Dear Margaret
What's wrong with my compost heap? Last year I had a lovely compost heap. It turned into compost really quickly, without me having to do a thing. But this year it is just sitting there, looking revoltingly untidy & nothing seems to be happening at all.

The old-fashioned garden rubbish heap, with its creepy crawlies, mice, rats, & lizards, & often wonderful tasting self-sown tomatoes & pumpkins, has a certain romantic appeal. (If you have access to the November 1988 issue of National Geographic - I think it's November! - or to the National Geographic CD-ROM, there is a fascinating & well-illustrated article called 'The Wild World of Compost' featuring just this type of heap) It does, however, require a great deal of patience before it turns into good compost.

Well-made compost has the right mix of ingredients, & sufficient mass, & moisture, to break down properly. The correct Carbon/Nitrogen ratio is vital, & without sufficient moisture the process can't proceed.You need at least 20 parts of carbon to every part of nitrogen. It's just a question of getting recipe right. Carbon-rich stuff includes hay, straw, paper, anything which is originally derived from vegetable matter. Most animal manures, and anything principally made of protein, are Nitrogen-rich.

A wonderfully comprehensive online treatise on composting can be found in Chapter 3, Microhusbandry, of THE HUMANURE HANDBOOK. Don't be put off by the book's title! A table showing the Carbon/Nitrogen ration of many common waste products is on page 37. I particularly like the section called "Composting Myths" pp.51 - 70.

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If you don't have a garden, and have a pet whose wastes need to be disposed of, &/or have a great many food scraps, consider getting a worm-farm. You need to follow the instructions meticulously, but they are an excellent alternative for folk who have neither the space nor the energy for composting. They can be set up on a balcony, in a small courtyard or bin space, even indoors, in the laundry, mud room or cellar. If you have no garden, the resulting castings & liquid fertiliser can be used, suitably diluted, for indoor or potted plants, & can be easily packaged to make very acceptable gifts for keen gardeners.

Note:In researching & answering questions about earthwise living, Margaret offers information, opinion, & personal experience, but no quick fixes! Readers should evaluate these offerings in the context of their own situations; they are suggestions, *not* recommendations. Any responsibility for their implementation rests *solely* with the reader.

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