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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 18 December, 2018
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Use remaining old-season veg and store cupboard ingredients for a delicious cassoulet

This week Michael Kelly has tips on making your own compost.

Michael Kelly Grower

OF ALL THE skills that I have learned as a GIYer, being able to make my own compost has been the most useful.

The compost corner at the end of the garden, is not a pretty or quaint place – but it is pivotal when it comes to the food producing that occurs in my garden, and without it, very little food would grow at all.

Over the years I have learned to see these two parts of my garden (the veg patch and the compost corner) as intrinsically linked and part of a natural cycle of growth, decay and re-growth that is essential to growing.

Composting is the process of turning plant and animal matter in to a rich, highly nutritious, soil like material. By adding this material to our soil, we make our soil more fertile.

Food grows in the veg patch, taking nutrients from the soil; the plants then travel the short distance to the compost corner, where aided by an army of organisms, they rot down and release their nutrients; this composted material is then ferried back to the veg patch to nurture the next season’s crops. It’s the ultimate closed-loop virtuous system and my health, and the health of my family, rely on it functioning properly.

Compost gold

The more compost you can produce in your own garden the better. It’s a frustration to me that I haven’t ‘closed the gate’ on soil fertility in my garden – in other words, I don’t produce enough compost to cover all my veg beds every year. That generally means that I have to go scrambling to find a source of organic matter elsewhere, and that can be somewhat of a lottery – either some cow or horse manure from a local farmer or equestrian centre (usually too fresh) or seaweed from local beaches.

To produce big quantities of compost, you need to start viewing all kitchen and garden waste as potential compost ingredients. Get yourself a small bin or caddy (with a lid) for under your sink and put all uncooked food waste in there. You will be surprised at how much you produce – veg and fruit peelings, egg shells, tea bags etc – and also surprised at how little waste you are sending out to bin collection.

One note of caution – I don’t add any cooked food to this bin to avoid attracting rats to the compost corner. The same logic applies in the garden – leaves, grass cuttings, prunings and the like – these are all compost gold. If you have a few laying hens or ducks you have a consistent source of dynamite compost material in the form of their soiled bedding.

When it comes to composting, don’t expect magic results in your first attempt. The good news is that eventually, despite mistakes you might make, compost will turn out well in the end. All organic matter will rot down eventually, given enough time. The skill you learn, is how to make this happen quickly.

The Basics – Composting

I use two different compost systems in my garden – a plastic composter, and home-made open compost bays for garden waste. The plastic composter is the standard unit you get from local authorities or from your garden centre. It’s not terribly easy to get compost out of (even with the hatch in the front), but by alternating layers of food waste and newspaper you can produce quite good compost (albeit slowly).

For garden waste, I have a 3-bay compost system made from old timber pallets – it’s my attempt at the “New Zealand Box” compost design and the idea is that it acts like a compost conveyor belt. You fill one bay and when it’s time to turn the compost you tip it in to the next bay. So if the system is working right you should have compost in each bay in various stages of decomposition.

Compost And Loam For The Garden

The main problem I have had over the years is producing compost that is too wet due to an overload of nitrogen in the form of kitchen waste. This can be balanced by adding carbon in the form of newspaper or cardboard. I have found old newspapers to be a life-saver when it comes to making good compost! Monthly airing of the heap by turning is also vital. It’s amazing how much the process of composting accelerators after turning a heap.

Recipe of the Week – Cassoulet

This is a good hungry gap recipe from GROW HQ Head Chef JB Dubois, using the remaining old-season veg and adding some store cupboard ingredients (cannellini beans) and good quality sausages to make a delicious peasant cassoulet.

Ingredients

-400g cannellini beans soaked in water over night (or use a tin of pre-cooked)
-200g diced smoked streaky bacon
-8 large rustic sausages ( I am using Jane Russel’s venison sausages)
-1 chopped celery stalk
-1 diced white onion
-2 peeled and diced carrots
-4 crushed garlic cloves
-1 small tin of chopped tomatoes
-2 table spoon of olive oil
-1 bay leave
-2 to 3 pinches of sea salt
-1 pinch of cracked black pepper

Method

Soak the cannellini beans overnight in water in the fridge. Fry off the bacon and sausages in a large stock pot on medium heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil until golden brown.

Add the chopped vegetables and seasoning and stir in for 2 minutes.

Add the drained soaked beans and chopped tomatoes and bay leave.

Cover with cold water up to 1 cm above the beans and bake in the oven at 130℃ for 1.5 to 2 hours lid on.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. He is holding a Beginners Guide to Growing course at GROW HQ on Saturday 24 February. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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