Compost Recipe and Garden Monthly, November 2014

I’m going to start with the most important thing a garden requires- compost. Without a consistent approach to compost making, your garden will not thrive. So let’s head down into the heart of darkness.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALook inside this bin. Some mornings it sends up little smoke signals as I open the lid. We have five bins in permanent production. I have just emptied two mature lots onto the Spring beds. The other three are in various stages of breaking down.

When we built our vegetable patches five years ago, we had no natural topsoil at all. Our beds have been built up over the years with good compost. After every growing season, they need topping up and refreshing. I learnt how to make better compost from Wendy Mathers of the Food Farm, through workshops run by our local Council. Before I attended Wendy’s workshop, my compost approach was not based on correct layering and so the results were patchy.  I have heard a lot of nonsense over the years about mythological practices and debates about what constitutes good composting technique. Correct layering, using everyday found matter, is the answer.  I follow this recipe and am enjoying great results, with a bin maturing every three months or so, full of lovely fresh black soil alive with pink earthworms.  Here’s the recipe:

Compost Recipe – developed by Ross & Wendy Mather, Food Farm, St Andrews, Victoria 

The base ingredient is one bucket of  green matter, that is, vegetable scraps, or fresh grass/weeds then add to this one item from nitrogen column and any two items from carbon column.

Nitrogen                                  Carbon
1 bucket manure                     1 bucket straw
2 cups pelletised manure      1 bucket paper
1 cup blood and bone             1 bucket dry leaves
1 bucket Lucerne                     1 bucket sugarcane mulch

Too much carbon slows decomposition, and too much nitrogen smells. If you have vinegar flies, add more carbon and check your ratios.

In late Autumn, I have an abundant supply of crunchy oak leaves providing the carbon matter. In summer, I save newspapers and shred them on site. Newspaper ink is vegetable based. You tear along the grain so that it shreds easily. I use cow and chook manure as I keep these animals, but the list provides alternatives for suburban gardeners. Weeds can be used so long as they are drowned thoroughly first to destroy any seed.


Wandering around the Spring vegetable patch after some welcome rain, my photo lens and I discover the close up beauty of new life. Seeds sprout and develop quickly, young grapes form on vines, last month’s quince flowers are now miniature fruits, the pears and apples are in flower and fruit, and the nectarines already colourful.

butterhead lettuce
butterhead lettuce

Each photo suggests a task. The little lettuce seeds need thinning and transplanting. I often wrap up a few clumps then make transportable containers using wet newspaper. Seedlings were once sold this way from nurseries.


The strawberries are happy but I need to ‘acquire’ the materials for a walk in cloche. I am always on the look out for stuff in tip shops but thick poly piping is well sought after. We have stolen three veggie patch beds for raspberries and strawberries. Now we are short of room for summer vegetable crops. The children love to pick berries and eat them on site, as do the birds.
The boysenberries have gone crazy and need containing. More freezer space is required!


The zucchini plants are well on the way and I should see the start of the plague next week. Traditionally in Melbourne, zucchini begin to fruit one week after Melbourne Cup Day. Melbourne Cup Day ( the first Tuesday of November) is used as a marker for all sorts of gardening activities. Some say that tomatoes must be planted from Cup day onwards. I plant mine much earlier, in the ridiculous hope that I might have tomatoes by Christmas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the surprise bed, one dedicated to out of date seed, the Cucurbit family seeds all germinated ( all were five years out of date) as well as the borlotti beans. These little squash need thinning out and sharing.

squash and cucumbers from the surprise bed
squash and cucumbers from the surprise bed.

Winter crops are now going to seed and I save the best specimen of each vegetable for seed collecting.  The only problem is that these giants take up valuable space. The importance of home seed collecting is that you end up with a variety, after some years, that is most adapted to your particular microclimate, as well as preserving the strongest of the species. Darwin at work! These seeds are swapped and given away. Sometimes, like all things, new genes are introduced. The red lettuce below was found years ago in a mesclun lettuce seed mix. I have saved this one to provide summer colour contrast to a lettuce bowl.

My favourite red lettuce is saved each year. Anyone know its name?
My favourite dark red lettuce is saved each year. Anyone know its name?

The grapes will be prolific this year: netting takes place in a month or so.  This year I plan to preserve some vine leaves for dolmade making, and the method can be found on Debi’s site here. I must be selective about this as the leaves shade the grapes from the vicious summer sun.


The young nectarines are already bird attractors. Those hungry birds, mostly Eastern Rosellas, Crimson Rosellas, white Cockatoos, Corellas,  and King Parrots, will attack young, hard fruit for fun; just testing, they say.  The nets will come out soon, a big task to cover around 30 fruit trees in production. Even olive trees need netting.

young nectarine
young nectarine

The artichokes are late this year, probably because I transplanted them last Autumn. I love their grey -green foliage and will use these small ones shaved in a pasta dish this week

Artcichokes ready to pick and cook
artichokes ready to pick and cook

The broad beans continue to grace our garden and plates. Other currently harvested crops include radicchio, rugola, and lettuce.

broadbean glut. Time to freeze.
Broadbean glut. Time to freeze.

This post forms part of Garden Share Collective  a monthly round up of food growing bloggers.  If you lived next door, we could share seed and seasons of plenty.


25 thoughts on “Compost Recipe and Garden Monthly, November 2014”

  1. I wish I lived next door, your garden is truly inspirational. Many years ago when we lived on 1 1/2 acres I discovered i was married to man who is severely allergic to gardening. I’ve given up waiting for the raised beds I asked him to build at the coast. I have to content myself with a communal herb garden and a few pots.


  2. Oh, I wish I lived there next to this garden! Is it really purple edging? Looks fabulous against the green. How do your boysenberries grow? Long vines that need a trellis? I know they are a hybrid cross like my loganberries, but I wonder if they grow the same vigorous way? Olives, artichokes, rugola and even broad beans are on my wishlist for my next garden.


    1. They do grow like loganberries- I have them too. The loges are now big and rampant. Mr T just attacks them with the brushcutter when mowing in the orchard. This only encourages them. I need more freezer space as I am imagining winter berry pies and tarts. The grandchildren get all the strawberries and raspberries so not many make it to the table.
      The garden beds are edged in old railway sleepers and the paths between are of recycled pavers pulled up from our city house. One of our Wwoofers did most of the work on that project. Before then ,the ground was uneven and too boggy in winter which was a deterrant for me.


  3. Francesca, your garden is gorgeous! Thanks for the compost tips they are great. I like to plant my tomatoes prior to Cup Day also with the same hope of tomatoes asap 🙂 No harm in trying! I have my fingers crossed that our little grape vine has fruit this year as we had none the first year. Yours as an abundance of fruit developing. Have a great month in the garden


    1. The grape takes a couple of years to really get going and then, watchout, you’l have plenty. This compopst recipe really made a difference to my garden practice. I keep all the stuff near the bins so I can just stand there and add things. I think we might get early tomatoes this yeat.


  4. I gasp in admiration, I am not the best of gardeners, the husband is pretty good though (thank goodness). I admire and envy gardens that provide food such as yours. At best I can grow decent lemon, tomatoes, capsicums and herbs. Love the phrase ‘heart of darkness’ to describe compost.


  5. Have you painted all your garden edging purple, or is this photographic anomaly? (Or maybe I have a dodgy monitor?)
    I have always loved your gardens especially the vegie ones. Your continued enthusiasm for gardening, amongst many other things, is astounding. Thanks for sharing this with everyone, Francesca.


    1. Mick, someone else commented on the purple edging. It is a photo anomaly indeed. I may have added colour to the photo, and the reddy brown colour from the red gum edging turned purple! No, paint wouldn’t be so good in a garden!
      Thanks – we have these gardens because we like to eat the bounty.


  6. I must say that I dont use a recipe or measure, but since I got a compost tumbler my compost is amazing. Somehow tiger worms seems to have migrated there from my worm farm and they make short work of whatever i put in there. We have mainly a mixture of shredded leaves and kitchen scraps. I dont stir the compost in the bins as much and they take much longer to process. you have some lovely produce in your garden. I love that red lettuce 🙂 I grow red leaf amaranth and that add lots of lovely colour to my salads. I have some of that seed to spare if you would like some.


  7. I’m pleased you’ve had rain 🙂 In many areas there’s been negligible or none and we’re apparently in for a dry summer. Your garden looks marvellous and you’re well set for the coming season.


    1. Things change pretty quickly here. We have long bouts of over 40c in summer so this is our little window of loveliness. Summer can be harsh and things can struggle. I hope our rain continues- at present it is about average, we will see!


  8. What a fantastic post! So much happening in your garden. I’m like you, a compost fiend! LOL … yes you do need to get the carbon nitrogen ratio right. I think that lettuce is red oak by the way. Loving your photos. Aren’t cucurbits amazing – their germination is always staggering. Thanks for the reminder about the Melb Cup. Checking the Sweep chart now 🙂


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