Forget gym membership – it’s compost time

At certain times of the year the newspapers role out the same old stories – it’s Christmas eat until you become Christmas pudding shaped and then it’s January and get down to the gym and pump some iron. And yes the cliche runs with me to an extent. Perhaps I am a bit more rotund than I would like but there’s no way that I am going to the gym because it is a) expensive and b) boring. So what am I going to do? I shall go to what I term the green gym which is really my word for my garden, and I shall dig up last year’s compost and spread it over the vegetable patch which probably equates to about 50 loads (that should work wonders for the bingo wings..). Act now as the heavy frosts of winter will help break up any lumps of earth.

So why bother with compost?

This is nature’s very own tonic for the soil, far better than expensive inorganic fertilisers which require high energy for manufacture i.e. ammonium sulphate or superphosphate, nitrogen/potassium/phosphorus compound fertiliser.


  • Improves water retention of the soil – so important if we get another dry summer like last year
  • Improves soil structure
  • Improves aeration of the soil
  • Increases soil fauna such as the invaluable worm
  • The dark colour of the compost increases the warmth of the soil, which is great for establishing seeds and seedlings.
  • And best of all the latest thinking is to lay a thick layer of compost onto the surface of the soil without actually digging it in, which is a great relief if you have a sore back. It is thought that turning the soil kills the mycorrhizal fungi when they are exposed to the air. Their underground network is vital in helping plants find nutrients and water. If you decide to garden this way, it is important not to tread on the soil too much, especially on a wet day, as you will compact the soil and prevent the roots from getting oxygen. This method of gardening is also great for preventing weeds as it also acts as a mulch. Certainly you will get some weeds which can be removed with a hoe but not half as many when you turn the soil. Experiment and see… I think it works.


What a lovely sight. Here is compost heap 2020 vintage containing a good balance of green and brown waste.


  • If the compost has not heated up properly, the weed seeds may not have been killed. If this is the case, the best thing is to be vigilant with the hoe and eradicate them while the seedlings are small.

What goes into compost:

In an ideal world the compost should consist of 25-50% soft green materials such as grass clippings, annual weeds, vegetable kitchen waste, egg shells, coffee grains, tea bags and manure. The remainder should be woody, brown materials like prunings, straw, dead leaves, cardboard and paper. Grass clippings and manure are good for raising the heat of the heap in my experience.

Frequent turning of the compost improves aeration, supplying oxygen to the micro-organisms which break it down. If you are vigilant with your turning, the compost will be ready in a few months in the summer. I find it quite a challenge to turn especially if I have put too many thick prunings in it. My compost matures for about a year and then I dig it up in January.

A word of warning:

From bitter experience be very careful that you don’t add any ground elder to the pile. This is a nightmare weed which spreads its tiny white roots everywhere. Each tiny segment of root has the ability to form into a vigorous new plant which strangles any other plant in the vicinity. The same also applies to any other pervasive weeds such as spreading buttercup.

So please look after the soil. With a little bit of toil in January, you will reap dividends in your garden. On a massive scale this thin layer of goodness on the surface our planet is critical for the survival of all.

For further reading I recommend you visit the website of the “no-dig” king, Charles Dowding