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Muck

How I love muck! Every garden needs muck. Aside from water, it’s the one thing every garden needs. I love the fact that whether you have sand or clay, muck is the thing that will help your plants grow. I love Beth Chatto, or the late great Beth Chatto, and the way she scattered muck amidst her books with so much glee.

Every single garden should have a compost bin and every kitchen should have a compost caddy. I throw pretty much everything into mine and the toad that lives in it really appreciates it (the one in the garden, not the kitchen). The blackbirds love it even more than the toad does. They’re constantly scraping the compost out of the bottom and flinging it over the path. They then sit and wait for me to finish sweeping and scraping the path and then they hop down and fling it all back again.

Compost, or potting soil, is probably the garden item I consume fastest in life. If I could barter with people, I’d say, “You can have this for 20kg of potting soil”. Never am I as desperate as when I run out of potting soil. And that is where your own compost comes in so handy! I really need to start a new bin in the front, under the elderberry bushes. It’s a pain trudging down the compost-littered path to the compost bin out back; I’d rather just nip out of the front door and throw it under the bushes.

You don’t need a fancy bin. You can make one, in a pinch, from two large plastic pots upended, with the bottoms cut out of them and stacked one on top of the other. Then you use a pot saucer as a lid. It takes about six months for the compost to break down nicely from your kitchen peelings, and then you can start scraping it out from the bottom just by tilting the pots over a bit. Alternatively, you can wait for the blackbirds to do it and just scrape it off your path.

There are many rules about making compost and many people follow them. I’m sorry to say, I don’t follow any of the rules; I just throw it in and let it get on on its own. If the toad is happy, I’m happy. I just have to be careful not to scoop him out when I’m scooping out compost. I once did. He was sitting at the bottom of the hole I’d dug, a bit stunned. He’d grown a huge amount since I first spotted him as a tiny baby toad, under my apple tree, right next to the compost bin.

So why is muck so important? Well, it’s organic, so it has a lot of nutrients. Sandy soil does not have many, if any, nutrients, and any it may contain, are swept away when water passes through it. Water drains rapidly through sand, taking nutrients deep down and out of the reach of roots. Adding compost to sandy soil helps improve the texture, gives it more nutrients and stops water from washing it all out. Clay soil, by contrast, is composed of tiny particles that adhere together easily. When wet, it is like sticky mud, and when dry, it is as hard as a rock. Roses love clay, but lawns really don’t – keeping turf alive on a clay substrate that drains badly is very, very hard. Clay needs to be mixed with compost to break up its solid texture. This allows oxygen to reach plant roots and enable them to, well, live.

If you’re keen on gardening, or even just a little bit interested, and you’re not composting, you need to start composting today. You’ll be amazed at how much you accumulate in a day. Toss peelings into a large yogurt container lined with compostable liners, and throw them into your compost bin when it’s full. Rinse, repeat. Soon you’ll have beautiful muck just waiting for you to use it in the garden, and possibly, a lovely toad. Sorry about the blackbirds, though.



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