To understand composting and its importance in gardening, know that it will greatly improve the health of your garden. It involves mixing kitchen, yard, and garden waste in a pile or bin that provides conditions that encourage decomposition. The process of composting is fueled by all kinds of microscopic organisms (bacteria, fungi) that reside inside your compost pile, continuously devouring and recycling it to produce a valuable soil amendment and rich organic fertilizer.
There are four major factors in a successful compost pile: Size, moisture, oxygen, and heat. Your pile needs to be at least 3’ by 3’ by 3’. Larger piles can become too hard to turn and smaller piles may not heat properly. A compost pile needs to be between 40% to 60% moisture. This means moist, not wet! Oxygen keeps the microbes that break down your compost working for you. Heat will be generated by the organisms responsible for composting. The higher the temperature the speedier the decomposition, thus a hot pile will produce temperatures between 140 and 160 F.
Ingredients should include carbon-rich “brown” materials like leaves, straw, and sawdust. Next, add nitrogen-rich “green” materials like grass clippings, vegetable peelings and manures (no pet droppings!) Keep a ratio of three parts brown materials to one part green.
Composting doesn’t take too long and once you’ve finished, you can add it to your garden any time of year without the fear of burning plants or polluting water. Add compost to a new garden and wait 2-4 weeks before planting. For plants that are already growing, consider side-dressing.
Early November is a great time to plant or move shrubs and trees. Roots continue to develop during late fall and the plants will be well established before bud break in spring. Smaller shrubs are easier to transplant. Continue to water well with a seaweed solution until established. Don’t be in a hurry to prune woody plants. February is usually the best time to prune them.
Herbs can still be planted. Oregano, pineapple sage, thyme and chives are choice fall herbs. Intersperse them among other perennials and vegetables to add uniqueness to your landscape. Incorporate a few extra plants of parsley, dill or fennel for larvae of the swallowtail butterflies. These plants will also attract beneficial insects to the garden.
Vegetables to plant include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi, but get these in by November 15. Carrots, Swiss chard, collards, garlic, lettuce, multiplying onion, radish, turnip, and kale can also be planted. Water the seed trays with fish emulsion to prevent the fungal disease called “damping off.” Put in strawberry plants this month for a great spring harvest. While they are perennials in colder regions, we treat them as annuals down here.
Wait for cooler weather to settle in before planting dianthus, violas, stock, and snapdragons. Along with pansies, these annuals add color to our fall season. Mums are always popular (especially with the big box stores.) If you’re looking for a pretty chrysanthemum to serve as a perennial garden plant, try “Country Girl.”
Should we be blessed with a good ole’ blue Texas norther, water your plants well because dry roots are damaged by cold temperatures. Also, mulching plants helps protect them during cold weather. Those living nearer the beach need heavier mulch so it will not blow away. Withhold pruning and nitrogen fertilizers until spring. Fertilizers high in potassium, such as seaweed or kelp, can be applied now, as this element is known to promote thick cell walls.
By Kitty Angell, Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardener