Why visit Halton’s Compost Give Away?

Guest blogger Celia Roberts’ garden where no fertilizers are used.

I live and garden in north Oakville — in past years known as “red hill.”  It came by the name honestly as the “soil” is actually red clay where children’s white socks become pink in no time.

When we purchased our home 30 years ago, we were having a fence installed around what was to become the back garden. The installer, with a straight face, said “I’d rather dig through your garage floor than this stuff” (meaning the red clay). I knew right then that I was in for a battle.

With little knowledge of how to break up the clay, and with youthful exuberance, I purchased top soil by the yard only to have it gobbled up by the clay and disappear. A few years later I learned that applying a good layer of sharp builders’ sand would be of great benefit.

My father was a great one for making compost and, as children we used to frown when asked to take something out to put in the compost bin. However, I have come to realize how much ahead of the curve he really was. It’s amazing how much smarter he got, the older I got. So, I tried making compost myself but had not much luck, plus I couldn’t possibly make enough for my whole garden to benefit from this “black gold.”

Then I discovered Halton Region’s Compost Give Away! My life, and garden, has not been the same since!

Each spring and fall, Halton offers free compost for a cash or food donation for Food Banks in the area. I am all for this exchange — it benefits everyone. I wait with breathless anticipation for dates to be announced so that I can book my time accordingly for my trip to the compost pile. I love going to the Halton Waste Management Site. It gives me such great pleasure to see so much material being diverted away from our landfill. My friends wait for me to send out my “It’s Compost Week” email — even though they can read it online and in the newspaper.

It’s a rite of passage to the best gardening times of the year. My friends and family call me the Compost Queen of Oakville. We have our trips down to a fine science. I have purchased vinyl coated seed bags from one of the local animal seed merchants in the area and have reused these bags for years and years. Apart from being reusable, they are just the right size for one person to handle when full. They stand safely in the garage until I can get around to putting the compost in the garden, then fold up nicely for storage until the next time. We take our bottles of water, small headed shovels (gets in the bag easier), hats, sunscreen and off we go. We try to park adjacent to each other so that we can chat and laugh as we dig to our hearts’ content.

When one finally finds the time to spread the compost around the garden, one realizes that bagging the compost is not the hard part — spreading it is. If the plants are not too far out of the ground in the spring, spreading is not such a tricky matter. However, if the plants have substantially grown, it is preferable if the compost is not dumped on top of the crown of plants, but around the root spread. I don’t dig it in at all. Just leave it for the worms to do their job.

When my garden is on the Oakville Horticultural Society Garden Tour, or when neighbours and friends come in for a visit, the first question that I am asked is: “what do you fertilize your garden with?” No one can believe that I use no fertilizer whatsoever. My plants look as if they are on steroids! Nutrients are plentiful and moisture is readily taken up. I seem to be able to have some plants in the wrong cultural location but they thrive anyway. I give full credit to adding compost twice a year picked up from Halton’s Compost Give Away events.

My daughter gardens in south Burlington where the soil is actually sand and where water and nutrients just percolate right through. I introduced her to the benefits of adding compost and now her garden looks better than mine! She and her friends also are now addicted to adding compost to their new garden beds. It’s quite the status symbol as a gardener to be heading off to the compost pile.

Since this has been my regime for many years, I can now dig and have a full shovel, or more, in the ground before I hit any red clay. Oh joyous day when you can do that too!

The next Compost Give Away is this Saturday, September 15, 2012 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  at the Halton Waste Management Site. I can’t wait!

About this guest blogger:

I’m Celia Roberts and I’m passionate about flowers and plant material.  I have a certificate in Horticulture and am an accredited Floral Design Judge with the Garden Clubs of Ontario.  I teach at the Toronto Botanical Gardens, the Garden Club of Toronto, and across Ontario to the Ontario Horticultural Association Judging Schools and Judging Update workshops. I demonstrate at many garden clubs and horticultural societies and am an exhibitor at Canada Blooms and at the World Association of Flower Arrangers.  I’m excited to be the Co-Principal for the upcoming 7th School for Floral Design Judges at the Royal Botanical Gardens.  I’m also the chair of the Ontario Horticultural Association Annual Flower Show, am a member of the Flower Show Committee for Canada Blooms and Successful Gardening and am a member of show committees for the Garden Club of Toronto, Oakville Horticultural Society and Cloverleaf Garden Club.

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