Central Co-op Member Group talk Composting!

Central Co-op Member Group talk Composting!

The secret is in the soil!

Cath Palgrave member of the Western MCC writes below about her visit to our Central Co-op Gardening Member Group in Birmingham.

The Central Co-op Gardening Club has started 2024 by playing dirty! That is learning about all things dirt- well soil- related.

January’s meeting saw Claire from the Compost Connection CIC give an excellent demonstration on how to build soil by using compost and the invaluable nutrients that often get thrown away. She taught us that home made compost is teaming with life (microbes) which is as good for the plants as the nutrients the compost contains. In fact, homemade compost is much better for our plants than shop bought- saving money too.

We learned about the proportions of compost ‘ingredients’: carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. Nitrogen is the juicy fresher stuff (weeds, grass clippings, coffee grounds, food scraps) called ‘Greens’, and the carbon is the dried out more dead stuff (twigs, dried out plants, sawdust, autumn leaves, cardboard) called ‘Browns’. A balance of these is needed in order to create good compost- and not a smelly, slimy heap!  The microbes help break all of this down into the lovely crumbly compost and they need oxygen- so turning the compost helps to create air pockets for this.

One thing that stops people making compost is space- but Claire showed us how we can do so whether we have a massive garden or a balcony- as well as telling us of community composting. Another thing that puts people off is pests- specifically rats, and we were shown how to rat proof compost bins.

Overall, the evening showed us that in making our own compost and caring for the soil- the emphasis shifts from tending plants to tending the soil and that in turn helps us grow excellent crops.

This tied in really well with February’s meeting which saw Simon Gulliver of The national Trust talking to us about ‘no dig’ gardening. He too talked about the importance of soil and thinking about gardening the soil not gardening the plants- the secret to good gardening lies in the soil!

He showed us a soil profile – and that the top layer (hummus) is the layer that we need to grow our plants. If this is depleted (which has been happening) we simply won’t be able to grow anything.

He explained that although the talk was called ‘no dig’ gardening- there is actually loads of digging going on- only not by humans but by worms! Us digging actually destroys the soil profile and standing on it compacts it- so we can sit back and let the worms do the hard work!

It was quite a shock to some of s as we are used to ‘tidying up’ our gardens and allotments but Simon suggested trying it- leave roots in the ground, spread plant debris on beds and compost woodchip (e.g., as paths) before putting it round plants and on beds. He referred to soil science and that we know so much more about soil now that we did even 100 years ago- for example the importance of fungi in the soil which connects roots and can transport nutrients- we are learning more and more about how everything is connected. Despite our misgivings Simon assured us how well it is working on his allotment and his pictures backed him up!

For more information about The Compost Connection and their workshops:


For more information about No Dig Gardening see:



The Central Co-op Gardening Club meets every 4th Wednesday of the month at 7.30-9pm at Cotteridge Church Hall, Pershore Road South, Birmingham, B30 3EJ.

It is open to all Central Co op member and costs £3 per session – there is always tea and cake!

For more information on this and other member groups, please email member.community@centralcoop.co.uk