Most of the work in the garden is now finished for the year. Rain, snow, less sunlight hours, and freezing temperatures have sent many of us inside until spring. There might be one final thing you can do to finish cleaning up in preparation for next year. That chore is collecting as many leaves as you can. Its a great source of free organic material that comes from your yard.
The leaves from our property give me plenty for my needs to take me through the entire growing season(except for this year.) You can rake them up or use your lawn mower to make it a little easier. Once bagged, I like to put them all together and cover them with a layer of plastic. This prevents any moisture from getting into the opening at the top of the bag and keeps your leaves dry. By spring, if no moisture has entered the bags, you leaves will become light and brittle. This makes it even easier to break down in the compost bin. And, leaves are one of the best brown ingredients that you can have around to mix with your green material.
Some folks, such as myself, simply bag and keep their leaves for next year. Others will till them into the ground now or next spring, Either way, be sure to get as many leaves as you can this time of year.
Another excellent way to use your leaves next year is for a mulch. In particular, it’s my ingredient of choice to help cool the soil around my lettuce during the summer. It works like a charm. Here’s a nice article that talks more about the benefits of leaves
I’ve been able to make compost successfully for 15 years. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a square foot garden or a traditional garden, making your own is the best way to do it. If done correctly, it’s 100% organic, and the best thing is it’s free! All with material produced from yard clippings, leaves, and uncooked kitchen waste.
While doing an internship with the inventor of the square foot garden in Eden, Utah many years ago, we spent a lot of time making our own compost. We’d drive around town to pick up horse manure from a nearby farm, some finished compost from a local store, mushroom compost from a nearby neighbor, and maybe a trip to a chicken farm where they manufactured their own compost. We also had a supply of straw, brown corn stalks and shredded paper to round out the extra material.
We went to work making the compost-alternating green and brown material in layers, mixing it well, and then dampening the mixture with water as we went along. We didn’t have a fancy compost unit-only free wood pallets for local businesses that were turned vertically to make the containers into a “U” shape. We’d continued to alternate all ingredients until the pallets were full to the very top.
There are a few simple guidelines to follow that I learned from Mel, which I’ve written about previously. But one of the biggest things I forgot about was not to use more than 20% of any single ingredient. That was the source of my challenge this year. I knew something wasn’t right when I wasn’t making compost in my normal 6 weeks.
By mid-summer I didn’t have enough green or brown material because I used so much during the winter and spring season. I had some but not near enough to fill up the bin. And, quantity is one of the things that you need to consider.
So, I went down the street to pick up some free horse manure and I bought a bale of straw. I had read from an expert that this combination was one of the best to produce a good quality homemade compost. I started with a layer of straw, then horse manure, and then the small contents I had from my kitchen. I had no leaves. I layered to the very top and did all the things I normally do to produce a great compost in 6 weeks. But nothing was happening. After 10 weeks I knew something was wrong.
In the meantime I began composting my other bin-this time with my normal ingredients-food waste, dried clippings, spent garden material, shredded paper, manure, and leaves! Within a 2 week period of time it was easy to see that this pile was breaking down much quicker. It was heating up, losing volume, and the individual ingredients were getting harder and harder to recognize.
It’s taken a long time to get to the point, but as I thought about the problematic compost pile-I remembered the lesson. Never add more than 20% of any one thing. And, leaves,which have been dried, work marvelously in the compost bin-much better than their larger straw counterparts.
As we teach in the square foot gardening system-use the 4 “M’s” to make great compost in as little as 6 weeks.. Mix, mash, moisten, and move
I looked out the window this morning to see that we had our first hard frost. Last night I was able to cover everything just in time to protect what I have growing. This is at the lower end of the temperature spectrum that I can expect protection. The floating row cover is good to about 27 or 28 degrees-which is just right for what we had. Any colder and it will be time to add the plastic. Or, if snow is expected you’ll want to cover with plastic because row cover can’t withstand any accumulation of snow.
Right now is a great time to dry out any leftover grass clipping and to collect bags of leaves. If you make your own compost you’ll find that leaves and things coming out of your kitchen and yard will make the perfect blended compost for next years gardening needs. I’ll bag up as many leaves as I can and then cover them with plastic to make sure no moisture gets in to them. That way when I need to start using them when making compost in the spring I won’t have to work with matted, soggy leaves. After sitting under plastic for the entire winter the leaves become very brittle and breakdown easily and quickly in the compost bin. I’ll have to collect about 8 bags of leaves to take me through the next year.
I did learn a very important lesson about composting this year. At one point in later summer I ran out of compost. I had some that I was waiting to finish but it was taking a lot longer than I’m used to. From start to finish I’ve been able to produce a quality compost in 6 weeks. Seven at the most. But this particular batch was taking upwards of 10 and it still isn’t that close to being done. What did I do wrong? I’ll talk about that in my next post. Thanks for visiting.
You northern Utah gardeners-if you’re wanting to learn how to have a winter garden or one that gets going 6-8 weeks earlier in the spring, this class is for you. You bring the number of 1/2″ EMT pieces and I’ll bend them for you while you’re here.
These structures are rock solid, mobile, and are much less expensive than traditional greenhouses. You won’t have to worry about some of the problems with permanent greenhouses either-like excessive salt build up-because they’ll be taken down in the spring time. These are sun driven systems only. You won’t be needing any fancy heating or water systems.
If you are interested in attending please contact me. We will begin promptly at 10:00 A.M. and end at 10:30 A.M. No Utah time arrivals please!
Although you will see what my square foot gardens look like, there will be no SFG instruction at this class. Its specifically how to construct a low tunnel only. You can learn more about the class here.
This will be my second season growing this unbelievable lettuce for the winter. It holds up well in the freeze/thaw cycles better than some of the others-as long as it doesn’t get too big. In my experience the larger lettuce leaves turn into soup after 2 or 3 freeze and thaw cycles. I think smaller lettuce leaves do much better than the larger ones in our zone(6B)during the winter months.
I’ve only got 3 more squares to plant for the winter, and those will be finished this week. Everything else is the perfect size heading into mid-November. There’s only about 3 more weeks of active growing before everything starts to slow down. At that point even the smaller leaf crops almost hibernate until about the first of February, when they come back with a vengeance. Either way, I like to get things going as fast as possible in late winter. For those crops that are a little small right now-they will be the first up in the spring. If you can plant in late-summer or early fall with the right crops you’ll be able to do the same thing in your square foot garden. Or any garden for that matter.
For you visiting warm weather gardeners-you may not be interested in this variety of lettuce as its made to withstand more difficult weather-as the name implies. You can learn more about this little lettuce gem here. For you cold weather folks, you ought to consider this lettuce. Sure, there’s other great tasting lettuces out there-and I do grow other varieties that I’ll share with you over time. But you’ll not get a better performer than this for the winter garden. If you’re too late to order and plant now, which you probably are, then keep it in mind for the late winter/early spring harvest.
Or even better, the holidays are around the corner. My favorite gifts have always been certificates from the seed companies I advertise on my blog. Why not take the stress out of the crazy holiday shopping season(unless you like that!)and buy your family/garden friends some seeds! If you keep a close eye on my blog I’ll let you know when these companies are offering free shipping. If you don’t want to wait for that you can buy anytime. By the time you pay for a couple of seed packets and shipping, it will be about $12. If you wait for free shipping, it might only be $7 for 2 packets. That’s a pretty cheap gift-and one that will last for years! Gardeners love to get great seeds. And if one packet of lettuce can give you 500-750 heads, thats a pretty great gift