Winter Garden: Catching Up on Fall Chores and the Winter Compost Pile

Tennyson. .  . evidently was not in the habit of making things neat in the garden by cutting down the old flower-stems. If that was his habit, I am much inclined to agree with him; I never think that the prospect of the garden in December is much better by making all the flower-beds too tidy. I feel sure that the dead flower stems. .  . must be some protection to the plants; and, when the hoar-frosts come, these dead stems, especially where the dead flower-heads remain, put on a wonderful beauty.

Canon Henry Ellacombe, In a Gloucestershire Garden, 1895

Usually I cut off most of the dead stuff from my perennial gardens in the fall. I don’t take everything off because I don’t want the frost to touch the new growth too soon in the spring. The cover of last year’s “trash” protects the early spring growth to some extent. Some plants, such as hostas, I don’t touch at all. Others I leave until the birds have eaten all of their seeds, such as the coneflowers. I was busy with other things this fall and didn’t get my garden put to bed as usual. So I am doing some bed cleaning during this unseasonably warm spell in January.

I’ve made a pile of this rough stuff in front of my compost bins to be used as that rough layer that allows air to circulate within the pile. My compost piles are not active right now. We haven’t had enough days in the 50’s (F).Just because my piles have stopped cooking doesn’t mean that I have! All my vegetable kitchen scraps and egg shells are still going into the compost pile. My bins are large, and I try to go into winter with one bin almost empty so that I can continue building it throughout the winter with layers of kitchen waste, chicken manure, rough stalks from the finished gardens, and fallen leaves.

I stockpile leaves under a tarp. I store other leaves in plastic bags and keep them handy for when the snow gets deep enough that I can’t easily use the leaves piled on the ground under the tarp.

I don’t cover my bins during the winter. I want layers of water in the form of snow sandwiched in between layers of organic matter to moisten my pile as they melt. I do shovel off excess snow so that my bins aren’t filling up too quickly or in danger of becoming waterlogged during a thaw.

I don’t turn my piles. I’m in no great hurry. The idea is to let the bugs and decomposers do their work so I don’t have to! My bins are ready to get right to work as soon as the conditions are right. Begonia

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