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IN THE GARDEN: Beginning a Garden; Composting 101

Learn how to make your garden grow with compost.

In the beginning, our gardens grew a little more than planned. Our raised beds were too close, making it difficult to maintain the grass and encouraging weed growth.

One of us then planted fruit trees to provide shade while we harvested vegetables. What was he thinking? Now that the fruit trees are grown and mature, the shade is excellent for the harvester but not for the vegetables. Obviously, you can tell these massive mistakes were committed before we became a Master Gardener and a Master Naturalist.

Bill Luedecke and daughter Martelle offer advice to Highland Lakes gardeners.

Unfortunately, we still make mistakes, but y’all can learn from them. (We try out everything on our own land before making suggestions to readers.)

The raised beds were moved to allow sunlight to reach both the vegetables and the fruit trees. The beds are now much closer to the house to make it easier to visit the garden each day to monitor conditions.

Moving the raised beds presented an opportunity to apply a different and better mix of soils and amendments than what we originally used. It also allowed a change in planting, not only what is to be but also what was to be. It further allows the planning for long-term growth of trees and shrubs and for better drip irrigation.


We each have a plot of land to which we are in the beginning stages of a new garden. Join us on this adventure to create a new garden for yourself.

Each of our sections is already fenced to provide protection from deer. Prep the plot by mowing and weed eating dead plants (there’s an advantage to beginning after a hard freeze). According to, “... Vigorous weed growth usually indicates soil drainage and nutrient levels that will support healthy garden plants.”

Remove rocks from your site to avoid punctures in the plastic we are about to lay down and to level the ground. Cover the ground with a 2- to 4-millimeter thick clear plastic (dark plastic will reflect the sun; we want the sunlight to penetrate.) Extend the clear plastic 6-8 inches past the edges of your garden plot. If you need to use more than one piece, overlap the seams.

Smooth the plastic with your hands to remove air pockets. You want the plastic to press against the soil as closely as possible. Place heavy objects on top of the plastic to secure and weigh it down. We don’t want the wind blowing away your hard work. Leave the plastic covering down 4-6 weeks. If you have stubborn weeds in this area, leave the covering down for 6-8 weeks.

As the sun penetrates the clear plastic, it will kill weeds and viable unwanted seeds. Further instruction in a month.


Start a composting pile with all those leaves in your yard. Here is how. Keep in mind there are several books out there written about this subject. We especially recommend those by Malcolm Beck or J. Howard Garrett.

Composting can be done in either a fixed bin made of wood or stone piled up in your yard or garden or in one of those elevated metal bins that rotate either by motor or manually. Regardless of the vehicle you choose, there are a few fundamentals to keep in mind.

There must be three ingredients in the process of creating this most wonderful plant food.

First, there must be air. Composting microbes are aerobic, which means they need air to do their work efficiently. Second, there needs to be water. Ideally, the pile of material should be as moist as the proverbial wrung-out sponge. Third, there needs to be food for the microbes. The food is made up of two major sources: what we call browns (carbons) and greens (nitrogens). Browns are materials such as dry and dead plant material (straw, leaves, wood chips, etc.) Greens are fresh or dried manure, green plant life such as grass, coffee grounds, hair trimmings, uncooked fruit and vegetable waste, and eggshells (rinsed and crushed).

Manures are rated based on their nitrogen levels. Poultry manure (turkey and chicken) is the highest; next is sheep, goat, steer, and horse manures, which are all about the same and work equally as well. If you have friends who own turkeys or chickens, ask if you can clean out their poultry houses for the manure. The same applies with friends who own livestock. They’ll probably try not to laugh as they say yes.

Place these ingredients together to begin the act of composting. The piles need to be turned every so often to keep air in the pile. The fancy elevated bins, which will make compost in a matter of days, should be turned daily with five complete rotations each time.

While you are waiting for your first batch of compost, make a list of places to apply.

A few suggestions: around any trees in need of a shot in the arm (apply compost 1 inch thick around the tree out to the drip line), in your flower beds, in garden areas in need of help, or in preparation for your spring planting in the garden.

Keep your souls and soles in your garden!

Remember the True Master Gardener: Jesus said, “I am the vine; my Father is the Gardener.” John 15:1 Contact Bill Luedecke at The Luedecke Group Realtors at (512) 577-1463 or email him at Contact Martelle Luedecke at (512) 769-3179 or

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