Gardening blog stories: compost complications

Exactly as a compost heap should look

Composting is a complex business.

Last year, I persuaded Dad to build a container out of pallets.

Once built, I chucked in cabbage stalks, dead potato plants and all the raffia-like stuff that gets left over after a pea and bean bonanza.

The heap’s crowning glory was a ‘tarp’, a clear plastic sheet I’d fished out of a bin at the local camping shop.

The whole construction looked exactly as I thought a compost heap should look.

But come this Spring, the whole thing was dry as a crust. The tarp had completely kept the rain out. To worms and beetles visiting for their winter holidays, it must have been a bitter disappointment, like arriving at a half-built hotel.

Further shortcomings were revealed when some free muck was delivered to our allotments. One would normally shovel all this onto one’s compost heap, but in our case, the horse turds dropped straight through the gaps between the pallet slats.

As so often with this allotment lark, I had to think again.

In my heart of hearts, I knew carpet was the thing. Carpet keeps heaps warm while allowing rain through, creating the right conditions for composting bacteria. Carpet doesn’t act like a giant magnifier for the sun.

Squeamishness about carpet’s tendency to harbour slime and the disciples of slime was what had kept me from using it. The princess in me shuddered at the thought.

But two years of trying to grow things has wrought a profound change upon the Reluctant Gardener. My sense of aesthetics has gone right out of the window. I now seem to assess things by how they work rather than how they look.

Before, on seeing a compost heap topped with carpet: ‘Look how filthy that old carpet is! And all soggy. How disgusting!’

Now: (admiringly) ‘Bet that carpet’s keeping their compost tip-top.’

Ditto old windows propped up on bricks.

Before: ‘Look at that old window! What an eyesore. Cluttering the place up.’

Now: ‘What a great DIY cold frame! Wish I could find something like that.’

I decide to try and find a suitable piece of carpet.

Natural fibres is the way to go. I rummage through many a promising-looking skip, only to find that a deplorable lack of quality has set in nowadays as regards home furnishings. All I can find is foam-backed.

Dad, of course, has rolls of pure wool carpet stored in the garage, from his last house, but he won’t let any of it go. ‘That’s decent stuff, that is. You might be glad of that, in a few years time.’

This dark hint finds its mark and I scuttle back to skip-scouring. But after yet another let-down outside a half refurbished pub in Silsden, I decide to try another tack. I go into an actual carpet shop and ask if they’ve any spare.

Allotment blog humour: the level crossing

The level crossing

The lad who’s serving shakes his head sadly. But a man in a grey suit  says, ‘Scrap carpet? We’ve tons of the stuff at our place. Halls Carpet Warehouse, by the level crossing. Just tell my son his Dad sent you.’

I thank him profusely and set off to the level crossing. But because I think I know where it is, I get completely lost and end up, ages later, crossing the border into Lancashire.

Suddenly it’s all too much. I’m spending ridiculous amounts of time on an allotment which isn’t even technically mine. Composting? I’m through with it! The soil will just have to lump it.

I decide to take a short cut home.

Allotment blog humour: axminster rug

Composting in style

Of course, that’s when I find the level crossing, and Halls Carpet Warehouse. I walk round the back and immediately find a skip with an Axminster rug on top. It looks exactly the right size.

I nearly hug Mr Halls’ bemused son.

So now we are ‘carp’ rather than ‘tarp’. The compost is coming on a treat. And the compost heap now enjoys a better covering than our living room floor.