A series of articles presented by Candy Horton, OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer
As the winter has progressed, you would think that there’s not much to do in the potager garden. Its cold out, it’s wet and dreary, but I have made it a point to go out into the space to see exactly what is happening. I mean, nature doesn’t stop just because it’s cold, wet and dreary. It’s a very busy place. I see the weeds breaking down, I see all of the leaves that fell in my yard slowly disappearing into the soil and I see some of the onions that I’m trying to over winter slowly growing taller and greener.
What I noticed the most are that the grasses, weeds and other plants growing in that area are breaking down into rich nutrients that the worms and other micro sized critters are slowly taking back into the soil and enriching it for next year’s crops. That got me to thinking about composting and how this natural process is so important in growing healthy plants. Healthier plants resist diseases and grow healthier fruits and vegetables. Composting is the natural process of plants, leaves, paper, and other organic material decomposing. I will be able to reuse my garden waste of plants, straw, weeds, twigs, and grass clippings. I can add to that kitchen scrapes, cardboard, and paper. When I add these ingredients together in the right proportions and let it sit, nature will take over and create wonderful compost. There are several different methods of composting, such as quick “hot heaps” and the slower “cool heaps”. You can have a worm compost system, leaf mold, composting bins or buy compost from your local garden store. The methods that I am choosing to use are leaf mold and cool heaps with an open wooden bin that I have built out of scrap wood and some old fence posts. I have built it with three sections.
The first section of my compost bin will be used for a form of compost that is called leaf mold. I have about 16 trees in my upper yard section and each year I either rake all of those leaves up or I mow them over. This is free compost that saves me money with a little bit of planning. Leaf mold is very simple to make, it just takes time. You set aside space in your yard or garden. Then you build a bin out of wood or wire, and fill it full of leaves, then let it sit. I took 4 t-posts, posted them in the ground and then took some old chicken wire and wrapped it around the t-posts and have had leaf mold for several years now. It’s best to let this sit for about two years to fully decompose. If I mow the leaves over and gather them up, this will chop the leaves up into smaller pieces, which help them to decompose faster. I can then use this as top dressing in the spring or mix it under in the fall.
The other two bins will be used for a natural cool heap compost process. This process is simple too but takes a bit more planning. The process or recipe I will be using is to start with about 3” of what is called brown material (ex: leaves, paper, straw), then I will build on that with about 1 to 6” of green materials (ex: kitchen scraps, plant debris, grass clippings), then about ¼ to 1” of soil. I will then continue to repeat these layers until the bin is full. I will need to make sure that it stays moist and has good air ventilation to aid in the decomposing. I will let it sit until next spring. At the beginning of next spring I will turn it over into the second bin. Let it sit for another year and start a new pile in the third bin. At the end of that second year, I will have a bin full of compost to add to the garden and I will turn the third bin over into the second bin that I emptied into the garden. It seems like it will take a long time to get through the first two years, but once I have that system going, I will have a continual supply of good compost. There are other methods that are quicker than this and the Lorrain County OSU Extension has a really great outline of the composting process on their website titled “Home Composting”. Composting can be a very inexpensive way to bring health to your garden and to help the environment all at the same time. Next time, we will be talking about planting for this first year.