Long Autumn provides time for extra tasks

A long and fairly friendly fall has created a dilemma. Very untypically, I have gotten most of my fall work done. So what will I have to do next March when those first warmish days pull me outside?

Deconstruction of compost piles is one favored early spring activity, but it really needed doing now. I was simply running out of space to move the frame for the remains of this year's garden. Several square piles had shrunk to half their height, ready for harvest, and were taking up real estate I needed to set up the frame.

I like to sift compost. This isn't a required procedure, but it is a nice way to get outside, listen to my iPod while doing some mindless work. But I had already filled three garbage cans and two empty bark mulch bags - can you believe some people actually throw their empties out and then go pay money for lawn and leaf bags? - with sifted compost, so I had plenty ready for mixing next year's potting soil.

Unsifted compost isn't quite as nice. It's not the sort of stuff you want to run your hands through and lift to your nose. But it is perfectly fine for digging into the garden soil. And after the removal of some big trees, I had plenty of garden soil that sorely needed it.

I had mercifully forgotten the soil I started out with so many years ago, yellow clay suitable for making pottery, but now I was reminded. So I spread several inches of raw compost. Sunny and sixty is weather made for spading. Next spring I'll do it again. It will be a while before this plot turns to the rich, loose humus I have built elsewhere over the years, but it never happens at all if you don't start.

As a fringe benefit of tearing down old compost piles, I found some tools I had been missing as well as some labels for plants whose name I had long since forgotten.

For one thing, I found my sheep shears. Sheep shears are a single piece of tempered spring steel formed into a loop so the sharpened edges slide and slice together. I don't have sheep. I'd like to, they're cute and tasty. but the neighbors would probably object. But I have never found anything better for trimming grass edges that the mower can't get to.

I have every kind of grass trimmer ever invented, hand and power, and for the last few months I have regrettably been forced to use them. My wife prefers those long handled string trimmers, but they somehow manage to throw grass clippings exactly where you don't want them, even if it is yards away from where you are working. But nothing works better than sheep shears.

After a little work with some oil, steel wool, and a hone stone, I was ready for some trimming. I cut the grass along walks and brick edging even shorter than usual, because next spring that will be a two inch wide microclimate. You'll notice that the grass there greens and grows earlier than the rest of the lawn. A good place to pop in some small spring bulbs for the earliest flowers.

My terra cotta pots are under cover and the plastic pots gathered from wherever I dropped them in the garden over the summer. I must have a couple of hundred at least, now all graded by size and stacked behind the garden shed. I've got every size, from huge to tiny, ever made except for one, and you know which one that is. The one I need at any given moment. At least now it will be easier to find the next size up or down.

I suppose I'll find something to do next March. I've got the next three months to come up with something.

Duane Campbell if a nationally known agricultural expert. He can be reached at Rg, Box 6029, Towanda, PA 18848, or e-mail at dcamp911@gmail.com.

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