February 19, 2013
Winter Mulching at the Farm
In the new March issue of Martha Stewart Living, I have written a column, complete with photos, about the rather large-scale composting cycle at my Bedford farm. I find composting to be very gratifying because almost nothing goes to waste at the farm, since anything compostable is added to the pile. My wonderful farm crew is such an integral part of why things look so good on the property. They’ve been working tirelessly, cutting, chipping, and removing hundreds of storm-toppled trees in the woods. It’s still so sad to see how many trees have been destroyed. However, none of that wood is going to waste. Selected tree trunks are being turned into lumber. Limbs, roots, leaves, and needles are being chipped or ground to speed up decomposition. The final product, rich compost, is used generously all around the farm. Before our recent blizzard, the guys spread a thick layer of that black gold over all of the gardens, tucking them snuggly away until spring.
1 Believe it or not, this is one of the most important areas of the farm.
2 As you know from reading this blog, I am a very serious gardener and I am very serious about my compost yard.
3 In the course of the year, my ground's crew amasses quite a large pile of organic debris from the farm including stumps, logs, and brush.
4 You may recall a blog about when the tub grinder was here, grinding all of that large organic matter up into wood chips, which greatly speeds up the decomposition period.
5 This steamy dark pile of compost is what I call, 'black gold'.
6 The compost pile is heated gradually from about 50- to about 113-Fahrenheit, which is the temperature at which compost microorganisms begin the decomposition of the material.
7 The 'cooking' process begins, and a second set of 'heat-loving' bacteria take over.
8 The temperature in the pile will soar to about 158-degrees - and that's cooked!
9 Some people can sense this stage by feel, but most of us will benefit with the help of a compost thermometer.
10 A compost thermometer resembles an instant-read meat thermometer, except for the shaft, which measures about 20-inches long, for measuring the temperature in the middle of the compost pile.
11 With a rather mild winter thus far, many spring bulbs have begun sprouting.
12 This is a brand new narcissus bed, planted with 3,000 bulbs, all arranged in individual groupings. It will be spectacular come spring!
13 I'm always instructing the crew to spread this gorgeous fluffy, organic material over the garden beds.
14 By spreading mulch in winter, you help to insulate and protect those early spring bulbs and perennials from fluctuating temperatures.
15 This garden is near the greenhouse parking area and this is the European hornbeam hedge with strawberries planted beneath.
16 A thick layer of mulch will help to discourage weeds from growing by depriving them of sunlight and air.
17 You'll also spend less time watering because the mulch helps to keep the soil beneath moist and cool.
18 Cooler soil temperature allows your plants to have healthier root growth.
19 And if all of this weren't enough, by mulching, you are adding humus to the soil, enriching it beyond measure!
20 If you don't have a compost pile, there are several types of mulch from which to choose.
21 In my opinion, a brown, shredded bark, stripped from fallen trees and run through a shredder provides and elegant decorative finish, like my mulch.
22 Buckwheat and cocoa hulls are another good choice, and even grass clippings or shredded fallen leaves will do nicely.
23 What's important is to make your gardening easier and your garden time more enjoyable by mulching!