Archive for mulch

COMPOSTING YOUR WAY TO A BETTER GARDEN

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COMPOSTING YOUR WAY TO A BETTER GARDEN

By:  Emily Shirley, Advanced Master Gardener

Soil is the most precious resource in your garden.  Some have well-tended soil (from previous owners), while others, particularly those moving into new homes, inherit a rubble-filled mass.  However, any soil can be improved through time and effort.  For example, when the Master Gardeners began gardening in the Demonstration Garden a few years back, we were given use of the property that was formerly an old rodeo arena.  It was very compacted, and after just a few inches we hit red clay that had been hauled in for years and driven over with tractors.  By the time we finished amending the soil we were growing beautiful plants – vegetables and ornamentals.

If you have been around the gardening world very long, you have heard the terms “black gold”.  What we are referring to is composted material that is very precious in terms of gardening use – or compost.  Composting is the natural process that turns raw organic ingredients into humus – that earthy, dark crumbly, fully decomposed end product.  If you regard your soil as a living entity, you will see that essential plant nutrients are cycled by a microscopic army of inhabitants and larger worms, insects and grubs.  All these creatures need air, moisture and food.  Using manure, garden compost and other sources of organic matter is the key to sustaining this soil life and keeping the soil healthy.

It is always good to start by working with what you have – compost what your yard produces first, and import materials only when they are convenient and of special value to your composting.  Compostable materials from your kitchen, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, plus garden materials can easily be reused to cycle their nutrient value, carbon and nitrogen back into the soil to grow more food or plants.

To avoid waste from what you do not use in the kitchen, don’t throw it in the garbage, compost it!  Once you start saving your food scraps from the kitchen two things will happen.  You will simply be amazed at how much you have been throwing in the garbage that could have been used for composting.  And, you will never go back to throwing these things in the garbage again because you will soon realize how valuable these materials are for your gardening.  Most landscapes produce plenty of fallen leaves, grass clippings, and withered plants to toss in there.

This is a very simple process.  You need something for collecting your kitchen food waste to get started.  You can spend a lot of money for products that are sold for this purpose, or you can make it simple by having a simple five-gallon bucket with a lid, just outside your kitchen.  As you prepare food or clean out the refrigerator, just toss things into a small container and each evening empty that container into your larger bucket just outside the kitchen door.  Once you have enough in the outside container to throw out, you take the contents from your food scrap container to a compost pile.  You can even get creative and even make it even easier by having some trenches dug outdoors in an area you plan on gardening in at a later date and bury your food scraps in those.  Now, just let things sit in your compost pile a while and decompose and when it is ready, start using it.

So how do you know when your compost is ready to use for planting projects?

To evaluate your compost to determine if it is ready you can get very complicated, (that science thing again) or you can just use what you have – your eyes, nose and hands – to determine if it’s ready.  Visual inspection will reveal even color and consistency with a sprinkling of still-identifiable, undecomposed items, such as a peach pit or chunks of corn cob.  Your nose will detect an inoffensive, earthy smell with no sharp or sour odors.  To the touch, your finished compost will feel cool (no apparent heating), moist, and crumbly.  Once your compost meets these standards, let a few lettuce (or other) seeds pass final judgement.  Combine compost with an equal amount of potting soil and plant seeds in the mixture.  Sow the same kind of seeds in plain potting soil at the same time, and compare the progress of each planting.  If the seeds grow equally well in both, your compost is ready to roll; slower growth in the compost mixture means your compost needs more time to mature before you use it in planting projects.

Hints:

  •  Composting is not fast – you have to be patient and give it time. Slow compost is good compost.
  • Place a thick layer of newspaper (not the slick colored sheets) at the base of a curing compost pile to deter invasive tree roots.
  • Inadequate moisture is one of the most common reasons for compost to fail to make good progress.  Compost microorganisms need moisture.  You have to give your pile some moisture during these Louisiana hot days.  It is important to moisten ingredients as you add them to your pile, and to replenish moisture as you turn or aerate compost.
  • In an open heap, you don’t have to aerate, because the heap has plenty of exposed surface area, and will make its own air pockets as the materials shrink and turn into compost.  (Note:  I have a very large compost pile and I just use the tractor front-end loader to move it around occasionally.)
  • After a year or two of using compost In the garden every chance you get, you will discover a new pleasure in gardening.  You will notice that you can pull weeds more easily.
  • It is a good idea to only use your composting pail for just composting.  Don’t contaminate it with other things, for example, using your bucket to pick up behind the dog in the yard.

So how do you then actually use this compost once it is decomposed and ready?

  •  Treat every plant you grow to some form of compost.
  • Blanket beds as you renovate them between plantings.
  • Amend planting holes, or mix your best batches into homemade potting soil.
  • Use rough-textured, partially decomposed compost as mulch.
  • You can use it as a soil conditioner for all type of plants.
  • You can use your compose to mix with potting mix that you already have.
  • You can use it as a slow release fertilizer, gradually feeding plants over a long period of time.
  • You can use it for mulch for pots and gardens to protect plant roots from the sun and wind and to prevent erosion and reduce soil diseases.
  • (composting – continued)
  • You can use compost as a top dressing for lawns, to add nutrients and fill in gaps to encourage healthier grass roots and thatch.
  • Use it as an amendment to prove sandy and clay soil structure by binding soil particles together – helping aerate, retain moisture and nutrients.
  • Make a liquid “compost tea” fertilizer.
  • Compost mixed into the soil between plantings is the best way to keep the soil from becoming exhausted.
  • When you are ready to plant, mix in the compost along with organic fertilizer sufficient to meet the needs of the crop, and you are good to go.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Beauregard Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens Closing

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 Beauregard Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens Closing

by Ms. Emily Shirley, President, Beauregard Parish Master Gardeners

I almost started this paragraph with “On a sad note…” but I corrected myself – it is not on a sad note, it is on a note of appreciation and thankfulness. There was so much that was accomplished, good times, sharing, and lots of learning that too place in the Demo Gardens.  Last month the Beauregard Master Gardeners made the decision to close the Demonstration Gardens that have been in existence for approximately five years.  This was a wonderful and successful project and now we are ready to move on to other projects.

There are so many of you to thank and recognize for the work that you did, as well as the time, money, and energy you spent to make this project so successful, I can’t begin to name everyone.  We have money in our account at this time because you so willing to spend your own personal money to pay for things in the gardens. I want you to know that that has not gone unnoticed.  There are a few that spent a considerable amount of time and personal money and I do want to publically acknowledge them.

George and Merlyn Giltner spent so much in terms of money and time that I cannot begin to list all the things they did or all the things they paid for.  There were times when it was so hot and some days when it was so wet and ugly, but you could pass by the gardens and you would see George and Merlyn out there working.  On those hot days when things needed to be watered every day, we could always know that things were being taken care of because George and Merlyn would be there to water things.

The same goes for John Markham.  I even joked one time that I really thought John was living the potting shed in the Demo Gardens and had not informed any of us.  He was there almost every day working and taking care of things.  Not only did John oversee the installation of the irrigation system, I never worried about the system in the winter time because I knew John would take care of it.  The same for the raised beds.  John was always around to plant, fertilize, water and harvest the vegetables.  John and Dale Vincent raised some beautiful corn that we were able to sell at the Farmer’s Market and made money for future projects.

Jimmy Cooley installed an awesome Muscadine orchard and showed us all how it is done and what materials to use.  It was a wonderful teaching project and we so appreciate all the time, money and energy that went into that project.

Chris Krygowski came along just as we were all talking about a Children’s Garden.  She not only volunteered to help with this project, she agreed to head up this project and made it into something the rest of only dreamed of.  We all have commented on the energy Chris seemed to always have and the number of hours she spent making that area into what it is.

Dana Whittington took over an area of the garden that was difficult to garden for a number of reasons, but she certainly showed us that it can be done — if you have a difficult area you can always garden in containers.  In addition to the onions, garlic in the ground, she demonstrated how to grow purple potatoes and carrots in containers.  I harvested some of her onions and carrots for a wonderful soup one day last year.  Fresh from the ground is always good!

Allen Wells demonstrated how to grow vertically with his “Arbor Garden”.  His use of cow-pen panels is a unique way to have things growing overhead while other plants in-ground below.

And who can forget John Hendrix’s okra – we thought he had some type “Jack-And-The-Beanstalk” type okra out there.  And he harvested okra right into the fall.

Shirley Corda spent a considerable amount of time helping us get our Five-Year-Plan on paper to be presented to the Fair Board.

Keith Hawkins has been our MG Coordinator from the beginning and we appreciate what he has done for this program.  And to ALL the others not mentioned above, THANK YOU for all your contributions of time, money and sweat equity.  A job well done!

Ms. Emily Shirley is a Master Gardener in Beauregard Parish. She also publishes the BEAUREGARD MASTER GARDENER NEWSLETTER.

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Toxins in Mulch – Allelopathic Phytochemicals

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Toxins in Mulch – Allelopathic Phytochemicals

By George Giltner, MS, Adv. Master Gardener

Select your choice of mulch wisely!  Remember that when leaf, bark, wood, nut stem or root mulch is placed around vegetation, you are essentially placing organic chemicals within the living space of growing plants.  When many of these compounds are not decomposed, they perform their original function as a competition inhibitor or toxin.  Think of plants as competitors in a continuous battle for nutrients, water, sunlight, and space.  “Better living through chemistry” is how they win.

Pliny the Elder, a roman scholar, observed that walnut trees were toxic to other plants.  As history repeats itself, gardeners have experienced the effect of juglone, the chemical allelopathic compound of walnut trees that is responsible for reduced growth or death of surrounding plants.  Juglone is concentrated in the buds, nut hulls, and roots, but it is also present in leaves and other plant parts.

Tomatoes, peppers, and other Solanaceous plants are very susceptible to juglone’s effect as a respiration inhibitor.  The plants will exhibit symptoms as wilting, yellowing, and eventual death.  Plants that are sensitive to juglone include apple, azalea, blackberry, blueberry, chrysanthemum, pine, potato, rhododendron, thyme, and many others.  However plants that are resistant to juglone include beets, carrots, corn, snap beans, melons, onions, etc.  Yet these plants may exhibit some degree of toxicity.

Trees related to walnuts, such as hickories, pecans, and English walnuts also produce juglone, but in smaller quantities.  These trees are responsible for pollen allergies in humans and horses.  Horses may even be affected by walnut wood chips when it is used as a bedding material.

Aerobic composting of leaves is effective in degrading juglone and other allelochemicals.  Moisture, mixing, temperature, and microbial action are factors that determine the degree of decomposition to non-toxic levels which can occur in as little as three weeks.  However, it would be safer to allow 6 months of complete decomposition time before using this compost.  Also maintain high organic matter around plants to produce microbial populations that can metabolize toxins.  Twigs, chips, and sawdust from walnut trees are harder to digest, therefore it is best to avoid using them for mulch, compost, or bedding material.

Another allelotoxin is ailanthone from the ‘Tree-Of-Heaven’, Ailanthus altissima.  This tree plant toxin has potent post-emergence herbicidal activity and poses a serious weed problem in urban areas.  Sorghum produces sorgolene in most species which disrupts photosynthesis.  Therefore it is being extensively researched as a weed suppressant.  There are many other allelopathic species which include grasses like Rice, Tall Fescue, some Perennial Rye, woody plants as Cherry, Sycamore, Rhododenderon, Elderberry, Fragrant Sumac, and even Pea (Pisum sativum), Goldenrod,  that have allelotoxins.

One way to test for allelopathy is to grow seeds in potentially toxic mulches, compost, or soils.  Use side by side control pots with “clean” soil as a control.  Over time observe germination, growth rate, length of stem and roots, color of leaves, etc. for any sign of toxicity.  “Use What Works” to avoid problems!

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