Marianne Binetti

Cleaning up the garden for winter is a great time to start a compost pile

November is the start of the winter season and time to put the garden to bed.

Cut back, chop up, haul off and in general clean up any perennials or annuals that are yellow and frost-bitten. This is a good time to start a compost pile in a hidden corner of the landscape. Just layer brown material (brown leaves, bark chips, soil) with green material (grass clippings, green leaves, green weeds) and let it all rot.

You can hurry the decomposing by chopping the material into small pieces, covering the pile to keep it warm, and adding air to the process either by turning the contents or giving it all a good poke with a sharp stick. Some gardeners crank up the heat of their compost pile by using hollow metal pipes stuck into the center of the pile to add air. Every few weeks they wiggle the pipes or remove and then poke them back into the pile in a different spot. Anytime you add a channel of air to your compost pile it helps to turn the garden garbage into garden gold.

Q. I grow vegetables in raised beds. Must I uproot all the old tomatoes, bean and squash plants now or can I wait until spring to clean up? — B.L. Puyallup

A. You can always imitate Mother Nature and let your summer bounty rot back into the earth with the winter rains. The advantage of a fall clean-up is that you will be removing any plants with disease or insect problems that could overwinter. However, the advantage of a more laid-back approach to garden clean-up is that you are not disturbing the tiny little soil critters that add tilth to your soil. Some gardeners combine the two methods and layer compost right on top of old plants.

If you have a weed problem in your vegetable bed, though, fall is the time to pull and remove those summer weeds, roots and all.

Q. Will a compost

pile attract rats? — Anonymous

A.No, a properly made compost pile heats up quickly and does not supply food for rats and mice. But you must be sure to never add meat, bones, grease or other difficult-to-break-down kitchen debris to a compost pile.

Q. Can I make my own raised beds by piling up grass clippings and leaves into mounds? Do I need to add soil as well, or will my garden clippings and fall foliage turn into soil? — S. Email

A. You can easily create your own raised beds with plant material that composts over the winter, but to make these piles most favorable to growing vegetables, use equal amounts of soil and aged manure to help break down the plant material. Remember that mounds of composting material will shrink after just one winter. Your original 4-foot-tall raised beds can end up as a mound of soil less than 1 foot high. Put the most coarse or woody material down first, then a layer of green grass clippings, then brown leaves and cap it all off with at least a 6-inch layer of aged manure and garden soil.