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.

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 🙂 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 at  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.)

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.  I just wish they’d put up a sign offering coffee grounds out of self-interest (reducing their trash bill).

What a Weekend

Amazingly, those tulips still haven’t been munched! And we are up to six blooms.

That gave me the courage to buy two peat pots of several tulips at Lowe’s on Saturday. Granted, the investment was tiny — 5o cents apiece at the clearance rack, but I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. They’re now in bigger pots, and once they fade, I’ll find a new place to try to hide them from the deer. Maybe behind the lavender against the porch? Question for you: do you dig yours up every year, or treat tulips like annuals? Just read this on Garden Rant, and we’re one of those whose bulbs rotted because we hadn’t stored them properly one summer. (They’d been in containers. I’m not digging them out of the ground!) I’m wondering what kind of tulips work best for you. Obviously, we’ve left tulips in the ground and had them come back. Annuals? I’ll find something else unless they’re in the bargain bin.

More is in bloom, including the creeping phlox and more daffodils, though many days of hot weather means the early bloomers are fading. The rhubarb seems to be growing about an inch a day. We thought we’d transplanted all of it a couple of weeks ago, but apparently we missed one piece. Moved that on Saturday, so now we have four rhubarb plants (and I think there may be another one hidden somewhere else.)

This weekend was a big gardening weekend. We emptied out R2D2 (ie Earth Machine), and that compost was amazing! Just so light and loose! It’s on top of a couple of raised beds, and I hope all the vegetables will appreciate it. The manufacturer seems to do promotions with local governments, so if you ever have the chance to buy one, do it!  I’d definitely get another one.

In the meantime, we have filled it again with half-broken-down leaves from last fall and have dropped off a couple of buckets at a local coffee shop to be filled with grounds (speeds up the compost process). If more people did this, plants would be happier and we’d spend fewer tax dollars on garbage/leaf and brush collection.

What else got done? Strawberries are now out of a bed and in pots (anyone want some? We have TONS.) Potatoes and some snow peas are planted. Weeded parts of the flower beds, planted a few annuals to add some color, which of course led to dividing a few plants and moving things around. Mowed the lawn for the first time this year.

In all, everything seems further along than last year. Unfortunately, that goes for the weeds too. I’ve seen dandelions and the flowers from mock strawberries. Back to attacking dandelions and trying to make a dent with some hand-weeding.

Worms

The Brit is hinting that expanding his grow-light operation would be a great  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?

Garden dilemma

Today I attacked some of that awful mock strawberry that invades the lawn and some grass-like weeds (in my view) that had died back for the winter. I covered the newly bare patch with newspaper to smother remaining weeds and then used mulch left over from the spring. I’ll now leave it alone until next spring, by which time the newspaper and some of the mulch will have decomposed, adding nutrients to the soil.  This is what it looks like now:

What to plant instead of this awful "grass"?
This mulched-over patch of bad "grass" could easily grow

The question: what to plant there? This patch (which I could easily expand to between six and 10 feet long, by my guess) is on the steepest part of our sloping backyard and is a pain to mow. It runs into what we have called the iris bed, though this year I thinned out the irises. It is packed with daffodils in the spring and we have added other flowers for other seasons, though they aren’t yet as eyecatching as I would like. We can see that bed from the kitchen window and French doors to the deck, but we can’t see this newly mulched section. The slope faces north and anything planted there must contend with deer, groundhog and squirrels.

Do we go for some sort of groundcover or short plants? Shrubs that would obscure everything behind them? (Eventually we want to use the iris bed as one “wall” in a “room” that would be hidden from the house and deck, but that is a longer-term project.) Annuals in the spring and then reseed in the fall, when grass seedlings fare better because the soil is warm and they don’t have to compete with weeds for sun and space?

Offer your suggestions! And pass on any tips for eradicating mock strawberry!

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 the  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