Greenwood Gardens

20 November 2023

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Home Notes from the Garden

Turning Over an Old Leaf

Turning Over an Old Leaf

Greenwood’s gardens are lush and inviting thanks to the tireless efforts of our horticulture and facilities teams, assisted by our enthusiastic Green Team volunteers. In addition to these invaluable human resources, there is another important ingredient which helps facilitate the garden’s beautiful state:  compost.

Compost is fundamental to the seasonal and cyclical process of gardening, one that emphasizes recycling and reuse. Early in our preparations for spring, we amend the beds with compost to add much-needed nutrients into the soil. Throughout the season, we collect weeds (that have not gone to seed), herbaceous material, leaves, and the bedding from our chicken coops which contain chicken manure. All these ingredients eventually decompose or break down into a nutrient-rich substance which gardeners refer to as “black gold.”

It is this “black gold” that is regularly collected from the garden and added to our composting system, six ten-foot-wide bins located next to the barn in our barnyard complex.  Each bin holds organic material at different stages of decomposition, ranging from fresh to ready-to-use. The bins are large enough for our Kubota truck to easily navigate the space and either turn the material or shift it to a subsequent bin.

Inherent in this process is our practice of hot composting in which a combination of nitrogen-rich material (weeds, grass clippings, manure) and carbon-rich material (leaves, straw, used potting soil) is added to the compost. The pile heats up as microorganisms rush in to break down the material. Turning the pile approximately every two weeks adds oxygen, ensuring that the process of decomposition is aerobic and not anaerobic, i.e., avoids unpleasant odors. The process takes eight to twelve weeks from start to finish. In contrast, cold composting – piled up debris that is allowed to break down on its own – takes approximately one year to turn into compost.

The use of compost has proven to be extremely beneficial in the garden, both for the health of our plants and to maintain sustainable gardening practices. Compost adds nutrients to the soil, improves soil structure, alleviates compaction, and increases the soil’s capacity to hold water.  It also provides a place for the disposal of garden waste in an environmentally friendly manner.

Our compost system – made possible with grants in 2021 from The Hyde and Watson Foundation, the Union Foundation, and the E.J. Grassman Trust – have facilitated our efforts so successfully that we will be receiving a follow-up grant from the Union Foundation to fund two additional bins.  These will allow us to continue to improve and increase our ability to make compost and store organic material sustainably for years to come.