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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Time for cleanup, mulching and composting

Pat Munts

The temperatures have dropped enough that it is truly fall now. Cold enough that those last sort-of-red tomatoes aren’t going to get ripe without a little help of a warm basement. If yours escaped the cold earlier this week, pick them, wrap them in newspaper and store them in a single layer in a cool place. You might have a few for Thanksgiving dinner.

Garlic and spring tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinth and crocuses should be in the ground by now or within a week or so. Garlic is generally planted about 2 to 3 inches deep while bulbs are planted about three-times- their-height deep. Garlic should be covered with 3 to 4 inches of mulch (shredded pine needles or leaves work well) to reduce damage from freeze-thaw cycles through the winter. Mark where you planted your flower bulbs so you don’t dig into them in the spring while planting a new plant. If squirrels are an issue, cover the area with some chicken wire and stake it down to keep it in place. The critters are particularly fond of tulips.

With crops in the garden boxes done for the year, it’s time for a good clean up. Clear out dead plants, corn and sunflower stalks and shred them for the compost pile. If your weeds got out of hand and went to seed, pull them out gently to reduce seed scatter and place them in a trash bag. Send out the bag with the trash.

There are several cool-season weeds that flourish during our milder winters. Chickweed, bulbous bluegrass and shot weed, in particular, come to mind. Since we don’t know what Mother Nature has lined up for this year, it is a good idea to mulch raised beds with shredded leaves or pine needles to slow them down. Take mulching a little further and cover any open ground now and you will have a jump on the weeds in the spring.

With lots of garden trimmings on hand, it’s time for making compost. A basic compost pile needs to be about 3 feet deep and 3 feet square so the microbes have a critical mass of material to break down. A simple bin can be made of free wood pallets, a circle of sturdy wire or plastic mesh.

Chop all the materials by running them through a chipper shredder or mowing over them with the lawn mower. Mix two parts dried, brown material with one part fresh green grass or leaves. Soak the pile to the consistency of a wrung out sponge and stand back. Within a few hours, bacterial action will begin to heat up the pile. Within two days, the temperature will rise to 140 to 160 degrees, which is hot enough to cook most weed seed and bugs. The bacteria will be active for about a week and the pile will then begin to cool down. Turn the pile to reactivate the microbes; the more often you turn it, the faster you will have compost.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at
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