A Statement of Purpose

Since 2012 I have been responsible for
the garden at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum on Antietam National Battlefield. The Pry House garden began as a 19th century style medicinal and kitchen garden, including medicinal plants, herbs, and vegetables. As close as possible, these plants mirrored those available to the Pry Family in the 1860s, meaning heirloom varieties. Since then, the garden has transformed to focus exclusively on medicinal plants, becoming an exhibit of the flora that was employed by military and civilian caregivers in the Civil War Era.

I am strictly an amateur, with no real experience in growing a garden. The purpose of this blog is to document my experiences as I learn by doing. It is anything but authoritative and I welcome any comments and advice for a greenhorn. Please be kind!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Clean-Up and Compost

Winter is not very far away, so I am currently working on preparing the garden for the cold months ahead. The annual plants are all done for the year and it is time to remove and dispose of them. Many of the plants are perennials, so they will come back when the weather warms in the spring. Some of these perennials can use a little maintenance now.

I had a few radishes that were forgotten and they have grow to tremendous size! Even though they were allowed to grow so long, they were neither bitter nor hot, but sweet and tasty! Perhaps this was because they grew in the cooler fall months.

I also had a few turnips that never really grew. I gave up on these ones and pulled them out. Most of the turnips were very successful though and all have been picked and enjoyed by museum staff with dinner. I am sorry that I neglected to get a picture before they were all eaten!

Perennial herbs like winter savory and oregano will remain a little bit green over the winter, but the early frosts cause them to die back a little bit. Also, I had never trimmed these plants after they flowered and went to seed.

With a sturdy pair of scissors, I cut back most of the dead matter. According to literature I have been reading, pruning the dead parts will not only improve things aesthetically, but will help to reduce disease and encourage good growth in the spring. I did not butcher the plants though, and I wanted to leave it with a little insulation and security for winter.

Other perennials will die back completely above the surface and will restart from the roots in the spring. Boneset or Thoroughwort is an example of this.

Pokeweed also dies back completely in the winter and sprouts anew in the spring. The young early greens are an old American delicacy, served much like collard greens. Picked too late though, poke greens become poisonous. These pokeweed plants had grown so thick and woody that I had to use a hatchet instead of garden shears to take them down.

Although the pokeweed was too woody and full of seeds (which might sprout in unwanted places), most of the waste matter from the garden is composted. I have been dabbling in composting this year, with limited success. All of my trimmings from this clean-up were added to the compost pile.

I chopped up all of this green matter into smaller pieces to help it break down better in the compost pile. I build the compost pile with layers of green matter, brown matter, and dirt to help the process of decomposition.

Now that winter is almost here, the compost pile will essentially come to a halt. What I am adding now will really begin to break down in the spring, I hope. Some people engage in winter composting, but this is not something I am ready to tackle, as it's a bit more work and requires some extra size or construction to keep the necessary heat in cold months. Next season I would like to engage more seriously in  the compost pile.

Most experts have their own opinion on winterizing garden plants, and they certainly don't always agree. I have tried to follow the best advice I could find in this regard, but it is very much a learning process. Your constructive advice is always appreciated!

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget to turn the compost pile every so often even in winter.