Sunday, November 25, 2007

Late Fall

A full day of leaf shredding has the 3-bin compost system full to overflowing. What a great feeling to have that done. Plenty more leaves will be falling, have fallen, since yesterday, but the rest will just have stay where they land, or maybe they'll blow across the street into the neighbor's yard. Or maybe the bins will settle down a bit and I'll be able to fit some more in... they seem to do that at this time of year.

I once wrote that I have the most complicated and inefficient compost area in the world. There's the 3-bin set-up, made of scrap lumber, that is intended to be filled from left to right, with the material turned to the right as it ages. Well, there's always more material waiting in the last bin when the first bin gets full, so there's a stand-by bin that I use for finishing the stuff - one of those round plastic bins that's supposed to allow you to add rough material to the top and remove finished compost from the bottom. Yeah, right, that might work in some alternate universe, but not in New England. Off to the side, there's a tumbler, for kitchen scraps. Also called a batch composter, it's the only way I know of to use food scraps and not end up feeding rodents. The tall aluminum legs can't be climbed, but even so I've had to nail hardware cloth (like fine-gauge, rigid chicken wire) over the larger openings to keep the critters out; apparently rodents are good jumpers. This unit becomes hard to turn as it gets full, so there's a holding bin for cooking batches of the stuff that's come out of the tumbler. That's one of the square plastic units, and it's wrapped all around with hardware cloth and set on thick concrete blocks to deter rodents. I can dump the tumbler into that about three times before it's full, adding a layer of dry garden waste on top of the slimy vegetable waste. Off-loading the tumbler is probably the messiest job in my garden; sometimes the olfactory sensation is less than fabulous; in other words, it stinks.

My compost system gives me more than free soil supplements. It's the only place to work when the ground is wet, and I happen to like the workout I get turning these bins full of shredded leaves and grass clippings. Of course I often put in material that should go into the trash; I'm a Yankee, though, and can't bear to toss out weeds or small branches that might eventually make good compost. So, my compost has lots of seeds and bits of viable roots in it; wherever I use it I get a fresh crop of Verbena bonariensis, lambs' ears, rudbeckia, coreopsis, and assorted salvias. Also dandelions, crab grass, and the new bane of my existence, Nimble Will. If you're not familiar with that grassy weed, just consider yourself lucky.

More on compost coming right up...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Back in the Swing

After missing most of the fall season traveling, I had a chance to start catching up today. Leaves to rake, lawn to mow (not much lawn left, luckily), and some of the spent perennials to cut back. I got most of the peony foliage into trash bags - a few of those still need to be cut back - and most of the overly aggressive Verbena bonariensis, Eupatorium purpureum (Joe Pye Weed), Antirrhinum majus (snapdragon), and Malva alcea volunteers cut down to the ground, run through the chipper, and put into the compost - where they will make great top-dressing and (no doubt) many new volunteers for next year.

Being away from my garden during part of our short growing season is no fun, but it gives me a chance to catch my breath, repair my aching back, and take stock of what I have done and what I want to do with my little in-town garden. This time, it also gave me a chance to see some great city gardens in Charleston, SC, as well as the fantastic Galapagos Islands (though only briefly!) Walking around the old section of Charleston, I was really struck by how much beauty gardeners can create on a small plot of land. I noticed that in many yards, the areas used for parking cars double as garden space. There's no blacktop in sight, the paving materials are aged and the paving looks somewhat haphazard: very different from what we see in New England.

My own driveway is stone, and it's always sprouting weeds. An informal arrangement of pavers seems like a great alternative.

Another benefit of traveling: I appreciate the relatively minor problem insects present in northern climates. This fellow came aboard our ship when we were in Panama; the grill he's clinging to is a 2 inch wire grid:

He's got to be about 6 inches long, in the grasshopper family, I think he's a Tropidacris dux, or Giant Grasshopper. Can you imagine gardening with anything this size chomping on your plants?

Anyway, great to be back in the garden after five or six weeks of work on a ship!