Gardeners, gear up for our own version of Days of the Dead. Like the three days devoted to remembering and honoring departed loved ones, we focus on remembering the garden by clearing out and cleaning it up. So grab a rake, pick up those rotting vegetables, and pull up those plants; November is the month to celebrate the dead.
In the vegetable garden, cleaning and covering are essential chores. Clean out all debris of frost-killed tender plants, such as tomatoes, squash, peppers and corn. Till in manure or compost to finish preparing the garden for its winter rest.
What to do with all the deceased plants? Pile them up and let them rot; composting is the ideal method for recycling those plants into nutrients for next year’s garden. Picking up and composting all leaf and plant parts goes a long way to eliminating pests that overwinter on the debris.
Select an out of the way area at least three-feet by three-feet wide. To keep the pile warmer in winter, a sunny location is best. If your Home Owner’s Association objects to the sight of nature breaking things down, use a composting bin to keep things tidy. Choose one that is well ventilated and allows easy access to the compost for turning.
Gather up green and brown plant material, making sure you have twice as much brown as green. Fresh, green plant parts provide nitrogen to the pile; dry brown material supplies carbon. Microorganisms need both to turn your garden waste into gold for the soil.
Weeds with seeds and diseased plants should be disposed of in another way; most backyard compost piles don’t get hot enough to kill the seeds or disease. If you want to compost weeds, clip the seed heads off before tossing the plant on the pile.
Kitchen scraps are good additions to the compost, but not meat, bones, grease, eggs and dairy products that attract animals and insects. Dog, cat, and human manures should never be added to compost.
For faster composting, chop woody branches, sunflower stems or corn stalks into small chunks before mixing them into the pile. Leave tree leaves whole so they don’t compact down and smother the pile.
Layer brown and green material into a pile, adding water with each layer until the pile feels damp, like a sponge. If the pile is soggy to soaking, add more material in until it dries a little.
There is no need for soil or compost starter to be added to the pile, since the microorganisms that break down materials is found on the surface of most plant material. Compost should heat up within a week and be very warm to the touch. Once it begins to cool, turn it from the outside in and sprinkle with more water to recharge the pile.
When the compost no longer heats up after turning, looks like crumbled humus and has an earthy smell, it’s ready to be added to your soil. A healthy compost pile won’t smell or attract nuisance animals to your yard.
Help your compost stay moist in winter by placing a burlap blanket or other breathable material over it. If your compost cools in the frigid months, don’t worry, once the temperatures warm up in spring your compost, turn your pile, add a little water and the pile will heat up again.
Carol is an Extension Agent – Horticulture Entomology at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information call 303.678.6377, e-mail [email protected] or visit