Are you composting during the winter months?

compost-with-shredded-paperThis will probably be my last post of the year about composting.  I spend a lot of time on it because I think it’s important and one of the biggest reasons for the success I’ve had as a square foot gardener.  In the northern parts of the U.S. where winters are harsh it’s still a great idea to use the winter months to collect material to add in the compost unit even though you’re not actively composting.  During the warmer months it’s important to keep your compost damp-like a rung out sponge.  That changes during the winter months.

The goal of the bin at this time is to be ready to make compost as early as possible in the spring.  It’s too late now to make a finished batch of compost.  If you water your compost bins now as you do during the warmer months, the freezing temperatures will turn your bins into ice cubes.  It will take a lot longer to thaw compost piles out come spring when that happens.

I make sure to only add material during winter.  When its time to begin actively working the compost in late February, I don’t have to worry at all about waiting for it to thaw. It’s ready to be turned and aerated.  An important item is to have a nice compost unit to store material.  I’ve had mine for 16 years and I think I bought it for $35.  Its made out of a solid piece of hard plastic.  Its got a nice to for removal and 2 access doors.  I’ve had folks ask me where I got mine and they can be hard to find.  Sure, there are others, but I love mine.  Whatever you do, try to avoid the spinning ones.  I’ve got a strong bias against using those for reasons I can explain later.  I was able to find my exact compost unit through Amazon.  It’s a lot more expensive, but its the right one.  I’ve linked the compost bin on my blog.  I hate to even think about it, but what about a Christmas gift?  These are nice looking units that hold up well and don’t break down.  Give it some thought.

As I removed the top of the bin last week it smelled a little bit like a sewer.  Not that strong, but a little bit. This tells me that its too moist and too much green material. Having used up all my leaves from last fall, I had to find a suitable brown material, which I did in the form of shredded paper.  The pile is now back to a neutral smell.  The senses of sight and smell can really guide you when making compost.

Use this time to gather as much material as you can.  Come spring, you will be glad you did

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Finished compost

finished-compost-092816I’m almost done making compost for the year. There’s one more unit that should be done in the next 3-4 weeks which will easily leave me with enough compost for winter and next spring.

When you learn how to make your own compost with free material coming out of your kitchen and yard you’ll realize that you can’t buy it as good as you can make it. Its an easy process and when done correctly only takes 6 weeks to produce. You have to work it every day, but the end result is excellent.

The time to make and complete a batch of compost is quickly coming to an end for the year in our zone. In a matter of weeks the first frost and cold weather arrives. For me, this marks the time when I no longer will add any water to the compost bin, and I’ll use the winter months to do nothing but collect greens. In fact, when I fill my other bin with greens, shrub clippings, and leaves, I wont add any water at all.

Here’s something you can do right now. Bag, collect, and keep your leaves! As many as you can! This is used for a brown ingredient, which is difficult to find in the quantities you need when spring gets here. We usually have no problem collecting the greens, but brown material is the challenge. Make sure you cover them up. Don’t let moisture get into the small opening. It will mat things down and make a big mess.

By doing this you’ll be set up to have success next spring. You won’t have to go hunting around for brown material because you’ll already have it.

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Harvest time

img_0340If you’re anything like me your cherry tomatoes have been coming up very heavily right now. It’s the time of season where you really don’t do much work-mostly harvesting. The exception to that is if you’re planning to have a winter garden. I’ll be posting next week to mention what I’ve been preparing in my winter gardens. There are some unique advantages to the winter months, and there are even some advantages to living in a very cold climate vs. our friends in warmer climates. In some of these warmer climates you wont be able to grow winter annuals like us northerns. Of course, we can’t get tomatoes year round like they do.

Like previous summers, I’ve grown several different varieties of tomatoes. Three types of the regular looking varieties, a paste tomato, 4 cherry tomatoes, and a grape tomato. All taste different. All are delicious! And if I wonder out to the garden and find some on the ground, I know I’ve waited too long. It’s hard for me to keep up on pulling the ripe ones, but it’s pretty important to get that done. I’ll now begin to preserve my tomato harvest by freezing and using my dehydrator. Maybe I’ll post something about that on a later date

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Square foot gardening for the winter

imageOkay, it’s the first week of September and the weather has definitely changed!  No more 100’s, and probably no more 90’s.  Nights are getting into the mid 50’s.  Here is zone 6 it’s time to begin planting for the winter garden.

This week I’ve planted several squares of lettuce, and I will follow that up with another batch of lettuce plantings next week.  This is called succession planting.  It helps you prolong the harvest period during a time when plants virtually stop growing.

I’ve got my favorite lettuces for winter gardening.  One of the best is Queensland.  It’s virtually impossible to find in the U.S.  Other varieties that I grow successfully are Prize Head, EZ serve, Nevada, four seasons, gourmet mix, and black seeded Simpson.  There’s been a lot written about Salanova-a fairly new lettuce that, when harvested,  gives you equal pieces of beautiful lettuce leaves.  It’s a bit on the pricey side, but it sure looks good, tastes great, and it stores for a longer time.

Try a winter garden this year.  It’s the best time to garden.  No pests, hardly any watering, and it’s delicious.

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For those who have no room for a garden-grow bags!

I’ve been experimenting with these for the first time this year.  All I can say is: wow! They are just spectacular!  I tried one for potatoes in the spring because I didn’t have any room left in my square foot gardens.   I haven’t harvested those yet but I can tell you, it looks like its grown a massive amount.  I also grew on deck corn successfully-a special container variety from Burpee.

These grow bags come in many sizes.  The one pictured is 5 gallons.  I’m growing my brussel sprout plant in it and I think it’s going to do well.  I’m hoping it will.  Brussel sprouts can be a challenge around here with aphids in late spring and summer.  So, I’m now trying-again-to grow them in the cooler season and use floating row cover over it in a couple of weeks.

These grow bags are solid.  Because of the nifty side handles they can be moved wherever you want them. For folks who want to have a garden but have no room, these are perfect!  You could have several of them on the patio, move them around, and grow many different crops in them.  You can look at the different sizes and colors here.  Garden Supply is having a great year end summer blow out with items up to 80% off.  You might find some items you’ll use next spring at huge discounts.  Give it a look.

If you’re lucky and have a kale transplant around, plop it in one of these and place it next to your backdoor.  It will perfect for winter use and you can’t kill kale.  You won’t even have to cover it!    For those who took my winter harvest gardening class this morning, their floating row cover looks pretty good

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