If you’re thinking of planting a herb garden, you might be wondering how to make compost that is suitable for the herbs, and how much of it to use.
Herbs can vary a bit in terms of their requirements, but there are a few things you should do to create a general compost that will give most – if not quite all – of your herbs a good boost!
Here’s how to create compost for a herb garden.
What Kind Of Compost Do I Need?
The first thing you should do is think about the kinds of herbs you want to grow, and find out a bit about what they need.
In general, herbs like soil that is well-drained and with plenty of organic matter and nutrients.
Fortunately, that’s one of the things that compost is very good for!
On the whole, compost is a loose, aerated growing medium and it consequently drains well – so your herbs won’t end up sitting in puddles of water.
Most herbs dislike heavy, water-logged soils and will simply die if you plant them in clay.
Adding compost adds a layer of loose soil, but the compost is better at retaining moisture than sand or gravel would be – so it’s a great way to ensure that your herbs stay watered, but don’t end up drowning in moisture.
Similarly, compost is usually high in nutrients, and if you make compost at home, it may even have some organic matter that hasn’t yet broken down in it. If so, this is perfect for making your herbs happy.
Compost also adds humus to the soil, which is a good way to trap nitrogen so that the plants can access it.
Most herbs need nitrogen, and ordinary garden soil often does not contain very much – so compost is important.
Furthermore, compost often helps balance the microbes in the soil.
Lots of bacteria are present in your compost, and this promotes good soil health and can help to keep damaging microbes and harmful bacteria in check.
All in all, you can see that good, rich compost is definitely a must for your herb bed, so let’s learn how to make it!
Step One: A Good Balance Of Materials
When composting, you want to think about the “browns” and the “greens” you are adding.
Brown materials are rich in carbon, and tend to be woody, tough materials that take a while to break down.
For example, straw, dry leaves, nutshells, eggshells, sticks, and bits of bark or wood are usually counted as brown materials.
Browns keep your compost aerated, giving it structure so that it doesn’t compact. They also usually keep the compost dry and prevent it from getting too sludgy.
They provide an important amount of carbon to the compost.
Greens are rich in nitrogen, and are the wetter, softer materials you might add.
Most food scraps are greens, as are grass cuttings and other damp garden waste that will break down quickly and easily.
Greens often provide the heat in the compost; they break down quickly and keep it active.
However, greens in large quantities can lead to wet, unhealthy compost that smells bad.
To create great compost for a herb bed, you need to think about both of these and get a good balance.
Many people recommend 50:50. This does not need to be absolutely perfect, but getting it approximately right is usually key to a healthy compost heap.
Step Two: Hot Composting
You don’t have to hot compost to get something suitable for a herb bed, but it can help you to get high quality compost that is thoroughly decomposed and ready to use quickly.
Hot composting also ensures that your compost is unlikely to have fertile weed seeds or any pathogens or diseases lurking in the soil – which is a bonus if you’re going to use it on herbs.
You’re unlikely to catch anything bad from your compost anyway, but better safe than sorry!
Hot composting involves including plenty of greens in your compost bin, but it also involves turning it very regularly.
You can buy tumbling compost bins for this purpose, or just use a garden fork.
Turning or stirring your compost every three days or a couple of times a week is a good way to keep it active and ensure that the bacteria keep breaking down the food quickly – which is what produces heat.
You might be amazed at how hot your compost can get.
Ideally, you want it to reach somewhere between 120°F and 150°F.
You don’t want it hotter, or you may find that the bacteria you need for composting start to die off, and your compost worms leave.
Step Three: Cut Up Ingredients
If you want compost for your herb garden quickly, this is an important step, and even if you aren’t in a big rush, it can help to ensure that your compost all gets broken down and you don’t end up with lumps of organic matter hanging around.
Cut your ingredients up before you compost them.
You don’t need to go crazy with this tip, but if you break up large quantities of organic materials before you add them, your compost will decompose into something usable much more efficiently.
This also helps when it comes to stirring the compost, as it will be easier to lift and turn.
It will also be easier to mix the materials and make sure you have a blend of browns and greens throughout the compost heap.
You don’t have to cut up everything you add, but breaking ingredients down a bit first gives your compost a boost and will ensure you soon have rich compost to add to your herb garden.
Step Four: Keep Moisture In Check
Ideally, your compost heap should be neither too dry nor too wet. It will stop functioning properly in either scenario because the worms and bacteria will not be happy in the wrong conditions.
When you squeeze a handful of compost, it should have the texture of a wrung-out sponge.
If you notice that your compost is getting wet or starting to smell, try increasing the ratio of browns a little.
If you notice that it seems dry or nothing is happening, you need more greens. Choose wet additions such as soft fruits.
You can also water your compost heap if it gets too dry – but don’t overdo it, or you may drown the worms and bacteria.
Simply leave the lid off the compost bin during a rainstorm, or add a watering can full of water.
Alternatively, use the cooled water from cooking vegetables; this will add nutrients as well as moisture.
If your compost gets too wet, use some torn up cardboard or paper to soak up some of the excess moisture and help the bin dry out.
A wet bin will often smell bad, so you should soon realize if you need to add some browns.
How Do I Know When It’s Ready?
Your compost should start to look like soil when it’s ready to be used. You shouldn’t see clumps of recognizable food waste, large plant cuttings, or lots of sticks or twigs.
To use your compost, you’ll usually want to sieve it a bit first – a sieve with big holes will do as you don’t need very fine compost.
If you find any pieces of food or plant matter that haven’t broken down while you’re sieving, simply toss them back.
You can also cut them up a bit first if you want to encourage them to break down, but don’t worry too much; they will eventually decompose.
Once you’ve sieved your compost and removed most of the organic waste that’s still decomposing, it’s ready to use.
Don’t worry if there are still a few little bits and pieces; it can continue breaking down on your herb bed, and this activity can actually be good for the plants and for the soil.
How Do I Add Compost To Herbs?
If you’re just planting your herbs, how do you know how much compost to add?
It will vary a bit according to your soil and your plant’s preferences, but here are some general guides.
For many herbs being planted in quick-draining soil, a third of a cup of compost to every cup of soil will help to trap and retain moisture.
For heavy clay soils that need more structure and oxygen, mixing in a third of a cup of soil for every cup will also help.
You should dig this in and use a fork or spade to break up the clay – remember that herbs won’t grow well in dense soil.
You can also add compost to the top of your herbs’ soil to help trap moisture in the ground and provide nutrients that will leach down over time and keep them fed.
It’s best to do this when they’re just starting to grow for the season.
Hopefully, you now have a good idea of how to make rich compost for your herb garden relatively quickly.
Making your own compost is cheap, environmental, and very easy, and it has lots of practical applications in your garden. Grab a bucket and get started!