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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Composting area is the 'heart of the garden'

Gardeners are (or can be) the ultimate recyclers. Every year we re-use pots, planters, and the same gardening equipment. We can keep gardening routines simple. Our needs can be few.

Gardeners are (or can be) the ultimate recyclers. Every year we re-use pots, planters, and the same gardening equipment. We can keep gardening routines simple. Our needs can be few.

The concept of thrifty gardening, and being in close tune with the cycle of life, has appeal. I take enormous satisfaction in trundling almost all cleanings and gleanings from the garden (except for woody and potentially problematic material) to the compost heaps, where good medicine for the garden will be created and put to use the following year.

I operate a system of five side-by-side, open compost heaps, separated by openwork concrete bricks. In alternate years, either two or three heaps holding partly “finished” compost serve as planters for winter squash and pumpkin plants during the growing season, while the other enclosures are being filled with fresh compostables.

The food plant vines, flowers and fruits turn the site into an attraction, made more colourful with nasturtiums and poppies that inevitably self-sow in the enclosures.

Composting can be a no-work or a labour intensive affair — or something in between. I’ve known people who simply dump plant refuse in a corner and leave it. Eventually, the pile will decompose with no tending.

Then there are super-keen “hot” composters who monitor composting materials with great care and “turn” the heaps every few days to help generate heat and rapid decomposition.

For most of us, an approach that falls somewhere in between works just fine.

The basics. Because I see composting sites as our gardens’ recycling engines and key source of soil rejuvenation, I consider the composting area to be the heart of the garden and give it pride of place. My easily accessible enclosures are lined up at the end of a broad path along one edge of the food garden, where most of the compost is used. It’s a mostly sunny site, easy to water when necessary.

I don’t fuss much over adding to the heaps, because garden refuse tends to give a good working balance between soft green (high-nitrogen) and drier, more mature (high-carbon) materials. Ideal is two to three parts high-carbon to one part high-nitrogen matter.

The high-carbon matter is food for the microorganisms that “work” the heap while the high-nitrogen materials supply the energy to do the feeding.

Spring, with its moderate warmth, can be a time of rapid decomposition in heaps. To accelerate decomposition, chop or cut materials as small as is convenient. Maintain moderate moisture in the heap, and ensure good aeration by fluffing up the contents a little after each major addition.

Composting plays a major role in the “mothering” of our home’s natural environment, just as mothers are often the heart and healing of their families. May they be honoured and celebrated on this Mother’s Day weekend.


Peninsula meeting. The Peninsula Garden Club will meet on Monday at 7 p.m. in the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. Bonita Elliott will talk about planning a garden, planting seeds, and soil preparation, with tips on growing specific vegetables. Parlour show and access to a master gardener. Guest admission $5. Covid protocols in place.

Dahlia meeting. The Victoria Dahlia Society will meet on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in St. Michael’s church, 4733 W. Saanich Rd. The evening’s program will be “Insects in the Garden.” Visitors welcome. COVID protocols in place.

VHS sale. The Victoria Horticultural Society will hold a plant sale next Saturday, May 14, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. Perennials, annuals, vegetable transplants, berry plants and more. Proceeds will go toward the VHS legacy project, a rooftop garden for the new Garth Homer Centre.

NHS sale. The Nanaimo Horticultural Society is holding a plant sale next Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Nanaimo North Town Centre. Perennials, herbs, house plants, small shrubs, vegetable transplants. Master gardeners on hand.

Floral art. The Mid Island Floral Art Club will meet on Saturday, May 14, at 2 p.m. in St. Stephen’s United Church, 150 Village Way. Participants will be creating a design. Information at 250-757-8969. Guest fee $6.

Denman tour. The Denman Island Home and Garden Tour is back, on June 11 and 12. Earlybird tickets are available for $20, up to May 15. Buy tickets at Click on Home & Garden Tour.