6 ways to be creative with your garden’s organic waste this season

by Sarah Anderson

Many gardeners look forward to autumn and winter as being their favourite time of year. The vibrant colours of fallen leaves, the fresh nip in the morning air and the sense of nature slowing down after burning itself out producing summer colour all add to the autumnal harmony.

With less need for watering and feeding plants, gardeners can turn their attention to raking leaves, pruning, thinning and tidying plants before the winter slow-down. A useful check list of garden tasks in autumn can help you prioritise your outdoor tasks and you’ll find that a handheld strimmer makes short work of tackling tough branches, overgrown brambles and dense undergrowth.

If you don’t already have a compost bin, now’s the time to build or buy one to maximise the organic benefits of all that garden waste. A compost bin is not for show! Budding gardeners need to understand how nature works by embracing the concept of permaculture to design an effective system. Making use of all this rich organic waste returns nutrients and structure to the soil, feeding your garden naturally throughout the next growing season.

Permaculture provides an ethical framework for living in harmony with nature. This regenerative design concept can be adapted from home gardens to the wider community, and from commercial farms right up to bioregions. But let’s start with us as individuals in our garden committing to some serious composting.

Along with grass clippings, wood, leaves and garden cuttings you can add fruit and vegetable peel, crushed egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags made of natural fibre and even paper products to your compost heap. As it rots and decomposes, it becomes rich “black gold” ready to add back to your garden next spring.

Things not to add to the compost are fish, meat, and fat (they smell and attract vermin), dog and cat poo, and anything non-organic such as plastic products, foil/metals, anything with glue (such as post-it notes), glass, sawdust from treated wood, and diseased leaves.

Here are 6 key reasons why compost is so good for you, your garden and the planet:

Food waste in a compost pile1. Add organic nutrients

Plants and vegetables take nutrients and goodness from the soil. By composting, you are encouraging bacteria to break down tough woody stalks and chlorophyll. Once rotted down and added back to the garden, it returns the minerals and organic matter to the soil, enriching it naturally.

 

2. Boost biodiversity

Rotting organic compost is rich in bacteria, fungi and protozoa. As insects and micro-organisms break down the compost, it encourages more insects, earthworms and other biodiversity to function effectively, adding to the rich “black gold” production.

 

3. Save water

In spring, your compost will be a rich dark brown loam, great for moisture-retention. By forking this compost over your perennials and tree roots, or lining the trench before planting vegetables, you are adding the best possible natural moisture retentive material to your garden. The top dressing acts as a moisture barrier, preventing evaporation, while the compost incorporated into the soil naturally retains moisture, reducing the need for watering.

 

4. Control erosion

When compost is added to areas of soil erosion, such as river embankments, roadside verges, playing fields and golf courses, it has been shown to considerably reduce erosion. Compost helps retain soil around existing plants rather than it being eroded or washed away.

 

5. Cleanse contaminated soil naturally

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, organic compost can absorb odours and neutralise harmful volatile organic compounds caused by explosives and heating fuels. Some harmful substances such as pesticides, chemical wood preservatives and chlorinated hydrocarbons have been completely neutralised by adding rich organic compost to the soil.

 

6. Reduce landfill waste

Finally, those making a conscious effort to reduce landfill waste will appreciate the many ways that permaculture offers practical solutions to minimising waste. Garden compost bins typically hold 100-200 gallons of green garden waste. Every gallon of waste that you add to your compost reduces that amount of unnecessary landfill. As it rots, the organic waste condenses down so you can keep adding more, making a reduction in landfill waste by up to 30%. In addition, it helps enrich the soil naturally while aiming to meet the permaculture aim of eventually producing zero waste.

Let’s hear it for compost!