Gardening Insights From Edwards Greenhouse

Turning What Is Unwanted Into What Is Useful

It fascinates me how unwanted materials, such as those from plants and other biological items that have come to the end of their lifecycle, can be used to create compost; and compost is a profoundly beneficial and essential ingredient to enriching gardening. Similarly, making mistakes are usually unwanted occurrences, but they enrich our lives to learn from them.

There are many available sources to obtain a compost bin or container online, or information for constructing your own. The two types of organics that can be put into compost are known as “greens” and “browns”. According to greens can be fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds/filters, tea leaves/bags, garden waste, fresh weeds without seeds, and fresh grass clippings. Browns include dry leaves, straw, dry hay, sawdust, woodchips from untreated wood, twigs, dried grass clippings, dried weeds without seeds, shredded paper napkins, and tissue paper. (Other beneficial materials include eggshells, small amounts of wood ash, plain rice, plain pasta, bread, hair, wool, and cotton.) Do not compost meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, oily foods, bones, pet waste, weeds with mature seeds, plants infected with disease, plastic/petroleum products, metals, and synthetic materials.

According to the above site, you start with a generous layer of browns on the bottom, and then you alternate layers of greens and browns. Use 2 to 3 times as much browns as greens. The smaller the material the faster it will break down. Some people choose to save dried leaves from the fall to add to their compost the rest of the year, but if you don’t have leaves, you can use sawdust, straw, or even shredded newspaper for browns. Woody debris and larger material takes a long time to compost. Whenever you add a layer of greens, add a layer of browns to prevent odors and avoid attracting pests. Micro-organisms are the magic in composting. They break down the material, and in the process produce heat. They need about 50% moisture in the pile. (Greens add moisture.) They also need air, and aerating or turning the pile every 3-5 days is recommended.

Among the benefits of composting lists include:

  • Reducing or eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Promoting higher yields of agricultural crops.
  • Reducing the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides.
  • Serving as a marketable commodity and is a low-cost alternative to standard landfill cover and artificial soil amendments.
  • Extending municipal landfill life by diverting organic materials from landfills.

The previous article I wrote for Edwards discussed how mulching will be essential for moisture consistency as the Boise metropolitan area continues to have hotter-for-longer summers. Compost is excellent for mulching, with the added benefit of giving the garden needed nutrients.

And here’s some thoughts on composting our minds.According to studies listed in The Science of Willpower: How Mistakes Can Make You Smarter in when people make mistakes, they have one or the other of two brain responses. One is a “wake up call,” focusing on the problem to be solved, with increased decision making attention. This improves performance and learning from mistakes. The other is shutting down, responding to what is perceived as a threat. This response helps to escape feeling bad or doubting one’s abilities. People who have this response pay much more attention to positive feedback. This response is much less effective as a learning style. Getting It Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn, an online article in, cites studies on how making mistakes and learning from them is more effective than other ways of learning such as studying. Additionally, after mistakes have been made, “by challenging ourselves to retrieve or generate answers we can improve our recall.”

Gardening reflects life in so many ways. What is unwanted unfolds into what is useful. Nature’s intricate decomposition process makes new life stronger. Intelligence, it appears, can be practiced and improved as making mistakes creates stronger neural connections.

Edward’s staff members are happy to provide support and advice throughout the gardening experience to strengthen each gardener’s skills at all experience levels.


Gretchen Weitemier

Occupational Therapist

Herbs and Veggies Worker