The fertility of our soil is the base for a rich harvest. Maintaining or even increasing this is therefore one of the most important goals for us as gardeners. We affect soil fertility, for example, through our mixed-crop cultivation method, which we have already described. But also by mulching with fresh lawn clippings, we enrich the soil with nutrients and stimulate soil life. We fertilize nutrient-hungry plants throughout the season with homemade nettle manure.
One of our most important methods for a healthy and rich soil, with good water storage capacity, is our own compost. Composting is a completely natural process, which can take place very intensively and in a controlled manner in a well-built compost heap. Provided that we create the right conditions for small organisms, microbes and soil animals of all kinds, the decomposition, conversion and build-up processes can take place particularly quickly.
In the process of composting, known as rotting, organic materials are broken down chemically and mechanically. As soon as the plants have died, chemical decomposition processes already begin in the cells, in which various bacteria are involved. Energy is released in the process, which results in heat generation. The more fresh greenery is incorporated into the compost pile, the higher the temperature will be during the initial phase of decomposition. On the other hand, when material is already deposited, hardly any heat is generated. After the initial phase, small animals such as woodlice, mites, millipedes, insect larvae and earthworms provide mechanical breakdown of the plant matter. Bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms then take over further decomposition.
There are different methods of approach to the subject and also different suitable composters. We focus here mainly on our own experience and our method of composting. For our garden, we have chosen composters made of weather-resistant wood and a sturdy metal frame from bellissa HAAS. They are open to the soil, so that soil organisms such as earthworms can easily crawl in and moisture drains away well. The design of the composters also allows for good aeration, which is important for optimal rotting. Besides the advantages for the decomposition process, it is important for us to be able to fill and empty the composters easily. Due to the metal frame, we have the possibility to remove individual wooden planks on all 4 sides at any time, without having to disassemble the entire composter.
We currently have a total of 5 pieces in use. 2 of them are located directly at the vegetable garden, 3 others on our meadow orchard at the cut flower garden. Important in choosing the right location is convenient accessibility by wheelbarrow. A slightly shaded and sheltered place, by bushes or shrubs, is ideal. Elder and hazel are said to have a favorable influence on the rotting process. How good that we have enough of them in the garden. It should be remembered that the soil around the compost heap is strongly enriched with nutrients. It should therefore not be placed in the immediate surroundings of fruit trees in order to avoid an excess of nutrients.
The shaded, somewhat sheltered location prevents both too rapid drying due to direct sun and too much moisture due to direct rain. In times of high rainfall, the compost should be additionally covered from rain. For free-standing compost piles, this can be a cover of straw or leaves. We like to use a layer of cardboard. In case of prolonged drought, however, the compost will benefit from a shower with the garden hose.
We collect in our composters everything that comes up in the garden in terms of organic materials. This includes, for example, our organic waste from the kitchen, such as peelings, vegetable cuttings or similar, harvested plants, lawn cuttings, twigs, etc. but also organic household waste such as unprinted, unglued cardboard or old linen can go on the compost.
Cooked and greasy food leftovers and diseased plants are not suitable. We also dispose of seed-bearing or root weeds elsewhere. In a hot compost these would be killed, but the garden compost, especially at the edges, usually does not get hot enough.
The right mixture of compost material is crucial for decomposition to proceed well. If the material is too moist and fresh, it becomes too compact, is thus poorly aerated and can rot and smell unpleasant. If the material is too dry, on the other hand, decomposition hardly gets going. The moisture in the compost pile should resemble that of a squeezed sponge.
To be able to fill the compost heap with variety, it is useful to collect different organic materials and either mix them directly or layer them alternately. Wet with dry, deposited with fresh, nitrogen-rich, that is “green” materials such as green cuttings, kitchen waste, etc. with low-nitrogen “brown” materials such as leaves, branches, cardboard, etc. A layer should not be thicker than 15-20 cm.
The rotting process is quickest when the compost is built up completely in one day or in a few days. However, for the sake of simplicity, we build our compost in stages. For this we have to accept a slower rotting process. It is true that even one layer heats up, but never as high as a compost pile consisting of several layers, completed in one day. Such a pile will heat up to between 50 and 70 degrees Celsius. This kills germs and weeds, but it also kills living organisms that are valuable for the soil. A hot compost has the great advantage that it is ready and germ-free within only a few weeks. However, it is much more labor intensive. The material must be collected beforehand, the ratio of nitrogen and carbon must be correct, the temperature must be controlled and regular aeration with a fork is also helpful.
To speed up the maturation in a successively applied compost, which, on the contrary, takes several months, is beneficial to rearrange the material. This happens only once a year, when we take out the already finished compost in spring. The top layers, which have not rotted much so far, go down, the outer layers go in and vice versa. When the first fresh materials, such as lawn clippings, accumulate, they are layered in between.
When layering, we like to sprinkle mineral meal, especially before adding fresh material. It serves to bind excess moisture and enriches the compost with microelements. Mature compost or garden soil is a good finish after each layer, because it already contains all the microbes that are important for decomposition and, under favorable conditions, they multiply directly in the new compost pile.
In addition, it is useful to sprinkle some crushed plant charcoal. It has no nutrients itself, but binds them and prevents them from being washed out. In this way, the absorbed nutrients are available to the plants later for a longer period of time. In addition, the charcoal stores water and ensures more aeration by improving the soil structure.
The compost is ready when it smells like forest soil and is dark and fine-grained. We put it on our beds a few centimeters thick in early spring and incorporate it a little.
By the way, we not only use the high-quality composters from bellissa HAAS, but have also been using the lawn edging made of Corten steel in the garden for several years and the brand-new vertical raised bed INALTO at the greenhouse. We have always had damage to our strawberries from the strawberry seed beetle. The new raised bed offers us with eight planting boxes a cultivation area of 1 m². The continuous planting field even gives the possibility to grow deep-rooted plants. As with all bellissa HAAS products, great value was placed on the raw materials used and the possibility of recycling them. We are very excited whether we will have more of our strawberries this year!
*This post was created in cooperation with bellissa HAAS. Even if we were paid for it, we only give our own, independent opinion. About the content and text of the contribution, we had a completely free hand.