October in the Garden – Composting and Winter Ready
Arnold is always hungry. And some of his favorite foods are the fruits and vegetables I grow in my greenhouse. He also eats the plants of the tomatoes and squash I grow. He gently pokes around, licking up the small green fruits first and then chomps down on the whole tangled twisted plant.
Arnold is Jeannine’s pet: a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. I am an Arnold fan because he heartily gobbles up foliage and things I would otherwise have to compost. He eats most things from the garden with one exception: like a kid he hates cabbage and kale.
Most gardeners are overwhelmed by the sheer quantities of compostable plants in fall so it is great to have a friend with a pet pig where I can dump some of my big plants at the end of the season. But what do you do with your big pile of greenhouse waste if you have a small property and no pig at the ready?
Farmers with huge commercial greenhouses simply get out their big frontend loaders and bury all the waste. Some small-scale home gardeners also bury green waste right in their veggie gardens. This doesn’t work for me because I simply have too much stuff – more greens than garden. I have huge squash vines and two greenhouses filled with tomato plants growing right up to the roof. Secondly, I have a dog. And if she smells something she suspects might be rotten and tasty she digs first and then rolls in it!
So if Arnold is full, I simply chop green plants with my machete. And with bulky plants like broccoli and Brussels Sprouts – too big to chop – I chip them into small bits with an Eliet Chipper. The chipped vegetables and vines go right into my composter.
I chop things because small pieces of plants compost faster when there more edges are exposed to the decomposing bacteria and fungi in the pile. I have experimented with all kinds of compost systems but a few years ago I started using a Speedibin to further speed up the composting process and it has made gardening so much easier.
The Speedibin is metal so it is rodent proof. Squirrels and mice and rats can’t chew their way through the metal sides or share the compost with their kin. The Speedibin even outsmarts the raccoons with its locking handle. But mainly I love how the Speedibin turns garden and greenhouse waste into compost quickly. It usually takes about six months from starting compost to spreading it in my garden.
As I head out into the garden today I know I have so much to be thankful for this year: Tomatoes, Potatoes, Watermelon and Sesame seeds all thrived in my yard. It is time now to plant garlic outside and seed arugula in my greenhouse. My beans, seeded in August are ready to pick now and my Bok Choi, planted in early September were transplanted yesterday and will winter in the greenhouse.
Fall is my favourite time of year because it’s not too hot to work and there are plenty of fun jobs to do. Winter Squash, for instance, needs to be picked and cured.
Winter Squash, like butternut, turned into a puddle of mush after I gave them to a neighbour a few years back because I forgot to tell them squash needs to be cured before it is stored. I cure my winter squash on the wire shelves in my greenhouse for about ten days until the skin is hardened. After curing, the squash is ready to store for winter- sometimes well into next summer. Uncured squash simply melts and rots as I witnessed in my neighbor’s garage.
In the next few weeks I will start planting bulbs in big pots in my greenhouse for an early spring display. But first up? I have to make my next delivery to Arnold. He’s been told those big squash vines are coming his way and he is ready to chow down.
For more great tips from Donna, visit www.donnabalzer.com. You can also read Donna’s gardening books: No Guff Vegetable Gardening with Steven Biggs and her just released Gardener’s Gratitude Journal: Part Diary, Part Personal Growing Guide.