Monday, February 27, 2012

Composting Styles

Do you have a composting style? I know I’ve written about composting before but there is a reason I’m writing about it again. There is a reason gardener’s call compost “black
gold”. This broken-down organic material can improve any type of soil. You
can add it so sandy soil to add nutrients and moisture-holding capacity
and is capable of loosing clay soil allowing it to drain better. Plants
just grow better when compost is added to any soil.

Even knowing this many of you don’t compost thinking it is too
complicated; too easy to do something wrong messing up the process. But
any one can compost and it can be a really easy process. My first attempt was just a pile of leaves and grass clipping and occasionally I added egg shells, tea leaves and coffee
grounds. Or make it a little more complicated by using a three-bin system that produces compost faster but takes more time and effort. Either way you end up with compost. Let’s go over some of the time and equipment involved in composting and see what style
might suit you.

Easy- a simple compost pile works great if you have the space and the
time. It’s a great way to deal with fall leaves--just mower the leaves to
chop them up is you want them to compost faster. This is an example of
cool composting. * More about this later.
Fenced- Sometimes a little containment is in order especially if you
have a lot of leaves that might be subject to blowing around. There is no
right or wrong way to build your bin. Look for some thing you can use
around your garage or shed. Try making a round container with fence posts
and hardware cloth. Other ideas are an old barrel with holes drilled in
the bottom or pieces of picket fence or old pallets fastened into a box. A
pile can be turned for hot composting but will also work for cool
“Feeding” the Pile- Food scrapes make good compost. I collect
vegetables, fruit, coffee grounds, tea leaves and egg shells but never use
meat, fats or oil. To prevent odor it is important to bury the scrapes (or
locate your bin where odor won’t bother you). A lid will keep rodents and
other pests away. Leave alone cool composting or turn for hot composting.
Ready-made Tumbler-ready-made compost tumblers are enclosed so it is
safe to use food scrapes. Their design allows for easy turning either by
using a stand or they are shaped so you can roll them around the yard to
turn the compost. These are best used for hot compost as they are usually
are rather compact and don’t hold a lot of material. The designs make them
easy to turn speeding up the compost process producing finished compost in
weeks instead of months.
Three Turns to the Right- To make a lot of compost quickly try using the
3-bin style. You can purchase this style ready-made or build one out of
slats or pallets. The bins should be able to hold 1-cubic yard (3 X 3 X 1
feet) –this seems to be the magic number for efficient composting. Fill
the first bin with layers of green and brown materials. When the volume
has reduced by half, turn it in to the second bin and refilling the first
bin. When the volume of the second bin is also reduced to half turn it
into the 3rd bin. In a few months you will have a small pile of finished
compost in the 3rd bin, and this will allow you to keep up a continuous
process of composting. Finished compost in the 3rd bin should be rich,
dark and crumbly and should have a pleasant earthy smell instead of a
strong odor.

So now that you have an idea of the different ways of composting…have you
found your compost style? Maybe a combined style is for you with a simple
pile hidden in the back of the yard and a ready-made compost tumbler for
your kitchen garden. If you make a lot of compost or just a little to top
dress a planting bed or two each spring, your plants will be happy and a
happy plant it a good plant.
*Cool or Hot Compost?

Cool composting
• Add grass or leaves as you go
• No turning needed
• Brown to green ratio doesn’t matter
• Finished in 6-months or 2-years

Hot Composting
• Build all at once with 3-parts brown to 1-part green
• Turn it often and keep it moist
• Kills most weed seeds and pathogens
• Finished in 2 to 6 months

Brown Materials
• Straw
• Dead leaves
• Cardboard/paper
• Pine needles
• Sawdust

Green Materials
• Grass clippings
• Fruit of vegetable scraps
• Coffee grounds
• Egg Shells
• Fresh manure (not from pets or humans)
• Healthy green plant material

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spring Money-Saving Strategies

When your spring bulbs first emerge, it's a good reminder to get started planning your Summer Garden. If you plan now, you can save a lot of money within a couple of short months! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

• Sow some seeds- Instead of buying zinnias and other annuals, grow your own from seed instead. Check out the seed area at your local nursery to see all the varieties you can grow.
• Make a list-It's easy to spend a lot of money on things your don't need at the garden center. Do an inventory, make a list and then stick to it!
• Get ready to share-Solicit a few garden friends to help your buy plants in bulk. You'll get a better price, and then you can divvy them as needed.
• Divide and conquer-You'll conquer big savings just by dividing the plants in your own garden. Spring is a great time to split perennials.
• Participate in plant exchanges and trade plants with friends.
• Shop local nurseries or home centers and watch for good values especially clearances!
• Attend local garden walks or consult a Master Gardener to learn about plants that grow well in your area.
• Check on-line classified sources to find homeowners who want to get rid of existing plantings.
• Start annuals, perennials and vegetables from seed.
• Save cold-tender bulbs to plant in next year's garden.
• Overwinter Boston ferns and banana plants inside so you can use the following season.
• Use large plants, such as shrubs and trees, to fill out garden space.
• Use salvaged bricks, lumber and alley-picked finds like furniture or old windows for garden decorations and hardscape.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Getting Fit in the Garden

How many of you made a New Years resolution to "Get in Shape" in 2012? With all the holiday foods most of us gain a few pounds and resolve to lose then and often to get fit at the same time. Unfortunately like many of you I try to squeeze way too much into one day. In order to accomplish my to do list I look for ways to multi-task wherever possible. With gardening I can combine an activity I love like gardening with one that often ends up on the back burner like exercise.

Here are a few ideas for helping you burn calories and build your health and well-being while taking care of your landscape.

Get off on the right foot-Prepare for the gardening workout the same way you would for a gym session.
• Drink plenty of water stretch before you start digging, raking, pruning, planting or other fall garden activities. Maintain proper posture to help avoid injury. Keep movements close to your body and hands in a neutral position to avoid strain caused by repetitive movements. Look for ergonomic tools that properly position our bodies and increase our reach and strength.
• Bring on the Burn- Now we're ready to start burning calories. Seeding the lawn or bare spots can burn up to 155 calories, planting bulbs, annuals and perennials can burn as much as 260 calories per hour. Bigger plants like trees and shrubs need more muscle power and can burn up to 295 calories and hour when planting. Watering the seeds, blubs and plants can burn 260 calories per hour. Raking not only burns 260 calories per hours but also works the muscles of the upper body. Mowing the lawn can burn 140 calories per acre on a riding lawnmower, 250 per 1/3 acre with a power mower, and 340 calories per 1/3 acre when using a push reel mower.
• Tools that Tone-Don't let arthritis, bad knees or back problems keep you out of the garden. Look for adaptive tools and equipment. Along with special tools consider making raised beds, using containers and vertical wall gardens as part of your landscape. These options positions the garden with in easy reach, allowing you to keep moving and gardening! No matter your age, ability or fitness level, you might want to ask a friend to join you. (Next time work in your friends garden.) It can make your gardening workout less overwhelming and a lot more fun. When you are finished, cool down, relax and enjoy the beauty of the garden.