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Vermont Garden Journal: Composting

AP/Dean Fosdick

Friday, September 27, 2013 at 5:57 p.m. and Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 9:35 a.m. I have a confession to make. I'm not an active composter.

I'd like to think the piles of organic matter I put together in fall will heat up and break down quickly, but invariably other chores take my attention and they slowly decompose to eventually be useable. This method works, but there are other alternatives for making compost right in the garden for those of us who aren't interested in layering, watering, and turning our compost piles to heat to perfection.

One method is sheet composting. Sheet composting is building a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic materials on your garden beds in fall and then tilling them under. It can be as simple as layering fallen leaves to elaborate as mixing high nitrogen materials such as grass clippings and food scraps with the high carbon materials of old leaves and straw. Fall tilling allows soil microbes to break down the organic matter before planting next spring. Of course, if you're a no till gardener this won't fit your system. 

Another option is trench composting. Trench composting means digging a 1 foot wide and deep trench anywhere in the garden and burying food scraps, leaves, hay, grass clippings and covering it with a 1/2 inch thick layer of soil. You can use this system with your paths and beds to rotate where the trench will be each year. Divide a 3 foot wide bed into 1 foot sections. In the first section, use the trench composting method. In the second, use it as a garden path and the third is the garden bed. Rotate the trench, path and bed each year and in three years you've added compost to the whole area.

And now for this week's tip, if you don't want a weedy mess of self-sown cleome, verbena, and marigolds next season, cut off their flower heads once they pass to reduce the amount of seed that will drop to the soil.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal I'll be talking about Brussels sprouts. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.

Composting Methods
Trench Composting

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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