Winter may be a dreary time, but keen gardeners can still use the colder months to their advantage. A bit of effort and preparation now and your garden will positively bloom in the summer months.
The trick at this time of year is compost, and lots of it.
Composting your garden is like putting high-performance petrol in your car.
It gives the soil a good rev-up and generates extra nutrients in time for spring growth.
Composting improves soil structure and reduces the need for synthetic fertilisers. It also adds structure to your soil, improving drainage in winter and helping with water retention in summer.
Another bonus is that it allows you to recycle kitchen scraps and household waste, thus reducing the volume of rubbish which goes into the environment.
The key to good compost is having the right mix of nitrogen and carbon materials.
Fallen leaves are the perfect carbon component. Grass clippings provide the nitrogen component and should be mixed with the leaves at a rate of 25 parts grass to one part fallen leaves.
Alternatively, if the fallen leaves are on the grass, simply mow them up with the grass. This mixes the leaves and clippings perfectly. It's not an exact science!
Heap the compost into a pile and cover with a tarpaulin or place it in a plastic compost bin, preferably a rotating one, which can be purchased from your local hardware store.
The next big secret is to stir your compost, weekly if possible.
This will ensure the 'right' bacteria are working on your compost.
If your compost is composting well it will start to ferment and heat up. A well-fermenting compost can heat up to over 80 degrees celsius, which will kill unwanted bacteria and weed seeds.
Tiger worms can also be used to make compost - they provide nutrients to plants and are brilliant at breaking down food scraps.
Instead of mixing leaves and grass, create your compost using food scraps found at home. This can include potato peelings, bread scraps and those uneaten school lunches found under beds and in sock draws!
You can still add grass clippings, but only 2cm at a time to ensure the worms can make a meal of your compost - grass can be quite acidic. If you're using tiger worms for your compost I recommend purchasing a specific bin for this purpose.
The worms are easily identified by their vivid stripes or rings around the body.
This composting method doesn't require any stirring. Simply add new layers of food to the top of the bin. The worms eat it and the finished compost can be taken from the bottom layer of the bin as it becomes ready.
Compost will take about 12 to 14 weeks to be ready in winter. When it looks like potting mix you are all ready to go.