Come ye thankful people, come
Raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin. (Hymn)
A mother and daughter gardening team that I’m lucky to know, had just recently brought in their last harvest of the season when I stopped by the other day, and the yield from their gardens surrounding their home had brought in quite a haul. More than 250 pounds of potatoes as well as the same for tomatoes, plus squash, pumpkins and corn filled their spare room and garage floor. Earlier pickings were berries and the apples off their trees with a whole load of other fresh and nutritious vegetables in between. All this food throughout the growing season is eaten fresh, processed, frozen or stored for the year, giving them lots of free and nourishing food for the winter months as well as enough to share with friends and donate to the needy.
Carefully selected new and heritage varieties of flowers grace the property with beautiful colour and the lawn becomes a delightful meadow of blooming bulbs in the springtime. They have a deep and respectful connection to nature and the earth, so no chemicals, toxins or poisons are ever used on the plants or soil.
In Des Kennedy’s book, Crazy About Gardening, he says: “Gardeners have lessons to teach the rest of our race about how to touch the earth with affection and dexterity.”
These two are certainly my teachers and I strive to garden like them.
Like all committed organic gardeners, they have a couple of good composting bins working away in the backyard, making precious soil that’s loaded with microbes for next year’s growing season. Composting is not rocket science, but there are good techniques and tricks to learn to maximize nutrient levels and speed of decomposition as well as what not to do. For example, there is a yard in town that sports a round wire compost cage filled with big rough materials such as thin branches and heavy viney plants, and it’s been sitting there for years, looking exactly the same. This is a total compost fail because the materials were too big and coarse and there hasn’t been enough moisture getting through it, so the process is pitifully slow if any at all.
The rule of thumb is that the smaller the pieces, the easier it is to be munched on and digested by the worms and microbes. The moisture content in the compost heap should be the equivalent of a wrung out sponge, so make sure you sprinkle the layers with water and flipping the pile once or twice if you can will significantly increase the decomposition process.
Diversity of organic materials is important because there will be all kinds of nutrients for the plants to take up, and make sure there are at least two parts carbon (or browns) to one-part nitrogen (or greens).
This recommended ratio can vary considerably and can be confusing when leaves can be either or, so don’t sweat it too much – the important thing is to make it! You can layer in (one- to three-inch thick) all kinds of materials, such as leaves (better if shredded), grass, manures, kitchen waste, wood chips, sawdust, needles, wood ashes, rotten apples, chopped up yard waste and even a sprinkling of dirt or clean sand between the odd layer for added minerals – whatever you can get a hold of.
Keep the compost bins covered, so that the rains and snow don’t wash away the nutrients and drown out the microbes and worms. Those rubber mats work well because they’re easy to remove and they don’t blow away.
It’s too difficult for me to flip my big bins, so I rely on time to do the job of decomposition and it works just fine once I get a good rotation of composted materials in different stages cooking away throughout the year. I’ve been taking advantage of this dry weather to stuff as many leaf bags as I can (over 200 so far!), because every full bag shreds down to less than half of a bag at best and a full bin of organic materials composts down to about half the size when it’s finished. In other words, it takes loads of materials to get any amount of soil or mulch, so you may want to take the time to get a couple of more bins going so you’ve always got plenty.
If I were you, I’d ask Santa for a chipper or leaf shredder for Christmas, because they’re a gardener’s best friend and there’s nothing like that earthy black leaf mould to use in the gardens and compost bins.