After the compulsory shed, if there is one feature familiar to almost all allotment gardeners, it is the compost heap. These, like sheds, come in almost any size and style, and once perfected can be immensely rewarding and valuable. Now, I have been custodian of The Cutty Garden allotment for a smidgen over a year, and my shed was one of the first things that I sorted. All these months later however, and I still didn’t have a functioning compost heap! I had a space in mind, but it sat brooding under a confusion of weeds, green waste and unidentified rubbish; a neglected corner that I tried to avoid looking at too closely for any length of time. Time to launch ‘Operation Compost Heap’!
My partner AMP was keener than I, but his determination outweighed my trepidation and we set to work, chipping away at the clearance for a couple of hours each visit. Over the last few weekends of the winter we reclaimed several square feet of space. (I say ‘we’, but I admit, it was mostly AMP’s work – he is very handy to have around when it comes to digging or heavy DIY/construction work, although he is less enamoured with the fiddly jobs of seed sowing, taking cuttings, or weeding!)
We are aiming for a traditional three bay design, constructed from wooden pallets. This will allow one bay for filling with new waste as we create it, one bay to be rotting down, and a third that should contain useable compost at the end of the process. The pallets, combined with stakes and baler twine, make for easy building considering the lack of electricity or cordless power tools at the plot. The gaps between the slats will allow air to circulate through the composting material. (We may need to consider some form of insulation if we find the heap is not generating much heat and therefore composting too slowly.)
A further consideration, as always on the Cutty Garden Allotment, is the wildlife. Many creatures love the warm dampness of compost heaps, such as fogs and toads, and they may well have already been using the quiet corner of the plot before we barged in and began digging. We waited until February to start this project so as to minimise risk of disturbing hibernating animals just in case. We are mindful of the fact that until the compost heap really gets built up, removing the pile and digging up the area, as well as using membrane to suppress the weeds, would destroy an area of wildlife habitat, so we have built in compensation!
Around the side and back of the compost heap, is a new wildlife corridor with hideaways, making use of materials that would otherwise have been dumped. A ‘Toad Tunnel’ (or ‘Frog Freeway’, there is still some debate on this!) has been created, by placing sections of guttering upside down, along the gap between the pallets and the fence of the plot. This ‘tunnel’ has then been covered by logs, wood and branches, to create the ideal sheltered and damp nooks and crannies that both invertebrates and amphibians love. We will add more material as time goes on, whenever we have some.
The tunnel and woodpile will eventually lead from the wildlife bank, all the way around the back of the compost heaps, to a habitat pile already in situ at the base of the old stump. Future plans also include potentially constructing a bug hotel, and maybe even a small shallow pond in the unusable space between the compost heaps and the old apple trees, in front of where the Stump pile is now. In the meantime however, there is more clearance and two more bays to construct before Operation Compost Heap is complete!
Here are some step by step photos of phase one!