 cm deep throughout the garden; over time this will provide enormous benefits. Keep the soil moist and keep digging to an absolute minimum & avoid using toxic chemicals in the soil.
Needless to say, creating compost is your way of ensuring your soil's health for years to come. According to the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative, creating microbial & nutrient-rich soil will be a key player in the future of the world's eco-systems, so get composting!
|Tags: Gardening Tips|