2010-09-23 / News

Fall clean-up starts now

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

Fall is officially here, and it’s time for a major yard and garden clean-up. Leaf-raking is the biggest chore. I suggest you purchase the loudest leaf blower you can find and do the leaf blowing before you go to work, between 6 and 7 a.m. Your neighbors will be so annoyed, they’ll probably offer to rake your leaves later in the day.

That said, please don’t dispose of your leaves in the trash. They just occupy landfill space and when mixed with all the trash, barely break down. Instead, make your own leaf mold.

Leaf mold is a primary ingredient in forest soil and is high in nutrients. Find a quiet part of your garden and make a leaf pile. Keep adding leaves to the top of the pile and in a couple of years, dig the leaf mold from the bottom of the pile. Mix leaf mold – it usually has no seeds, no acorns, no twigs or branches, and is as close to sterile as you can find in nature – with peat moss, sand and Perlite to make your own potting soil.

I find the easiest method of making leaf mold is to pick up leaves with the lawnmower (unsprayed grass only) and then dump the leaves and cut grass into my leaf mold pile. The small amount of grass, which is high in nitrogen, in the mix helps the leaves – high in carbon – break down faster and produces leaf mold in under two years.

I prefer not to put my tomato plants into the compost bin. Any diseases they may have may not break down totally, and I do not want to run the risk of transferring disease to next year’s plants. I put old tomato plants in plastic bags and send them to the landfi ll. Virtually all other plants can go into the compost.

To make the best compost, shred everything before putting it into your compost pile. If you don’t have a shredder, simply make a big pile of compost and run it over with your lawn mower. If you plan to use this method, make sure there are no stones or sticks in the pile, and wear safety glasses. A piece of stone flying out of your lawnmower can do serious damage.

My preferred method is to pass everything through my shredder, which chops it into small pieces. By mixing grass clippings, dying and dead plants, leaves, twigs from cutting the privet hedge, a little seaweed from the local beach (it has a little sand, which also helps give good tilth to your soil) and kitchen scraps (no meat), I get a hot compost pile that will stay warm through October. After six weeks or so, the pile is turned, and it heats up again. I like to turn the pile at least three times, although an organic farming website suggests that turning the pile five times is best. Turning the compost pile frequently ensures that it stays hot, and that all seeds and diseases are literally cooked away. In my yard, the last turning of the pile sees the compost put through a screen into a wheelbarrow and returned to the garden in spring.

Bare vegetable garden patches can be sown with winter rye to maintain their nutrient levels over the winter. If you leave the soil bare, winter rains will wash nutrients away. Jamestown Hardware usually has winter rye at a reasonable price. If you sow it early, you don’t need to sow as heavily as you may have to later in the year.

In spring, turn the winter rye over and the rotting rye grass provides a high nitrogen boost to your organic garden.

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