Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Snow on the Cabbages

Here in Kentucky, we got to enjoy a few Thanksgiving snow flurries. For many, it put them into the Christmas spirit and made them want to go shopping early on "Black Friday". For me, it made me want to go see how the garden is doing. While the masses were up early fighting the crowds at the stores, I was taking these pictures of the snow on our cabbages.

Now that it is getting colder, I wish I would have made the cold frames that I planned to. With the aid of cold frames, you can grow keep the garden growing practically all year long. I plan to build many coldframes this winter and be ready to use them for early spring sowing. I will let you know when those are built.

Without the cold frames, I still have broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and carrots in the garden. Of course, my main crop is still compost.

This pile below has cooled off and is ready to be turned. It is easy to tell since the snow that fell on it didn't melt.

See how the snow didn't stick to the top of this pile:

That's because the top of this pile is made of used bedding from our Guinea Pigs and what's left of the jack-o-lanterns. Both are decaying rapidly and are still warm.

I hope to make another sizable compost pile soon. I have plenty of brown material available and since it hasn't been very cold here for very long, green grass is also still available. If I bag up some grass and mix it with leaves and dead garden plant material, I will have a really hot compost pile in which no snow will stick.

I doubt I'll get that accomplished this weekend. I plan to spend what's left of Thanksgiving weekend with my family actually being thankful for all we have but do not deserve. As for Christmas shopping, I'll do my part by staying out of the way of those frantic shoppers!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

When is the best time to add compost to your garden?

I don't think I've ever really thought about whether there are good or bad times of the year to add compost to the garden - until this past weekend. I have always focused on how great fresh "home-made" compost is for an organic garden and just added it whenever it became available.

This weekend I was delighted to find that I had a lot of compost ready so I began top dressing some of my garden beds. Much of my pile behind the garden had fully broken down and the batch of organic matter that I put in my new compost tumbler at the beginning of the season was completely ready!

As I happily added my new compost to the garden, I started wondering if I'd be better served to wait until Spring to add it. That way it would still be "fresh" when the tender new plants were ready to be fed. What do you think? Does it matter when you add the compost as long as you do add it? This may be a stupid question, or maybe everyone but me already knows the answer, but here are my initial thoughts:

1. If you garden in raised beds it is okay to add compost anytime, but if your garden is just a flat "field", the nutrients may be leeched away if you add it too soon.

2. If the compost is not fully decomposed you should NOT add it when you plant new young plants because many of the nutrients are "locked up" during the decomposition period and therefore will not be helping the plants.

Are these crazy thoughts? I'm really not sure where I got these ideas and began to ponder it while working in the garden. Sometimes the peace and solitude you get while in the garden can do that. I know this post is a bit unusual but help me out. Any fellow composters out there? Are there right and wrong times to add the wonderful stuff to your garden?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Where do you put your compost piles?

My garden currently contains only a few brassicas and greens but the main crop in my Fall garden is always compost!

I know that compost is not a flower or a vegetable but I think of it as a crop because it is sooooo important to the life of all the other plants.

I could write a whole post (and probably should) on why compost is so vital to the organic garden, but this post is about placement of the compost piles. I always used to keep my compost bins and piles hidden out of site behind the garden. This works fine, but I have had occasion over the years where I would move the pile from one spot to another. I noticed that if I let grass grow over the spot where a compost pile used to be that it would grow three times faster and lusher. This obviously means that the ground under a compost pile also benefits from the compost.

With this in mind, I now locate Fall compost piles IN the garden. This year when I re-organized my garden beds, I purposely made the interior beds four foot square so I could easily convert those beds to compost piles in the off season. Those beds are also easier to plant intensively and successively a la Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening.

All I do is drive either metal or wood posts in the corners and wrap chicken wire around the posts.

As I clean up all the garden debris, it goes into these new bins. I also put in shredded leaves and some grass clippings to get the piles heated up.

I will turn the piles a few times and by the Spring The debris will be "black gold", and the beds will be revitalized! I am even considering rotating these compost bins throughout the garden beds during the growing season when the organic matter is so plentiful. In past years I still had the bins off to the side or used my tumbler in the Spring and Summer.

As for right now, I'm very glad that it finally rained enough that the grass turned green and started growing. I now can bag my organic grass clippings to add plenty or nitrogen to the piles. As for the carbons, I can add leaves. I too am a thief of other people's bagged leaves when they put them out for the garbage. I enjoyed Tracey's post about hoarding other people's leaves for composting. The only problem with that is that sometimes you get more garbage in the bag than leaves. On my last raid I mistakenly got six bags of pine needles instead of leaves.

I still added a small layer of them to the piles but the rest will become mulch for my blueberries.

Isn't it amazing that people throw stuff like that away? Not me, I'm always looking for more compost ingredients!

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