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Monday, December 9, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Time to start compost pile, clean garden tools and put seeds in storage – winter is coming

A girl  takes a quiet moment in the middle of the chaos during the Fall Leaf Festival at Finch Arboretum in October 2004. Fall is a good time to build a compost pile, garden columnist Pat Munts writes. There are still a lot of leaves, needles and the last of lawn trimmings hanging around that can be used in a compost heap. (Amanda Smith / The Spokesman-Review)
A girl takes a quiet moment in the middle of the chaos during the Fall Leaf Festival at Finch Arboretum in October 2004. Fall is a good time to build a compost pile, garden columnist Pat Munts writes. There are still a lot of leaves, needles and the last of lawn trimmings hanging around that can be used in a compost heap. (Amanda Smith / The Spokesman-Review)

Fall is winding down. Most of the leaves and needles have been picked up and the gardens cleaned out. I say most because last month’s hard freezes froze the leaves on some trees, leaving them to hang on the trees longer than normal. This won’t be too much of a concern unless we get a snowstorm before they are down.

So, what can we still do while the weather is halfway decent for now?

Fall is a good time to build a compost pile. There are still a lot of leaves, needles and the last of lawn trimmings hanging around. A good compost pile should be about 3 feet long, by 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep or the equivalent of six-and-half garbage cans full of shredded leaves, needles and lawn trimmings. The materials can be shredded by running the lawn mower over the yard. Bins can be built out of pallets that are free all over town. The pile should be made up of two parts leaves and needles and one part fresh grass trimmings. Water the pile as you build it so that it is as wet as a wrung-out sponge. Within three to four days the pile will heat up as bacteria go to work. Turn the pile, putting the outside edges in the middle, and let it be until spring. The pile will cool down but will keep working even in the cold.

Now is a good time to straighten up the garage and get your tools in order. Use a stiff wire brush to clean off any caked dirt on shovels, rakes and hand tools then spray them lightly with a little oil to prevent rust. Sharpen pruners and shovels with a sharpening stone. Clean up pruning tools and chain saws so that they are ready if you need to pull them out after a winter storm. If you have power equipment that needs a tune up or repair, take them into the shop now before the repair people get busy with snowblowers and later the spring rush.

Make sure your leftover seeds are stored in a cool, dry place where the mice can’t find them. I have a heavy wooden box with a tight-fitting lid in the garage that holds all my seeds. Most garden seeds are viable for several years, so you can use them again next year. If the seed is 2 or more years old, just sow them more heavily to make up for the reduced germination.

Lastly, take a walk or just sit somewhere where you can experience nature as it slows down. I have a chair under a spreading Amur maple I love to sit in this time of the year. The chickadees and nuthatches have been busy lately tapping on sunflower seeds from our feeder. The tree is full of the sound of tiny tapping and a gentle rain of hulls falls around me. The air is still and damp with the earthy scent of dying foliage. Winter is almost here.

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