Compost Awareness Week:Can I compost weeds?

Yes but. I’ve called this a ‘yes but’ because you can compost some weeds, but you have to be careful. For example if you’ve got a patch of nettles, you can harvest the leaves and stems and put them in a compost heap. They are in fact a rich source of nutrients. However its best to keep the roots out, which may start to grow in your heap. This is true of the roots of many hard core perennial weeds. Some weeds, such as Japanese Knotweed, reproduce vegetatively – which means they sprout from a cutting (and in the case of Knotweed from the root as well) – and should be kept well away from a cool compost heap. You should also be careful putting weeds laden with seeds in a compost bin. Seeds can survive cool composting and come up in your veggie plot the following year.

There are alternative ways of composting difficult weeds. In his book Weeds: An Earth Friendly Guide to their Identification, Use and Control, John Walker suggests using an old potting compost bag, turning it inside out, puncturing it with holes and leaving it in a sunny place. He also suggests drowning perennial weeds in a bucket, where, starved of air, they turn into a slurry like liquid, which can then be poured onto the garden.

Spring flowers in Machynlleth

Organic gardeners like to have something in bloom throughout the year to encourage wildlife activity and part of my goal this year is to keep a note of what’s flowering when to build up a picture of what’s missing so I can cover the gaps next year. Actually my records haven’t been that great so far because I’ve been concentrating on the construction phase of the garden, so it was really good to get outside yesterday and take some note at the glory of spring flowers. All of these flowers are self seeders. I did notice one thing which I thought was slightly peculiar. It was a blisteringly hot day but there were very few insects on the old apple tree which is blooming so well at the moment. I’d say normally it would be covered with bees, wasps, hoverflies and flies. Has anyone else noticed a lack of insect activity this year?

Compost Awareness Week: Can I compost meat and dairy?

As we are never more than 6 few feet away from a rat (or 8, 10, 12 or 20 depending which particular website you believe), its a good idea not to encourage them to get any closer, especially as they carry the rather unpleasant Weil’s disease. For most compost systems its best to keep meat, fat, bread and cooked food out of the bin altogether, and as an extra precaution wear gloves when you handle compost. You can create or buy compost bins that are said to be rat-resistant or rat-proof (such as a tumbler bin. You can also use a food digester like the Green Cone or the much larger Swedish bin The Green Johanna ( or though you have to put two parts food waste to every one part garden waste. This isn’t a very good ratio if you live alone and have a large garden. Another popular method of treating meat is Bokashi, and you can find plenty of advice all over the internet about that. Visit for general advice about compost.

Compost Awareness Week: Too many grass clippings?

You can make quick compost with grass clippings and leaves, so long as you chop and turn the mix every three days. You can also mix two parts grass clippings with every one part manure for another relatively fast compost, with no need to turn. You can also use grass clippings as mulch (lay it on 3-4 inches deep), to suppress weeds and keep moisture in soil. Or use them as a green manure. Scatter them on the soil and dig in. You could also change your mowing regime and leave the clippings on the lawn. This helps protect the lawn during long dry spells. Don’t let grass grow longer than 4cm between mowings and cut when lawn is dry.

Garden News article on compost from Compost Lover column

This is last weeks Compost Lover article from Garden News – just in time for Compost Awareness Week.

My article this week is wedged in between a brace of celebratory events organised to promote good gardening practice – National Beanpole Week and Compost Awareness Week. As May is also the first month in the year you can start ordering comfrey plants from the Organic Gardening Catalogue (and because I did bean poles in my last article) this week seems like the best to talk about the subject to which this column owes its name: compost. And in particular the compost plant: comfrey.

Composting has a distinct cyclical rhythm so although it’s the ninth article in the Compost Lover series it seems right to talk about it now. At this time of year the creatures that make the compost start to become more active, move back into the heap or simply come alive. If you’ve never done it before take a hand lense or microscope to your heap and watch the life there. It’s one of the most interesting nature reserves you’ll ever visit.

I have a slow or cool compost heap which takes between six and twelve months to mature, with much of the exciting decomposition activity occurring between now and September. You can make compost a lot quicker using the hot composting method but you need a lot more waste materials to get started. The cool composting method is best for a small garden like mine.

To make the most of the main composting season you need to get started as soon as possible. After September most of the micro and macro organisms that make compost are absent from the heap, dormant or dozy. If you leave it much longer you wont get a good amount of finished compost until the end of next summer.

Throughout the winter I’ve been topping my heap up with nitrogen rich kitchen scraps (vegetable peelings, fruit skins and cores, tea bags, coffee grounds, but not meat, dairy, bread or fats as they all attract rats) and any carbon rich cardboard I’ve accumulated through my normal shopping habits (cereal packets, egg cartons, food boxes). This carries on through the rest of the year and seems to stabilise the heap successfully. Generally too much nitrogen makes a heap smelly and soggy and too much carbon leaves it crackly and dry. Either way no good compost comes from a heap that has lost its balance. I never lay the cardboard in flat, which tends to suppress the movement of air into the heap. I scrunch it up into fist sized balls and chuck it in willy nilly. Compost creatures need air and these scrunchies help to keep the air in the heap.

There are plenty of weeds coming up at this time of year and it’s tempting to see them as a problem rather than a resource. But nutrients stored up in the tissue of many weeds can be recycled through the compost heap quite safely so don’t blat everything in site with a weed killer. So long as you keep out those weeds laden with seeds, tough perennial roots and anything that might reproduce in the heap from the stems or leaves there isn’t a problem. A Colour Atlas of Weed Seedlings by J.B. Williams will help identify those weeds that are safe to compost.

Wild comfrey growing in the wrong place could also be called a weed but the cultivated non invasive variety Bocking 14 is grown specifically to add umph to your compost heap or to make an organic liquid fertilizer. It always bounces back from a hard cut and carries on producing broad strong shoots and leaves throughout the summer months: each packed full of nutrients brought up from deep soils by their impressive root system. This means you can cut it to the base every six weeks without fear of losing the plant and add the stems and leaves to your heap. They are one of the easiest plants to propagate from root cuttings and come up fine without any attention if planted correctly: horizontally between one and six inches long and about two to four inches deep. Alternatively order plants direct from the Organic Gardening Catalogue.

The Organic Gardening Catalogue ( 0845 130 1304).
A Colour Atlas of Weed Seedlings, J.B. Williams.

Woodland Wonders at Kew Gardens

If you’re in London this weekend with a few hours to spare get yourself down to Woodland Wonders at Kew Gardens. It’s one of the loveliest events I’ve ever been to and a great opportunity to learn about coppice crafts, do some woodturning and carving. Of course you can also walk round Kew Gardens, always a treat at any time of year but especially now with the Bluebells in full bloom. The Centre for Alternative Technology will be there too. For more info go to

Compost Awareness Week – May 4th – May 10th

The eight annual Compost Awareness Week runs from 4th-10th May so if you haven’t started your compost heap yet now’s a good time to get started. There’s plenty of information on this site to help you get started including the simple DIY bin described on the post below, and I’ll be posting more helpful hints everyday next week, an article about composting and some useful links to other sites. If you’re visiting the Centre for Alternative Technology this week look out for the talks on composting by CAT displays gardener and co-author of The Organic Garden Chloe Ward and get discount copies of The Little Book of Compost. Go to to find out what’s happening in your area. Check out my simple video guide to organic techniques on the link above and many of the composting videos on Here’s a composter for anyone, no matter how small their house or garden is.

Push lawnmowers pull their own weight in Gardening Which survey

At last the news we’ve all been waiting to hear. Push mowers are just as good, and in some cases better than machine mowers, both electric and petrol. The new machines are much lighter and easier to use than the old ones almost everyone gave up using back in the sixties and seventies. So says a new Gardening Which report released today. And the other good news is it only burns 30 more calories an hour more than motor mowing, proving that actually it doesn’t take that much more effort to use one. With additional benefits including less vibration through the hands, less danger and no noisy engine to contend with its all good news. Wouldn’t it be great to return to the days when our saturdays were not dominated by the sound of engines in our gardens! Gardening Which asked two experienced testers to cut 30m squared areas of standard length, long, short and damp grass. The best mower choice was the Husqvarna Novocut, priced at £80 and the worst, not surprisingly priced at £30 was the Argos Challenge – perhaps not a very good choice of name! The best buy for a small lawn was the Brill Razorcut Premium 33, closely followed by the Gardena Hand Cylinder Mower 300. Visit to get more details of the Novocut.

The compost lover free recycled home made compost bin

It’s Compost Awareness Week next week so what better time than now to get your compost bin made. Here’s one I made earlier.

home made compost bin

It’s dead easy to make. You need these tools and materials.

materials for compost bin

Bang four wooden posts in the ground to make a square shape the size of the bin you require. These are from an old hedge I cut down.

four posts

Wrap some old chicken wire around three sides of the bin fixing it to the posts using staples.

chicken wire round posts

Next fix some black plastic inside the three sides of chicken wire. This keeps the compost in place.
black plastic

After that make a removable fourth side to the bin. This enables you to remove the compost easily when it is ready, or turn it over if you like turning your compost heap. I actually had this old gate lying around from the previous owners chicken house and just fixed some black plastic to the bottom of the frame. I’m sure a frame would be quite easy to make.

home made compost bin

If you want to be fancy and make a hinge no problem but as the gate is only going to be removed once or twice a year I just tied mine on with some plastic cord. And thats it!

compost in bin

Organic wedding flowers this summer

Small organic flower grower Sweet Loving Flowers have launched a new wedding service and the take up is already proving there’s a big demand for eco weddings this year. With the wedding season approaching fast if you haven’t already ordered your bridal bouquets now is the time. Sweet Loving Flowers is run by Sue Harper and Pete Condron from a two acre field in Mid-Wales. You can guarantee that your flowers will be green, ethical, organic and beautiful – each one lovingly chosen and grown by hand. The last thing an organic bride wants at her special day are flowers sprayed with chemicals and flown in from half way across the world. Visit their website at

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