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Organics and Composting

How do I compost?

Compost converts waste material into a fertilizer. Bins should be almost 30 cubic feet to ensure they retain enough heat to spur composting. Choose a location for your bin that is partially shaded. A pile can contain leaves, grass clippings, prunings, straw, spoiled hay, coffee grounds, eggshells, paper and wood ash. Remember, you should add about equal parts of green material (nitrogen), like fresh grass clippings and food scraps, to one part brown material (carbon), such as leaves. Keep it as wet as a wrung-out sponge and aerate your pile by stirring it once a week. You can layer in manure, garden soil and commercial fertilizer to speed bacterial action. You should have finished compost in about three months.


Just How Green is Your Garden

By Mark Sell

Just how green is your garden? In years past when you walked into a person's garage or storage room you could tell by the volatile odor just about what color their garden was. I remember as an eleven-year-old lawn mower walking into my neighbor's potting shed to get a tool and becoming quite interested in pump action sprayer. You know the type with the ball pump handle and the tin can at the business end. Before long I had the room full of rose dust and to this day I remember the unique taste produced by this sprayer. These ladies continued to take great pride in their roses and were the envy of our 1960's neighborhood.

 Now neighbors often take exception to what chemicals you spray in your yard and don't mind asking you to refrain from certain products all together. Many products have been taken off the shelves due to their abuse or questionable benefit. Take a look around your garage and see if you have some any of these substances. If yours are in glass bottles they are almost certainly not available anymore or are available only in lower concentrations. If you are going to continue to use these chemicals, store the bottles in a tray that will hold all of the liquid if the container were to break open. Future yard chemicals, when needed, should be purchased in the smallest logical container. For instance, if you have a 2000 square foot yard you don't need the 20,000-foot bag of fertilizer. Chemical storage should take into consideration earthquake and fire safety issues. Children and pets can get into compounds even as innocuous as snail bait or pest spray so check right now to see where these are in your garage and store them responsibly.

Roses are a great plant to study when looking at various methods of garden care. The plants do well in our area but are subject to many different problems. Two of the easiest things you can do to prevent problems in the first place are proper pruning and irrigation. The foliage when open allows the leaves to dry more thoroughly, preventing the spread of black spot and rust. Irrigating at the base of the plant allows the water to penetrate the spartan root structure. Occasional spraying of the entire plant washes off dust and some pests, which cause damage. If your roses look great they probably don't need much help. If your plants are subject to attacks of aphids, black spot or rust there are various methods of control.

Pest control soaps are not very invasive to the plant. They can get the job done, but lose effectiveness as the soap dries. If you have patience, aphids can be controlled with regular insecticidal soap applications. Other products such as hot pepper wax spray give quick results, but are trickier to use. Garden sulfur can be used safely in conjunction with soaps to help prevent black spot and rust. Neem Oil is contained in several products like "Rose Defense". Rose Defense effectively controls most of the problem areas associated with roses. Ortho systemic rose care is a granular root feeding formula, which allows a systemic insecticide to flow through the plant preventing aphids and fertilizing simultaneously.  

Using a more aggressive approach the American Rose Society endorses the use of Ortho "Rose Pride" which is a combination of two chemicals Orthenex and Funginex in an aerosol delivery system. This may seem to be less than green but the choice of using a pre-packaged product combination appears better than taking the chance of mixing these two chemicals and having storage issues. I don't think the average homeowner could use a pint of Funginex in several seasons.

All garden chemicals are ranked Caution, Warning or Danger.  Potential problems can come up with any of these products as you, the consumer are responsible for their safe application. If you lose the directions take a few minutes and review the label of at your local garden center. Products marked Danger and Warning are screaming to you to read the label and follow directions. Problems occur when products are mixed in too high of concentration or in combination with incompatible products. Results can be disastrous when your sprayer is not thoroughly cleaned between uses. Using dormant spray after the Round-up has destroyed many plants. It is also very important to follow manufacturer recommendations for application, use of safety equipment and storage or disposal. 

Some eradication products don't use traditional insecticidal chemicals. For instance, snails can be repelled using a copper barrier. This copper tape must create some type of electrolysis between the snail and tape making it undesirable to cross over. If you take a piece of steel wool and lightly clean the copper occasionally it is even more effective. Ladybugs are not only "cute" but are effective aphid gatherers. Ladybugs should be released into damp areas below the affected areas in the evening, otherwise they just fly away to be effective in your neighbor's garden. There is a sticky substance called "Tanglefoot" which creates a trap for insects (don't use this in conjunction with ladybugs). Often people use this product at the base of a tree to keep ants from ascending to the fruit. Tanglefoot is also useful in repelling birds from undesirable roosts. Birds quickly learn that they don't want this stuff on their feet. Predator urines are an effective deterrent to some animals. Coyote urine has broad usage as a deterrent since so many animals fall prey to coyotes. Destructive household and garden pests can most effectively be dealt with using traps. There is no doubt about results when traps are used. Pests are confined to the area where trapped and don't wander off and die in the walls. There is no risk of secondary poisoning with a trap. If live trapping is essential there are several traps which can be used which not only trap but also cage the animals for transportation elsewhere. "Rescue" yellow jacket traps use an attractant to lure the insect into an inverted cone, which cannot be escaped. This company also makes outdoor fly traps using a baited lure.

There is no difficulty finding effective pest killing chemicals, powders or baits. The compromise comes when determining just how much of the product to use and when to discontinue usage. Last year an ornamental nursery in our area was overcome with snails. After several unsuccessful attempts to eradicate the snails manually the grower used two applications of powdered snail bait and solved the problem. There should be a lesson in this for us. Many times we see a problem in our garden, we blast it with the most effective product we have and then stand back and wait for just one lone survivor and do the treatment all over again. There are probably more conservative ways to deal with reinfestation than our initial reaction.

Weeds are the "green" we don't want in our gardens. Products, which block the growth of weeds, have been around for quite some time. Most modern weed block materials have holes, which allow water and air to pass freely through, but are dense enough to prevent weed seeds from germinating underneath the film. If weedblock is used under paths and in garden areas much manual weeding and herbicide use can be avoided. Weeding can be much less labor intensive than in the past. "Circlehoe" is a type of weeder that weeds and cultivates in one action. The design allows for weed removal right up to the plant. This durable product is essential for any garden. 

Gopher baskets are a local favorite for planting perennials, roses and trees. Gophers just can't penetrate the strong wire mesh basket. By the time the roots have a chance to penetrate beyond the basket there are enough root fibers for a few gophers. Gopher wire is also effective under raised beds and lawns. It is available by the foot or in 100' rolls. If your soil is non-acidic (be sure to test) another wire, aviary netting, can also be quite effective against gophers and moles. It is a lighter gauge than gopher wire but is easier to contour by hand.

One way to insure your garden stays green is to use drip irrigation. The proper amount of water at the right time of day is essential to healthy plant development. Plants do much better when watered consistently. There are dozens of emitters or sprayers, which provide the best results for specific plants. You can develop a high degree of confidence in a very short time by literally playing with different products. If you enjoyed electric trains as a kid you will like drip irrigation. There are many fertilizers that enhance soil and promote growth. Combinations of fish emulsion, bone and blood meals can make a garden thrive. Other soluble fertilizers such as "Miracle Grow" promote rapid plant development and allow you to enjoy items that may not normally reach maturity in our area.

A sensible goal to make your garden and home "greener" would be to evaluate and inventory your present level of garden and household chemicals. Consolidate these items to one secure area and strive to make this area smaller from season to season. At the same time make sure that the products are in childproof containers and are in an area that would contain a spillage. If you have unknown products or products set them aside for the next toxic chemical round-up. At work you would need an MSDS sheet on all of these products, while this may be impractical at home you should at least have some basic cleanup accessories available. Remember the label gives many of the elements needed for safe disposal. If you do need MSDS sheets don't hesitate to call your local garden center or the store you purchased the chemicals for information.