Tag Archives: Composting

Habitat Fragmentation

Habitat Fragmentation1

Habitat fragmentation is, in my opinion,  one of the biggest unnatural calamities that our native wildlife has sustained in the last century.  Land development and suburban sprawl  has been taken place all around us at the expense of wildlife habitat.  Miles upon miles of roads and highways, blacktops in the form of parking lots, shopping centers and driveways, and huge expanses of lawn are added every year in our country alone.  Read the statistics as presented by Dr. Douglas W.  Tallamy Wildlife Ecology and Entomologist professor at the University of Delaware,
in this post.

I know, a lot of bad news, if you care.  And I care.  That is why I have Changed the way that I garden and hopefully persuade you to do the same, in any big or small capacity that you can.  Here are some of the ways in which we can contribute to the survival of many species of insect pollinators, birds and small mammals in our gardens:

  • Go organic, start slow by limiting the amount of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizes.  I make my case in this post “Why Organic?” .
  • Start a compost pile.  Why throw away good organic matter?  Check out my super easy compost system .
  • Create new garden beds that provide habitats and increase biodiversity in your garden.  It is easier than you think.  See this post
  • Incorporate more native plants into your landscapes.  Small trees, shrubs and perennials provide food and sheller to birds and pollinators.
  • Connect your garden beds to create ‘ribbons of vegetation’ so species can move within a wider range.  This allows small mammals, birds, and small invertebrates to find mates, food and shelter to improve biodiversity.
  • Provide water sources.  Even a small bird bath, a basin for water loving plants or any size pond, will increase sustainability and ensure the survival of many species.

“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it’s beauty.” 
― Albert Einstein








Building a Vegetable Garden

After years of resisting the urge to grow my own vegetables, I finally decided it was time to take the first step.  To me, with already 3/4 of an acre of gardens, the commitment seemed daunting.  I guess the recent reports of contaminated fruit and vegetables from around the country and the knowledge that produce that has been transported great distances and sit in warehouses and store shelves could not be as nutritious or taste as good as something you pick that day, were the convincing factors that prompted me to get started.  Have you ever taken a bite into a carrot just pulled from the soil?  It is heavenly:  flavorful, crisp and sweet… those are the thoughts that have motivated me.

And so the project has started.  The decision to build raised beds was made after careful consideration of the site:  It is a fairly laveled and sunny parcel but it is at the bottom of a moderate hill so it tends to be a wet spot.  With raised beds it is possible to control drainage and soil quality.  Eight boxes, made of 10″x2″ cedar or non-treated wood,  ranging in size from 8’x4′, 6’x4′, and 4’x4′, with three feet of space all around.  I lined them with 10 ply newspaper layers to kill the grass only inside the boxes for now.  Here is how they look after 2″ of compost went in.

Next, they are going to be filled with mushroom manure and will sit for the winter.  In my area deer are very active at this time of the year and all winter, so planting anything on the boxes before the fence goes in,

will be like inviting them to keep on coming.  The plan is to build a fence all around the beds very early in spring before the planting season starts.

So, October was spent putting one garden to bed and starting a big project for the next growing season.  I love working outside on the crisp days of autumn.  I feel like if I could hold on to the light of day and make it last as long as I can, winter will delay, we know that will not happen, but I used the time well:   Compost piles were harvested to start the vegetable boxes and make room for the mulched leaves and all the scraps from the perennial gardens that will turn into soil amendments for the beds next fall.  Perennials were divided and replanted and after getting great deals at some of the local nurseries, new shrubs purchased and planted.

“Open your eyes that you may see the wonder that around you lies; it will enrich your every day and make you glad and kind and wise”   -Emma Boge Whisenand-



On Composting

I am a great fan of composting.  If you have a large or small garden and composting is a viable option for you, do not miss the opportunity of turning all your organic materials into “Black Gold”. Gardeners refer to compost as black gold because it has the ability to improve soil structure, increase the fertility and the water holding capacity of your soil.

There are many composting bin options in the market today.  Really, all you need is a good spot to start a simple pile.  My first compost pile, was a circle of chicken wire, about 3 feet in diameter, and 2 feet tall, which I placed in between some trees.  I started adding all the materials collected during my routine gardening chores,  it certainly helps to cut everything in smaller pieces and make sure there was a mixture of dry or brown carbon rich material and green nitrogen rich clippings and kitchen waste. When it was full to the top, I just turned it a few times in the following months and did not fuss too much with it.  By the fall I noticed that the material was nice and brown and there were very few recognizable pieces of the original components.  I was hooked!  Today, I have expanded to a three bin system and a plastic commercial composting bin.

Three bin system.  The first bin was recently harvested.

Three bin system. The first bin was recently harvested.

The four main components in composting are organic matter, moisture, oxygen and bacteria. Organic matter is a mixture of plant materials and some animal manure.  Plant materials are divided into brown carbon rich materials (dry leaves, wood clippings, manure) and green materials (kitchen scraps, grass clippings, hedge cuttings).  Brown materials supply the carbon and green materials supply nitrogen.  Moisture is needed to aid the composting process.  The pile should feel moist but not wet. Oxygen supports the breakdown of the material by bacteria. Bacteria and other organisms are the real workers of the composting process.  By providing all other components, you aid the bacteria in the breakdown of plant material.

Anytime of the year is a good time to start a compost pile.  In the winter, cold weather can slow the process,  but as the leaves come down we are rewarded with a bonanza of material for the rest of the year.  Leafmold is an excellent mulch.  Leaves do take a bit longer to decompose if not clipped in smaller pieces but the final product is a rich light material that holds moisture well and insulates plants.

“Take care of the earth and she will take care of you”.
– Anonymous

Perennials in fall

It is sad to see the perennials turn yellow and enter dormancy.  I keep looking outside knowing that the cleanup must begin.  Hostas, Ferns and Peonies are all yellowing.  I would like to collect the foliage before it turns completely brown and add all of it to my compost pile. While the leaves are still green, the nitrogen and water content are higher and will help balance the carbon rich compost pile. The large leaves of Hostas and stems of Peonies may need to be cut into smaller pieces, in fact, I believe that the pile benefits from all materials being chopped a bit.  I keep adding to the pile and turning.  If it is dry, a good watering helps move things along.  Oh, just think of the wonderful composted soil I will collect in the spring!  Black gold!

We still have a window for planting trees and shrubs. There is time until the hard frost sets in, for the roots to develop into the soil before they enter dormancy. It is important to cover each planting with a generous amount of mulch and give it a couple of deep waterings a week until frost.

“Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn”.  ~Elizabeth Lawrence