Gardening with Deb Babcock: Do something good for your garden, your pocketbook and for Steamboat

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Now that many of our spring and early summer flowers are finished blooming, it's time to clean up around those beds by deadheading spent blooms (unless you want them to reseed your garden in places) and removing dead foliage.

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Can’t compost it yourself? Twin Enviro Services will work with individual residents, restaurants and businesses to collect all forms of organic material, including food waste and compostable paper products that are BPI approved for their regional commercial composting facility. To sign up for the service or to purchase compost, contact milner@twinenviro.... Before you buy bagged, trucked-in soil or mulch materials, think about closing the loop and using locally made compost for improved health of our Northwest Colorado soils.

Master Gardeners will be at the Farmer's Market on Saturday discussing soil amendments and composting. Stop by for fact sheets and to say hi to these hardworking volunteers.

Gardening in Steamboat

Gardening in Steamboat columns publish weekly in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

And in my garden this year, havoc wreaked on my Canadian Chokecherry and Red Osier Dogwood by a mama bear and her two cubs, is making my cleanup task a little larger than usual as I remove broken limbs from these trees and shrubs.

As you pull out dead annuals, cut back perennials and generally clear away dead foliage, consider placing it in a compost pile so it can be reused later in the fall or next spring to amend your garden soil. You will need to chop large branches into smaller pieces to help the composting along.

No matter what kind of garden soil you have, one way to make it more hospitable for your plants is to amend it with organic material such as compost. And one wonderful way to create your own compost is to recycle your garbage and garden scraps.

Each one of us disposes of nearly one ton of waste annually. That's a lot of landfill space ... unless we recycle kitchen and yard waste into rich, dark compost for personal use.

Just think of the things you bag up for disposal: coffee grounds, grass clippings, leaves, pine needles, table scraps, newspapers. These are all waste items that can be composted for later use in your garden. Composting is an earth-friendly way to dispose of our trash. And it's a smart way to garden.

Plus, from personal experience, I can tell you it’s economical, too. The cost for purchased compost can add up.

Adding compost improves the drainage and aeration of your soil. It holds moisture in and releases fertilizer nutrients slowly while increasing the activity of earthworms and other organisms that are beneficial to plant growth.

To make compost, layer small pieces of "green" and "brown" waste material. Green waste is fresh plant materials such as weeds from your yard, fruit and vegetable scraps, green leaves, coffee grounds and tea bags, twigs, etc. Use caution when adding very fine green material such as grass clippings since it can mat and prevent air and water movement through the layers.

Brown wastes are dry, dead materials such as straw, dried weeds, newspapers, wood chips or sawdust. Do not compost wood treated with preservatives or clippings from grass treated with chemicals. Also, don't use meat or dairy products as these could cause odors and attract animals. It's also not recommended to use fresh manure in compost because of concerns about new strains of E. coli and other bacteria that cause human illness.

Mix the pile several times per month to add oxygen and keep the heat uniform throughout the materials. Because our summers here are usually so dry, you also may need to occasionally sprinkle water on your compost layers. It should be moist but not soggy throughout. If the compost is properly mixed and maintained, a final product may be obtained in one to two months under optimum summer conditions. It should shrink to about half of its original size and have a nice earthy smell.

Once the wastes have decomposed, use your compost as a soil amendment, a mulch or make compost tea (the liquid from a settled mix of half compost/half water) as a boost for house plants, seedlings and transplants. You'll be doing something good for your garden and for your community.

If you aren't into creating your own compost pile, Twin Enviro Services offers "curbside compostable item" pickup in Steamboat as well as delivery of their locally-made compost. See the sidebar for more information.

Deb Babcock is a volunteer Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Products and services mentioned in this article are not endorsed by the Master Gardener program, simply provided for informational purposes. Call 970-879-0825 or email csumgprogram@co.routt.co.us with questions.

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