Composting the Priory

I like making compost bins.  I can’t seem to stop.  Stick me in a garden and before you can say, “Sticky Toffee Pudding,” I’ll have knocked up a range of ‘bins.   Whether you want me to or not – I just keep on building them:

whether at the other garden I tend;

My own garden with partially built compost bins on left with raised veg beds, olive tree and Jim, Spring 2011

in my garden;

The Priory compost bins, with mixed hedging on left – freshly cut a few weeks ago with clippings waiting to be burnt in foreground

or at the Priory.  I’ve written about the compost bins at the Priory before (see “Compost, Compost and Yet More Compost“).  They sit out on the footpath over on the western boundary.

The front of each bin has six boards that slide up and out

The bins are big: five foot wide, eight foot long and three-foot high and with seven of them you’d think my composting facilities could take all that I could chuck at them.  But, of the seven bins only three were, until recently, available for this season’s grass clippings and garden waste.  Two were filled with last year’s compost and two with last year’s leaf mould.  The gardens produce so much  in the way of lawn cuttings  that I was worried I’d exceed Priory Composting Capacity.

My lovely, lovely leaf mould is in the bottom two bins.

Recently though, and since the above photo was taken, I’ve managed to amalgamate all of the leaf mould into one bin and, by now having four available bins, averted Complete Composting Chaos.  Shudder.
I turn the contents regularly to add much-needed air into the mix and help speed the composting process.  Ideally though, there should be a lot more other plant material mixed in with the clippings.  Left to their own devices and unturned, heaps of clippings mixed with a similar amount of ‘brown’ waste (i.e. leaves, cardboard, paper, etc), should heat up to an extraordinary degree and produce wonderful compost in about three months.  Grass clippings on their own also heat up amazingly but need to be turned regularly if they’re not to become a slimy, foul-smelling mess.  In the above photo the grass clippings are fairly young and yeah, boy do they stink.  Really.  I suppose this is understandable considering that they are being digested, consumed by heat, microbes, fungi and bacteria with, hopefully, sweet-smelling compost as the main waste product.

This collapsed cardoon is actually off to the bonfire – its stems are too woody for the compost bins.

 I add huge amounts of waste to the bins.  Trailers and trailers of stuff.  Wheelbarrows and wheelbarrows of stuff.  And yet it all continuously breaks down and reduces in bulk.  ALL of last year’s garden waste now sits in one and a half bins.  Remarkable.
In a bid to help the breakdown of all those grass cuttings, I add as much brown waste as I can.  The bins devour all the old paperwork from the offices, as well as increasing amounts of cardboard, newspaper and kitchen waste from the Priory; and recently the chopped up beech hedge clippings too.  The sheer bulk of the latter was perfect for mixing in with the smelly grass.  Obviously all the general garden waste (dead plants, prunings, etc) is also added to the heaps, as well as some wood ash from the house fires.
I was seriously worried with the overwhelming amount of cut grass I was adding to the bins last year.  But I continued to turn them from one bin to another (great upper body workout) and to add more and more newspaper and cardboard and leaves.  And, miracles of miracles, it seems to have worked.  Look – chock-a-block full of worms and what was nasty, foul-smelling gunk is now becoming lovely, pretty much odourless, compost.  So much so that I’m happy to stick my hand in it.  Wouldn’t have done that a few months back!

The Long Borders – Aug 2011

I’ll use all of this compost during the coming autumn and winter months as a mulch and improver for the beds and borders; and reduce the considerable amount of mushroom compost that I usually buy.
And all the money I’ve saved can be spent on tequila.

17 thoughts on “Composting the Priory

  1. Wouldn't worry about growing stuff in the compost, Sara. I had four potato plants growing from some old tubers I threw away last year. I harvested one of them today and got about ten good sized spuds … I used to grow pumpkins on a compost heap too. Works very well. And I forgot all about nasturtiums this year – missed them.



  2. More compost envy – your leaf mould and compost look wonderful, and such neat tidy bins. We have two “bins” at the bottom of the garden, with sides made of wooden pallets, but we have been rather lax about turning them, or covering them to get the temperatures up, and thus last year's nasturtiums have sprung up and are blooming nicely over them. Must pay more attention now that things are finally calming down a little in our garden…


  3. Hi Janet, yeah, I used to have one of those plastic bins and ended up giving it away as I found it too difficult to turn the contents. And it's funny isn't it? I love turning the bins – especially on a chilly morning when I could do with warming up. (You're so right about gardeners and compost – smile).

    Kininvie, and a very pretty heap it is too, I'm sure. Incidentally, I'm useless at carpentry too – the bins are really very simple to make.



  4. Just looking at all those bins turns me green with envy and weak kneed with relief that I don't have to turn them myself! And don't you just love gardeners, probably more excited about your compost post than your more flowery offerings… Our current bins (a paltry three) are all the closed in plastic type. Even with our tiny garden we tend to run out of space, and turning them is so difficult that it tends not to happen. And that's without any grass! One day, we too will have large lovely open bins, though probably not as many as your very secret not needing planning permission at all Priory system.


  5. Hi David,

    Agree with you. Need to post, but am stumped for time at the moment. But please please please do write one on how to build large lovely compost bins like yours. I am sure there will be many like ourselves in need of your advice on the subject of building, the number of bins needed (ideally), ideal location (sun/shade/both), materials needed, etc. No rush, but please please please, remember us, poor non-compost bin proud punters…


  6. Hi Petra, high praise indeed for my bins to be compared to Monty's and not found wanting – thank you. If you have the room, I really would make yours as big as possible – I find that fiddling around with small, cramped overflowing bins is just plain annoying. They also, for me, needed to be big enough to reverse both the trailer and the ride-on mower into. I have a long, long list of draft posts (going a little demented with the need to post at the moment – what's that about?) but will add one about the building of the bins to it. Might be a couple of weeks off, though. Thank you very much, by the way, for your kind tweet ….

    Boggling minds indeed, Helen. Surely I didn't need planning permission. Did I? Do I? Shhhhh. Secret compost bins. Shhhhh. In fact, compost bins? What compost bins.

    Hi Boys, in my last house I made a row of three 'bins out of old pallets. They were constantly full, overflowing and not sufficient in number to allow proper turning. Could have done with twice the number really. So yeah, space is important but luckily not a problem at the Priory – though I didn't want them out on the footpath in full view, like that. Oh, well.

    Hi Karen, ahh you are a person of refined and rare taste. I'm not totally obsessed with my leaf mould – just 99% obsessed! I love it and am so pleased to have the quantity I have. May try for even more next year. You see there's a wood up the lane – a whole wood.

    Jane, a real danger I'm afraid. Real and present …

    You made me laugh out loud, Stacy, at your reappearing bouquet – which unaccountably reminds me of Miss Havisham. Don't know why. Last year, whilst turning the compost, I kept on unearthing all sorts of reminders of the gardening year. Potted plants that had died but come back to life in the warm, snug confines of the heaps. And cosmos stems that were growing back into pale contorted life (weird and a little chilling – very Frankenstein) which I hurriedly reburied, whilst crossing myself.

    Your admiration is greatly appreciated though hardly warranted (except perhaps for the worms).

    Ronnie, thanks. I hope it will be – it's not quite there yet …



  7. I tried a compost heap for a while, but our climate is so dry that it never broke down. (If I had had enough brown stuff to work into it, it probably would have. But I didn't.) Whenever I'd turn the heap I'd get nostalgic–“Ah, yes, 2009 was such a good year for apples.” “That was a lovely bouquet, wasn't it?” Which isn't the point of compost.

    I'm equally divided between admiring your bins, your stamina, your earthworms, and your long border.


  8. Oh yes, compost bin envy, actually double envy for the leaf mould! – I love my compost bins, but we only have three large ones (but then the garden is only 140 foot) One year I got all the spoilt fruit and veg from our local shop – it was a great addition to the bins as I dont really generate enough stuff.


  9. Ahhh to have the space to have loads of compost bins! Look at all those earthy goodness resulting from them, so much better than any other enrichment coming from bags you buy from the garden centre. It's great to be able to recycle your own green waste, and there's something about the beneficial bacteria present in fresh, well rotted compost that makes plants grow so well.


  10. Could you come and build me some at my allotment?
    When I recently visited Oxford Botanic Gardens, the Director told me that they had had to get planning permission for their compost bins (the mind boggles)


  11. Wow!!! We need those compost bins. Unbelievably, we don't have any. Even with the amount of green waste, we produce! Terrible. But, we have a spot planned and are looking at how to build them. Well my husband is. Yours are fantastic, even Monty's are sad creatures compared to yours! We need to build large ones, like yours otherwise, there is just no point as we produce masses of compostable loveliness. Do you have a step by step post, where we can try to emulate what you do? Including, quantities, sizes etc of wood needed. I presume, you get the wood from a builder's yard?


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