Still Learning To See

Investing in the future


Even if it were not for social distancing, being in the gardens this time of year is special. Even in “cold” weather, all other things being relative! Above is a branch of Plum I pruned a week ago, brought inside and now the house is filled with its wonderful scent.

While much of the ground is still frozen a few inches below the surface, crocus, snowdrops and other other early flowers have popped up, and, above, the Peonies bursting forth. Many trees—Red maple, Silver maple, Hazel—are all in full bloom. Above ground pairs of birds—Cardinals, Blue Jays, Titmice—are back as are bees and flies and many other insects.

This is also the time of year I enjoy building my big spring compost pile. All winter we layer our compostibles with old potting soil in 5-gallon buckets in the garage where they stay cool but don’t freeze. Ten buckets this year! I was raised in a family that composted; in fact, my father was a civil and sanitary engineer who studied and refined processes for composting the trash and sewage sludge of cities the size of Houston and Manilla.

The other job I love doing this time of year is “tidying up” the garden. As I’ve said here before, I leave all the stems and stalks of plants for the winter, both because they feed many insects and animals and because they are beautiful. No obsessive fall clean up in my gardens! But I’ve enjoy wandering around from task to task cutting back, discovering and being surprised by what it there. I also end up with big piles of what is known in the compost world as “brown materials,” i.e. carbon.


Up the hill I take the buckets, two at a time, where they are part of the fuel for a mega-compost pile, carefully built in the bin I made a dozen years ago. I layer the browns with the garbage—slightly odiferous but not bad—and cover each layer with a bit of compost from the pile I made late last fall; this keeps the odors under control and helps get things heating up quickly.

Part of the process is sort of archeological. I found the remains of a pumpkin in one bucket and, though this year we did not have lobster, often they show up brightly. One interesting tidbit is that the damned stickers that show up on fruit never compost—they are plastic and will stick around literally for years in the garden long after I’ve spread the compost.

In a week the pile will probably have reached 140F. In a couple weeks I may turn the pile if needed. In a month, voila! A huge bin of great compost ready to go back on flowers and veggies alike. An easy investment in the future. Tomorrow when it is warmer I’ll wash the buckets and be ready for next year’s investments. I know this kind of thing may not be for everyone, but I love my big spring compost pile; thanks, Dad, for helping me learn.


This entry was published on April 13, 2020 at 6:01 pm. It’s filed under Garden, John Snell, John Snell Photographer, Spring, Vermont, and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Investing in the future

  1. Karen Snell Dailey on said:

    Really fun to have stories and pictures about your composting, and Dad’s inspiration behind it all. Thanks for renewing the soil with one of life’s elixirs…and our hearts with your inspirations! In gratitude for all you do

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