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Weed It and Reap: Making Garden Gold

By Victoria Rolfe / Red Hook, NY


Raking up for future gold
Raking up for future gold

The frosty winter months are just around the corner now, and the spectacular display of autumn leaves is falling to our feet to blanket the ground around us. By this time of the year, the vegetable garden is for the most part tucked in for the season.


Meanwhile, we still have those aforementioned leaves on the ground to contend with. If you have been in the habit of bagging your leaves for curbside pick-up or other such disposal, now is the time to break that habit. Unlike other bad habits, this one is pretty easy to break. The only “patch” you will need is a (free) one right in your own backyard.


A view of autumn gold from the front porch
A view of autumn gold from the front porch

Start a leaf mulch pile. For leaf composting, there are no secret formulas to learn or bins to construct. All you need to do is choose an out-of-the-way location on your property and start piling. It is best to mulch the leaves by running them over with a lawnmower a few times before tossing them on the pile. This will result in a quicker breakdown process. In a year’s time that pile will be considerably smaller and beneath it you will be rewarded with beautiful rich crumbly leaf mold that you can use to add organic goodness to your garden.


Autumn leaves are not only beautiful but a valuable asset to your garden
Autumn leaves are not only beautiful but a valuable asset to your garden

Start a compost pile. In addition to saving your leaves, this is a great time to get started on your very own compost pile if you do not already have one. The system you set up can be as simple or elaborate as you like. It can also be as cheap or expensive as you desire, the least of which would be free. Again, an out-of-the-way location (though preferably close to your garden) is all that is required.


You can just start piling your yard debris and kitchen scraps directly on the ground, or you can create a simple receptacle for them, using perhaps an old garbage can with holes drilled into the bottom and sides for aeration and drainage, or a piece of chicken wire bent into a circle of about 3’ in diameter with some stakes to anchor it to the ground. Another inexpensive way to construct a compost container is to utilize old wood pallets to make a three-sided box with the front left open for adding material and scooping out the finished compost. If you enjoy spending money, there are all manner of ready-made sometimes elaborate compost systems to be purchased from anywhere you can purchase garden supplies.


The basic elements that your compost pile will need to do its work are air circulation, water, and materials to break down (your yard debris and kitchen scraps). The insects and microorganisms required for the process will come naturally, free of charge!


The simple formula for ideal breakdown is three parts “browns” (carbon) to one part “greens” (nitrogen). Browns are such things as shredded leaves, dried grass clippings, wood chips, sawdust, paper, and cardboard. Greens are your fresh yard debris, kitchen scraps, and manure ( don’t be confused by the color--manure is a “green” because it is rich in nitrogen content).


If you do nothing more than throw these materials together in a corner of your yard, they will eventually break down into compost. All other guidelines and instructions that you hear about compost care are pretty much directed toward the goal of facilitating that breakdown for a speedier result (or sometimes to keep it odor free). To that end, you can do such things as maintaining a proper moisture level (about the consistency of a wrung-out sponge) or chopping pieces as small as possible to create more surface area for breakdown or turning your pile every so often to facilitate better air circulation.


How much (or little) time and money you choose to spend on your compost pile is entirely up to you. But if you are going to be a gardener, especially a thrifty gardener, turning your own kitchen scraps and yard debris into beautiful compost gold is a must. It just does not make sense to forgo that lovely free resource right in your own backyard. And as a plus, you will be saving the landfills from all that kitchen garbage. A win-win all around!


Vanna, er, Victoria points out her lovely three-bin compost system made (free!) from pallets
Vanna, er, Victoria points out her lovely three-bin compost system made (free!) from pallets

If you already have a leaf or compost pile going, now is a perfect time to put that black garden gold to good use. Before one garden season draws to a close, the dedicated gardener already has her sights set on next spring! Now is a great time to amend your beds with a layer of compost or leaf mulch . Even better than that, have you been dreaming of a new bed? (For your plants that is). Well, this is the perfect time to lay down that cardboard and start piling on your “lasagna” layers. For a refresher course on making a new bed, lasagna-style, refer back to Weed it and Reap: Getting Down in the Dirt.


Jesse and John shovel homemade compost onto a newly made garden bed
The author's husband John (l) and son Jesse shovel homemade compost onto a newly made garden bed

Nothing left to do but peruse the seed catalogs with visions of summer’s exquisite backyard confectionery until it’s time to sow our seeds again for next years’ garden delights.


And now I bid you all a Happy Thanksgiving and hope that your table is beautiful and bountiful and graced with some of the fresh wholesome vegetables that you grew right in your own yard! If you have planted such cold-hearty crops as Brussels sprouts, kale and winter squash, you may still be able to bring something in fresh from the garden for your Thanksgiving dinner. How cool is that? It’s certainly something to be grateful for. Happy Holidays and Bon Appétit!


A fall cornucopia of garden goodness
A fall cornucopia of garden goodness

 

Victoria Rolfe has had a love of gardening all her life, from the time she was a tiny child coveting the daffodils growing in her neighbor’s yard (and wondering why she couldn’t have them in her own), to her teenage years when she took her pot experimentation in a different direction by growing the seeds she extracted from the bag into a beautiful marijuana plant on her bedroom windowsill. She went on in her adult years to feed her family by growing a huge and bountiful vegetable garden, as well as beautifying her three-acre property with an array of ornamental trees, bushes and flowers in the magnificent Hudson Valley region of New York.


Victoria learned a great deal in the process of all this plant experimentation. She then added to that knowledge by taking courses with the Cornell Cooperative Extension to become a Master Gardener Volunteer. In her volunteer capacity, she helps to educate the public on gardening through classes and information booths, most notably at the Dutchess County N.Y. Fair each August. Throughout the summer months, Victoria is most likely to be found among the weeds, either in her own garden or those of others who actually pay her to play in their dirt and do the thing she loves best, delight in the magical world of gardening.


Victoria is not only a gardening aficionado; she is also passionate about helping people live a better life on less money. Visit her website and blog at brightfuture2budget4.weebly.com, or email her at brightfuture2budget4@gmail.com.




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