Compost For Flower Growing

‘Everything that has lived can live again in another plant’ – this is the law of return sometimes called the ‘Complete Cycle’. Thus, those who want to grow the best flowers, blossoms with perfect colouring, blooms with the maximum of scent, flowers that last well in water, must realize the importance of making perfect compost and then giving this blackish-brown powdery substance to the flower borders as a mulch.

I used to teach that deep digging was necessary for first-class results, but I have not dug any soil for flowers for some 15 years now and each year I get better results. The compost that is made goes as a 25 mm (1 in) layer all over the soil and the worms pull it in and so build up the humus content of the soil. They do the digging for the garden owner by providing the air channels down which the air, moisture and plant foods can go.

Even in the case of soils where there seem to be no worms, there will be worm capsules which will soon hatch out into worms. These creatures hate to multiply in dug ground and they cease to function in land that is regularly fed with chemical fertilizers. The millions of living organisms that Nature has provided to work in the earth in order to produce plant foods and humus do not like being disturbed either. They mostly live in the top 75 or 100 mm (3 or 4 in) of soil and they obviously dislike being buried by those who insist on the old-fashioned bastard trenching and the like.

Modern successful organic flower growing, therefore, relies on the worms, the bacteria and beneficial fungi to deal with the soil cultivation and aeration, and they, in consequence, use the compost on top of the ground. Where they cannot make enough compost for one reason or another, medium grade sedge peat is used instead. This is Nature’s own compost made from the sedges and rushes and the activator was the manure from the birds and animals.

Placing the sedge peat or compost on top of the soil smothers the annual weeds and prevents them from growing and thus there is no hoeing to do at all. It is not necessary to put fresh compost on the soil each year. The flower beds in my garden at Arkley Manor have not been touched for 10 years. The compost is in position and stays there acting as a weed suppressor and a mulch to keep the moisture in the soil. Diseases are controlled in this way also and the beds themselves look extremely attractive with a lovely dark brown covering all over them.

THE COMPOST HEAP

A bin should be made with planks of wood so that there are 25 mm (1 in) between them. The bin must be square, either 1.2 m by 1.2 m (4 ft by 4 ft), 2 m by 2 m (6 ft by 6 ft), or, in big flower gardens, 1.5 m by 1.5 m (8 ft by 8 ft). The wood of this bin should be treated with Rentokil to prevent the wood rotting away. There should be no wooden base because when the vegetable waste is put into the bin the worms must be able to work their way up into the bin and carry out their important work.

All the living material whatever it may be is put into the bin, mixing, if possible, the tougher waste with the softer matter like lawn mowings. The waste bin must be kept level all the time and the gardener should tread on the organic waste from time to time to keep it fairly compact and firm.

For every 150 mm (6 in) thickness of waste collected, an activator must be given. This is to feed the bacteria and encourage them to work. Use dried powdered poultry manure, fish manure, seaweed manure, meat and bone meal, rabbit droppings, pigeon manure – on the basis of about 105 g/m2 (3 oz per sq yd). In the trials at the Experimental Gardens of The Good Gardeners’ Association at Arkley, the seaweed fertilizer has given the best results during the first few years.

When the bin is full, i.e. has risen to a height of, say, 2 m (6 ft), a 25 mm (1 in) layer of soil should be placed all over the top so as to help conserve the heat in the heap. Those who cannot bother to throw soil on to the heap may cover it instead with a couple of blankets or even an old carpet.

At the end of six months, if the heap has been properly made layer by layer, and has been correctly activated, all the vegetable waste should have rotted down to a brownish-black powder. All the weeds will have been killed as well as all the pests and diseases. The brown compost will contain all the necessary plant foods known as macro-nutrients as well as the micro-nutrients which are so important, AND, what is even more important, the vitamins, enzymes and anti-biotics which will make all the difference to successful flower growing.

As the compost takes 6 months to mature from the time the bin is full and capped, it is advised to make 2 compost bins, the one next to the other. Thus, while Bin No. 1 is ripening, Bin No. 2 can be filled gradually.

Remember the slogan ‘Everything that has lived can live again in another plant’. This means what it says. Don’t therefore, believe old-fashioned gardeners who say ‘Don’t put sycamore leaves on the compost heap – or rhubarb leaves, laurel leaves, ivy leaves’ – or whatever the ‘old wives’ tale’ has suggested. All leaves make good compost, as do coffee grounds, tea leaves, banana peel, the cut-down perennials, the annuals when pulled up and, of course, the lawn mowings. By the way, the mowings alone can settle down too tightly and thus the air cannot get in between and so the ‘good’ bacteria cannot breathe. The result is that the anaerobic bacteria take over and putrefaction takes place. So make the layers of lawn mowings only two inches thick and level and lay on top of them 2 flat sheets of newspaper. Then put on another 50 mm (2 in) layer of lawn mowings, next another layer of newspapers, and so on. The result will be that the paper will ensure that the air circulates among the grass clippings and thus they rot down properly.

The keen flower grower will collect all the organic matter he can from the kitchen of his home as well as from the garden and, maybe, from the local greengrocer’s shop, who will be glad to give a weekly sackful or two of vegetable waste to a keen composter, and thus save having to put it in the dustbin. It is surprising what can be collected from the trees in the avenue – from the local barber (for hair makes good compost) – from the neighbour next door who is not garden-minded and so on.

Anyway, it can be said that properly-made compost is the secret of successful flower growing with the minimum of work. Where home-made compost cannot be or is not made, medium grade sedge peat can be used instead – for this is indeed Nature’s compost.

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