Friday, 16 January 2015


our speaker on Wednesday 4 February
Now that we are in deep winter it is the best opportunity to really get ahead in the garden. Pruning, clearing and preparing borders are all jobs on the list that simply have to be done before the start of spring. But one of the biggest jobs we have is composting the vegetable garden, to keep a fertile and healthy soil for next year’s crops. It may not be so glamorous, but the compost heap is probably one of the most important parts of the garden. It is a cheap and effective way of disposing of waste from both the garden and kitchen and with a bit of careful management this rubbish can be turned in to “brown gold”.

In a garden the size of Gravetye, we produce vast amounts of compost material throughout the year, which we pile up in a large bay made from railway sleepers. To make good compost it is really important to get the right balance of all the ingredients- carbon, nitrogen, air and water. Much of the old border plants we cut back in the autumn are very dry and have a lot of carbon so we balance this out by adding horse manure into the mix. Quality horse manure is always difficult to find but fortunately, the love of my life is obsessed with her horse and keeps a manure pile for me with the perfect straw to dung ratio…. Romance can blossom in the most unusual places! Water is quite plentiful at this time of year but in the summer through very dry patches, it can be good to water the heap. Air is added to the heap by turning it from one bay to another with a tractor; this is the point where the quality of the compost can be inspected. If all the ingredients are in the right balance, then the microorganisms are doing their good work. This gives off a lot of heat generation and creates clouds of steam as the tractor lifts each load.

It can take several months for the compost to fully break down into beautiful fine crumbly humus and when ready, it is time for it to be spread on the vegetable garden. We only do this when the soil is dry enough as pushing wheelbarrows on wet ground can ruin the soil. For extra protection, we work off a path of scaffold planks to help prevent too much compaction. We don’t compost the whole garden every year but instead do different beds each year as part of our rotation. By composting the brassicas, peas and pumpkins each year, most beds get a dose of muck every two years. The hard part is wheel barrowing it into place and digging it in but this is a perfect workout after the excesses of Christmas.
See below as Tom talks about the Gravetye garden in winter...

STOP PRESS: A tour of the Gravetye garden is in the process of being
                                  finalised. Find out more at the meeting on 4 February.