Posts Tagged ‘Compost’

This post is late. And why would that be? Well, let’s see. I woke up extra early and started baking cornbread for stuffing. Our guests woke up and we had breakfast. I went to work, got stabbed with a rusty nail and had to go get a tetanus shot (can’t wait to see what that feels like in the morning). I came home, made dinner and cleaned up. And before I knew it the day was almost over and there were a million things I hadn’t done yet, including this post.

Which leads me to conclude that hosting Thanksgiving festivities and blogging are probably mutally exclusive. But blog we must, so I called Mary Beth and we decided to give you just one tip today, but it could be the most important one we’ll ever give you.

Feed Your Soil

In organic gardening the most important thing you can do is feed your soil. Fertile soil encourages the growth of millions of good microbes that will keep the bad guys in check and create a perfect environment for keeping your plants healthy, robust and able to resist most pests.

We like to follow what we call the “forest floor theory.” All that really means is that you should layer organic material on top of the soil.

Instead of digging amendments into your garden beds every spring, leave the ground undisturbed except for planting holes. Then add lots of compost and mulch. Like the forest environment, you’ll be layering organic materials on top of your soil. The microbes living under the surface will do all the work — coming up to the new layer, breaking down the material and drawing nutrients into the soil to feed themselves and your plants. Do this over a few seasons and you will have the most amazing, fertile soil and super healthy plants.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!


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Keeping Pets Safe in the Garden

We are proud to introduce the stars of today’s post: Kea, Sage and Joker who live in Colorado with Mary Beth. Emmie’s in California with Barbara.

Kea loves to pose for the camera.

Sage does not!

Joker couldn't care less. His specialties are hunting and looking pissed off.

Emmie doesn't like the camera or crows.

We figure that every gardener who has pets has also had a brush with disaster when their pooch or kitty has gotten into something in the garden that has made them sick. We are no exception to the rule. All of our pets have gotten mild upsets from eating the wrong thing, but it was when Mary Beth almost lost Kea last year that we realized how serious a problem it could be.

About this time last year Kea was so sick that everyone, vet included, was afraid she wasn’t going to make it. To make a long (and expensive) story short, Kea was medically supported through a couple of touch-and-go weeks and made a full recovery. We never did find out definitively what was wrong with her, but the short list of possibilities is a scary one for anyone who gardens and has pets.

The toxicology reports all came back negative, but there were three things that seemed likely to have caused Kea’s almost-fatal illness:

  • Plant poisoning: Kea loves to carry and chew sticks. Mary Beth had recently pruned a large hydrangea and Kea might have picked up a stick to play with. Symptoms of this poisoning are very similar to what Kea had: vomiting, fever, diarrhea, depression, increased heart rate, and weight loss.
  • Compost: This can be very attractive to your pets. You throw all kinds of goodies in there that you’d never put in your dog’s food dish, but that horse manure, moldy food, grains, etc. can smell mighty tasty to your dog. According to the Pet Poisoning Helpline, “Mycotoxins, the toxic component contaminating certain moldy foods or compost, can result in serious poisoning. Even very small quantities may cause illness. Mycotoxins can be found in moldy dairy foods, moldy walnuts or peanuts,  grains such as corn or wheat, hay, clover, cotton seed, moldy bread, moldy blue cheese, moldy spaghetti, compost, and other food substances. If your pet gets into this, you’ll typically see clinical signs within 2-3 hours of ingestion. Clinical signs include vomiting, tremoring, full grand-mal seizuring, an increased body temperature, increased salivation or drooling, a depressed respiratory rate, and an increased heart rate.”
  • Leptospirosis: Thirsty, or just plain curious dogs will drink from standing water and birdbaths. In fact, they seem to like a funky, finely-aged puddle of water, but this can cause serious illness. Symptoms are: poor appetite or not eating at all, fever, loss of energy/doesn’t want to play, more frequent urination, vomiting, muscle stiffness, and red eyes. The disease can cause kidney or liver failure. If your dog has these symptoms, call your vet right away. The sooner treatment is started the better the outcome.

We’ll never know what made Kea so sick, but that list of three is not all you should be careful about. Other things to be aware of are:

  • Cocoa mulch has sickened more than a few dogs who are attracted to the delicious chocolate smell. Interestingly, the frequent reports of dogs being killed by ingesting the stuff seem to have been exaggerated. Still it can make sicken or kill. Click on this link to read Snopes’ more balanced view on the issue.
  • Sewer or bio sludge fertilizers contain poisonous heavy metals and this can cause all kinds of problems if your dog likes to eat soil that has been treated with it. Don’t get us started on this stuff — we think it’s really bad to use anywhere in the garden. And NEVER use it on edibles.
  • Other fertilizers and nutrients. Emmie was sick for the better part of one day a couple of weeks ago and Barbara thinks she may have lapped up some of the alfalfa tea that she carelessly left within reach. Just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s not poisonous. If you wouldn’t eat it, keep it out of reach.

Poisonous Plants

Let’s get back to poisonous plants as they are an obvious, if tricky, concern. Tricky because there are hundreds of lists out there that contain pretty much anything you might want to plant and if you went by most of them you’d end up with barren patch of dirt. So we’ve been researching the burning question: which plants are really, seriously poisonous?

Since a nibble or two is all most dogs will eat, most plants are pretty safe, but that nibble on the wrong plant will land your pet in a world of hurt. Here’s a link to a some very helpful lists published by the scientists at University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. The lists, using both common and scientific names, give a toxicity rating for plants ranging from 1, causing serious illness or death to 4, causing skin rash or irritation. Here is a link to a list of symptoms and which plants cause them. It also contains some more or less common household chemicals that can poison pets and what to do about it.

Where to Get Help

What should you do if you think your pet has been poisoned? Call your vet, animal hospital, or a poison hotline. Last year when Emmie ate some granular fertilizer (on a Sunday of course), Barbara called the Poison Control Center — 800-222-1222. They told her that it would probably not do more than give her a tummy ache. We don’t know if they always give advice for dogs so here are some pet specific resources:

BTW — we’re not endorsing either, just providing info.

How to Prevent Trouble

As gardeners, what should we be doing to keep our pets safe in the garden? We came up with this list of tips. If anyone has had a similar experience or some more tips to keep pets safe, please share in the comments.

  • Make sure you do a thorough cleanup especially when pruning plants like hydrangeas, azaleas, etc.
  • Put a fence around your compost bin
  • Use mulches that are nontoxic
  • When fertilizing, leave your pets indoors until you’ve dug or watered it in
  • Never spray pesticides, fertilizer, etc. when your pets (and kids) are nearby
  • Put all your fertilizers, nutrients, pesticides, and the like in child-proof containers or a locked shed
  • Don’t let dogs drink out of birdbaths or puddles
  • Don’t use sewer sludge! We said it before and we’ll say it again. Some gardeners use it as a deer deterrent thinking it’s safe because it’s organic. There’s more than recycled human waste in there. How do you feel about putting “disease-causing organisms (bacteria, viruses, etc.), heavy metals and inorganic ions, and toxic chemicals from industrial wastes, household chemicals and pesticides.” in your garden or on your lawn? And under the right circumstances some for the crap in it can be inhaled, absorbed through your skin or your dogs paws.(*Source: Natural Life Magazine)

While we focused on pets in this post, needless (?!) to say, this all applies to your kids too. Be thoughtful. Be careful!

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Let’s talk about the single most important element in gardening — soil. As you know, we’re strong proponents of using organic gardening methods and our guiding principle is this: feed the soil so the soil can feed the plants.

Feeding the soil rather than the plants is a critical distinction. Feeding plants with synthetic fertilizers is a quick fix, but it’s essentially fast food for your plants. If you want strong, beautiful plants that are healthy enough to fend off pests (so you don’t have to use pesticides), you’ll need to provide a nourishing environment.

Today’s tips are about compost which is hands down the best way to create beautiful, fertile soil. Compost helps sandy soils retain moisture and it loosens up clay soils. The bonus is that you’ll do good things for the environment by keeping loads of kitchen and garden waste out of the landfill. Here’s how to get started.

Tip #1 — Create your compost bin.

There are lots of detailed, sometimes complicated directions for composting usually having to do with creating hot compost. That’s great if you’re really dedicated, but if you’re a lazy gardener like me, you can do this very simply. Set four posts into the ground in a 3′ x 3′ square and string some 3′ high chicken wire around it and, presto, you have a compost bin.

Put your bin out of the way, but close enough to your house that you’ll use it. If it’s in the back 40 there’s probably not enough motivation in the world to get you to trek out there in the rain to empty your kitchen compost bucket (Gardener’s Supply has lots of choices). The bin does not need to be in the sun, partial shade is best. If you’re lucky enough to get a “hot” compost pile, the heat will be generated by decomposing waste. This method, called  “cold” composting will take a little longer to transform waste into “black gold”, the highly nutritious product of decomposition, but you’ll get there pretty painlessly.

You’ll need 50% greens (grass clippings, green leaves, yard trimmings, fruit and vegetable scraps and manures from herbivores — horses, cows, chickens and rabbits) and 50% browns (dried chopped up woody material, dried leaves, dried grass, straw, shredded newspaper, and sawdust) to get your compost cooking. Add them in alternating 4″ layers. Keep adding to it as you accumulate garden or kitchen waste. Turn the pile every few days and keep the whole mess damp (like a wrung out sponge).

There are things you should never put in your compost such as: manure from meat-eating animals, meat, bones, fats, dairy products, ashes, treated wood products (or sawdust from them), infected plant material, weeds seeds, and invasive plants that spread by runners like nut sedge or Bermuda grass.

Your compost is ready when it is dark, brown and crumbly like this:

Once you have compost, dig it into new beds or spread it out on your existing beds. It’ll filter down into the ground, feeding your plants and improving your soil.

Tip #2 — Put coffee grounds in your compost.

Coffee grounds make a great addition to your compost pile. Of course you should throw your own in there, along with tea bags, but did you know you can get loads of free grounds at your local Starbucks? Starbucks bags their used grounds for gardeners. Sometimes they have the bags in a basket near the door, but in other stores you’ll have to ask. Coffee grounds count as a “brown”.

Tip #3 — Add an activator.

Most compost activators don’t do much and they’re expensive, but some say that adding alfalfa meal will do wonders for your compost. MB uses it in her rose and iris tea so we know it’s great stuff. It adds nitrogen and protein to the pile and supposedly helps to accelerate decomposition. At the very least you’ll be adding something that plants love. We’re going to give it a try. Look for it at your local farm supply or garden center. You can order it online too.

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It’s been a while since we promised to make this a regular feature of our blog, but we really mean it this time. We’re going to post gardening and beekeeping tips every Tuesday — or if we get super busy, every other Tuesday. And we’ve added a new page where we’ll gather all of the tips for easy access. Let us know what you think.

Compost aka "Black Gold" will make your plants healthy and better able to resist pests and disease.

Tuesday’s Tip

Get a head start on spring chores.
If the weather’s nice and the beds aren’t too wet, now’s the time to throw on a jacket and grab your shovel. I like to get the flower beds cleaned up early in the season, so yesterday I added compost to the roses and peonies and mulched the beds before the weeds have a chance to get started.

That way if it’s a wet spring, all the hard work will be out of the way. Then you can enjoy the spring and ease right into summer.

Spread the compost at the base of your roses.

Ahhh a finished bed. Seven more to go!

Feeding the bees.
My bees are hungry and chugging down the syrup! So here’s a little reminder for myself and anyone else who forgets the 1:1 ratio for the sugar syrup. It’s 10 cups of water to a 5 lb bag of sugar.

Also, make sure that your bees have some water nearby.

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