Grumpy Gardener – What A Pile of….

The Grumpy Gardener – March

Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander
In his regular column for French News Online, professional gardener Mike Alexander, reminds us how even though the snow is still on the ground (in many places anyway) Spring is coming, so its time to get composting.

Of all gardening matters few can have been as widely written about and discussed as composting. There are dozens of How To books, to say nothing of an abundance of brochures and magazine articles out there. A quick Google search for instance uncovers more than 17 million references on how to compost  —  indeed so much has been written about it that you might be tempted to skip what follows. However…   

Compost takes time to mature so its time to get started (Credit: Mike Alexander)


Composting for me, could not be more simple. Take all your green garden cuttings and household waste, chuck them in a semi-shaded corner for several months and hey presto! You have compost. I could add, don’t include woody material that won’t break down and if you throw on the odd layer of soil or manure you will increase the microbial content thus breaking it down quicker but even with this  high powered scientific observation I am still a few thousand words short of a best-selling book.

Advising you not to throw in meat products (and in the current climate nothing please, that resembles a horse) or diseased plant material, in my opinion, would simply be an insult to your intelligence. That said  I always try to insist that my clients include a compost heap somewhere in the garden given its self evident benefits both for the health of plants and for  helping to keep down the amount of usable waste that one would otherwise burn or haul along to the decheterie.

(In passing if you do dump your grass cuttings and leaves at the local municipal waste collection point here in France you will likely find them being turned into compost anyway, available for sale right back to you.)

Even in my own tiny garden (yes you see, I spend most of my time tending to the gardens of others) I have made space for a compost bin kindly supplied, at no charge, by our local mairie. It is really extraordinary how much your household waste is reduced once you start composting all the vegetable matter.

Home Composting in Roubaix France (Credit: Wikipedia)

These bins come with a neat little door trap at the base which is meant to allow you  to remove the bottom layer of composted material  leaving newer material to continue its chemical decay above. Take it from me, Houdini could not get anything out of that little door without the whole bin falling apart. It is far easier simply to take it apart completely, shovel  out the mature compost and then re-assemble it before replacing all your un-composted material.

From time to time the bin appears to be full, at which point my wife feels it is her duty and responsibility to complain. If this happens my advice is sympathise, indeed act all contrite, but in the best male fashion, do nothing.  A couple of  days later you see, she will find the contents have broken down sufficiently for there  again to be space in the bin. You can then of course pretend this was all the result of your manful efforts.

Compost Food Waste Only Sign (Credit:

Compost of course breaks down a lot faster if it is turned regularly and if some source of microbe is added. There are expensive proprietary products on sale just for this purpose but fresh soil, manure or urea work just as well. Human urine is as effective as anything else and male gardeners in particular tend to be properly equipped for delivering this microbial element efficiently and cheaply.  However I should just make the point that delivering this essential additive in this way does rather get the wife worked up, for reasons I don’t fully understand.

So there you have it. My brief lesson on composting. Not enough material to write a book perhaps but look out for my 1001 Easy Ways To Annoy Your Wife. Coming soon on Amazon.


Previously – click an image below
To read February's gardening tips article - click this image
Is a world without bees possible? Read about this crisis that will affect us all - click here
Prune for Results
A World Without Bees?
What you should have done in January!
Prune your roses - click here
Fruit Tree Pruning
Wars of the Roses
Grumpy Gardener April - It's War Out There. Click to view
Click to read this article
Prune When Finished
Herald of Spring…
click to read Grumpy's july  tips
You’ve got to be quick!
Un-thirsty Lavender
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Grasp the Nettle
Star Jasmine – Madrid
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Jihad – on Bunnies Ears
Autumn Arrives
Designer chic or neccessity? - click here for full story
To read this article - click here
Designer Chic?
Gravity – not to be ignored!
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If Winter Comes….
Hottest chilli in the world
Dogs and Daffodils... full story - click this image
The iris and Madame la Guillotine... full story - click this image
Dog Days…
Fleur de Lys
Hedge You Bets - how do YOU like your hedges... full story - click this image
To read a previous article
– click an image –
Hedge Your Bets

Grumpy Gardener

Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Writer: Mike Alexander

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