Composting in Winter

by Sandy Swegel

Composting in Winter

Few things are sadder to a gardener than perfectly good food scraps not getting turned into compost. Once winter hits here, the ground is frozen solid. The compost pile gets frozen too. I’ve tried throwing the scraps onto the compost pile, but that seemed to invite every raccoon in town to come to dine in my compost bin.

How to make a compost trench

My best idea for composting in winter is to make a trench compost. This requires a little work in the Fall but produces amazing results. In fall, I dig a long trench right in the garden….about a foot deep and a foot wide. I leave the soil heaped right next to the trench with a rake nearby. All winter long, when I have a little bucket of food scraps, I dump them in the trench and rake the heaped soil over the scraps. Snow comes and goes but I can usually get to the trench.


What’s amazing about this process is that it attracts all the worms to the trench. Some composting takes place in the Fall, but most waits till early Spring. By early May, the trench is significantly decomposed and filled with hungry worms. By the end of May, when it’s time to plant tomatoes, the compost is broken down enough that I can dig big tomato holes right into the trench. Tomatoes are hungry plants that thrive on growing right in compost. This saves me the trouble of hauling compost over to fertilize the tomatoes. If it was an especially cold winter and the compost isn’t finished, I just plant right next to the trench.

Some people like to compost in trenches all year round. They set up a three-year rotating system where they compost one year, plant the next, and use the area as a walkway the third year. Pretty clever.

Another way to save time and labor in the garden.


Tulips & Pansies

By Sandy Swegel

Tulips & Pansies

Bulbs are a favorite of mine because their beauty is so intense in the garden.  But bulbs can be made even more striking by planting them with beautiful pansies or violas.  Tulips & Pansies, I think of it as beauty now….with little pansy plants bringing color all Fall amid fallen leaves, beauty all winter as at least a few pansies will continue to stick their heads through the snow to shine in the winter sun.  And then there is the spectacular beauty of the Spring display as bulbs bloom over a Spring carpet of pansies.

The simple way to plant this orchestra of tulips & pansies or bulbs and pansies is to pick a single color of tulip bulb and a single color of matching pansy or viola.  My favorite is yellow tulips (or daffodils) over a sea of azure blue violas.  White tulips over deep red pansies invoke a small gasp in passersby.  Lavender tulips over white pansies create an elegance reminiscent of old Europe.

It’s very easy to make these little vignettes, even if you only have a tiny corner of your garden available.  At it’s tiniest, you can take a two-foot square area of your garden and dig a hole in the center and plant seven tall tulips in a circle. Fill the soil in and plant 12 or so pansies in a grid above and about a foot beyond the centered tulips.  For less than $15 you will have a tiny explosion of beauty in your little area.  Or both tulips and pansies can be planted together in a container that is overwintered in a protected (but still cold) spot.

If you have a bigger garden and a bigger budget, planting equidistant (spread the tulips out about evenly) over a larger area and plant the violas or pansies in an even grid over the same area so that they grow into a mat by Spring.   Then let some of the Fall leaves lay over the pansies creating little warm moist micro-climates that will bloom well into late Fall and even sporadically if there’s snow in the winter.

Enjoy!  And take pictures. And back them up twice. I recently lost thousands of pictures including the tulips and pansies I loved because the backup hard drive failed…and I didn’t have hard copies. Alas, the digital world is as ephemeral as tulips under a hot sun.

Photo Credits:—art-deco-gunter-erik-hortz.html

Today is the Day we Worked all Year for…

by Sandy Swegel

Most of the time in the garden I’m analyzing and thinking about what to do. What has to be done before it’s too late (weed thistles before seed heads mature), What should be done today (harvest zucchini before it’s a full-sized bat), What to do this evening (do some small batch preserving or dehydrating),

What to do before tonight (have row cover ready for tomatoes if there’s a danger of frost), What to do before the end of the season (cover crops in), etc. etc.

But today here in zone 5 Boulder Colorado, everything in the garden is at its peak.  The nights are getting cooler so frost will kill things soon.  Leaves are just starting to turn and pumpkin stands are popping up on rural roads.  I realize how many great things are ripe in the garden.  This is the time when everything tastes best. Wow. Then I realized. This is it. This is the day I worked in the garden all year for. So I decided that just for today, I’m just going to appreciate the perfect bounty nature has given me and not try to improve it, process it, or save it for the future.

Just for today
I’m not going to do anything useful in the garden. Today is more a day for celebration. Like when you watch your kids graduate from school or get married,  today’s the day to feel proud and look at the accomplishment and bask in the success. Turmoil and trials, tears and laughter. In the end, it’s all worked out.

So here’s the plan just for today. (Or maybe just for all weekend.)

– Get the camera out and take some snapshots of the garden.  Get somebody else to take a picture of the gardener holding a basket of harvest.

– Pick some grapes one by one and just suck on them and spit the seeds out.  The flavor is perfect sweetness and tartness.

– Eat the most perfect tomato while it’s hot from the afternoon sun.

– Nibble on flowers of broccoli and arugula going to seed.

-Fix dinner by doing as little as possible to the food.  Heat up the grill to roast some vegetables:  small zucchini and patty pan squash, cloves of garlic, small red onions, tomatoes, a late-maturing ear of corn, an apple or pear. All on the grill with just some olive oil and salt.

– Chill the cucumbers and radish so they will be the perfect palate cleanser for the roasted vegetables.

– Spend the late afternoon looking at the garden as a work of art.  Just for today, golden leaves and even browning foliage are just color and texture. Not something to be cleaned up or composted.

Just for today, it’s all perfect.

The food is all good. The air is fresh. The sun is still warm. Wild asters are in full bloom. The sky is really really blue.  Today is the day we worked all year for. Today is the day the garden is just perfect. Nothing to add. Nothing to change. Nothing to do except enjoy and appreciate. And the gardener? Just for today, she’s perfect too.  She and Nature have had a great year spending time together.

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