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A garden story and how to compost in a small garden

The purpose of a compost is to nourish the soil in order to grow plants and food more efficiently. The modern gardens after the 2nd World War have been losing nutrients due to the simple structure of a garden which is mainly conformed by grass lawns and some pretty flowers that are mostly annuals. Perennials are so important for every garden, not only do they come back every year in springtime, but they also attract more good bugs and replenish the soils.

Variety is the key for a healthy thriving garden, and feeding it with organic matter increases its wellness. It’s fairly easy to compost when you have a big garden and live in the countryside, you just need to pick a spot to make a hole in the ground, put a big container on top and start filling it with pretty much everything that once was alive. Now, the problem with this kind of compost is that it can potentially attract unwanted ‘pets’ like rats, so even in the countryside there are some measures to follow in order to diminish this problem by for example keeping the compost free from meats and cooked leftovers like rice, pasta, bread, etc.

When my husband and I started a compost almost 7 years ago we didn’t know much about gardening and we basically started it because there was a compost bins sale on Lidl going on and we happened to be there. Of course we also had intentions to become greener and to produce less rubbish, which we immediately accomplished as most of our rubbish is food related, with the exception of non-recyclable containers that had to kept going to the rubbish bin.

I do have a picture on Facebook of the first thing that went into our compost bin because my husband who tough it was ridiculous to have a compost bin in such a tiny garden (said the man with the 5.5 thousand litres pond in the same tiny garden when he didn’t know he would become that man) and that it would never be filled to the point where it starts generating compost, he took a picture of me all happy holding lemon scraps destined for our new compost bin. By the time the picture was up, our friends comments let us know that lemons should never go into compost bins as they could raise the acidity of the compost which most plants don’t appreciate. So here is another advice for your compost, no citrics. 

I kept cooking, kept forgetting vegetables at the back of the fridge that turned into squishy mash, kept having fruit going mouldy, kept having vegetarian leftovers that the dog wouldn’t touch and so on, and all of that went into our compost bin plus the lawnmower collection from the garden, and around a year later we started seeing progress, we would both be excited opening the little door at the bottom of the bin to see dark dirt full of worms and eggshells, avocado pits and some other chunks of vegetables, but it was working! it was real nutritious dirt that was going to feed our garden.

Was it smelly? Never in the whole 7 years we had it, not even during summer, the dirt itself had a faint gassy smell but only when put against your face, nonetheless this dirt was going to transform our back and front gardens.

This is our tiny back garden 7 years ago, compost bin is the black container at the end of the queue, we only had onions and chives growing in the wooden container, chillies in the greenhouse, a pear tree, a cherry tree and 2 cooking apple trees at the very back.
The day my husband woke up feeling like building a pond, almost 6 years ago. There you see the tiny greenhouse we built full of greens, at the time, courgettes, corn and tomatoes.
Having our own compost helped a lot with transforming our garden, it meant growing very healthy and strong plants in a soil that was mostly clay. This was taken 5 years ago, a second raised bed made out of stones from a fallen old cottage and a pergola made by my husband to complete the pond looks. The green house was moved slightly away from the pond area and left space for a plump tree. The greenhouse was exploding with greens, corn again, tomatoes, chillies and runner beans
2 years ago we managed to grow a full chamomile lawn using only our own compost, have you seen those apple trees at the back? We get about 30kg cooking apples every September-October
It was truly divine and sweet scented but very little space for the smallies to play without destroying it
Kids needed space and less restrictions when going to the garden. Compost bin is the black container on the right, in between the greenhouse and the raised flower bed , about 3m away from our back door, this was taken almost 2 years ago, you can see a grape vine exploding through the roof of the green house

We live in an urban area and we started having the unwanted visitors about 2 years ago, my husband set traps for them and it seemed like the problem was solved, but only for a short time, having a dog might have helped to scare them away. And then, not too long ago we realised there were new holes in our precious compost bin and in the raised bed next to it where from time to time we grew potatoes in.

And with the introduction of the compost bin collection by the waste company we are subscribed to we marked an end to our compost bin at home. It’s definitely something we are regretting right now that is the growing season and we decided to make new raised vegetable beds at the front, but its also making us learn other ways to feed our plants, trees and vegetables.

Here is where I start telling you what can be done if you don’t want to deal with a compost bin in your garden, if you have limited space that might be better host for a raised vegetable bed, a tree, etc or if you live in an urban area and are afraid of calling unwanted pets to your backdoor, I have to say though, that we never got a chance to plant lavender around the compost bin to deter rats or mice from it, some say it works.

So this is what I’m doing now, nettle feed and banana peel feed. I know is not the same as having my own nutritious dirt, I mean for the small raised beds on the street that we started a month ago, we had to buy 12 bags of compost and that was a spent that could have been avoided if we had kept our compost bin. But regardless our loss, I’m happy the Waste companies are taking matters on becoming greener, and the nettle and banana feed are so easy to make that anyone can have it done even if its in a balcony in a 12 storey building.

Nettles, which you can find anywhere in Ireland and you just have to be careful of not picking them close to roads or where you suspect there’s chemical spraying going on, are full of iron and potassium among other minerals and vitamins making them an excellent feed for your plants specially after fermentation. I have been making a big nettle tea in a bucket that I can keep refilling with more nettles and boiling water to keep using as a fertiliser, by diluting 1 part tea to 10 water and spray on top of my vegetable patch and some other plants.

Nettles are stinging so use gloves to collect them

Bananas are rich in potassium, calcium and phosphorus among others , you just have to make sure you are getting organic bananas as you will be using the peels for the brewing. This brew needs fermentation to be effective and it takes about 2 days to happen, so once you start seeing bubbles on the top of the water in your jar, you can start using it by pouring it straight on the soil where your plants are growing or by diluting it in your watering can to see how your plants take it.

This is the growing season and everything is looking luscious in my back garden and street front garden, we have planted 3 blue berry bushes, 2 goose berries bushes, 2 tomato plants and 2 sunflowers at the back; at the front we have growing radishes, broccoli, rocket leaf, lovage, courgettes and another tomato plant all of them in containers.

We have 3 young apple trees planted 2 years ago that are looking splendid covered with flowers, we have bee friendly flowers and herbs growing in different patches and now the new vegetable raised beds with spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, garlic, runner beans, onions, and my so wanted violet and magenta potatoes. Although we much depend of the weather to grow lovely vegetables and fruit, feeding them every now and then with the right minerals is even more important to make them strong and nutritious.

The front of our house with the new vegetable beds, we also have 3 young apple trees, vegetables growing in containers, and a herbs and bee friendly flowers garden on the right

After these long 7 years of history of my garden, I can definitely say that making our own compost changed the quality of the soil in our planting spaces, some parts in the front of the house are still pure clay because there was mainly just grass there, but the back garden soil is totally different and very rich. 

I’m also considering digging a little hole underneath the slide maybe, and fill it with shredded vegs and fruits leftovers, cover with dirt and dry leaves and water with nettle feed. This might be another alternative to a compost bin that is called in-situ composting. I will be doing it for sure after the harvest season in the front garden raised beds, that way the soil there will be super nourishing for next crops.

Our back garden today without the compost bin and without the greenhouse that was falling apart, there are 2 relatively new plump trees on the right, our 4 year old grape vine that has been giving lots of grapes every year seems to be doing well without the greenhouse protecting it, a big cherry tree on the left that the birds adore and blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries and black currants bushes growing so well all around the garden since 5 years ago
My son picking radishes to eat

In the hope that all this information wasn’t boring and it was rather useful, I’m glad to see more people embracing their gardens and the idea of growing their own food, as it should be.

Peace Over War