Gardening for Wildlife - Home Composting
If you were lucky enough to get a place on Avon Wildlife’s Gardening Club, then by the end of this year you will have a huge breadth of knowledge on the subject. For those of us who were not quick enough to reserve our place, you can find lots of books from your favourite bookseller and plenty of advice on-line. It is fantastic to gain more knowledge about what you are trying to achieve and knowledge can in the long run saved you money.
Gardening with wildlife in mind need not be complicated. In Ken Thompson’s book “No Nettles Required” published in 2007, he says the rules are simple; accept that “wildlife” largely means invertebrates - they outnumber other creatures on the planet by about one million to one, but without insects from the tiniest of thrips, hungriest of slugs and the various species of ants, you are not going to encourage other creatures onto your patch. His Wildlife Gardening Golden Rule Number One is simply DON’T KILL IT. If you want to grow something that slugs and cabbage white butterflies love, then either accept it, or don’t grow it. (The only exception as far as I can tell is the rather pretty Lilly Bug which does not have a natural predator in the UK , so if you can catch it before it jumps onto the ground and turns it’s brown belly up so that you cannot see it, then consider it your duty to squash it).
Peat was much loved by gardeners, but for many years scientists have understood that it is unsustainable to use this product. The horticultural industry and governments have been rather slow do anything about it, so it is up to us all to refuse to buy peat based products and ask the garden centres about peat in the supply chain (this goes for use of neonicotinoids in plants purchases too).
All the books and websites list homemade compost as key, not only as it makes your very own soil improver from your own plants, but saves all the other environmental costs of bought compost. Experience has taught me that it is not always as simple as the television gardeners would have you believe!

I am sure that they have teams off camera working on projects and have a huge amount of plant material/ shredding machines/ wheel barrows/ beautifully built bins situated in just the right place, far enough away from their homes so they don’t need to worry about rodents. The majority of us have small gardens and little equipment. 

It need not be difficult, with patience and a little knowledge you can make your own compost. It cannot be emphasised enough that time spent cutting up garden waste before you put it in the compost bin is time well spent, as well as putting in a surprising amount of “brown waste” ( the ratio should be 50:50) ; torn up cardboard boxes are perfect, but try not to add the sellotape, or too much printing.

I have found that a little promoted secret to home composting is adding the contents of my Bokashi bins. Bokashi is a system which originated in the Far East and uses bran “inoculated” with microbes to effectively pickle food waste in an anaerobic environment, before releasing it into the compost bin or burying it to allow the microbes to get to work. That sound complex. It really is not! Basically it is two bins with drainage taps in which you layer up a handful of the bran every time you put in food waste, including bones, cooked food and bakery waste, but excluding tea bags. Once one bin is full, you let it mature for 14 days or so whilst filling up the next bin.  The bins are small enough for both to fit in an under sink cupboard. There are no flies and only a faint, rather pleasant brewery smell. When the box is emptied, I wash out with water from my water butt and leave to dry outside for a couple of days before starting again.
If you do have access to some horse or cow manure then that also makes a difference, but no great quantity is required.

A wormery is also an option. I bought one from Worm City who are very helpful. Again, there is no smell and as yet no great problem with flies. You do tend to get rather protective of the worms, who I find do not eat quite as much as I thought they would and are rather reluctant to eat onions or citrus fruits. Tea bags again are not good, but if you are a cake baker, then bake the eggs shells and crush up for them as it helps their digestion. The resultant leachate ( liquid that drains from the bottom of the wormery) and worm castes will hopefully be beneficial to the garden. You soon get over any squeamishness about handling them, although I do use gloves.

In BANES you can get a variety of compost bins at reduced cost via the Go Composting website you can order a base for the “Dalek” type bins which I have found to deter rodents. Also available are water butts and currently there is an offer for multiple purchases. Go Composting also stock Bokashi bins, wormeries and bran.  I obtain bran on repeat order from Wiggly Wigglers who have rather stylish Bokashi bins which could grace the worktop in any elegant home. 

Ken Thompson says that in some respects, Gardening for wildlife is as simple as not doing anything! Nettles, ponds, meadows and native plants and trees are great if you have the space time and expertise, but if not - then just give up the pesticides, leave the decking, bug hotels, and decking in the shop  and the lawn mower in the shed occasionally.

Wildlife will be there if you look hard enough and where there are plenty of insects, animals who consider them to be lunch will arrive!

Julia Shahin, May 2021

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