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Winter Composting with Stop Food Waste
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In seed-time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

- William Blake -

Winter can be a quiet time in the garden but that doesn't mean there are not still plenty of small jobs to keep you ticking over - organising your compost systems, protecting your soil and plants and of course collecting leaves. With the blustery conditions over the past few weeks set to continue read on for a few tips that will help your garden this winter season.

Leaf  Mould

All those leaves that fall in the autumn to litter your garden, schoolyard, or local streets need not be seen as a nuisance. In fact, with a tiny bit of work, they can be harvested as a tremendous gardening and composting resource.

Leaves will compost, slowly but very easily, into a substance called leaf mould. Leaf mould is an excellent source of organic matter for soil and for the microorganisms that dwell in it. Leaf mould is generated all the time in nature, and year-upon-year leaf mould makes up a huge part of the deep soil in woodlands that both supports the roots of huge trees, and feeds the trees and other plants in the forest


How you can make it: 
1. All that is needed is some mesh or wire fencing, preferably plastic-coated to prevent rusting. Make a ring of the mesh (can be tied with cable ties) and stand it in your garden – a shaded spot is best where the leaves won’t dry out too quickly. The ring can be any size, but 1 metre diameter is reasonable. 
 

2. Then gather as many leaves as you can – an easy way to do this is to rake them together into a pile, then pick up using two sheets of cardboard. Tip them into the ring of mesh and you have your leaf mould composting pile! Alternatively, put the leaves into black rubbish bags, tie loosely, and punch a few holes in the bags to allow air circulation.

3. The leaves need to be moist for the leaf mould composting process to occur. In an open ring in the garden, the rain will provide plenty of moisture. If the leaves are kept in bags, they need to be moist going in.

4. After that, it’s simply a matter of time. Fungi will decompose the leaves and turn them into a friable (crumbly) brown humus or compost over the course of a year or two. Some leaves, e.g. from beech and oak trees, will take longer than others (because they contain more tannins).

Uses: 

The leaf mould, when finished, can be added to your garden as a soil amendment or mulch. It tends to be somewhat acidic, so berry bushes and other perennials will especially benefit from it. Annual flowers and vegetables would generally prefer a less acidic soil.

If you keep the leaf mould ring next to your compost bin, you will have a ready source of high-carbon “browns” to add to your high-nitrogen “greens” such as grass, veg peelings etc. for balanced composting. And leaf mould makes a good bedding material for the worms in your wormery too.

So there’s no end to the uses of this free resource – happy raking!

Maintaining compost during the winter

It’s cold outside…so how is your compost pile going to cope?

That teeming population of fungi, bacteria, worms and other organisms that have built up in your decomposing greens and browns are going to slow down a bit as the temperature drops, but with a few simple steps you can help them to stay hale and hearty.

Turning
If you have been turning your compost, one more turn now to mix everything around and get air into the pile will help. You can also place one or two lengths of perforated drainage pipe running through the middle of the pile for extra ventilation.


Covering & Insulation
It’s very important to cover your compost for the winter. The rainfall will make the pile cold and waterlogged – not good! Covering can be done with cardboard, old carpet, black plastic sheeting etc. You can also insulate your compost pile with thick layers of straw, leaves, hay, or any other materials that you have at hand – these can be removed in the springtime and used as a mixing material in your next batch of compost.

Replenish
Of course, you will still be generating fresh materials for composting during the winter season – but follow your food waste prevention creed and hopefully you won’t have too much! You can start a fresh compost pile by mixing your fruit and veg peelings with a brown material – for example leaves, cardboard, or both. Or you can bury food waste in small pockets into your leaf mould pile, and the whole lot will decompose together.

 

Mulches & Green Manure
If you have been cultivating your garden, you may well have harvested
much of your crop by now, but it’s very important that you don’t leave the soil bare for the winter - the weathering will have a very damaging effect on soil structure. You can protect your soil simply by using a mulch of compost, wet cardboard or newspaper, seaweed, straw, leaves (shredded ideally, but not necessarily), or most other organic materials. Leave it on over the winter and remove it again in the springtime, adding it to your compost pile.

If you use compost or seaweed as mulch then you can simply leave it in place to do its wondrous work, or dig it into the soil a couple of weeks prior to planting in the spring.

Note: If you mulch with sawdust or woodchips they will be difficult to rake off completely in the springtime. The remaining woody material can acidify your soil and also lower the availability of nitrogen (as the carbon in the wood locks up available nitrogen to help it decompose).

Alternatively, you can sow a green manure crop (though with soil temperatures dropping it may be too late for that in 2015). Green manure plants cover and protect the soil, stabilising its structure and nutrients. They are often of the legume family of plants, which entails the extra benefit that they draw nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil via their roots. Green manures can be dug into the ground in springtime before they flower and seed, and left to decompose for a couple of weeks before you plant your vegetables for the season.

You can find out what green manures are most suited to your location and climate by checking with your local garden centre. Typical green manure plants include vetch and rye mix, clovers, lupins, mustard, and buckwheat. Often a mix of legume and grain plants (such as vetch and rye mix) is used, as these plants complement each other.

 





For anything you need to know about composting, go to 

http://www.stopfoodwaste.ie/home-composting/

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