We create and maintain organic vegetable gardens in your backyard or business.

Follow Us

RSS Feed Facebook

Join Our E-Mail List

Rotting Your Way to a Healthy Garden


There are still leeks, chard, beets, lettuce, broccoli, scallions and peppers in my garden, but the season is running down for me and you and there things you can/should do to keep your garden as healthy as possible. The most important of which is making compost.

Chard in October

Chard in October

If you want a thriving vegetable garden that gives you a good harvest with minimal problems, no pesticides, little fertilizer, and reduced watering, you need healthy living soil. In your quest to achieve that goal your best friend is compost. Compost is extremely simple to make at your home (even inside an apartment), though it does require occasional attention, work and the proper ingredients.

Compost is composed of once-living materials that are being¬† broken down into their basic components by the action of insects, fungi, and bacteria. For home composting only plant materials are used to make the compost (with eggshells as one exception). Animal products can be composted but unless handelled carefully will attract animals, so they’re not recommended.

Composting materials are divided into greens and browns and you need the approximately equal amounts of each to make a successful compost pile. Greens include grass clippings, vegetable peelings, and manure. Browns most commonly are autumn (dead) leaves and straw (not hay which has weed seeds).

One complication of home composting is that most browns are available in one part of the year and greens in another. One way to deal with this is to build up a supply of either greens or browns you can use when the other is in short supply. Greens are a little hard to store because their moisture content makes them rot in relatively gross ways if you have a big pile of them. If you really need more greens for your compost pile you can sometimes get vegetable scraps (corn husks especially)¬† and rotting veggies from your local supermarket (for those of you who live around here, Adams already sends all of this material to local farms for animal feed so you can’t any greens from them-I asked). Also, even if your compost has too much of one component or another, it will still break down and be a valuable addition to your garden.

Leaf Pile Before Mowing

Leaf Pile Before Mowing

Browns on the other hand store much better. You can buy straw specifically for your compost pile, but if you mulched your garden with straw (as I recommend) you can pull that off at the end of the season and save it for your pile. But the best, cheapest way to get your browns for storage, is to use the leaves that are falling in your yard right now.

Leaf Pile After Mowing

Leaf Pile After Mowing

The only problem with leaves is that they take up a tremendous amount of room because the stiff, oddly-shaped leaves don’t fit well together. So I collect my leaves, bring them to the one spot in my yard where there is no grass (under the big oak tree, which also happens to be right next to my compost bins) and run them over with my lawn mower. As you can see from the pics there is a huge reduction in the size of the pile after mowing. Chopping up the leaves also will increase how quickly they turn into compost.

When you cleanup your garden at the end of the year, don’t throw any diseased plants into your compost pile, because then you’ll just be putting the disease back in the garden when you add the compost to your garden. If you’re not sure if a plant is diseased then be on the safe side and don’t put it in.

In my experience, the most commonly diseased plants are tomatoes, with a variety of diseases, and all of the squashes (including cucumbers), which commonly have powdery mildew. I’ve also read that club root is a common disease of the cabbage family and though I’m not sure whether I’ve ever had it in my garden I routinely don’t compost the roots of my dead cabbages and broccoli. Generally, I let the plants dry out and then burn them and then put the ashes in my compost pile.

Leave a Reply

My Favorite Books

Categories

Archive

Website Development by DNL OmniMedia