As we perform the task of cleaning up our gardens and preparing them for the winter, many of us take advantage of present conditions to enhance the soil in our gardens. Many of the plants have been removed or at least their tops have been cut off, allowing access to the surrounding soil.
As well, there is a veritable treasure trove of organic material at hand that can be used to enrich the soil particularly if composting has been practised during the growing season. Besides compost, most of the dead plant material from the garden as well as all of the leaves that begin cascading from surrounding trees at this time of year can be used to add texture and organic matter.
Autumn also supplies us with that most elusive of commodities time. I find that the fall gardening season has a relaxed pace now that the frenetic planting-harvesting- weeding-watering cycle has ended. We now have time to tend to that very basic component of our gardens the soil.
In my garden during the gardening season I use a two-bin wooden composter. All plant material, including grass clippings and kitchen waste, is consigned to this bin. One side is used to store garbage bags full of dry leaves from the previous fall, which is the brown component of the compost. Also in this side is stored some soil which is used for spring and summer potting-up purposes as well as to sprinkle over the compost from time to time to add the necessary enzymes and organisms that get the compost working.
By this time of year the dry leaves have all been used, as has the soil one side of the bin is empty! Into it go the beginnings of next year s compost: the coarse material from the garden cleanup, including perennial flower stalks, zucchini vines, carrot tops, Swiss chard, etc. This coarse material makes a good base for the new compost pile and by next fall will be completely composted.
The full side of the compost bin can now be emptied. The top layers are spread on the vegetable garden. This material may not be fully composted but it will be incorporated easily into the soil when the garden is tilled later in the fall.
Nearer to the bottom of the compost pile is the true black gold. Much of this compost is used to amend the soil in the mixed borders and flower beds by digging it in around existing plants or adding it as a mulch on top of the existing soil.
Addition of the compost to the soil will increase its organic content, add nutrients, and when it is incorporated into the soil, the texture of the soil is much improved. During the summer some of the borders are mulched with grass clippings and these are also dug into the soil at this time of year.
As the autumn progresses, the grass clippings and leaves gathered by the grass catcher on the lawn mower are also spread on the vegetable garden. By the time it is tilled in October, there will be a hefty layer of compost and organic material covering the soil surface.
The heavy-duty, rear-mount tiller owned by the man whom I hire each fall to till the garden, will soon make short work of incorporating all of this organic material into the soil. By spring there is little evidence of all of this material except for a notable improvement in the tilth and texture of the soil.
After the garden is tilled, all organic waste goes into the compost bin, and this continues until the snow is too deep in the backyard to get to the bin. Not to have our composting urges squelched by winter, my wife and I then use garbage cans located on the back patio to hold our household compost material during the snowy season.
These garbage cans of kitchen waste are emptied into the compost bin in the spring after the snowbanks have melted, layered with soil and dry leaves. You might think this is a smelly business but actually there is little odour, just a slight smell that is similar to the smell of silage.
Composting and incorporating all available organic material back into the soil is good environmental practice as well as good gardening practice. Perhaps you can determine how you can use more of the waste from your garden and kitchen to produce some black gold to use in your garden.
Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba
We now have time to tend to that very basic component of our gardens the soil.