Archive for February, 2014

Dinosaur Period Expanded Shale – for Gardens

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Dinosaur Period Expanded Shale – for Gardens

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

                 2014 expanded shale    2014 expanded shale 2

A garden soil recipe for success is to add a soil conditioner that originated from the Late Cretaceous Period, when the most famous mass extinction of dinosaurs occurred, 65 million years ago.  In this time period, Tyrannosaurus and Giganotosaurus roamed, and flowering plants began to flourish.  Fine grained sedimentary rocks from mud of clay and silt were laid down to form the Texas Midway Shale formation which is 10 -15 ft. underground in a pattern from Corsicana to Texarkana south to Laredo.

When shale from the above area is mined and exposed to 2000 deg C for 40 minutes, 65% of the silica makeup changes chemically as gases escape to form a porous lightweight rock, Expanded Shale.  It can absorb 38% of its weight in water for a water-wise soil amendment.  Also it will conservatively last for decades, unlike deteriorating vermiculite and decomposing peat moss.  Expanded shale is mostly an alumino-silicate that will not change the soil pH, is non-toxic and inert, and environmentally friendly.  It enhances plant growth and performance.  Applications include raised beds, window boxes, gardens, large container boxes, and in landscaping.

The porous structure of expanded shale absorbs water, therefore any fertilizer components dissolved in the water will also be absorbed onto the aggregate, porous-rock surfaces.  Extension researchers from Texas and Florida, J. Sloan, P. Ampim, R. Cabrera, W. Mackay, and S. George (Moisture and Nutrient Storage Capacity of Calcined Expanded Shale), have tested the bioavailability of nutrients loaded onto expanded shale by using Romaine lettuce.  Results demonstrated significant increases in the size and the mass of yield.  Shoot mass increased linearly from 0.1 grams with no fertilizer on expanded shale to 1.9 grams/pot with 100% fertilizer-treated expanded shale.  No additional fertilizer was needed for the 45 day crop rotation.

Dr. Steve George, Texas Agrilife Extension Service horticultural researcher in Dallas, recommends this expanded shale to “open up and aerate clay soils faster than any other product tested”.  His shale research work is extensive with two years of study and 6 years of field trials.  Expanded shale increased soil porosity (for drainage and aeration), reduced compaction (for healthier root systems), and insulated roots from temperature extremes.

Jim L. Turner, director of horticulture research at the Dallas Arboretum, praises its use for solving watering issues as overwatering causes more plant deaths than any other cause.  Expanded Shale is used extensively throughout the many beautiful gardens in the Dallas Arboretum to optimize water usage and conservation.

In your own gardens, utilize expanded shale by adding 3 inches of compost and 3 inches of expanded shale, then till to 8 inches deep.  Add top mulch to the mixed soil with a layer 3 inches deep. Continue mulch additions spring and fall.  Soil tests may reveal that additional commercial fertilizer is not needed due to decomposition additions from nutrient balanced mulch.

For containers, fill the bottom quarter with expanded shale, then add a mixture of 1/3 of each – expanded shale, compost, and garden soil.  Also add mulch to the top of the container. Due to our very hot summers and intense tropical solar light, use wood or other insulating material to reduce the temperatures on the surface of the container when the heat comes.  Always use a water meter to confirm moisture levels of your container soil.  Rain water is recommended due high sodium values (>100 ppm) in some of our local tap water supplies.

By late Spring 2014, an application-test demo plot will trial expanded shale and zeolite amendments to grow various garden vegetables in the Beauregard Demonstration Garden in DeRidder, La.  The initial soil was basic kaolinite clay subsoil with little nutrient value and low ability to retain nutrients.  In early November, compost and varying additions of zeolite were added to specific rows.  LSU AgCenter soil tests have indicated high nutrient values 6 weeks later in mid-December.  Identical mass of expanded shale will be added to ½ of each row.  Then in mid-March various vegetables will be planted.  Practical observations like yield, water meter readings, soil nutrient tests, soil bulk density, and plant health will be observed.  This Master Gardener application test is not meant to be a scientific experiment as the scope, time, and expense would be beyond volunteer resources.

Dinosaur dirt (Texas expanded shale) and porous volcanic rock (zeolite) soil conditioners have demonstrated their value in nutrient and water conservation by numerous scientific tests from NASA to University Extension Service experiments.  The nutrient cost-savings and environmental benefits of these products can be employed in cropping, forests, and in small-space gardening.  Experiments have proven that soil beneficial microbes are enhanced with greater moisture control, nutrient retention, and soil porosity, which should increase yields and Ag success.  “Let’s give it a try!”

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My Bees, Jimmy Earl Cooley


My Bees by Jimmy Earl Cooley, 1/12/2014

Inspecting and feeding bees today and was stung seven times by Shirley Hive Bees.

Used normal procedure, including smoke.  First opened the Shirley Hive and immediately several swarmed my head.  I continued to remove the top and inner cover and removed two frames so I could get to the sugar water container.  Put more sugar water in feeder and by then the bees were swarming around my head and stung thru suit and several got me thru shirt around left shoulder and one or two got under the vail and all told was stung 7 times.  Used Benedryl on stings and took a Benedryl tablet.  Itching has almost gone but some swelling in neck and shoulder.  Noted that some of the rascals were holding on to bee suit and trying to push stinger inside.

Real bad bees – these Shirley ones.  I think the queen must be replaced.  Suppose to be one of the queens we got from Weaver last year, but dont know for sure.

I think my plan should be to split the Shirley Hive immediately and kill the queen and divide the workers and frames and put in a ,new queen or queen cells if you have any, in each split.  I have ordered, received  and assembled three new hives, each containing 2 brood boxes and one super, along with base, inner cover, and top.  Can use for the split.  All three are sitting near the Hebert and Shirley Hives.  This is about a dozen stings I have had from the Shirley Hive since installation.  What you think?

I then opened the Hebert hive and fed and observed and not a single bee approached me!  I would hope that there would be queen cells in the Hebert hive to put with the split of the Shirley hive or at least raise some queens from the bees in the Hebert hive.  Maybe I could try that with my queen nook and split workers from the Hebert hive.

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Soil Science from the International Space Station Comes Down to Earth – In your Garden!


Soil Science from the International Space Station Comes Down to Earth – In your Garden!

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

NASA has been developing artificial soils for several decades for use on long duration space flights.  These trials have proved that numerous crop species have growth and development similar to plants grown in ground controls.

2014 zeolite images

The advantages of the “Zeoponic Soil Systems” is that only water is needed for activation, and yields are substantially higher than those obtained from the field.  The objective is to have a soil substrate for plant growth that can be used in a regenerative life-support system ( a sealed sustainable living space).  Data from the Lada greenhouse in the space station has helped advance Earth-based greenhouses and controlled environment Ag systems.  This information is also used by researchers and farmers to produce better, healthier crops in small spaces with optimum amounts of water and nutrients.

Commercial products have been on the market for some time.  Examples are “Zeo-Pro” which is used as a slow release fertilizer on golf courses.  Another product “Miracle Mountain Zeolite” sells zeolite as a garden amendment.  For gardening purposes, be sure the zeolite is without a sodium load, examine the heavy metal report, and assure the product is oriented for Ag purposes. Many other products and expanded use of zeolites are expected as advantages are learned.  It is definitely a 21st century product.  Applications include odor control products (Horse Stall Refresher), Fish hatchery water treatment, a Portland Cement substitute, Kitty Litter, and higher yields in crops and pastures.

What are the benefits of using zeolite in horticulture applications?  1) The CEC (cation exchange capacity – value of available nutrients) is increased.  2) Soil porosity and water holding properties are improved which results in decreases in water run-off and ponding 3) Zeolite increases nitrogen retention by reducing ammonia volatilization, therefore reducing nitrogen pollution. 4) It improves the fertilizer efficiency by capturing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and other trace nutrients for utilization by plants. 5) Zeolite can be used as an inorganic substitute for peat moss in mixes.  6) It helps to open compacted soils.  7) biological activity is increased by supporting nitrifying soil bacteria.

A most important use of zeolite is its role in developing controllable and renewable fertilization plans to provide plant growth nutrients.  It can be used to mitigate the adverse effects water contamination due to highly soluble and concentrated fertilizers.

Zeolite is a crystalline, porous alumino-silicate with a unique interconnecting, honeycomb lattice structure.  This structure of channels of negatively charged alumina, with neutral silica tetrahedral building blocks, can effectively capture positively charged nutrient ions.  Because of zeolite’s molecular composition, it has incredible absorbent and adsorbent properties.

In nature, zeolites are naturally formed microporous, alumino-silicates that are found where volcanic rocks and ash layers react with alkaline groundwater.  The mineral is also known as clinoptilolite.  Check bags of “Kitty Litter” and “Horse Stall Refresher” for clinoptilolite as the effective ingredient. Obnoxious odors and gasses are trapped in the mineral honeycomb structure of these commercial products like fertilizer nutrients are captured in soil-use zeolites.

Most of our local acidic soils are classified as Ultisols composed of kaolinite which has a very low ability (low CEC number) to retain plant nutrients.  Therefore most of the commercial fertilizer is lost through leaching with rains and irrigation water.  Typically the top 3 to 6” of topsoil contains nearly all of the nutrient value.  Additional nutrient depletion occurs when crops are harvested, and when the soil is left barren, and oxidized by tillage.  However this soil can be frequently amended with organic matter and humus to increase the pH to a more neutral value, and to increase the CEC to a higher fertility value.  This usually requires much labor and effort.

A better system may be to utilize zeolites, organic matter, and inorganic minerals.  This approach uses the advantages of each.  The zeolite adds a long term substrate to improve the CEC, porosity, nutrient and water retention, and microbial life.  The organic matter with cellulose gives life to the soil, water retention, porosity, structure and acts as a slow release fertilizer upon decomposition.  Inorganic minerals can be added to supplement deficiencies as indicated by testing or visual symptoms.  The overall effect is that leachate pollution is minimized, and fertilization, water, and labor cost are also reduced, while yields are high.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge (Aug 2013, Peter Leggo) has shown that even marginal land like deserts can grow fruits and vegetables using a zeolite mix with chicken manure.  Control experiments have shown that dew water can be held on zeolite until the hottest part of the day, which increases overall soil moisture content for plant growth. Dr. Peter Leggo of the Department of Earth Sciences says, “Previously, you’d douse crops with chemicals, and it caused a huge reduction in soil microbial diversity.  The material we’ve developed takes less energy to produce, improves soil structure, and enables you to grow crops on almost any type of soil”.  Plans are to commercialize the product for world markets.

You may wish to experiment in your own gardens with zeolite soil conditioners and fertilizers.  Let us know about your experiences and procedures to share with others in the 21st century.

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Watch Your Water By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener

Watch Your Water

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener

Detrimental substances to plants and animals are may be found in tap water.  Therefore it is wise to “Know your Water” as many bumper stickers are seen while traveling.  The severity of these problems vary from mild diarrhea (usually due to bacteria or sulfate compounds) to extreme cancer risks like the Camp Lejeune area where approximately 1 million Marines and family members drank and bathed in water with toxins at concentrations up to 3400 times permitted safety levels (1953-1985).  On the Ag side, plant toxins from water reduce yields to destroy crops like high sodium irrigation water.  Tap water with a high pH (alkaline) reacts with acid pesticides making them ineffective.

So, how does one “Watch Water”?  Obtain the analytical results of your tap water supplied by the La. Department of Health and Hospitals .  A CD Rom can be obtained for around $27 (Kate Gilmore, SDWIS State/Compliance Support Manager, 223-342-7499).  A “complete” analysis is only done once every three years as required by the EPA.  For testing pH, an inexpensive pH meter along with current calibration standards can supply reliable values.  Coliform and mineral tests are available on-line, but purchase from reliable vendors like LaMotte or send samples to another state, or certified water lab for cross checking results.  Health professionals, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, National Institute of Health, and the American Kidney Foundation are excellent sources for interpreting lab results.

The EPA is a regulatory agency which delves into legalities and changing standards.  While it does provide primary (Maximum Contaminant Levels to prevent adverse health effects) and secondary standards (guidelines that are not enforceable), these are “Man’s Laws”, not natural law.  Louisiana has a law that states if a person is bitten by another person with natural teeth it is “Simple Assault”, but if that person is bitten with false teeth, it is “Aggravated Assault”.  Natural law responds to the effect of the bite instead of a legal definition of real teeth and false teeth.

Sodium and pH values are currently classified as secondary standards by the EPA.  The secondary standard for pH is 6.5 to 8.5 for drinking water.  The recommended EPA value of 20 mg/L for sodium in drinking water is based on a 500 mg/day, low sodium diet. Yet the EPA lists sodium as a secondary standard that is still under evaluation.  Therefore, legally, a community water service does not have to report these values to its customers.  However, natural law with its “effect of the bite” does impact the water customers.  Some states, like our neighbor, Texas, does require sodium to be given to consumers due to health concerns.

Locally, 2012 La. Dept. of H & H lab results from Beauregard Water District #3, exhibits high pH values (above 8.5) in half of its 10 wells.  Some of the effects of this alkaline water include acid/base reactions that neutralize medications and pesticides, damage to soil/plants/animals, and killing of aquatic life.  Industry cannot discharge 9+ pH water into waterways, yet 3 water wells at Ragley were over this EPA limit. One positive feature of these high pH wells is that the water makes an effective anti-acid for overeaters.

Around 60% of the District #3 sodium values are at or above 70 ppm. 40% of the sodium values are above 100 ppm (between sodium levels of a diet Coke to a Sprite). Dr. J. Benton Jones, Jr. (Plant Nutrition and Soil Fertility Manual, 2ed, 2012), a leader and authority on plant nutrition, states that sodium in irrigation water above 70 ppm, and bicarbonate above 40 ppm can be detrimental to plants.  Sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate are the primary compounds responsible for the high pH in this water system.

Plants are like people in that some are more sensitive to sodium than others.  The very young and old, diabetics, people with cardiovascular, kidney, hypertension diseases, and genetic sodium sensitivity should keep their daily sodium intakes very low.  While the EPA is in a state of flux over MCL values, a medical professional (dietician, doctor, etc.) can provide better advice.  If the doctor tells you not to drink “Sodas”, be sure to tell him about your water sodium levels.  Over a lifetime, most medical professionals agree to keep blood pressure down, low sodium is the key.

2014 rain barrel

A working rain barrel in Longville, LA

For plants, a rain barrel is an excellent alternative to a bad water supply.  Also ponds and shallow wells can provide good irrigation water in our area.  For baby, note that supercenter stores sell gallon-size containers of “Baby Water” for good reasons.  Grandparents and the rest of sodium sensitive people may want to invest into a reverse osmosis system, or cut down on sodium in foods to reach low sodium levels below 1500 ppm/day.  Remember that a gallon (min. daily consumption) of 100 ppm water will equal around 400 ppm sodium.  Coffee lovers will be delighted to discover the true flavor of coffee when they switch to distilled or very low sodium water.

Consumers are mainly concerned about health issues with tap water.  But, a few water systems are focused on just making money and business/mechanical operations. A common sense water department hires a hydrologist that is as valuable as a proven geologist looking for oil.  The success rate of the geologist, his science and support team determine his value and reputation.  Hopefully, future water resources can be tapped with the same expertise and creativity that the oil industry has used.  Amateurs do not belong in a business that affects the health of so many people, nor do water employees that dismiss health and Ag issues.

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THE THREE Ps By Richard Meaux, Pres., SW LA Forestry Association


by Richard Meaux, President

SW LA Forestry Association

Proper Prior Planning (PPP) is something that everyone should do.  Many of us have, and those who have not should, put together various papers and documents that plan for the future and that are prepared to ensure that our wishes are at least known so, hopefully, they can be carried out.  Some things are legal such as wills and others simply lay out what we think should happen with the assets we accumulate over a lifetime.  This is particularly important as one grows older or if one has some health related condition(s), however, prudently, it is something to be considered at any time at any age.

For a landowner this is especially important.  Many have spent a lifetime planting, nurturing and harvesting timber from their property and it would be comforting to know that family members are interested in continuing that work and are prepared to manage the tracts should the need arise.  Over the past few years our association has hosted workshops designed to help landowners get their families interested and involved in developing legacy forests.  In these cases the land is ready to be passed on to later generations and the hard work already done to develop a productive piece of property is not lost.

In society today much is focused on the “Green Movement”.  Pressure has been put on all segments of the timber industry from growth to harvest to marketing in an attempt to make sure that the wood products are not harmful to the earth and environment at any stage.  This, of course, is what most of us have been doing for years.  A timberland owner is usually a natural born conservationist and not one who would manage their land in an abusive way.  We burn, plant, fertilize, thin and insist that harvests are done using Best Management Practices (BMP) confirming that we are good stewards of the land.  Be that as it may, it is becoming increasingly important that we not only say that we are doing things correctly but we have to prove it as well.  We do that by managing our timber in conformance with guidelines set forth by organizations such as the Tree Farm System or other Sustainable Forest Initiatives.

Considering all that has been said above, it should be obvious that one thing we need to do is plan what were are going to do with our forest, that we put those plans down on paper and that we make that information available to those who need to know.  A proper plan is necessary if our family is called upon to manage the land and one is needed if anyone plans to certify their timber under the programs listed above.  Fortunately, there is a format already in place that guides us in preparing just such a document.  That document is called a Forest Management Plan (FMP).

Elements of such a plan would include such items as objectives, property history and location, maintenance plans, list of resources, inventory of trees and management activities planned for the future.  The plan would have both general, long term (10 year) goals and an outline of specific activities to be performed in the short term.  More explanation and details are available from the County Agent or Extension Forester as well as the internet.  Go to any search engine online and type in “Forest Management Plan” for a start.  The Tree Farm System website has good details and the much other useful information is provided by the Louisiana Forestry Association on their website.

A plan can be developed by an individual, but a more complete and detailed plan would be prepared by a professional forester.  The County Agent or Extension Forester could provide names of those qualified and possibly even recommendations on how to fund the development of such a document.  Though it changes from time to time the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have provided support in the past under some of their programs.

It is good to plan ahead and there is no time better to start than right now.  Make sure your hopes and dreams for your timber and your land are carried to fruition.

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SW LA Forestry Association: Rules of Association


Rules of Association

These Rules of Association, hereinafter sometimes referred to as “the Rules” or “Rules”, set forth general policies under which the organization is operated, except that any policy shall be considered void if it violates Louisiana law.


The name of this organization shall be the Southwest Louisiana Forestry Association, hereinafter sometimes referred to as “the Association”.  The Association has been formerly known as “Beauregard Forestry Association”.


The purpose of this Association shall be to serve as the “Voice of Forestry” in southwest Louisiana, and to conduct, advise, and/or assist the Area Extension Forester/County Agents concerning public affairs, communications and educational programs that will foster better forest management and utilization as well as an understanding of and appreciation for the forests and forest-based industries of southwest Louisiana.


Section 1: Membership – Any person, firm, corporation, association or organization engaged or interested in the ownership, production, consumption or conservation of timber and forest products shall be eligible for membership in the Association, in accordance with rules adopted by the Board (as defined below in Article IV and hereinafter sometimes referred to as “the Board”).

Section 2: Privileges – Each person, including firms, corporations, associations or organizations, shall have one vote.

Section 3: Dues – The initial membership fee will be $25.00 per household.  Annual Association dues shall be set by the Board and collected at the annual meeting.  Upon payment of the initial membership fee, a member shall become liable for any subsequent Annual Association dues and shall further have access to all Association privileges, as stated in the Rules.  These privileges shall continue upon continued payment of Annual Association dues.


Section 1: The Association shall be governed by the Board which shall be comprised of twelve (12) individuals of majority age and legal capacity, holding a vested interest in the forestry industry of southwest Louisiana.

Section 2: Members of the Board shall be nominated and elected via majority vote of the attending members at the annual meeting.  Board members shall serve on the Board until voluntary or tacit resignation.  Upon vacation of a Board position, the board member shall be replaced as described herein.

Section 3: The Board shall act upon all business of the Association arising between annual meetings.

Section 4: The Board shall meet at least twice a year or as often as is necessary.   The President or participating Area Extension Forester/County Agent (as defined below in Article VIII and hereinafter sometimes referred to as “Area Extension Forester/County Agent”), as needed, may call special meetings of the Board.  In the case of all meetings, notice of time and place shall be given.

Section 5: Board members in attendance at any meeting of the Board shall constitute a QUORUM.

Section 6: All Officers and Board members shall be dues paying members of the Association.


Section 1: The Officers shall include President, Secretary, and Treasurer.  Their term of office shall be for two years.  Nothing shall prevent an incumbent being nominated or approved to serve consecutive or non-consecutive terms in any office.

Section 2: The President, Secretary and Treasurer shall be nominated by the Area Extension Forester/County Agent and/or any sitting Board member and then approved via majority vote of the Board.


The President shall preside at all meetings of the Board.  The President can form committees and appoint chairmen as needed and shall sign all contracts authorized by the board and on behalf of the Association.  In the absence of the President, one of the other present officers shall preside.


Section 1: The Secretary shall keep a record of all meetings; maintain a file of all correspondence, committee reports and any records of historical value; and send out notices of meetings.

Section 2: The Treasurer shall have custody of all funds, keep records of receipts and disbursements, and account for expenditures and income to the Board and membership; and in general perform those duties customarily associated with the position of Treasurer.  All checks issued shall require the signature of either the President or the Treasurer.


The Participating Area Extension Forester/County Agent may arrange for the scheduling and location of all meetings of the Association and of the Board and shall maintain current membership rolls.  The Area Extension Forester/County Agent may provide an agenda for all meetings of the Association and of the Board and may arrange for speakers, industry professionals, etc. to address topics as chosen by the Board for instructional workshops, annual meetings, etc.


Section 1: The Annual Meeting of the Association shall be held at the discretion of the Board and/or Area Extension Forester/County Agent.  Notice of said meeting shall be given to the membership at least THIRTY (30) DAYS prior to said meeting.

Section 2: Special meetings may be called by action of the Board provided the membership is given one week written notice.

Section 3: Thirty percent (30%) or twenty-five (25) of the current paid members constitute a quorum at any meeting.


Section 1: Amendments to the Rules may be made by a majority affirmative vote of all the members present at any annual meeting or at any special meeting called for that purpose provided that 1) the members present constitute a quorum as defined herein and 2) written notice of such meeting shall include a copy of the proposed amendment.

Section 2: The fiscal year shall be from January 1 through December 31.


This Association shall not, as an association, give public support to any political candidate for office, nor shall it take a stand on any matter not pertaining to the purpose and objectives of the Association.


Section 1: The Association shall indemnify and hold harmless each Board Member and Officer, past and present, serving the Association from and against any and all claims and liabilities to which he may be or become subject by reason of his past, present, or future position of Board Member or Officer of the Association and/or by reason of his alleged act or omission, as such Board Member or Officer, whether or not he continues to be such Board Member or Officer at the time when any such claim or liability is asserted, and shall reimburse each such Board Member and Officer for all legal and other expenses reasonably incurred by him in conjunction with defending any or all such claims of liability, including amounts paid or agreed to be paid before formal judgment with approval of the Board, whether or not he continues to be such Board Member or Officer at the time such expenses are incurred.  However, no Board Member or Officer shall be indemnified against any claim or liability arising out of his own negligence or willful misconduct or shall be indemnified against or reimbursed for any expenses incurred in defending any or all such claims liability or in settling the same unless in the judgment of the Board , the Board Member or Officer against whom such claim or liability or in settling the same unless :in the judgment of the Board , the Board Member or Officer against whom such claim or liability is asserted has not been guilty of negligence or willful misconduct.  The foregoing Right of Indemnification shall not be exclusive of other rights to which any Board Member or Officer may be entitled as a matter of law.

Revised and adopted

March, 2014

Annual Meeting

Bobbie Giltner, Secretary

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