This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
There are few gardeners, perhaps, that will not candidly confess to a weakness in favour of ample supplies of manure and composts or soils; and equally few that willingly cry enough of either, even when they are best served. Like the other good things of life, generally these good things of horticulture are not very equally distributed. Some much-to-be-envied individuals appear to wallow in their abundance of these essentials to good gardening; to many others it is a constant struggle to get the means to accomplish the end in one or other or both these matters. Much scraping and collecting together of everything that is likely to be useful in eking out and taking the place of the limited but more valuable stores in hand has to be undertaken periodically as the usual lot of pinched means; and only those who have some experience in this line can realise what is meant and entailed by this work of scraping and collecting together materials for composts. It means makeshifts and substitutes often inferior in character and efficiency; it entails an increase of labour rarely taken into account, because nothing is known of it by employers, and that can only be justified by peculiar necessity; and it entails often an amount of anxiety and vexation on the gardener that only his professional enthusiasm and devotion can enable him to endure.
All these considerations point to the desirability of utilising everything in any way fit to be converted into substitutes for manure or the better class of soils, at little cost of labour and time.
Among all matters that may be so converted into manure and soil there is perhaps nothing more available and useful than vegetable or garden refuse. Composed as it is of the remains of the used-up crops of the kitchen-garden, the exhausted occupants of the flower-garden, whether in the shape of frost-bitten bedding-plants, the stems, leaves, and flowers of herbaceous perennials and annuals, the mowings and sweepings of short grass, charred weeds and prunings, and the miscellaneous accumulations of decomposable matter that result from the operations necessary to the dressing and keeping of gardens, it must, at least, be admitted to be varied enough as regards components. I have an impression that more might be made of garden-refuse than there generally is in most places. I have met with very few cases in my own experience where the principle of saving and storing every particle of it was insisted on as a part of the general man. agement of the place. In some cases it may be unnecessary, owing to the requirements in manure and soil being easily supplied from better sources; yet even in such cases I would ask, Whether on the score of economy the matter in question should not be saved? There need be no fear that it will not come in handy and useful.
Compost of this kind is of the greatest value in the planting of shrubs and trees, and for establishing young fruit-trees, especially in cases where they must be put in ground that has been occupied previously by similar subjects. As dressings for flower-beds and borders it is superior to manure, and for many vegetable crops, Saladings, Potatoes, and Turnips, I find it almost equal to manure. In my own case I am by no means stinted in manure supply, nor in compost soils either, though they are not so fine as I could wish; but for many purposes they are easily improved in quality and texture by additions and mixtures from the lighter rot-heap material. I find also that I have greater command of soils for composts, both in variety and quantity, from my habits of saving the refuse. I can make an equitable exchange with the home-farm, or with any of the neighbouring farmers, when old pastures are being broken up. Load for load is generally considered a fair bargain between us, and I consider good old pasture-turf cheap at that price. "Without any appreciable addition to my labour, I can easily muster about 30 tons of decomposed refuse annually, from the various items above mentioned, to which I would now add the refuse from the potting-bench and houses, in the shape of old potting-stuffs, the cleanings from the houses, and the annually removed spent-surfaces of Vine and Peach borders, and occasional dustings of lime, applied merely with the view of deodorising the heap when any considerable bulk of green matter is laid on it, and it, in consequence, becomes unsavoury.
So much for the uses of garden-refuse, and the ways of disposing of it about larger gardens, in a brief way; and now a word respecting its use in small ones. It is in those latter that the benefits of carefully husbanding all matter of a decomposable nature will be most felt. By small gardens, I mean those of the class of establishments where there is neither farm nor stable departments kept up - where all manurial and compost matters must be paid for in hard cash. I would urge on all possessed of such gardens the importance of saving every scrap of green and dry refuse that may be reduced to compost in twelve months. In the garden or out of it, on the premises or beyond them, let all matter capable of being reduced to plant food by means of fermentation or fire be drawn together in one place and frequently turned. Two heaps may be advisable - one for gross materials, those which, having much woody fibre in their composition, will require to be treated to liberal applications of quicklime; and the other for leaves of all kinds, and the remains of herbaceous stuffs generally: in fact, anything that will ferment of itself may be put on this last heap, and each successive addition should have a little quicklime mixed with it for the purpose of combining with and fixing some of the gaseous constituents and promoting the decomposition of the woody particles.
Some attention given to these points, and to the desirability of adding to the heap or heaps on every favourable opportunity, will have the effect of lessening the expenses of the garden in the first place, and will afterwards lead to the improvement of the soil. The kind and quality of manure that is generally purchased for gardens of the description contemplated is usually of a heating and highly stimulating kind, under which few soils can long remain equably productive. They are especially unsuitable for thin dry soils, whereas the compost is the best application that can be made to such. It in a few years sensibly increases its depth, and annually adds to its productiveness. The compost will sustain excellent crops of all kinds of vegetables, which, if not so luxuriant as those from dung at first, will be more sweet, crisp, and firm.
"W m. Sutherland.
[In case this paper may appear to some a plagiarism in any way from a leader in ' Gardeners' Chronicle' of 11th November, we beg to state that Mr Sutherland's paper was written before he saw the 'Chronicle ' of the above date. - Ed].