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How to Make Compost to Gladden the Hearts of a Worm#

1 - Principles

(# worms have 5 pairs of hearts
I like worms)

This page   What do microbes need to grow well?

Connected pages   clay soil | extreme clay soil | plants for clay soil | compost 1 | compost 2 | compost 3 | improving the soil  | pruning | soil types | the basics | Unwanted visitors

Jolly rotten Ann-Marie Powell - from "The Guardian". At its most basic level, compost is simply waste organic material that's decomposed into rich, crumbly soil. It's a kind of conditioner for the soil. But in reality it is much, much more.

beautiful home-made compost lightens the heartGarden compost is wonderful stuff and a joy to behold, it improves the texture of just about any soil it is added to. If you're a plant, compost added to soil is like a nice clean flannelette sheet and duvet cover on your bed just as it's getting cold in winter. - It's like having ice, lemon and a cherry in your gin and tonic instead of it being served on its own and warm - it's like finding that there's butter and a choice of jams and marmalade after a week of dry toast for breakfast.

Oh yes, make no mistake about it, if you're a plant "getting by" in what you're planted in, then nice garden compost is the stuff of life.

There are a million and one ways of making compost and there are endless hints and tips that you could pick up, many of them conflicting.

There is no secret art to making good garden compost. Just as long as you stick to a few basic principles, you should avoid the nasty sticky mess that all too often is the result.

Look at making compost in a different way. Your compost heap is a large bacterial and fungal culture. What you should aim to do is keep these microbes as happy and plentiful as possible. It is bacteria and fungi more than anything that break the plant material on your compost heap down.

If you've ever made yogurt, then the principles are the same,

 good starting material + correct bacteria + correct conditions = pleasant end product

What you need to do to obtain nice, dark brown, crumbly compost is to keep happy a varied community of bacteria and fungi. Horrible slimy, smelly stuff that takes forever to break down is a result of too much of one or a few kinds of decomposer or having poor conditions for them to grow in.

Keep the microbes happy and you will get a good result

What do microbes need to grow well?


Correct Carbon : Nitrogen ratio. The correct balance of ingredients is essential, there should be the right balance of brown material (carbon) to green material (nitrogen).

Matter added to the heap should be in small pieces (ideally shred it first)

Moisture, well saturated to begin with, water until it drains out of the sides / bottom, and kept damp throughout thereafter.

Oxygen. A good air supply from the top and sides as far as possible.

Decomposers added to begin with "seed" with soil (contains spores of decomposers).

Keep insulated so that heat generated doesn't escape, this will speed up the rotting process.


The correct balance of food

What would a diet of dry bread do to your digestive system? Or a diet of only cheese? Cheese sandwiches on the other hand are fine.

The decomposers in your compost heap need a balanced diet of carbon (brown material) and nitrogen (green material). Too much brown and decomposition grinds pretty much to a halt. Too much green (like piles of grass clippings) and it turns into a slimy mess.

It is the carbon-rich material (brown) that will comprise most of the bulk of the finished compost, while it is the nitrogen-rich material (green) that will get it all rotting well


Food that is of the right size and is "available"

The raw materials of the compost need to be well mixed up so that the decomposers (which are only little and can't travel far on their own) regularly come into contact with fresh food. Mixing regularly also helps to introduce oxygen.

Shredding your material before adding it to the compost heap is probably the best single step you can take to make your heap rot down quicker.

Leaves and other plant material is designed not to rot when a part of the plant. Just like our own skin protects us from infection, plants have similar protection. When we compost plant material we need to break up the surface to expose the soft inner parts. Smaller pieces also rot quicker and you don't get long stringy woody bits in the final compost mixture.


Correct amount of moisture

Saturate your compost heap when it is made and keep it moist after this. If you are adding a lot of fresh shredded material at one time, it is surprising how much water it will soak up. Give it a thorough watering until it begins to trickle (not flood!) out of the sides and bottom.

 Once made and left to rot, your heap should have a cover to stop rain from getting in and to stop it drying out.



The decomposing microbes grow better when oxygen is plentiful (aerobic conditions). The horrible smells and slimy messes tend to result from oxygen deficient (anaerobic) conditions.

You can help oxygen reach the contents of the compost heap by having slatted sides for air flow. Once the heap has got going (1-2 weeks) push a broom handle into the heap, right down to the bottom at intervals about 12" apart and wiggle it around to create a sort of chimney. You should get steam coming out of the vents which will help air and oxygen circulate into and through the heap.


Add microbes to begin the "culture"

Like making a yogurt, you need to add a good starting culture. Fortunately soil is already full of the right sorts of microbes in small quantities or as dormant spores. Adding a layer of soil every now and then will start your compost off nicely.

I've never found it necessary to add a 6" layer of soil as sometimes suggested, it also saves the problem of finding so much soil to add to your compost heap regularly.



A good well-made heap will generate lots of heat, starting a couple of days after it has been made and lasting for around two weeks or more depending on the time of year. An insulated lid (priority) if possible and sides will help to keep this heat in and speed up the decomposition of the compost.


Compost 2, The story continues

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