a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

Composting in the garden

26 Comments

We had not long started in the garden here when we were able to get a wooden composter (very cheap, thanks to an initiative from the European Union.) I liked the idea of recycling the household and garden waste but the composter filled up very quickly.

This led to us acquiring a second composter which made things easier as one could be left closed to compost while the other one was being filled.

Everything green from the garden goes in the compost when it is removed. We draw the line at nettle roots but even weed seed should be destroyed by composting. However, I have my doubts on that as I find masses of tomatoes growing in the garden and I feel these must come from the compost.

All the wasted ends and outer leaves of vegetables get put into the kitchen compost bin to be added to the outside one. Waste paper such as napkins goes in with moderation.

Our next acquisition was a free plastic composter -recycled plastic, but I do not know why the material was changed. This came at the time when bonfires were forbidden because of air pollution. Now any waste from cutting or trimming trees and hedges must be taken to the council dump to the green waste.

I am not sure of the efficiency of many cars burning petrol to get to the dump and then lorries removing the waste to save carbon dioxide emissions. Hopefully, someone a lot cleverer than me has worked it out correctly.

My green plastic bin was never the less welcomed with open arms as it is my special bin! In autumn I fill it with only fallen leaves and by next autumn I have a beautiful fine leaf compost!

With a strong belief that you could never have enough composters, I leapt at the offer of my fourth composter from a friend who had never used hers.

This has now been filled with autumn fallen leaves and topped with a layer of wood ash. In the winter we add a layer of wood ash periodically to the composts.

The spiral leaning against the composter allows me to turn the compost. I am not strong enough to fork it through, as is often suggested. It works like a corkscrew and mixes the different layers. I would imagine it is none too popular with the worms that make a hasty retreat when I drag them from their work lower down.

Last year Kourosh, knowing my passion for composters, made me an even bigger one out of pallets.

This is where the big stuff goes. The stuff Kourosh never thinks will compost – but it does, it just takes longer. Last year this composter was heaped many times and jumped on to pack it down. Yet at the end of the year we were able to take a good quantity off the bottom and the rest will serve to start this years “big stuff”.

Behind the composter is our Chimonanthus praecox. I do agree, it does sound like a strange place to plant a beautiful shrub but I thought at least I would have the benefit of the lovely perfume when I went to empty my kitchen compost bin in winter.

Also I did not have any other place for it.

The flowers are delicate and the perfume delicious but it has made me think of the importance of positioning plants. I planted the Chimonanthus or Winter Sweet in 2015 and it started to flower two years later but I feel it is lost in the border beside the compost bins.

I hope the plants in my new bed will have a better chance to shine.

Already the Sarcococca confusa is putting on a better show as a perfumed winter shrub.

The flowers are beautiful but are set of by the shiny evergreen leaves and the black berries.

On reflection, I think the Chimonanthus deserved a better setting.

Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

26 thoughts on “Composting in the garden

  1. Hi I have a client who lives close to you in Chez Vallée who would like to talk bee keeping with you. I saw you keep bees. Bw Ruth Howlett Madame Jardinière Montlieu La Garde

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love talking bees (any type). We have been keeping honey bees in the garden for some years and we have many bee keeping friends. In the good old days we used to stop at Maison de la Foret for coffee. Please tell your friend to contact me, I am more used to talking about bees in French than in English. Amelia

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  2. So-called ‘environmentalism’ can certainly make things difficult. Lack of vegetation management has made the combustible forests around here even more combustible. Some environmentalists want to outlaw responsible management that would make the forests less combustible, but then complain about all the wildlife that gets killed or displaced by fire. (Never mind the humans who lose their homes.) We generate many tons of debris from our minimal vegetation management, and clean up tons of debris from storms, but can do nothing with it. We can not toss it all back into the forest. Nor can we compost it all. It can not be burned, but is very expensive to dispose of. Unfortunately for us, fire was the natural vegetation management here a long time ago, and will continue to do what it does in the future. Environmentalists do not seem to be interested in outlawing forest fires.

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    • You have a serious problem in California. I did not realise how complicated it was. Amelia

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      • Well, the ecosystem was not designed for human habitation, and certainly not for the huge populace that lives here. Fire is perfectly natural, but not compatible with all the development. Former mismanagement of forests did not help the situation, and fake environmentalism exacerbates the problems. Well, it is a LONG story.

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  3. Good Morning,
    I am in zone 81/2 on the southern coast of BC Canada. I am a dedicated composer. Last week I dug out one and top dressed my vegetable beds with wonderful, friable compost.
    My small garden does not give me a lot of green waste but I rake leaves locally in the autumn to use to layer my kitchen green waste as well as making leaf mold. I have four bins plus a temporary cage for winter leaf mold.
    I collect dried seaweed, crush crab shells from the annual malt, accept wood ash and chicken manure. I do turn the bins regularly. My grandchildren roll their eyes when I make them come out and look at the masses of worms working in the processing composts.
    The sarcococca is in full bloom and the fragrance heavenly as we open the gate to enter the garden. Anna hummingbirds are very active and will soon begin to gather spider webs from the fences for their nests. Snowdrops are breaking the soil and I am watching for the aconites/eranthis to shine.

    I always look forward to your posts. Hope the bees are doing well. I think we have lost one hive – hoping our other will get through this winter.

    Regards Janine

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    • It is lovely to hear from you Janine, especially with reports of your coming spring. I am glad there are other fervent composters out there. I have not collected seaweed yet but I have thought about it so you have given me a boost to try that too. We do not get hummingbirds here and I have never seen them for real.
      Our bees are fine. They have been foraging and out a lot this winter. Apart from the flowers in the garden there is a lot of gorse (Ulex europaeus) flowering at the moment and they are bringing in its pollen. They also go on the blue Speedwell in the grass, tiny as it is. Amelia

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  4. I also get tomatoes growing in my garden from the compost. I know a ‘good’ compost should deal with seeds as well, and I would have thought that here, where we have very hot summers, any seeds would have been cooked in my black plastic bins. I used to add everything from the garden, but now I’m a bit more careful. Apart from still viable seeds, the compost out of the bin is excellent. One of our best investments was a heavy duty mulcher for the larger garden prunings.

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  5. We have three compost ‘tumblers,’ the kind where you turn a crank and the whole thing spins and aerates. They handle a large volume of compost, from the house and the garden. We also have a ‘big things’ area, and a ‘burn pile’ for woody branches–though it has never been burned. The burn pile material does break down, but very, very slowly. I wonder if it will ever be burned.

    We don’t garden in the compost area–though a frangrant bush sounds like a good idea. I’d wonder, though, as do you, if it wouldn’t feel a bit like I’d exiled the poor plant to the boondocks.
    Perhaps you could make it up to the Chimonanthus, by taking some cuttings and giving them a nicer locale. Don’t we all want better for the children?

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    • I like your idea of taking a cutting of the Chimonanthus. I feel it would work as a solitary feature, somewhere it would stand out in winter. I brought some budding twigs of it in before Christmas but all the buds fell off and did not open like twigs usually do. It is a tricky plant, but the perfume… Amelia

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  6. I need more compost bins and having seen yours I might try and recycle some old pallets too. Great idea. I planted a Chimonanthus in 2019 and it still hasn’t flowered yet. I hope yours won’t mind being moved!

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  7. I have two large wooden oak leaf composting bins (1 meter square), alternating them each year with the new leaves and using the composted ones for mulch and soil amendment (our soil here in Provence is very alkaline); we had a plastic one for kitchen waste but it filled up too quickly and was difficult to empty from the bottom, so it went away to a friend. We have 6 round fencing wire composters, the easiest of all to make, which get the garden trimmings and one of them the kitchen waste. But there are never enough. In a month or so I will empty all of them and harvest the good stuff on the bottom, screen it, and put the not-yet-composted material back in. I just feel so clever when I have wheelbarrows full of wonderful compost!
    bonnie in the Vaucluse

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  8. Can you not take cuttings of your Chimonanthus…. or is it one of those “difficult” ones?
    We compost all we can and have a three bin system with a proto-heap to one side.
    The proto-heap is where all the chicken and kitchen waste goes, and is added to the green waste as it goes into bin one.
    There is also the maggot… the maggot is our big bed for the courgettes and squash…. basically it is all the coarse mowings/wet hay built into a 5mtr by 3mtr heap that is between 3/4ths and one mtr high. it is then covered for the winter…. by spring it is around 50cm high and the “planting cover” replaces the thick, black one…. with its holes for the plants, I can set up a drip watering system. The maggot moves beds every year and all the major remains are added to the next maggot before it is built… all the small stuff is tilled in. It works nicely for the various cucurbits… and that section each time gets a good belt of humus.
    You can’t have too many sources of compost!!

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    • We are both lucky to have the space to work our compost cycles. You need this rotation not to waste the coarse stuff.
      I am going to try layering the Chimonanthus. I find that the pots of cuttings can get excessive. This year it has been so wet that the flowers of the Chimonanthus have suffered, they are very delicate and do not shed the moisture well despite their waxy appearance. Amelia

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  9. The cuttings of trees and hedges can be put in a “haie de Benje” (make a search on internet to find out what it’s) . It’s an elegant way of composting these cuttings and at the same time many animals make their home in these hedges.

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    • It seems the most ecological way to use the tree cuttings. I have read about it before (on your blog, perhaps?). At the moment I canonot see that we have room for a hede like that but I suppose it does not need to be excessively long. Amelia

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      • In English they are called a dead hedge…. I have a couple in the meadow…. both quite short.
        They are a very effective way of creating a windbreak. And after five years, I am getting a nice mulch at the bottom.
        But the birds…. especially wrens, dunnocks and chiffchaffs love them.

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  10. Compared to all you very impressive professional composters, we are just rank amateurs with only one bin, but we try…..!

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  11. Wonderful post Amelia! Thanks for sharing that and the photos! What is the red twig plant next to the compost bin in the first photo? A blueberry? Red-twig dogwood? How neat that there was an initiative for inexpensive compost bins in your area.

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    • I think the initiative was good and could have pushed the indicisive to have a go. The plant is a red-twig dogweed that has survived for years in very heavy shade. It really needs a place with more light to thrive but it is condemned to stay beside the compost bin as I have no more suitable places for it. Amelia

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