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July 2: Real gardeners compost

Removing valuable nutrients from your property and sending them to the dump makes absolutely no sense. And purchased compost is not the best way to address the nutrient deficit because it’s sterilized. The compost you make yourself is infinitely superior – it’s alive with micro-organisms that will feed your plants. 

The traditional compost heap is put together quickly with layers of different material – two parts ‘brown’ (shredded or broken-down leaves, straw, sawdust, shredded paper) to one part ‘green’ (grass clippings, weeds and other garden material, kitchen scraps and manure, which is brown but counts as green) to achieve a 30:1 carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio. 

Odours generally arise from a lack of oxygen or too much moisture. 

-Provide for oxygenation with a length of plastic tubing down the middle of the heap that can be removed when it’s built, and by turning in in the outer layers once the initial heat at the centre begins to subside. 

-Regulate moisture by removing / replacing the lid when it’s raining, or through judicial use of the hose. You need not too little, not too much, you’ll soon get a feel for what’s right. A wet heap smells, a dry heap attracts ants. 

In summer, a well-tended pile can be turned into compost in less than a month. That’s hot composting. Some favour cold composting as a more natural process that involves equal parts brown to green, making for a a 50-1 C:N ratio. This works well for a build-as-you-go pile. It is slower. 

In either case, you need more than one heap – three is ideal: one into which you are adding fresh material, one that's breaking down, and one finished, that you can process with a garden sieve to remove any undecomposed chunks (throw them back into another compost heap). 

The bins on offer from Simcoe County are good. Lids keep animals out. Do not build a compost heap on a hard surface. It has to be in contact with the earth.

THINK FALL Butterflies, bees and other pollinators need the most nutrition as the season draws to a close – so now is the time to take stock and make sure you have enough fall-flowering plants for you to enjoy the final burst of colour, and for insect populations to remain healthy. Black Cohosh (also sold as Black Bugbane or Black Snakeroot, Latin name Actaea racemosa, formerly Cimicifuga racemosa) is my absolute favourite in this category, followed by New England Asters, of which there are many wonderful cultivars. Phloxes, Goldenrods, Great Blue Lobelia, Helen’s Flower (Sneezeweed), Tall Coreopsis and Anise Hyssop will all continue to perform late into October. 

VARIEGATION Two-tone foliage with a white or yellow pattern can provide an attractive highlight. However, variegation can be an unstable condition and the plant may decide to revert to plain-jane green. Often, all that is necessary to discourage this is to remove the non-variegated stem or branch.