Compost Magic

February 8, 2018 at 9:14 am ·

Compost Magic

Growing a greener garden is part science, part art, and part chance. There isn’t much you can do about the element of chance – the weather might be ideal one year and disastrous the next. Then there are those people who just seem to have a knack for producing the prettiest blooms and heartiest plants. But even if you weren’t blessed with a proverbial green thumb, you can have a healthier garden if you understand some of the science behind growing things.

With all the interest in green, environmentally friendly methods, composting is a great way to utilize kitchen and lawn waste to produce the perfect soil additive without chemical fertilizers. Producing your own compost just makes sense because the ingredients are free and you’ll be making the most of materials that would otherwise go down your garbage disposal or worse, become part of the mountain of trash at a landfill.

There are several different styles of compost structures, from free-standing piles that can be manually turned over, to pre-fabricated rotating bins. The size of your compost pile will depend on the size of your yard and on the amount of waste material your lawn and kitchen produce. Compost piles should not exceed around six feet in height because if the pile is too high, decomposition will not occur at the deeper layers. Also, if a compost heap is too tall or massive, it will be difficult to turn over.

compost-methodTurning over your compost is a method of mixing the layers which will be at different stages of decomposition. This is accomplished with a simple pitchfork or shovel. Pitchforks are the best tool for composting since they are not as heavy or cumbersome as shovels. Garden rakes are typically not durable enough for the job, since decomposing compost becomes quite weighty.

In order for decomposition to occur, your compost pile must include both green and brown material. Green matter refers to any fresh waste material such as green leaves, grass clippings, fresh wood chips, and vegetable, fruit or other organic scraps. Brown matter includes dead branches, dried wood chips, dried pine cones and needles, and even shredded paper scraps. A word of caution: do not add meat, fat or oil to your compost pile since this will attract vermin as well as create quite a stench!

If your compost pile includes this combination of materials and is at least a foot or more in depth, with time, the magic of decomposition will turn what would otherwise be trash into a rich soil additive. You can tell that decomposition is occurring by reaching your hand deep into the pile. If the center of the heap feels much hotter than the surface, that means the magic of decomposition has begun. In fact, the center of your compost heap should be nearly too hot to touch.

You might notice a variety of insects in and around your compost pile. Actually, at the hot center of the heap, instead of earthworms and beetles, tiny microorganisms will be doing the real work of breaking down material.

When your compost begins to resemble rich coffee grounds, it is ready to be used as a soil additive. Good compost can help turn overly alkaline soil into healthy balanced soil by adding a mildly acidic element. You can test the pH level of your soil with a simple tester device, with a slightly acidic to neutral pH of around 6 or 7 ideal. The crumbly texture of compost can turn clumpy, clay soils into workable garden dirt. Using compost also helps conserve water usage in the garden because mulch compost placed around plants holds water and inhibits evaporation. Even without rainfall, mulch will draw and hold moisture from the morning dew, releasing it throughout the day to thirsty plants.

If you have a garden, your plants are sure to reward your composting efforts with brighter blooms and tastier treats.

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A Mini Greenhouse is Ideal for Small Gardens

January 18, 2018 at 11:14 pm ·

A Mini Greenhouse is Ideal for Small Gardens

If you have a small garden space, a full-sized greenhouse may be out of the question. However, if you do much gardening, a well-made mini greenhouse is a purchase you will never regret. Ideal for use on patios, decks, balconies, courtyards and small yards, mini green houses offer the same benefits and many of the same features as their full-sized cousins, yet take up very little space, typically around six square feet!

Main Use of a mini greenhouse

A greenhouse can be used to start seedlings before the recommended frost date for your area. When the weather warms up, your healthy, robust plants can then be transplanted into the garden. This allows you to start harvesting your crops much earlier than gardeners who wait to direct-seed. There’s a much wider selection of seeds available than plants, so you can grow things that your friends won’t have, which makes sharing your produce with them a lot more fun!

A good selection of herbs, and nearly all varieties of lettuce can be grown successfully in a mini greenhouse all year long, as can greens such as Swiss chard, kale, and spinach. Think how great it would be to serve your guests a salad of just-picked greens in the middle of winter!

greenhouse-plantsYou can use your greenhouse to protect tender perennial plants from frost, ice and snow. Transplant them into containers and they’ll live happily in your mini greenhouse until spring, and then they can be moved back outdoors.

Consider giving your houseplants a welcome change of scenery by putting them outside in your miniature greenhouse for the summer months. The greenhouse can also provide a humid micro-climate for tropical plants.

Mini greenhouses will make the most of the heat available from the sun, while protecting your plants from wind, rain, destructive insects and other garden pests like rabbits and deer.

Some minis are designed to mount to a wall, garage or shed rather than be a free-standing unit in the garden. This ensures that they won’t get knocked over by rambunctious pets or kids, or blown over by a strong wind. There are also kits which allow you to build a small greenhouse in no time, with complete instructions provided by the manufacturer. They range from one- to three-shelf designs, and are relatively inexpensive.

What size do you really need?

Even if you have the space for a full-sized greenhouse, it may still make sense to go with a mini greenhouse instead. If your main use will be to germinate seeds, grow a few plants and provide winter protection for less hardy specimens, a smaller greenhouse will suit you just fine. But if you plan to grow a lot of flowers or vegetables all year long, then a full-size, insulated greenhouse would probably be worth the investment. However, don’t forget that full-size greenhouses have different heating, lighting and cooling requirements than miniature ones, which makes them much more costly to maintain and use.

Greenhouse-gardening offers many practical advantages and money-saving benefits for gardeners, and if all you have the space or money for is a miniature one, this is still much better than not having a greenhouse at all! A mini greenhouse may well prove to be your best gardening expenditure, and will certainly bring you years of enjoyment.

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Plants to Use in and Around a Gazebo

January 5, 2018 at 8:30 pm ·

Plants to Use in and Around a Gazebo

As you may already know, a gazebo is a multipurpose freestanding structure that can be used in gardens, out on a lawn or as a covered gathering area in some other location, such as a park. When gardening in or around a gazebo, there are several factors to take into consideration. This includes how much light is available and where the light occurs, as this will affect which plants will thrive in the garden.

As a general rule, full shade plants should be in an area that receives more than 6 hours of shade. Meanwhile, partial sun/partial shade plants require an area that gets less than six hours of sunlight a day; while a full sun plant requires a minimum of six hours a day of full sunlight. Of course, there are also exceptions such as certain plants may only require full, but indirect sunlight.

climbing-plantClimbing Plants

Climbing plants require the use of a structure, either man-made or natural, to thrive. Climbing plants generally cannot support themselves and thus will rely on a secondary structure, such as a gazebo, for support. Various ivy vines, morning glories and climbing hibiscus plants are all options. However, be sure to choose a climbing plant that suits your specific region and its weather, as well as the specific type of soil, light and watering that will be available to the plant in your yard.

Annual Plants

An annual plant is defined as any plant that can complete an entire life cycle-from seed to full grown, reproducing plant-in a single growing season. Annuals can thrive in full sun, full shade or part sun/part shade. Examples of popular annual plants include wax begonias, impatiens, dwarf salvias and coleus; all of which thrive in shade. Annual plants that thrive in full sun include cosmos, geraniums, zinnia and rose moss.

Perennial Plants

Perennial plants are plants that live through several growing seasons. Most perennials will experience some type of die back during the winter, but will regrow during the following season from the existing original root system.

Like with annuals, some perennials will prefer full sun while others prefer full shade or a part sun/part shade combination. Examples of full sun perennials that can be grown in a gazebo garden include the garden peony, the daylily, the bearded iris and the blanket flower. Meanwhile, full shade perennials include bleeding heart plants, lilies of the valley, wild violets and wild ginger.

Final Notes

Surprisingly, many will find that depending upon the climate, some perennials will act like an annual, just as some annuals can act like perennials. For example, the Black-Eyed Susan will perform like an annual plant in Louisiana while up in Ohio, that same plant would grow like a perennial (notes from the Aggie Horticulture department at Texas A M University).

Lastly, if you own any pets, especially pets that are allowed outdoors, be sure to choose plants that are pet-safe. Check out the ASPCA’s Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant database, though keep in mind that not all plants are listed and be sure to research your specific plants to ensure your pet’s safety.

References: Texas A M University: Annual, Perennial, Biennial? | University of Missouri: Annuals for Sun | University of Minnesota: Gardening in the Shade by Deborah L. Brown

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