Monday, November 4, 2013

Autumn Composting-Seize the Moment! by Mark Woltkamp

Photo by Carol King
As avid and dedicated gardeners, we all spent this year’s spring and summer seasons working diligently to create natural beauty, to provide a hospitable environment for our bird and insect friends (both good and bad), and hopefully to successfully grow some edible crops.  But autumn is already upon us, signaling that it is nearly time to finish up our harvesting, weeding and transplanting activities and put away our beloved gardening tools for a well-deserved rest (for us too!).  
But we are not done yet!  Autumn is the opportune time to take advantage of this season’s abundance of available organic materials for composting.  This includes the products of your year-end clean-up of vegetable, perennial and annual beds, the kitchen waste of your recently-harvested vegetables, and, most importantly, all those dry leaves falling from your trees or that inevitably blow into your yard from seemingly every other tree in your neighborhood.

CSU Extension
All summer long we generally have more than enough nitrogen (green) materials to add to our compost piles.  However, carbon (brown) materials are usually more difficult to come by for the average composting homeowner – especially to achieve the 30:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen in the pile that is optimum for successful composting.  But now all those pesky leaves give us a bonanza of carbon-rich materials for your current compost piles or even for storage in dry bags to use in next year’s pile.  Don’t miss this great seasonal opportunity!
The value and science of composting is very well outlined in CSU Fact Sheet 7.212 and “The Science of Gardening”.  This includes organic materials to use, composting structures, requirements for effective composting and uses of finished compost.   I have no intention of regurgitating all of that valuable information here.  But given that “hot” composting is generally no longer possible now due to lower outside temperatures, I do want to emphasize the importance of ensuring that materials from diseased plants are properly disposed of rather than added to your over-wintering compost pile.  This would especially apply to tomato, cucumber and potato plants infected with the typical fungal and viral diseases common in Colorado. Also avoid the addition of weeds going to or in seed stage, materials from plants treated with pesticides/herbicides and uncomposted animal manures.(The references cited above contain more exhaustive lists of materials that should generally be avoided or limited in your normal composting).
Finally I want to mention the possibility of “trench or direct” composting at this time of year when there is an abundance of fruit and vegetable waste as well as throughout the winter with normal kitchen waste.    As long as the ground is workable, you can bury such waste in limited quantities directly into your permanent garden beds and let the worms take care of things before the soil warms up next spring.  A cautionary note is that direct composting waste must be well-covered with soil to avoid problems with animals.