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I work part time as a gardening trainee, and my head gardener calls compost "black gold". Some people call making it an art, which is perhaps going too far for what is essentially creatively mixing rotting things together, but it shows the importance gardeners attach to the stuff! I have books that go into great technical detail about the scientific processes behind the decomposition but I was looking for an overview of the subject that I could use as a quick reference for trouble shooting the compost heaps on my allotment. Composting is covered in many of my gardening books of course but when a book about nothing but compost was recommended to me, I was sufficiently interested to order a copy. The book was Nicky Scott's "How To Make and Use Compost: The ultimate Guide". Partly this was because it was only £5.96 at the time on Amazon, with the cover price being £9.95. It is currently £6.86.
Nicky Scott is obviously a serious compost-aholic as he had previously written two other books on the subject of compost and he has been involved in the development of two commercially available composters. Even his first job was at a compost production company. He seems perfectly placed to write this book and it is obvious from his comments about various composting systems that he has first hand experience of the pros and cons of each. Just what you want in a practical guide!
WHAT THE BOOK COVERS
The book deals with the basic processes behind composting in a not too technical way. I think a thorough understanding of this is important because understanding how things breakdown and the way to provide the optimum conditions for this means you can troubleshoot if your compost isn't looking "healthy". Any previously living thing will rot down eventually, without any help from us, but the book explains how you can speed up the process, and ensure that your heap doesn't attract vermin or smell unpleasant. There is a series of handy charts which offer solutions to common problems such as a compost that is too wet or dry, which saves re-reading the whole chapter for this information. Many books and magazine articles simplify what to add to your heap as a relatively even mixture of "browns" (carbon rich material) and greens (nitrogen rich material such as annual weeds.) Others will suggest different proportions of the two and probably every professional gardener I have spoken to has their own magic mix. This book is great for cutting through the sometimes conflicting advice and helping you to use the state of your heap/bin as the most reliable guide. The advice to ensure that sufficient air is added has been especially relevant to me, as I was able to identify that as a potential problem with a heap that I had enclosed to preserve heat and speed up the composting process. I was relying too heavily on "brown" materials that were rotting too quickly to provide enough structure for air flow purposes.
The author explains various composting systems from the familiar "dalek" plastic bins to some systems that I had never heard of. If you are starting out there is plenty of tips to choose the right system for your requirements and the space you have. There is not much in the way of instructions for actually making the outer frame of a standard compost area, but these are easily found elsewhere and are quite simple. There are however detailed instructions on making a wormery composter, which I intend to follow in the future. This section really inspired me as I had not appreciated the benefits of worm compost before.
The final sections cover how to use the compost which should inspire anyone to make their own, when they see how useful and money saving it can be in the garden. This covers both no dig and traditional gardening which is useful to me as I use both on my allotment but my training comes in a garden that only uses the latter. There are also brief sections which details the process of setting up a community composting group which although not immediately relevant to me, struck me as information that may not be easy to find in other books.
THE BOOK ITSELF
The book comprises 200 pages and is a paperback. I have read it more than once and unfortunately some pages are a bit loose. This happened quickly, so I don't think it is the most robust edition around. Apart from that the quality of the book is good. The print is clear and there are a few illustrations. Most are black and white photographs which is fair enough as pictures of various compost bins and their contents is perhaps not the most photogenic of subjects!
WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?
I would if you want to make good garden compost and you don't know where to start, or you want to make sure the compost you already make is as good as it could be. I am lucky that in my work garden, I have access to different compost bins which are managed differently and I can see what works best in a particular situation. This book is good at explaining why that may be and helping me to carry those lessons over to my own much smaller compost area at the allotment. I have found it an interesting read, and I am curious to try some of the methods out that are not used in my work garden to see what works well. All in all, this is an in depth but still accessible guide to compost and well worth reading.
[This review is also under my user name on Ciao.]