This weekend: Clearing, Compost and Seed Starting

Posted by Anne Fletcher on

Welcome to our new feature:  This Weekend.  Every Friday, we'll be bringing you ideas for weekend gardening projects appropriate to the season here in Northern California, and for other coastal locales with mild winters.

I'm collaborating on this with Justine, who is not only an Orta production team member, she's also a garden educator.  We're talking over what she thinks the important jobs are, and I'm doing them in my garden.  (She lives in an apartment and tends a fabulous indoor garden -- More on that in future posts!)


Spring is in the air as I write this.  The bird chorus is getting louder, and the sun feels warm enough to shed layers as I work in the garden.  It's wonderful to be outside.

This weekend it's time to start clearing back to make space for new spring growth.  If your garden is anything like mine right now, things are looking a bit shaggy after a couple months of rainy indoorsy weather (see above for before and after).  Here's what I'm clearing this weekend:

  • Blackberries.  Unfortunately, I have to start with blackberries before I can do anything else to avoid all the scratches!
  • Last year's annuals.  I left many flowering annuals to stand over winter to provide seeds and habitat for birds and insects, but now that new growth is coming, I'm pulling out all the old material.
  • Weeds.  Lots of weeds have been stealthily growing up among my perennial shrubs and last year's annuals.  In particular, I'm on a steady (perhaps loosing) campaign to remove oxalis from certain areas of the garden.
  • Spent veggies.  I'm pulling out last year's peppers, as well as pulling the greens (mizuna and lettuce) that provided salads through the winter, but that are bolting now.

It's amazing the volume of plant matter that accumulates from just an hour or so of clearing!  Here's what to do with it:


This time of year, your compost pile might be soggy and cold.  Give it a turn to bring in fresh air and start it warming up again.  You'll be so happy to have homemade compost ready in a month or two to feed your veggie beds!

Adding all the fresh material from clearing will give it a boost too.  If your pile is really slimy, make sure to add plenty of dry, brown materials.  In general, I add all the plant material from my yard to the compost bin with the following important exceptions (I send these to the green bin where they will be completely composted in the city's industrial composter):

  • Weeds that can spread themselves through little bits of un-composted material.  In my yard, these include blackberries, oxalis, mint, ivy and bamboo.  They were all running rampant when we moved in.  Little by little, I'm beating them back (maybe).
  • Rose prunings.  My roses are susceptible to rust, and I want to avoid spreading it.  
  • Sticks and branches too big to compost easily.

The rest, I chop into smaller pieces with hedge shears and mix into the compost bin.

Seed Starting this weekend

We're getting into peak seed starting season!  These are the seeds to plant sooner rather than later:

  • Icelandic and Oriental poppies.  You can direct seed, or start indoors.  I never have much luck direct seeding, though other gardeners I talk to swear by it.
  • Sweet peas.  These grow easily for me from direct seeding.  I'm going to sow a bunch in the newly cleared beds shown above, plus start some indoors to have at the ready next month when I know I'll want more.
  • Tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplants.  It's time to get those slow-growing heat-loving summer veggies going.  Start them indoors, preferably with some extra heat.

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