Obsessive Compulsive Compost Disorder and why you should have it, or at least help someone who does (and that would be me)


I truly cannot help it. I gather anything and everything that will go into my allotment compost bins. This includes not only our vegetable waste, but other people’s. My neighbours along Sheinton Street may indeed wonder how it is that the garden mowings and clippings that they throw over their back hedges can disappear so fast. I don’t really want to go round to their front doors and discuss it with them on the basis that my perceived eccentricity quotient in the town is already quite high enough. But they clearly don’t want the stuff, and they leave it in such handy piles beside the field path. I simply scoop them up on my way to the vegetable plot.

Compost foraging, however, does have its small hazards. It can, for instance, involve a close encounter with a slow worm – a copper and black snakish looking reptile that is actually a limbless lizard. They are quite harmless, but I still leap back in alarm when I touch one unexpectedly. I ought to know by now. They love warm piles of things to bask in during the day. They are to be treasured too, since they eat slugs. And yes I know that in the cycle of things slugs have their good points, and probably are useful in compost heaps, but I am utterly prejudiced against them, and admire anything that disposes of them. Toads are thus also heroes, though sadly in rather short supply.


The manner of composting as formerly done by me, and displayed in the first photo is not to be emulated. A dedicated composter, and I am now trying to do this, chops big stems and stalks into short lengths to speed up the rotting down process.  It is also good have mixed layers e.g. brown, dry matter such as scrunched up pieces of brown corrugated cardboard, paper, wood shavings, leaves and small twigs. The aim is about 50:50 brown to green matter. This allows air into the mix, and so prevents a sour and smelly squidge.

Grass  mowings and animal manure will heat things up, and also aid decomposition. The heat kills any weed seedlings.  Other additives in my compost include tea bags, egg shells, vegetable parings, allotment weeds, turves from ground clearing, wood ash, hoover contents, and brown paper carriers. Every now and then I also add a layer of comfrey since it also a good compost activator.



Comfrey is a good compost activator. It also makes an excellent plant food, keeps the bees happy, and helps mend human bones and inflamed tissues. The leaves can be made into tea or added to soup. The flowering tops contain vitamin B12 (source: Herbal Therapy for Women by Elisabeth Brooke MNIMH). Can you spot the bumble bee in the top photo? (Just testing).



Ideally, the contents of the compost bin should be turned over during the growing season to aerate them, but if this is too daunting a task, and if there’s space, then three or four bins are the answer. The rotting down process will be slower, but when full, the first one is  simply left for a couple of years while the others are being filled. It’s also common practice to put a piece of old carpet over the top to help things along. My largest bin is made of four wooden pallets tied together.  It is easy to open once full, and the contents can be tipped out and turned over.

And why am I so keen on compost? Well, apart from the obvious that it feeds and improves the soil, it is also useful as a mulch, and MULCHING is my current theory on how to deal with  our increasingly ERRATIC WEATHER systems. The only problem is you need masses of it.

But applying a good deep layer around plants and between rows of crops, not only nurtures the plants, it gives them some protection in heavy rain, and stops the soil drying out in times of drought. To retain moisture it should thus be applied after watering/rain, and it will then reduce the amount of watering needed in the future. Strong, healthy, UNSTRESSED plants mean less pests and diseases. A sturdy cabbage will even withstand some slug damage.  For added protection, cover the lot with enviromesh.

My objectives for composting, however, are small potatoes compared with the goals of The Global Compost Project. Scientists involved with this brilliant initiative believe composting can mend the mess we’ve made of the planet, AND help reduce climate change. Here’s what they have to say:

“It also turns out that one easy, natural human invention is very important to boosting photosynthesis and cleaning up the mess we created.  It is Composting!

Fertilizer feeds plants nitrogen and compost feeds soil carbon.

According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Marin Carbon Project, by spreading just 1/2 inch (1 cm) of compost on grazed rangelands, soil naturally starts to sequester more carbon out of the air via renewed photosynthesis at the rate of 1 ton per acre per year for up to 30 years.  This study was performed jointly by both organizations over a 7-year period, which clearly demonstrated proof of concept.

The results are delighting water conservationists, microbiologists, and climate change scientists around the world.  Compost replenishes the soil carbon  to balanced levels.  It is as if the eco-systems are rebooted, and within one year native grasses and wildlife rebound.  The carbon intake,  forage capacity, and water retention all fall into normal rhythms.”

For more about The Global Compost Project go HERE. And HERE for info on domestic composting from the Royal Horticultural Society.


And now excuse me while I go off to do some more compost foraging. Perhaps, after all, I should be enlisting my neighbours’ help. They might chuck me more stuff over their hedges instead of putting it in their recycling bins. But either way, recycling is good. So: Obsessive Compulsive Composting anyone? Just to encourage you, and to show off, here’s some of my last year’s summer and winter produce:



copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

47 thoughts on “Obsessive Compulsive Compost Disorder and why you should have it, or at least help someone who does (and that would be me)

  1. I am a lover of composting. Presently, I am based in London, but when I am around a garden….the composting begins….and as for slugs – three years for the slow worms:) Enjoy your day, it looks like a good one. Janet.

  2. Hooray for compulsive composting. I usually have enough compost to top up my raised garden beds but I have been an inattentive compost maker this past year…..so I may be short on the home made kind come spring. We have a weekly collection of compostable waste, which is actually turned into compost, so I know my scraps are being put to good use. 🙂

  3. Would not have spotted the bee had you not asked and caused me to search. We raise earthworms in our compost bins here. They are good for the garden too!

  4. I have recently become obsessed with compost myself and bought 2 composters. Takes a long time to fill them up, though. Maybe I should steal my neighbors’ grass clippings 😃

      1. Hi Tish
        Sorry for the delay in responding. I have been sooo busy.

        You are most welcome! 🙂

    1. Well I should thinks so too, Doctor Tracey 🙂 The health of your soil is pretty much as important as human health. In fact I gather they are intricately linked. Things like selenium depletion etc. Glad you liked the post. And more power to your compost bins.

  5. Gosh Tish your veg does look GOOD! I don’t know how you find time to write though with an allotment. If I succeed in buying a house with a garden and it has room for a little veggie patch I shall be coming to you for advice. 🙂

  6. We’re in a rental house and since the yard is landscaped, I doubt the landlord would love to have us start a compost pile. But I do mulch, with purchased mulch. I’ve had a compost pile in the past and hope to one day again.

    I understand the compulsive grabbing of compostable material, though. When we had our house and our wood-burning stove, I was constantly on the lookout for free wood. The men from the city who cut down trees on the tree lawn if needed, called me the Tree Lady. But we never had to buy wood for the stove and I took great pride in that. 🙂


  7. I am most definitely have OCCD our basic soil is mostly sand so over the years have added tons of compost and sugar cane mulch I now have a lovely loamy soil filled with worms. Great post Tish and congratulations on your produce it would win blue ribbons at the local show. The Global compost project makes so much sense. Sadly in my area every time a small house is sold a huge great MacMansion is built in its place taking up all the section, no room left for a garden and the small square that is left is concreted over to make a patio/deck/ entertainment area

    1. It’s so sad the people want to shut out the earth – in all senses. But your effort sounds magnificent. Sandy soils are so hard to improve. Well done. But then I could see you’ve worked hard from the lovely garden pics you posted the other day.

  8. There is something so nurturing about composting but also, the bit about the three-parts and aerating it…uh, I dunno. I’m one of those guys who likes to throw it in a pile and kind of walk away. Bad composting hygiene, for me. Here in Seattle now they’ll pretty much take anything in the composting, for the public service of hauling it away for you (to be composted). For a time, they wouldn’t take meat scraps because that attracted vermin but they’ve since overturned that and now, anything compostable is fair game. But it’s often a mystery what goes where, recycle or compost? It’s a good problem to have.

    1. The making a big pile and leaving it works too. I do that in one of my bins. Just takes longer. These big municipal composting units seem to able to deal with any old stuff. The process detoxifies and debugs most things it seems. I think they can even do plastics, which is good news. But indeed, yes, as you say, composting is a nurturing activity. You are back home now, I take it. I need to get over to your blog to catch up.

  9. There sure is an art and science to composting. If I had a garden, I’d certainly be doing it. And probably sneaking the neighbors’ scraps, too. 😉 The soil is so depleted nowadays.

    1. Yes, Julie, you are right. So much of the soil looks very sad. It’s amazing that we think we can so mistreat the very things that sustain us, and still consider ourselves civilised.

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