Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Compost: Part II - Sources in Colchester County

     Were do you get your compost?  A frequently asked question.  Compost is highly prized by gardeners.  If you have a small perennial bed or veggie garden then your own personal compost pile may be enough, or a few bags from the local nursery will do.  But what if you have a property like mine, where my own compost is just enough for the veggie garden not including the potatoes.

     Doesn't the beds look great with compost on them.  I was lax last year in getting them top dressed.  This year I was determined that that they would all be done.  Usually I get my compost from our local bailfill (municipal composting program).  I usually have good luck with it but I make a point of not putting it in my veggie garden.  A lot of people are not careful with what they put in the compost bin, there is always a lot of plastic (bags) and even though it is screened, there is still plastic and other small non composting items in it.  And even though  it is a in-vessel system (it is heated to the proper temperatures), I prefer to know exactly what is in it for my veggies.

      Ideally the best time to get it (municipal compost) is late summer.  That is because they sell it by weight (tonne) and in the spring it is usually alot heavier but the last few years they have run out of it.  But I really needed some so Andrew took the trailer to get a load.  They were really good about it and did deduct some off the price because of all the wet weather we have been having.  But it was really chunky and difficult to spread.  I have noticed that it is breaking down if I run the rake gently over it, it will smooth out.  You do get a bit of plastic showing up but over all not too bad.  Many people used to complain about the smell years ago.  I guess it used to be very bad.  It still does have a bit more odor than other companies.  That is due to the fact that it is not turned as much as it should be.  Frequent turning would solve the problem as well as the chunkiness.

     We also found a local (the other side of the bay) farmer that was mixing compost from manure and silage.  I have had this mix years before (different source) and found it wonderful.  But this one was not so great.  For one thing, we found white roots of couch grass which is not what you want in your garden, and we spent time carefully removing those roots as I sifted through it to top dress the bog garden.  Also germinating was lambs quarters and a bit of vetch.  As soon as we get some sunny dry weather, I will weed this out.  Since he just turned the piles with his tractor the mix never got up to temperature to kill any weed seeds.  Not going to buy this mix again.

     Fundy Compost in Pleasant Valley (also North River Rd, Bible Hill) was my third try.  They do take the local Bio Solids from the Waste Water Plant in Truro and mix it other material to produce compost.  They also take other county's municipal green cart waste and make compost out of it.  They do keep both streams separate.  We purchased the non bio solid compost which is equivalent to our municipal compost.  Fundy Compost windrows their compost to bring it to temperature to eliminate pathogens and weeds.  Their compost was not as chunky, much finer and any 'balls' were easily broken up.  I did find quite a few rocks ranging from golf to baseball size which probably came from the gravel pad it was piled on.

    The only thing I didn't like is that there was a lot more garbage in the load, I picked out a lot of small pieces of plastic (shopping and garbage bags) .  The compost had a good compost smell due to the fact that it was probably turned more often.  Even though it had more garbage, I got a second load.

     I don't like to use bark around my perennials, I just find it too chunky (I must like that word).  However a lot of people use composted bark.  This is a good alternative for larger perennials, if you have a hosta bed for example.  I don't think I would like it for more delicate perennials and certainly not an alpine garden.
This comes from Nova Tree Seed, across from the old Truro Hospital.  It is a nice product in that it is well composted and quite fine.  I use it in my soil mix for my potted perennials.
      I like shredded hemlock for my shrub beds  and paths around the perennial garden (like the colour).  I use pea gravel in the alpine (cactus) bed.  I don't like coloured mulches.  That is a personal opinion.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Compost: Part I - Why do my Gardens Look so Good.

   Yes I am bragging, I don't do that very often, I really am very modest.  But June is when my gardens shine.  Everybody's garden shines in June.  Spring rains (extra this year), warm temperatures, the bugs haven't chewed everything yet, no mildew, but there is another secret.

    There is nothing better you can do for your plants than improve your soil before you put them in. Absolutly nothing.  Many people ask how I get my plants to look so good.  The single word I answer is ... Compost.

     When ever we prepare a new bed, we add a lot of compost.  My soil has a lot of clay, in parts of the garden more than others.  But I tell every one that it is good.   I would rather have clay soil than sandy soil.  Although a nice sandy loam would be ideal, but that is quite rare. 

       Compost is more of a soil conditioner than a fertilizer.  The fertilizer of any compost is quite low.  But what it does is conditions the soil to allow that soil to either release the nutrients it already has (clay) or allow the soil to hold nutrients (sandy).  It gives clay soil structure, aeration and allows it to drain and allows sandy soils to retain water, nutrients and gives it structure.

Hosta Flamboyant

   I also like to top dress with compost.  It gives a nice clean look as well as adding extra compost to the soil.  It helps to keep the weeds down (more on that later), the soil moist (not a problem this year) and just gives a very finished look to it.  I usually add about 2" every year.

     This is my compost pile in the back of the veggie garden.  This is two years old and has been turned probably 3 times.  It would have been originally, 3X the size.  I use this for my vegetable garden (more on that later too).  A few weeds are turning up in it but nothing too bad (no perennial weeds).  It is not as fine as it would be if you bought a bag at the store.  I don't mind seeing the odd egg shell or unbroken down piece of plant material.  If it is too big I toss it into this years new compost bin and let it go through another years cycle.

     This is this years new pile started late last summer with garden clippings, chopped leaves, kitchen waste (peelings, paper towel, newspaper, coffee/tea), and bunny cage waste (bunny poop/newspaper).  I don't have a method for properly building a compost pile (you can find all sorts of recipes on the Internet).  I don't have time, I just dump and I figure it gets mixed enough when it gets turned.  Home composting usually doesn't allow the compost to get up to a temperature to properly kill all the weed seed or pathogens. Pathogens is not a problem in mine because I don't add questionable materials.  I also don't add weeds.  They get thrown in the woods.

     I did say that compost will keep down weeds.  It will help suppress those weeds that are present in your soil as long as they are not perennial weeds that grow by underground rhizomes (sheep sorrel, crab grass, buttercup, dandelions - when the root was not completely removed).  But weeds being weeds, there are always some seed being blown in or very persistent ones coming through, compost does make them easier to pull since the soil is loose. Weeds can come in with the compost though, which can create a whole other problem.

It can even bring in other organisms such as mushroom and maybe even unwanted insects such as earwigs.

     So where do you get your compost is the next most common question.  The next blog will explain.  I'll give you the pros and cons of 3 different sources that I tried this spring and which one I went back to.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Blog on the Bog

     After those two wet, sunless weeks we got back at it.  Andrew had a vision.  He wanted a path down the middle that you could walk between the two bogs. We finished the first one, closest to the garage, by back-filling it with some of the soil that was there supplemented with peat moss.  I'm still concerned that it will not be boggy enough because he did poke quite a few holes in it.  

     The centre is a path of class A gravel to give it stability and still allow any water to drain through.  He is going to add stepping stones to the top and we will probably finish it in bark mulch or something like that.  The outside bog has the same mix as the first one only we poked only a few holes.  Andrew figured that if it held too much water we could always poke a few more holes.

     After trimming the edges to hide the plastic, I started planting.  Some of the Iris, Ligularia and Persicaria had been sitting in the garage for almost 2 weeks and need some TLC.  I am not concerned that any of them will not survive (they are all tough as nails) but they may need the rest of the summer to recover.  The back bog is a bit squishy (good), but I hope not too squishy.  This is really an experiment as to what water loving plants like what conditions.  A lot of sun hits these beds in the afternoon, but the two Oaks are starting to leaf out so that can change.

     The back edge drops off onto the lawn.  We added a 2 ft bed there, before we reached the lawn and some of the Lungwort and Ferns are going there.  We need a bit of sod and grass seed to repair the lawn.  The poor Lungwort looks pathetic when the sun hits it.  It did not like to be moved.  But it will recover.  A nice thick layer of compost will complete the look.

Phlox subulata Fort Hill

     Doesn't the garden phlox look great.  Just covered with masses of blooms.

Phlox subulata Apple Blossom

This one has pale pink blossoms with slightly greying foliage. 

     Creeping Phlox or Moss Pinks have been around for years.  They are low growing (about 6") creeping, evergreen plant considered by some as ground covers spreading to 2'.  They have small flowers in dense clusters of red, white, blue, pink, rose, lavender, purple as well as bicolours.  Easily grown in full sun with well drained soil (not a bog) and benefits with the addition of compost.  Easily divided in the spring and quite commonly found in spring plant sales.