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By Ed Yates, Laborer, E. C. Lawrence Park

The formal gardens at Walney, the estate house at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, are alive with butterfly bush, complete with butterflies drawn by the nectar of the flowers.

Autumn Joy sedum is coming into flower with its succulent leaves and long-lasting pink flowers. In the herb and kitchen gardens, crops such as lemon balm and basil, as well as corn and snap beans, are producing bountiful produce typical of what was grown there in the mid-19th century.

The success of each plant grown in these gardens depends largely upon the soil. Dirt that is rich in nutrients, that retains moisture but drains well, is ideal. The plants respond to these conditions by grow-ing rapidly and demonstrating increased resistance to pests and diseases. Each year our job is to give them a little help.

Nothing is better to create soil than compost made on site. It is a simple process to master, and can save both a park—and the individual gardener—a great deal of time and money. It’s fall, and the time to start your own compost is now.

The perfect compost mixture contains both carbon and nitrogen. Leaves, hay, and straw possess carbon, while aquatic weeds, grass clippings, garden trimmings and manure are rich in nitrogen. So right now, collect the last of the grass clippings and plant material to start your own compost project. As the weeks move on, add those fall leaves with their own chemistry to your ripening mix.

To hasten the pace through which the mixture becomes dirt, chop up the gathered materials into small pieces. Pile them all together in a bin or heap, and allow nature’s hardest-working organisms, decay microbes, to do most of the work. These microbes digest organic matter and transform it into humus. In the process they release elements such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur into the air, elements that are critical to the plant cycle.

The pile of material should be turned or stirred periodically, and can be watered during periods of drought. A variety of bins and containers can be used to house the material. Just make sure that there are openings in the walls, allowing for adequate ventilation.

When the dirt is ready to enter the garden, the pile will have shrunk to about 20 percent of its original size. It will be black and friable, crumbling easily when squeezed. By spring you are ready to feed your garden with its own recycled produce. The rich composted material can be used on top of the soil as mulch, or incorporated into the soil itself. Then stand back! Spring flowers can’t be far away!

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