Monday, November 10, 2008

Fall Clean-Up

As fall firmly settles, I start cutting down dead plants and puttering around the backyard, pulling this, moving that. But there is always one weekend, usually in late October or early November, when my husband and I realize that summer really isn't coming back for a while and so we do a major overhaul. We empty the fountain, pull in the table and chairs, stack up the massive amount of outdoor toys, empty the rain barrel and compost bin. It's cathartic to put everything in its place, hibernating, in the same way it just feels right to bring it all back out again in April, waking everything up in preparation for a busy summer ahead.

This year, however, we're doing a few things differently. First, we are trying to keep the compost going over the winter. Decomposition generates heat, and it's a big experiment to see if it will create enough to keep the compost working. If not, we'll leave it frozen in the bin and have a barrel-full ready to go in the spring. We use an old olive oil container on a stand with a rod running through the middle so we can easily turn it to mix everything up. It's perfect for the city because it's (knock on wood) rodent proof and requires little else other than giving it a turn or two every time we dump a bucketful of scraps in.

I'm a haphazard gardener and composter. I don't know what I'm doing but enjoy the process a lot. We originally had a worm composter in the basement but I would lie awake nights, envisioning rats sleeping in the container. I was freaked out to open it to add more food, lest a mouse jump out at me. We never saw any rodents, but the fear was too great. So we switched. The first year we used the olive oil container system, I only added food and we had a stinking drippy mess. So I got online and learned that you need to have dry stuff - leaves, paper. I started adding dried leaves from my yard and shredded paper from my house.

It's an amazing process. We get two to three full barrels of beautiful dirt a summer. I hope to get at least one more from the fall/winter cycle.

The second new thing we're doing is getting raised beds. We ordered them from Gardener's Supply. Gardener's Supply is a great resource because their customer service is staffed by actual gardeners who like to talk shop. Our soil is not even worth testing for lead. We know it's there. We live a few blocks from a highway that used to spew leaded gas fumes and are surrounded by houses covered in lead paint. I've tried container gardening and had little success. So, we just ordered an easy-to-assemble bed. We're going to line it with a weed mat to keep lead-tainted soil out but also drain water.

I'm really excited to try this. I love the idea that from leaves in our tiny backyard and scraps of food from our house, we can grow more food. Sunlight is a bit of an issue. The sunniest spot on our property is the front yard, which I've spent the four summers we've lived here turning into flower beds. It's finally looking a little bit how I imagined it would look and I hate to give up on it. So, we're going to put the raised bed at the far end of our driveway, where it gets quite a bit of sun and won't even take up precious lawn or flower bed space. Stay tuned!