A GARDENER’S DIARY: Compost feeds the garden

Columnist Jocelyne Sewell provides information on how to improve your soil conditions

The snow might be gone but the nights and even the days are still cold. However, if I wait for the sun before cleaning the yard, I might run out of time. Last week we shredded 15 bags of leaves with the old lawnmower. Even the wet stuff was easy to do. All these bags by the time we finished were equal to less than two full bags. It smelled so good, like walking in the forest in the fall. I will use that for mulching the plants later on.

As I was cleaning and cutting the old stems and doing whatever you do in the spring, I thought it might be a good time to write about composting. There are many varieties of bins, boxes, and other containers. These structures make composting easier and improve the appearance of the compost pile. To some extent, they also protect from washing rains and baking sun. I have seen people using the large pallets which are often free. Stand them on their sides and you can make a large box out of them and cover the top with a plastic sheet or tarp.

Composting in heaps is an extension of a process that is going on almost everywhere in nature. When a lawn is mowed and the clippings are left on the ground, they compost and feed your lawn at the same time. Of course if you save your clippings for mulching, make sure you don’t use herbicide to kill your weeds. I see bags and bags of grass clippings discarded for garbage, and people turn around and buy fertilizer for their lawn.

I have one black square composting bin. The round one that reminds me of  Darth Vader works very well. In the back corner of the garden, Tom has built one that is 8’x4’. It has a fibreglass roof and is tall enough for me to walk in. Next to this site, I have a new space this year which I am using for extra large composting stuff like corn and sunflower stocks, which are too big to shred. I also have one that used to be a second-hand rain barrel but it cracked and with additional holes in the bottom and the sides, it has been recycled as a composter. All the compost I made last year was ready to be used by the end of the summer. At one point, the heat in one of them registered 148 F. I turn the material every third day or so and every time I add something.

You can compost all your kitchen greens, fruit and vegetable scraps, houseplant cuttings, coffee grounds, rice and pasta, egg shells, tea bags, flowers, plant and hedge trimmings and small amounts of grass. This is called your greens (nitrogen-rich). For a good compost that will break down and work properly, you also need your browns (carbon-rich). These are your coffee filters, stale bread, paper napkins and towels, dryer lint, hair, leaves, straw or hay, small twigs and dried grass and weeds. Don’t compost meat, fish or bones, dairy products, oils or fats, sauces, ashes, pet waste, diseased plants and mature weeds with seeds.

Compost is more than a fertilizer or a healing agent for the soil’s wounds. It is a symbol of continuing life. The compost heap in your garden is an intensified version of this process of death and rebuilding which is going on almost everywhere in nature. Life is leaving the living plants of yesterday, but in their death these leaves and stalks pass on their vitality to the coming generations of future seasons.

Okanagan Gardens and Roses Garden Club meets April 9 at Schubert Centre at 7:30 p.m. Everyone welcome. For information, call Jocelyne at 250-558-4556.