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Ann Wright: Of compost and winter salad

A backdrop of straw bales coupled with wire woven with cattails, grapevines, brown paper and reeds created an interesting display of compostable materials.
Submitted photo by Master Gardeners |

The fair is over; prizes awarded, the displays and games are packed up for next time, and the Master Gardeners transported the compost pile to the demonstration garden for further curing.

This year, the compost pile was as creative as ever. A backdrop of straw bales coupled with wire woven with cattails, grapevines, brown paper and reeds created an interesting display of compostable materials.

Temperatures were measured daily. Some say “compost happens,” and Master Gardeners devote a good deal of attention to composting, as it is an easy way to gain rich amendment for the soil. The addition of compost to the soil helps retain moisture, adds enriching nutrients and helps beneficial bacteria break down organic material to further the process.



The nearly steaming compost pile at the demonstration garden was the site last Saturday for participants at the compost workshop to guess what the temperature at the center of the pile was. The “Compost Queen” designation was given to Roberta McGregor of Grass Valley who received the coveted compost thermometer prize for her guess of 157 degrees. The actual center of the pile was 158 degrees, well within the weed-seed and pathogen killing range.

Compost is “hot” and it is the gardener’s best friend. We will keep this pile covered at the demonstration garden through the winter where it will have a long time to cure. In the spring it will be a rich, ready soil amendment.




Now in mid-August with hot, dry summer days to continue into September, thoughts of autumn are here — nights a bit cooler, and the days are shorter, which means fewer hours of sunlight for plants.

It may seem out of step to consider planting cool season crops, but now is the best time to begin planting from seed and starts.

Cool season vegetables are those that grow and produce best when daily temperatures range from 55 to 75 degrees (F) average. Most tolerate slight frost when mature, and some are even sweeter after a frost. Hotter weather causes these vegetables to bolt to seed too quickly rather than producing more edible parts, and they may be quite bitter in taste.

Cool season crops can be planted as transplants approximately six weeks before the first fall frost date which, according to some charts, may be anywhere between Oct. 20 and Nov. 20. This of course depends on elevation, microclimates and overall weather patterns.

A fresh salad, some lovely broccoli, kale or greens out of your own garden might be a real treat this winter. Now is a good time to consider what vegetables to grow and how to plant them.

Learn more about cool-season vegetable planting at the workshop today, “How to Grow Cool Season Vegetables.”

This workshop will be presented from 10 a.m. to noon at the demonstration garden at the Nevada Irrigation District business grounds, 1036 W. Main Street in Grass Valley.

Find out how to distinguish cool season crops and what plants fall into this category. The workshop will also focus on fall planting, where to put a winter garden, as well as techniques for season extension. Get some great ideas on how to plant fall crops and extend the growing season to enjoy fresh produce from your own garden all year long.

Upcoming events in September include a workshop, “A Home Gardener’s Guide to Seed Saving” on Sept. 2 from 10 a.m. to noon; and our popular “Bite Me! Tomato Tasting and Open House” will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sept. 9. Other dates to save include Sept. 16 for the workshop, “Growing Great Soil: from Lasagna to Cover Crops” also from 10 a.m. to noon. The fall plant sale will take place Sept. 23 from 9 a.m. to noon.

For more information about these workshops, or for other home gardening concerns, contact the hotline, 530-273-0919 or check the website at http://www.ncmg.ucanr.org. Master Gardeners are available in the office at 255 S. Auburn St. in Grass Valley from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays; you may also hear us on KNCO radio, AM 830 every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon with “Master Gardeners and Friends.”

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.


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