About now compost collections are growing faster than anything else in the garden. All those spent annuals, fallen leaves, and vegetable and fruit scraps are all ready to be recycled into rich plant food for future seasons.
How you choose to compost them can involve a rich assortment of choices - and it's quite possible to have several methods going at once.
In city gardens, it's important to have critter-proof compost bins. Rats and skunks are among urban wildlife that look on fresh compost material as a warm condo plus free lunch. Meanwhile, hungry raccoons damage compost arrangements.
Plastic bins in which you add compostible stuff at the top and later remove finished compost from a door at the base are about as critter-proof as compost bins can be. They usually have a perforated floor set on earth, so worms and other soil dwellers can enter and help the composting process.
Such bins are sometimes available at low cost in municipal programs, as they have been for many years, for instance, in Langley Township.
The wooden box type of bin generally has a lid and can be lined with wire mesh to stop small animals from getting in. Often, the front and one side of the bin can be removed, making it easier to turn the compost. Such bins can be home-made.
Three wooden boxes in a row lets you put compost in one, while using finished compost from another, and going through the turning stage to expose the third bin's contents to oxygen to speed up composting.
Any vegetable garden can have a temporary chicken-wire surround for fallen leaves, which decompose over the winter. It's better if material inside is not too heavy, because the poles supporting the wire must be plunged deeply into the soil. The least bit of a lean, and they can fall over.
Kitchen scraps can be dug into the vegetable garden. One of the best methods is dumping one compost bucket at a time in one small part of a trench and covering that bit with soil immediately.
Other composting methods include: rotating bins, tumbling bins, spreading vegetable and weeds on paths within a vegetable patch, and the "heap" method (best for rural dwellers).
The heap method is simply layering compostibles in a heap in some secluded corner of the garden.
Various people tweak the composting rules a little, depending on whether they garden in small urban spaces or are out of town, with large space available. But the basic method is always the same: alternating layers of green waste with brown, dried garden debris.
Green waste includes veggie and fruit scraps, non-seeded weeds, coffee grounds/tea bags, and grass clippings.
Brown waste includes leaves, dried stems (including pea and bean vines), and straw. Try to get straw that has few or no seeds.
Eggshells contain calcium and can go in the compost if they've been dried and crushed. A potato masher turns them into fragments easily. Uncrushed eggshells attract rats that like to eat any bits of egg that may be left inside.
Other things that get you into trouble with compost include: pet poop, cooked food, meat, bones, badly diseased leaves, roots of invasive plants, and anything that's been subjected to herbicide.
Corn cobs, nutshells, and pine cones, heavy waxy leaves, and branches are very reluctant to break down - though the breakdown of branches can be hastened by choping them into small pieces.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to her via email@example.com