Winter is the best time to cover garden beds with a rich layer of organic mulch or compost.
Here at my Bedford, New York farm, I am able to make both organic materials. Mulch is the layer placed on top of the soil as a protective cover to suppress weed germination, retain moisture, insulate the soil, and reduce erosion, while compost is that nutrient filled “black gold” I use to feed all my plants. During the course of the year, my outdoor grounds crew amasses large amounts of organic debris - felled trees, branches, leaves, etc., but none of the material ever goes to waste. It is either repurposed quickly as milled lumber, or made into one of the two garden dressings.
Enjoy these photos.
Located in a back field of the farm is my compost yard – one of the most important areas on the property. These compost piles are in various stages of decay.
This is also where we store trunks and logs from felled trees, which were lost during storms, or taken down purposely because of poor growth.
We use logs for various projects, but we also mill the logs, put them through the tub grinder or the chipper, or split and stack them for firewood. If I cannot save a tree, it is comforting to know I can reuse the wood left behind.
If you recall, last autumn we moved many trunk sections into my indoor vegetable greenhouse to store my growing citrus collection and to make better use of the height in this structure.
When milling larger trunks and logs, the wood is placed within the arms of the Wood-Mizer LT35 sawmill. Most mills are designed to hold logs at least eight feet long. http://woodmizer.com/us/
All the wooden stakes around the farm are made using the sawmill. Making the lumber ourselves allows us to repurpose trees and save on milling expenses.
Wooden stakes are extremely helpful. We used them to build the frames for all the burlap covers that protect the boxwood during winter.
Stakes painted Bedford gray mark the footpaths, carriage roads and catch basins, so they are easily identified when covered with snow.
The cut tree branches go through the wood chipper, a machine used for reducing tree limbs and smaller trunks.
As the crew works around the farm, pruned berry canes, branches and underbrush are all collected for the chipper – everything is returned to the earth, organically and efficiently.
A good layer of wood chips is spread out evenly around my young trees. Wood chips decompose quickly, and add nutrients back to the soil. Like mulch, using wood chips insulates the soil around the saplings and provides protection from the cold.
Some of the wood is put through a tub grinder. A tub grinder is able to grind logs and stumps to produce this finer mulching material.
This is one of our piles of mulch – ready for use as top dressing around the farm.
My compost piles include this dark organic matter made up of manure and biodegradable materials. It will be ready to use after it is turned and sieved.
We also store piles of leaves. Called leaf mold after cold composting, it is produced by the fungal breakdown of shrub and tree leaves. Leaves are collected and left to age for a couple of years before it is reused.
This pile is contains leaf material and composted manure, which is filled with nutrients.
The outdoor grounds crew dresses many of the ornamental garden beds with compost.
The compost is placed in clumps and then a two to three inch layer is spread evenly throughout the beds. It’s best to do this in winter when flowers are not in bloom and the crew can gingerly walk through without disturbing any growth.
Here’s a fresh layer of compost on the beds in my flower cutting garden – it always excites me when we start preparing the gardens for the next growing season.
Remember all the trees I purchased last summer? They were all potted with rich, nutrient filled compost.
Compost is used at the start of the growing season too. In the spring, rich organic compost was used to top dress our vegetable gardens. This practice is a good way to ensure big, bountiful crops come summer.
Mulch or wood chips were used around all the tree pits. Depending on the size of the tree, tree pits can be three to six feet in diameter or even larger for very old, very large trunked specimens.
During spring, the boxwood beds are also top dressed with mulch – it always looks so pretty.
Covering the garden beds will mulch or compost will also help deter weeds. Using these materials is a wonderful way to beautify the gardens and to give back to the earth. Do you compost? Let me know in the comments section.