Screening for compost

It’s time to fully reclaim our driveway.

It had shrunk a bit over the years, as wood and leaves rotted down and built up along the edges and more. Weeds invaded too. Before winter set in, I shoveled it to what I think is the edge of blacktop, figuring that extra six or 12 inches would come in handy when snow narrowed the driveway even more.

But it’s been a pretty mild winter and today I decided to see if I could screen out all the bad stuff with a piece of metal cloth wire (or whatever it’s called) that had once been used to build a compost bin.

So here it goes:

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Time had certainly done its job in creating compost. We stopped after nearly two buckets of crumbly, rich, black compost (and a few worms) and dumped what I hope is pretty weed-free on parts of the flower beds. Plenty more to go, and more of the driveway still to reclaim.

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After Irene

We woke up this morning thinking we’d come through Hurricane Irene pretty well. Aside from a flicker, we hadn’t lost power, and there wasn’t much water in the basement.

Then we went outside.

The rain and swollen river behind our house had brought down a couple of trees, and another big branch crashed down as we examined the damage. The river was a zillion times wider than normal, and water was well onto our property line, though still far (and downhill) from the house. The compost bins took a direct hit from water and trees:

 

Another downed tree:

Our flooded main road:

And Grovers Mill Pond can’t contain itself:

But the biggest loss for us may be to our wood pile! Pieces are floating down the Millstone River, and we hope to recover most of them when the river recedes. Not that there will be a shortage of wood from other sources after Irene.

And then we did lose power — for seven hours. We’re grateful it came back on so quickly and we aren’t waiting five to seven days like other people may have to.

Fall = Compost

Now that the leaves are falling, our thoughts turn to compost. Leaving all those leaves on the curb is such a waste of goodness for your garden and yard! Oddly, both the Brit and I have had conversations at work in the past week or so with colleagues who are curious about composting.

As I’ve written before, I’ve become a big believer in a mix of leaves from the yard and coffee grounds from the local coffee shop, collected in five-gallon buckets. We’re still perfecting our technique: I think we need to do a better job of keeping compost moist, particularly as we build the pile; there were some very dry leaves at the end of some piles. But we’re getting faster at collecting leaves. This afternoon, we mowed up all the leaves in the front yard and just about all of the back yard — record pace! Emptying the lawn-mower bag on a tarp and then hauling a pile down to the our new open-ended cage made of chicken wire helped cut our time šŸ™‚ I bet it takes no more time than blowing leaves to the curb for collection (and then blowing them back to the curb a week later because they don’t stay put).

Our ever-growing pen of leaves

We’ll move leaves into our proper compost bins next, but we also could just mix in the coffee grounds now and leave it. This will turn into black gold, and our vegetable and flower beds will love it. And I am amazed atĀ  how soft and fluffy the soil becomes.

It’s really that easy. There’s no shortage of websites with composting information. Here’s one I just found as I sought confirmation of my idea not compost tomato plants. (Don’t compost them .. risk of disease.)

Garlic Gluttony

One of our fall projects is to plant garlic, and lots of it. But after this year’s mixed results, we decided raised beds are the only way. So we built a special bed (!) for the garlic, snuggled between a couple of raspberry canes and just six inches deep. Then we filled it with homemade compost (mostly leaves and coffee grounds from last year) mixed with a bit of soil and let the compost break down a bit more. Oooh … wonderfully soft and crumbly. This better lead to big, healthy bulbs.

Most of the cloves we are planting are the biggest ones we grew this year. But we also scored a bunch from a colleague who had his own connections and some from a local farmers’ market.

The Brit spaced it out, giving each plant about five inches (never mind that the books say six inches). Given that the bed is five feet by three inches, we had room for 70 (!) cloves. Yes, we like our garlic.

I am guessing that come May, we will have more garlic scapes than we can use and will be happy to share . But hopefully we will get through next winter without needing any grown-in-China garlic from the store.

A Jolt of Joe For the Garden

I want to share this site, which explains the benefits of using coffee grounds in the garden. I’m already a firm believer, shamelessly asking the coffee shop at the train station to fill my five-gallon bucket with their coffee trash so that I can make lots of compost. I used to get them from the coffee shop at work before I turned into a commuter, and I found that in both places, they’re initially puzzled but then happy to do it.Ā  I just wish they’d put up a sign offering coffee grounds out of self-interest (reducing their trash bill).

Worms

The Brit is hinting that expanding his grow-light operation would be a greatĀ  Christmas present. An email from Fine Gardening got me thinking about worm composting, since he’s such a compost enthusiast. I know some fifth-graders in town created a worm composting bin for their environmental fair. The hardest part seems to be deciding whether to mail-order red wrigglers or try to get them from the ground, though I’m sure it’s more complicated than that.
This is the article from Fine Gardening, with a video. And another one I found on the site.
Anyone have any experience with this and want to offer advice?

More fall clean-up (and compost time)

Fall coloring
Our Norwegian Maple in its Fall glory

This was our first weekend in a long time when both of us were home all day for both days (OK, read that as I had nothing planned during the day). Once it stopped raining, we were able to gets lots of yard work done.

We cleared out the last of the compost, smothering some of the raised vegetable beds with several inches worth. That should make our plants pretty happy next spring!

Then we started making fresh compost so we’ll have plenty of good stuff for next year. We’ve learned from the past few years and have our short cuts. First we mow up the leaves with the mower, collecting them (and grass) in the bag. If most of the leaves are from our oaks, which take a long time to decompose, we then shred them a second time with a leaf blower/vacuum. Then we dump them in the bins. Today we filled two bins, 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet. Unfortunately, we hadn’t stocked up on coffee grounds this week (coffee shop by the train station knows me!) so we are relying on theĀ  grass clippings to provide enough nitrogen to ignite the heat. I’m sure we’ll add coffee grounds (also ‘green’ — leaves are carbon, ie brown) later on.

We’ll have more leaves to mulch in a few weeks. And if we don’t end up with compost, leaf mold will make us happy and replace some of the mulch we’d buy in the spring. Mike McGrath (WHYY’s You Bet Your Garden) says that while it doesn’t have the nutrients that compost has, worms love it and the casing they create are great for the soil. Here’s another take.

Vegetable beds are almost empty. The tomatoes went two weeks ago, with the aid of a three-year-old. The “volunteer” plants surprised with plenty of tomatoes. The leeks for the most part look pretty fat, and we intend to eat them around Thanksgiving. The groundhog and deer seem to leave them alone. Otherwise there’s some arugula/mixed greens that need picking.

Next month's harvest: leeks
Next month's harvest: leeks