Archive for Master Gardener

George’s Soil Recipe

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George’s Soil Recipe:

by George Giltner, Advanced Louisiana Master Gardener

Ingredients:

  • Compost (homemade or purchased)
  • Garden soil (Not “potting soil”) Note: Your own top soil or soil from the garden is recommended.
  • Expanded Shale
  • Zeolite

WHEN USING THIS SOIL MIXTURE FOR CONTAINER PLANTING:

If you have several containers you will want to mix up a batch of soil mixture and then fill your containers.  In the bottom of your container(s), add about 2 inches of volcanic rock.  This is called “Red Lava Rock” at most stores or garden centers.  This rock allows for drainage and keeps the soil from coming out of the bottom of the pot, and it allows for oxygen.

The next thing you are going to do is mix up a batch of the soil mixture:

Use a wheelbarrow or other type large container and combine the following:

  1.  Compost — Use a five-gallon bucket and put in 1 ½ buckets of compost in your mixing container. You can use your own compost or purchase some. (And you know we are going to tell you that your own homemade compost is best.)Garden Soil (Any will do, but your own is best.) (Use Five-Gallon Bucket and put in 1 ½ buckets).

 

  1. Garden Soil (Any will do, but your own is best.) (Use Five-Gallon Bucket and put in 1 ½ buckets).
  2. Expanded Shale (Use Five-Gallon Bucket and put in 1 ½ buckets).
  3. Zeolite (This is called “Horse Stall Refresher at Tractor Supply) (Use approximately 1 cup – it doesn’t take much of this.)

(Note:  If you just want to use the mixture in one planter and not mix up a batch, you could just put in red lave rock, use a container such as a five-gallon bucket and add 1/3 expanded shale, 1/3 compost and 1/3 potting soil to fill the five-gallon bucket.  Toss in a small handful of zeolite and mix this up.  Use the mixture to fill your planting container.)

When you are ready to plant, fill your planting container(s) almost to the top with your mixture, allowing room to plant and to water.  Add your plants and water in.  The organics in the pot will have to be replenished as they break down over time.
WHEN USING EXPANDED SHALE SOIL MIXTURE FOR IN-GROUND GARDENING:

Obviously you will not be able to mix up large enough batch for in-ground planting.  In this case you will just add a couple of inches of fresh compost, spread about two inches of expanded shale on the top, then sprinkle a light coat of Zeolite on top, then rototill in.

Explanation of why this Works:

  1. Compost is your nutrient source for plant fertility.
  2. Garden soil provides life (microbes to insects), nutrients, humus, minerals, etc. much like the compost.
  3. Expanded shale provides a large porous structure for air and water exchange, and it contains charge sites for nutrient retention (improves CEC).  Roots need oxygen and a stable supply of water that expanded shale provides this.
  4. Zeolite is a group of minerals consisting of hydrated aluminosilicates of sodium, potassium, calcium, and barium. They can be readily dehydrated and rehydrated, and are used as cation exchangers and molecular sieves.  Zeolite acts as a good binder for dry soil (for example soil that has too much organic matter and as a result it dries out).  Zeolite will bind the soil and keeps it from drying out.  Zeolite is much like expanded shale on steroids in a micro-sized granular form.  It encourages bacterial life in rhizosphere of the root zone.  Therefore your containers will have to be watered less, plants will grow healthier, and less nutrient amendments will be needed.  Once the expanded shale and zeolite has been added, it does not break down like many other soil conditioners.  These two soil conditioners have proven themselves in NASA Space Station experiments, and in down-to-earth gardens like the Dallas Arboretum.

 

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GOOD HABITS IN THE GARDEN

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GOOD HABITS IN THE GARDEN

By Emily Shirley, Master Gardener

Bad habits are hard to break, and sometimes all it takes to break a bad habit or establish a new or good habit is to just give it some thought.  Here’s some food for thought:

Get in the habit of controlling weeds every chance you get.

Do not let weeds get out of hand before taking efforts to control them. Dealing with weeds is an unavoidable part of landscape upkeep. Yards with regular weed maintenance tend to have less severe weed problems.

Avoid creating a landscape that demands more time and maintenance than you can keep up and enjoy. Get in the habit of finding ways to reduce the maintenance you already have.

It’s important to design a landscape that only requires as much maintenance time and effort as you have to give. Remember lawn areas, large vegetable gardens and flowerbeds are high maintenance.  Consider letting some areas go native – plant native wildflowers and let that area be for a while.  Maybe you will need to mow it a couple of times a year instead of every week.

Make it a habit of seeking out only gardening information that is appropriate for southwest Louisiana.

I have a pretty large library and a lot of shelf space goes to the gardening books.  I try to focus on plants and gardening information on plants that will grow in the area where I live.  The Internet is full of gardening information, but much of it is not suitable for our area. We want to focus on what grows here and how to manage what we grow here.  For information on a wide variety of garden topics that is specifically prepared for Louisiana gardeners, check out the LSU AgCenter at http://www.lsuagcenter.com. Click on “Lawn & Garden” & “Get It Growing.”

Effectively use mulches in flowerbeds, vegetable gardens, around shrubs and other appropriate areas every chance you get. Good habit–replace as needed. Mulches — such as pine straw, leaves, dry grass clippings, ground bark and wood products — are our best, first line of defense in controlling weeds in beds. They also conserve soil moisture reducing watering, look attractive, and prevent soil compaction and moderate soil temperatures. There are few things we do as gardeners that are more beneficial than mulching.

Get the soil tested (good habit, at least every three years.) Getting your soil tested will help you make the best gardening decisions. Test results indicate what fertilizers are needed. And knowing the soil pH can help with plant selection. Instructions are inside the soil testing kit that you get from the AgCenter.

Attend as many gardening educational events as possible. You cannot get more local than attending educational events right in your state.  You can learn so much from just having conversations with gardeners at gardening events and listening to lectures from experts in the field of horticulture.  I so look forward to spring each year when I can start attending all these gardening events!

Visit the outstanding public gardens around the State, country, or the world. Always take a notebook and a camera to write down and take pictures of the things that you see that inspire you.  When they have labels by or on their plants, I take a close-up picture of the label, then a picture of the plant.  Besides the beauty of public gardens, they also can teach us many lessons about design and plant materials. We have so much to see in Louisiana!  And, I’ll toss this in as a reminder of those of you traveling abroad.  Always look up public gardens before you travel and make it a point of seeing some of the beautiful gardens of the world while on your trip.  I’ve been to Monet’s Garden in France twice and am going again this spring.  I just can’t get enough of it!

Grow something you can eat this year, and get in the habit of eating more clean food.  One of the goals of the Beauregard Master Gardeners is to teach people to grow food.  In this day and age of so many processed foods causing so many health (and weight) issues, it is even more important that we find a way to get back to eating good clean food.  Growing your own is the best way.  You don’t have to till acres of land in order to grow vegetables. You can grow just about every vegetable in a container.  If you are new to vegetable gardening, don’t worry – it needn’t be complicated.

Take better care of your garden tools. Those that know me know that I am a little obsessed about gardening tools.  I want three of each! I also like to see people take care of their tools.   I must admit, there are times when I fall behind and let bad habits slip up on me.  When I am really tired at the end of the day after being outside in the heat all day, I sometimes do not clean my tools before putting them away.  But I try to not go for months without cleaning and oiling them.  Good quality garden tools should last for many years. There are three important points: avoid rust-inducing moisture, keep them sharpened, and occasionally apply a coat of oil.  For shovels, just keep a pail of sand with some oil soaked in sitting in the tool shed.  When you are done with the shovel at the end of the day, stab it in the sand a few times to clean and oil at the same time.  The easier you make something, the more likely you will develop the habit of doing it.

Start a compost pile, or if you have one, take better care of it. Nothing beats biologically active homemade compost when doing bed preparation or putting together potting mixes. Composting is not complicated; it can involve nothing more than piling up grass clippings, leaves and other landscape waste in an out-of-the-way area and allowing it to naturally decay. Toss in those kitchen scraps of greens and vegetables that go bad in the refrigerator and “make the worms happy.”  Don’t forget to harvest it and use it as needed.

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Alternatives to Toxic Insecticides

Alternatives to Toxic Insecticides

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

A third study now validates results of earlier research of associations between autism and prenatal exposure to agriculture chemicals (www.ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1307044/).  “Women who are pregnant should take care to avoid contact with agricultural chemicals whenever possible” says author, Janie F. Shelton who is now a consultant with the U.N.

Three groups of common pesticides were studied that included organophosphates (chlorpyrifos, acephate, diazinon, and others), pyrethroids (esfenvalerate, lambda-cypermethrin, taufluvalinate, and others), and carbamates (methomyl, carbaryl, and others). The organophosphates were associated with an elevated risk of autism spectrum disorder, especially chlorpyrifos applications in the second trimester. Pyrethroids had a moderate association with autism spectrum disorder immediately prior to conception and in the third trimester. Carbamates were associated with developmental delays.

The present rate of autism is now at 1:68 births according to estimates from the CDC.  Also about 1 in 6 children in the United States had a developmental disability in 2006-2008. In the birth year of 1992, the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder was 1 in 150, which has steadily increased to 1 in 68 in the 2002 birth year.

Therefore as gardeners, we should always use the least toxic chemicals, read labels, follow all safety precautions, and keep up with the latest research concerning pest control.

The good news is that more and more information is available on less toxic pesticides.  Clemson Cooperative Extension has an outstanding article on “Less Toxic Insecticides” which conscientious gardeners should print out (www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic).  “Most essential oils used as pesticides work by disrupting an insect neurotransmitter that is not present in people, pets, or other vertebrates.” The EPA no longer requires approval for use as pesticides due to minimum risk to uses of these essential oils (cedar, cinnamon, citronella, citrus, clove, garlic, mints, rosemary and others).

Microbial insecticides include Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) for caterpillar control.  Milky Spore (Bacillus papillae and lentimorbus) is used against June bug larvae – grub worms. Spinosad, Saccharopolyspora spinosa is a treatment for fire ants, caterpillars, thrips, whiteflies, aphids, and even borers of fruit trees. Beneficial nematodes are the good nematodes that control clearwing borers, cutworms, sod webworms, mole crickets, and grub worms.  However nematodes are difficult to get started due to humidity, moisture, shipping, and temperature issues.

Bacillus subtilis and pumilus combat downy and powdery mildews, rust, bacterial spot, blight, botrytis and multiple other mildews on veggies, fruits, ornamentals, trees, and shrubs.

Minerals like boric acid acts as a stomach poison which causes the insects to die from starvation.  Diatomaceous Earth controls slugs, millipedes, ants, cockroaches, and soft-bodied insects like aphids. However use the “natural grade”, not the swimming pool filtering-agent that poses an inhalation hazard.  Sodium Fluoaluminate has sharp edges which punctures insect (caterpillars, sawflies, beetles, etc.) gut cells from consuming leafy material, however beneficial insects are not affected since they are not leaf eaters.  Iron phosphate is used as an organic slug and snail bate.  It is not poisonous to cats and dogs.

“Organic Farm and Garden” 2013, Vol.1, 2nd Ed., lists Biological Control Options which incorporates predator and prey functions in every ecosystem.  Plant nectar sources attract beneficial insects, and allow them to lay eggs near this food source.  Plant small flower favorites like dill, parsley, fennel oregano, cilantro, and thyme.  Also include annuals like sunflowers, cosmos, amaranth, alyssum and statice.  Perennials like yarrow, tansy, daises and angelica can be inter-planted within your garden.  Your beautiful garden will buzz with beneficial insects, and will have an ecological balance of predator and prey bugs.

“Louisiana Gardener”, Feb. 2015, has a super article, “What’s Bugging You?” by Cindy Shapton.  She puts emphasis on learning good bugs and bad bugs. Numerous recipes for repellants to easy to make sticky-traps are highlighted.

“The Naturally Bug-free Garden”, 2012, by Anna Hess is now available at Amazon.  It focuses on the worst garden pests that we have here and in Texas, and gives organic control measures.  Good bugs and good animals are reviewed and used to make your garden a living balance of natural defenses.  Resistant varieties, row covers, companion planting, and plant nutrition are tools for helping plants resist insects.  This is a good book to assist the beginner and young gardeners in learning about organic gardening.  It is a treasure!

So this year, learn, read, and experiment with organic chemical-free gardening to avoid potentially dangerous chemicals that are used in commercial agriculture.

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Master Gardener Classes from A Teens Perspective ~ Heather L. Grimes

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Master Gardener Classes from A Teens Perspective ~ Heather L. Grimes, 4-H’er & recent MG Graduate.

 When my dad mentioned the family taking Master Gardener classes together I was excited because I love flowers.  However, after the first few classes I was wondering if I had signed up for extra homework.  There were classes on soil, pests, and vegetables, but where were the flowers?  I did not understand what all of this had to do with planting pretty flowers.  I kept trying to be patient because mom kept telling me we have to learn about all of this before we get to the good stuff.  Well she was right as I went about creating my own flower garden I realized that I needed to think about my soil, was it acidic enough for my roses?  I also had to think about what type of plants I needed to not only make it look great, but also that compliment and help with mom and dad’s vegetable garden.

1 Heathers garden

Over the past month I have been very busy putting all my new found knowledge to work.  I have begun noticing more bees and birds and good bugs.  I am really excited at seeing all I have learned come full circle.  I would strongly encourage others to take advantage of your local Master Gardener Program.  To twist an old saying I would say give a person a flower and they will enjoy it for a while, teach a person to garden and they will enjoy it a lifetime.

1 Heather and parents

Heather Grimes, center, with her parents, Jennifer & Steve Newbury. This family attended MG classes together.

 

 

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Gardening Note: Toxins in Concrete Blocks and Concrete

 

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Gardening Note: Toxins in Concrete Blocks and Concrete

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology (and Pesticide Applicator Certified)

Gardeners love raised beds.  And, raised beds are so easily built with concrete blocks which are thought of as the most inert and safest product on the market for gardening.  Gee, I hate spoil your perceptions.  Like the commercial food we consume, some is good and some is bad, just like concrete products used in gardening.

Masonry block and concrete producers use coal combustion byproducts in two ways – fly ash as a cement replacement and bottom ash as a partial replacement for the sand and/or coarse aggregate. The fly ash composition varies from 5 to 60+ percent depending on the product.  Adding fly ash prevents hydration of lime which increases its strength and makes concrete less porous, makes finishes smooth, and eases concrete pours.  Seems like the ideal way to recycle hazardous waste that has historically created problems in water supplies.

Hazardous waste.  Yes, there are small amounts of heavy metals in concrete products.  Typically the main composition of Class C fly ash contains 3.5 to 40% calcium oxide, 0.5 to 40% aluminum oxide, and 2.5 to 25% Magnesium oxide.  However smaller percentages of strontium, chromium, nickel, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other heavy metals are also present which cause it to be classified as hazardous waste by the EPA.

The spherical particle size of coal fly ash varies from 5-120 microns which is similar to that of silty sand to silty clay.  The good news is that this material is bonded, insoluble, and immobile in concrete.  However if the concrete or blocks are pulverized in destruction or become soluble with acids, the surface area exposed is greatly increased and the heavy metals may become mobile.  Example: You would not want to use pulverized concrete to “lime” a garden where it could be acted upon by microbes and organic acids.

Concrete blocks are porous unless they are sealed for outside and inside use.  Sealing with paint and other products prevents mineral (like hydrochloric acid, a concrete cleaner) and organic acids (from microbes and other life forms) from decomposing the locked in heavy metal chemical structure in concrete materials.

Variation in solubility and composition of concrete heavy metals is all over the map, depending upon the type of coal burned to produce the fly ash, percent of fly ash used, sealants incorporated in the blocks, acids in the environment and other factors.

If you are concerned about heavy metals in concrete materials, there is a reliable way to test for their presence.  Grow hyper accumulator plants in the concrete structures of concern, and then have chemical analysis performed on specific plant parts.  These plants can be found in Wikipedia and on other web sites.  Example: Sunflower parts can be used for soil and water hyacinths can be used in aquatic environments.

Another option is to separate the soil from the concrete structure.  Line the container with plastic or polymer paint.  Therefore decomposition products are not available for plant absorption.  This is probably your best and cheapest option.

Decomposition of concrete is usually slow; therefore your risk level is probably small in comparison with other heavy metal routes of entry into your body.  Rice, chicken, and other foods have been in the news with carcinogenic arsenic concerns recently.  Lead always comes up with old paints in buildings, and possibly lead shot cooked in wild game acid stews and gumbos.  Lead as an example can cause DNA genetic damage, nerve damage, and child learning disorders.

The science behind heavy metal poisoning is very well documented and proven.  Awareness of toxins in our environment, not phobias, leads to healthy gardening and living.

Author’s note: I recently had a conversation with fellow Master Gardener, Emily Shirley and after giving her the above information about concrete blocks, her question to me was “Bottom line – would you use concrete cinder blocks to build raised beds that you would be growing food to eat?  If yes, what would you do to the blocks before filing the bed with soil to plant in?”  My response to her – was to seal the blocks with concrete sealant and polymer paint before adding dirt. An extra layer of safety gives “Peace of Mind”.

 

 

 

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2014 Beauregard Master Gardener Graduates

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2014 Beauregard Master Gardener Graduates

2014 BPMG CLASS 1

Congratulations to MG Grads

Graduates are listed in alphabetic order:

 

Lisa Ann Clark
Steve Coleman
Heather Grimes
Paige LeBeau
Paul LeBeau
Marguerite McNeely
Jennifer Newbury
Steven Newbury
Judy Newman
Kay Nyros
Darline Parish
Gary Parish
Byron Redger
Violet Redger
Evan Scoggins
Niki Scoggins
Elizabeth Smith
Jeff Solinsky
Darla Solinsky
Diana Todd
Ronald Weathersby

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