Sheep Garden blog: compost heap at a standstill

Tiffany Daneff / 28 January 2016

With winter well underway at the Sheep Garden, Tiffany finds that some areas of the garden have come to a complete standstill, particularly where the compost heap is concerned.

I do hate it when people think that just because it’s sunny for one day and warm enough to turn the compost without being bundled inside a protective layer of hat, coat and gloves that spring has arrived.

After years of gardening, though, you learn the hard way that winter only starts at Christmas and that the changing of seasons is never binary but comes and goes gradually, like tides on the sand.

Last year the birds had stripped the holly several weeks before Christmas. Today, looking out of the window, I can see clusters of red still clinging to the lower branches of our holly tree. Next year it could well be that the berries are gone by December. You just never know.

That said, when I opened the shutters on Monday morning, I spotted the first snowdrops gleaming on the garden bank underneath the ash. They’re making a tentative appearance, the flower buds still tight on stubby inch long stems, as if hedging their bets. And wisely too. 

Find out how to grow snowdrops.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we have more freezing weather to come which is why I’ve just filled the bird feeder with sunflower hearts, which according to a feature we ran in the magazine a couple of years back, are very popular as well as being packed with essential nutrients.

Mostly it is too chilly for me to feel like doing much outside. I have cleared and weeded the fruit cage – a job that badly needed doing as the couch grass was making inroads through the netting. We also pruned the currants and gooseberries removing the dead, dying and crossing branches, tipping the ends and opening up the centres to keep their goblet shape.

No worms in the compost

We are in a frost pocket here and it has been so cold that the compost heaps have been doing absolutely nothing. I know I shouldn’t expect much at this time of year but it’s dispiriting to keep tipping in the kitchen waste and, despite mixing it with egg boxes and paper shreddings, discovering that it is just one heap of heavy, gloopy muck with not a worm in sight. Actually, there have been none for months.

I had thought the lack of worms was because something was preying on them but now I am wondering if that’s the whole story. 

In London I used to throw a compost duvet over the heap and in desperation I rang up the duvet supplier,, to ask their advice. I spoke to a lovely woman who said that if its too cold it will disrupt the worm’s reproductive cycle and that this might be contributing to my compost problems. I’ve been meaning to make a compost duvet myself (once I interviewed a gardener who made her own out of sheep fleeces stapled inside strong polythene) but, inevitably, I have not got around to doing so. Instead I bought three duvets, one for each bin, and put them in place a few weeks back.

Guess what? Today, on emptying the kitchen caddy I spotted my first worm. It was only a slip of a thing. But it was a worm.

Read our tips for common compost problem solutions.

Great Dixter traineeship – Art and Craft of Gardening

Great Dixter is offering a free bursary place for a young/ trainee gardener on their advanced Behind the Scenes Gardening course which starts on the March 9 2016 Great Dixter.

Taught by Dixter gardener Rachael Dodd and Edward Flint, and taking place monthly, the course aims to inspire and enlighten participants with the palette of plants used by Dixter and gardens of its type, as well as the multitude of ways in which these plants can be used. The goal is to provide attendees with an increased knowledge of plants and their uses in a garden setting, as well as the skills and confidence to garden at home or within a professional context.

Since the death of Christopher Lloyd in 2006, education has become Great Dixter’s main focus, from their work offering placements for trainee gardeners, to their programmes for schools and families. As part of this they are offering a free bursary place on their Art and Craft of Gardening Course for an individual under 30 years of age who might otherwise not be able to attend owing to financial constraints.

Great Dixter are seeking a person working or training in the area of gardening or garden design who can demonstrate that this course will significantly benefit their professional development. To apply please send a CV and covering letter to: Catherine Haydock by the February 20 2016..

For more information about the Art and Craft of Gardening course please visit their website or phone 01797 254048

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.