Storm Hermine gave us perfect gardening weather: soft, cool, fall-ish, and the garden, free of humidity and intense heat, and almost lacking in mosquitoes, was also free of the strife that can often be the background noise there. At the garden debris compost bin, I was overjoyed (really, truly) to find two gardeners cutting up plant waste and putting it in the bin and not in the trash. I was so moved to see this that I walked up to them and thanked them. They happen to be two very nice guys I’ve run into off and on at the garden but don’t know all that well. They told me that they were a little afraid of composting, afraid of not doing the right thing and so—having been yelled at—tended to err on the side of caution and the garbage can. This day, they had decided to go for it. They were being careful not to put in invasive weeds. I was consoling, telling them I know it could be difficult to tell what was what sometimes.* This led to questions about composting in general and how food-scrap composting works at the garden. I organize this side of our composting efforts and require gardeners who want to do it to participate fully in the project, not just drop off their food scraps (the how and why of this I’ll get into in an upcoming post on composting). The starting place is a lesson on how to do something that seems kind of simple but can go so wrong, especially when it involves ten or more people. The timing was right, I was there, and one of the gardeners was actually interested in getting a lesson. And now I have a new food-scrap composter/gardener. Some good labor was had by all.
The food-scrap compost intake bin at the Clinton Community Garden. I use a garden fork to first dig food scraps in and later turn the material. After each addition of food scraps, I add a layer of leaves two to three times as thick as the food-scrap layer. These scraps are nicely chopped and have been eye-balled for bad stuff, like dairy, bones, rubber bands, and plastic bits.
Here’s what I don’t like to see. Yes, these items are all compostable, they might even be organic, but what are they doing here? They weren’t spoiled or even wrinkled. A family of four could have gotten breakfast out of this compost bin. I chalk this up to a rogue “composter” who seemed to joy in dropping perfectly edible food in the bin once a week and not even attempting to cover it up. All my regular composters know to chop up their peels and rinds and that wasting food is pretty uncool.
*As a side note, I tend to take a broader view of what plant matter can and can’t go in than our particular setup allows. I will never, ever compost morning glory—though the flowers are endearing, the plant is deadly in its ability to self-replicate and strangle a garden—but I am comfortable with most roots and even some seed heads that come out of garden beds going into the compost as long as they are broken down and treated to a good smothering layer of leaves. If there’s space, I will sometimes dry out borderline weedy plants by hanging them up or laying them out on a hard surface in the sun.
Freshly made compost spills out of the bin, ready for the garden.
Hey, Hell’s Kitcheners, Gardeners, Composters, and all the rest of you Earth-conscious folk:
We have a great opportunity to make composting happen on a larger scale and year round in our community. Projects to be funded by City Council District 3 Participatory Budgeting are up for a vote starting this Saturday. My committee, Parks & Environment, has some excellent projects (see 8 through 14 on the ballot), including my contribution, #11 on the ballot: A Community Composting Center in Hell’s Kitchen. This is a proposal for a larger-scale food-waste composting operation with at least two drop-off days a week. Gardeners have a special stake in composting efforts, and I hope our gardening community in particular will come out to vote for this project. All residents of District 3, 14 years of age and older, are eligible to vote, so you can bring your favorite teen with you and vote as a family. Voting takes place April 11 through April 19 with several locations, including Hartley House, right over on West 46th Street.
For more voting locations and information, please visit: http://council.nyc.gov/d3/html/members/pb3.shtml
One more thought: Earth Day is coming up on April 22. Your vote for this community composting center is a simple and effective way to care for our Earth. Please plan to vote with Earth Day in mind.
For a poster to share, click on:
PB Vote Week Composting Projectpdf2
In my last post, I put up a challenge that was accepted by two worthy gardeners. Readers were asked to figure out this puzzle:
What is this plant and what happened to it?
Nancy hit it on the head with columbine and leaf-miner damage.
Coming in second, Marcia makes a good case for gingko leaves, noting that many gingkoes have been planted in New York City (I have stepped on their very smelly fruits on city sidewalks).
I see leaf mining every year in columbine plants at the Clinton Community Garden. The only other plants in the garden that I’ve seen with this kind of tunneling are hollyhocks. The columbines seem strangely unperturbed by this summer-long attack on their leaves, but the hollyhocks that are invaded are often decimated. Could it be partly because columbine plants have so many leaves? Hollyhocks put out fewer, though much bigger, leaves.
The creature doing the mining is something I haven’t really paid much attention to. By the time I notice what’s happened, the adult insect has emerged and moved on. Now I know that a kind of fly is responsible for columbine damage, but there are other types of flies, moths, beetles, and wasps that also attack specific plants this way. It’s pretty ingenious on the part of the insect: She injects her eggs inside the leaf. When they hatch, they begin eating their way through, protected above and below by leaf tissue, and emerging as an adult at the end of the tunnel. You can chart the growth of the insect by the widening of the tunnel as it reaches the end of the leaf. Columbines are known for surviving this parasitism quite well and are used as traps to protect more vulnerable plants (in greenhouses, for instance). Another reason to love my columbines.
Some side notes to leaf mining: To minimize infestation, don’t compost the damaged leaves. Hairy-leaved plants discourage leaf miners.