Posts tagged compost

Compost contest!

You can win with composting in more ways than one.

   The practice of composting benefits the environment by keeping organic materials out of the landfill and benefits your soil by adding enriching nutrients that are in the compost.

   Now, composters can win in another way.

Just tell us, in 200 words or less, how and why you like to compost and you could win a kitchen composting package, courtesy of the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency.

   The package includes a “Backyard Composting” book, kitchen compost pail and package of Biobags.

Deadline is Nov. 4 — Election Day. Essays must reach us by that day.

   Send your submission by mail to: The Gazette, attention: Cindy Hadish, newsroom; 500 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52406.

Or, better yet, send it by e-mail to: cindy.hadish@gazcomm.com 

   Judges are Bev Lillie, Linn County master gardener coordinator; Dustin Hinrichs, Linn County Public Health air pollution control specialist and Stacie Johnson, education coordinator for the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency. Stacie provided the prize.

   I’m letting the judges decide the criteria.

Please include your name, address and phone number on your entries. Also, include “Compost contest” in the subject line of your email.  Your address and phone will not be published, but I would like to post the essays, with names, after the contest ends.

The winner will be announced Nov. 15, on America Recycles Day.

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Black gold

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

 

Busy morning today.  A friend came out to “scoop poop”.  Actually, he used the skid loader.  He took a pickup load of horse manure.   He’s spreading that Black Gold on his garden in preparation for next spring’s vegetable garden!           

                How do you know if your soil needs enhancement?  For a small fee, you can always obtain a soil testing kit from the Linn County Extension office.  And, check for earthworms.  In any hole of one cubic foot, you should see at least five earthworms.  Earthworms aerate the soil and add considerable fertility to the earth with their castings (waste).  If you don’t have worms now, add organic material as a remedy.

                Considered composting.  Composting is basically decomposed material.  It is the controlled biological and chemical decomposition of organic material.    Composted material resembles black fluffy soil.  Added to soil, compost improves drainage, increases aeration, and aids water retention and nutrients all of which create better root development resulting in healthier plants. 

By amending the soil, composting reduces the need to use chemical fertilizers.  Homemade compost is economical to make.   Compost provides a slow release of nutrients over an extended period.   Compost can be mixed into the top 6-8 inches of garden soil or spread in a one inch layer around perennials.

 Instead of raking all of the leaves from your yard into the street, deposit them in a pile—or bin—in an obscure area of your yard.  Mix in non-diseased stems and cuttings from your flower and vegetable garden. Add shredded or torn newspaper (do not use the colored sheets, however).   Coffee grounds, potato peelings and egg shells can be used as well as leftover fruits and vegetables.  Grass clippings and yard trimmings will decompose.  Do not use cat litter.  Lard, grease, oil, meat or fish bones may attract unwanted scavengers.  Add water and stir.  How much compost do you need?  Incorporating two inches of compost into a 200 sq. ft. garden will require 33.33 cu. ft., or 1.2 cu. yds. or 41.66 bushels or 83.33 five gallon buckets. 

For an explanation of creating a compost bin, call the Linn County Master Gardeners at the Horticulture Hotline at 319-447-0647. 

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The Lorax

CR/Linn Solid Waste Agency tour
CR/Linn Solid Waste Agency tour

   The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, is one of my all-time favorite books. The film was part of the Environmental Film Festival on Saturday at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency. Technical difficulties prevented a dozen viewers from watching it, but Stacie Johnson gave a good synopsis and an even better tour of the facility at 2250 A St. SW, in Cedar Rapids.

  

   Stacie said the agency is offering free compost from the compost site this year for Linn County residents. The compost is made from the leaves and other natural materials collected in Yardys. It is aged in piles and unwanted materials are removed with a heavy-duty screening machine. The result is rich, dark compost that is great for gardens.

 

  Stacie also noted that Linn County residents can bring unwanted metal items and drop them off for free in the facility’s scrap metal pile. So that old metal swingset, aluminum windows, treadmills and other metal items can be recycled as scrap metal, rather than adding to the landfill. And residents won’t have to pay the $35/ton tipping fee. The same is true for bikes and lawn mowers.

 

   The site is also collecting TVs, computers and other electronics that are recycled. Residents are charged $5 for each TV (or $10 for larger ones) and computer monitors dropped off, while VCRs, I-pods and other smaller items are free to drop off. Lead acid batteries and compact fluorescent light bulbs are also collected for free at the site.

 

   The next movie in the film festival is Tuesday, Oct. 14. “Winged Migration,” will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Indian Creek Nature Center. All the films are free. For the complete listing, click on the “gardening events” tab on this blog.

 

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October advice

    Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith submitted the following:

 

My 2008 Iowa State University Extension Service Garden Calendar—a plethora of recommendations and advice each month –suggests an October visit to a pumpkin patch for the perfect Jack-O-Lantern candidate.  My favorite daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter have enjoyed this family tradition for several years.   Now 7-year-old Catie has managed a larger specimen every year.   This year, 2-year-old Charlie will say “Me Too, Mommy” as he stubbornly grapples with as much pumpkin as he can manage to drag out of the patch.  Girly-girl Catie enjoys decorating, but not cleaning out the “innards”.  I’d bet my All-Boy Charlie will love every minute of the mess!   No kids at home?  No Grandkids around?  Go ahead!  Be a kid again, go visit a Pumpkin farm soon. 

                Other suggestions from the calendar for October are:

                                Continue to mow the lawn until the grass stops growing

                                Apply fertilizer to the lawn, but not to perennials or trees

                                Compost fall leaves

                                Plant spring flowering bulbs.

 

                                On that last note, here are some recommendations for brightening your days next spring:  Bulbs are usually inexpensive.

Follow the directions on the packages.

               

    Plant in mass:  four large and nine small bulbs per square foot.  The smaller the bulb, the larger the grouping should be. 

    Generally, bulbs should be planted at a depth of two to three times the height of the bulb.

   Place the bulb “tip” side up (that’s not the root side).  If in doubt, place the bulb on its side!

   Plant in well draining soil.

   Chicken wire placed under, around and on top of bulbs deter rodents. 

Water the area thoroughly and apply about 2” of mulch after the first frost. 

Apply fertilizer three times per year:  in the fall for the roots, in the spring when the sprouts first poke through and then when the flower dies.

   Deer tend to avoid daffodils, alliums, and snowdrops. 

Tulips and crocus seem to be the bulbs-of-choice.

               

So, after you’ve been to the pumpkin patch, go visit your favorite garden shop and get to planting. 

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Composting ideas

The following is from Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

 

Sitting here by an open window listening to the acorns hitting the deck makes me smile.  1968 was the first fall we lived here in the country and my goal was to be the ultimate country person.  I diligently gathered buckets and buckets of walnuts and laid them out on a raised screen on the porch to dry with the intent of enjoying our own homegrown crop.   Imagine my surprise when I discovered a pair of squirrels dashing on and off my porch:   I certainly made their day!  I don’t dry my own walnuts anymore.  Nor do I make my own apple butter.  It was unbelievably delicious with literally bags of sugar added to the vat of apples and spices.  I don’t do much vegetable gardening anymore either, although there’s almost nothing better than your own fresh tomatoes and sweet corn.    My favorite daughter’s fledgling first garden was widely successful.  Maybe they’ll share with me next year as they’ve already planned for a bigger and better model.    The kids learned about eating peas from the pod and running to the garden to fetch a ripe tomato or ears of sweet corn for dinner.  When we clear the garden this fall we’ll amend the soil with composted horse manure.  Using the compost should eliminate the need to use any chemical fertilizer.

The beautiful weather today provides me the opportunity to cut down my peonies to prepare for Old Man Winter.  I’ll add a little mulch now and in a few weeks some of that composted horse manure to the entire bed as I lay it to rest. 

Composting is an inexpensive and an efficient use of biodegradable material.  Composting is so easy and can be inclusive of almost anything from horse manure to leaves, vines and grass clippings.   Why send your ”yardy” material to the landfill?  Let it decompose in a secluded area of the back yard and recycle it back into your flower and vegetable beds.  Linn County Master Gardeners will be happy to provide you with a plethora of information on composting.  Call the Horticulture Line at the Linn County Extension Office in Marion at 319-447-0647. 

 

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What is permaculture?

Backyard Abundance and Field to Family are sponsoring a free “What is Permaculture?” event to show residents how they can use Permaculture principles to help our environment in their own backyard.

 

Two yards will be visited: one is undergoing a complete ecological landscape design makeover and the other features an established vegetable and herb garden. At each yard, experts in our community will provide an overview of how to:

  • design an environmentally friendly landscape
  • choose the correct plants
  • design a rain garden
  • install a rain barrel
  • start a new garden bed
  • create compost
  • grow mushrooms

 

Both yards and the features within them are designed based on Permaculture principles and patterns. Permaculture (permanent agriculture) provides a framework and methodology for consciously designing and maintaining urban ecosystems that have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people, providing food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable and ethical way.

 

The event is Sunday, September 7 from 1-4:00 pm. Carpools will be taken from New Pioneer Food Co-Op, 22 S. Van Buren St., Iowa City. People can also drive individually.

 

For arrival times at each yard, directions, and more information, visit the Backyard Abundance web site at http://www.BackyardAbundance.org or contact Fred Meyer at 319-358-7665.

 

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Compost happens

Glenn Babinat, left, and Wil Carew, master composters
Glenn Babinat, left, and Wil Carew, master composters

One of the most informative presentations for gardeners at Brucemore’s Garden and Art Show last weekend was by Linn County Master Composters Glenn Babinat and Wil Carew.

    Master Gardener Deb Walser also discussed vermiculture, or worm composting done in your home. In Walser’s case, the vermiculture is in a 10-gallon Rubbermaid container, now in her basement, but formerly under a table, until her husband discovered it:)
   Indoor vermiculture uses red wiggler worms, found at several online sources or at bait shops. The worms decompose food scraps, such as vegetable peelings, as well as newspaper.
   For every half-pound of food collected, you need one pound of worms.
  Shredded newspaper (not the colored kind) makes good bedding material. The worms like temperatures between 50 and 75 degrees, so basements are ideal. Deb advises against using orange peels and notes that some of her worms drowned from watermelon overdose. The composting takes about two to four months and the castings can be harvested in about six months.
   Outdoor composting doesn’t require any special containers, but most people use a bin of some sort to keep the materials contained. Wil and Glenn showed a prototype (see photo) of a 3-bin system. Compost is decomposed plant material with greens, or moist materials, and browns, such as newspapers or dried leaves.  Adding compost to garden soil improves the soil structure and increases productivity.
  Vegetable peels, grass clippings, leaves, egg shells and sawdust can all be used in compost. Avoid animal products such as bones, meat or fish. Herbivore (cow, horse) manure can be added but avoid using carnivore (cat, dog) feces.
   Keeping the compost turned and adequately, but not overly, moist helps speed the composting process. Using three browns (dry material) to one green (veggies, etc.) helps prevent that rotten egg smell. Wil and Glenn said there is really no wrong way to compost and because it’s free, it’s a great way to add organic organisms to your garden and help keep more items out of the landfill.
  

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Exposed roots

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

 

Ouch!  Ouch, again!   Oh! The sound is definitely not music to my ears.  How much damage did I do to the blades that I didn’t want to replace until season’s end?  Have you ever inadvertently mowed over a tree’s exposed roots?  Those are the surface roots growing just a little above the soil.  They are important to the support and health of a tree.  Continual wounds from a lawn mower blade or weed whip create entryways for insects and diseases. 

Here are some hints for easily eliminating a stressful situation:

§  Do not try to correct the situation with an ax!

§  Use mulch (one of my favorite items).  A two or three inch layer is attractive and provides a good environment for the roots.  Prevent smothering the tree trunk by keeping the mulch two or three inches away from the trunk.

§  Plant a shade loving perennial ground cover around the base of the tree.  The plants will insulate the roots but won’t out-compete the tree for water and nutrients.   Try some of the hundreds of varieties of Hosta that are just waiting to be chosen.

§  If you like some grass under the tree(s), strategically space plantings. 

§  Plan for a bit of elbow grease as weed control is critical. 

§  As a last resort, you could eliminate all of the grass by covering it with layers of newspaper.           

§  Do not build a raised bed around the tree.  Burying the tree roots will kill many species of trees.  And, the roots that don’t die will eventually reach the surface again.

§  Do not rototill or add soil to the planting area.

§  Amending the soil with organic materials such as peat or compost is very acceptable. 

There is still time to plant this summer. Change the landscape under the tree and save that mower blade and weed whip string for necessary areas. 

 

 

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Coping with the floods

For our out-of-state readers who haven’t heard, floods have been threatening homes and disrupting lives in Iowa this week, with the situation worsening as of today in Cedar Rapids.

 

Once the floodwaters recede, we can hopefully carry on with our lives, including the peace we gain in our gardens.

 

With that in mind, nationally known garden expert Melinda Myers, who visited Iowa earlier this year during the Winter Gardening Fair, offers gardeners advice for dealing with flood damage…

 

As flood waters recede and homeowners, finding themselves a bit overwhelmed, move their attention from wet basements to their landscapes, Myers recommends the following:

 

Assess the damage, manage hazards, and wait for the soil to dry. Then be sure to manage early plantings of food crops safely by washing produce exposed to flood waters.  And play it safe by discarding any garden produce exposed to raw sewage as it can be hazardous to your health. Next, repair damaged soil, and watch for signs of flood damage-induced problems that may appear later in the season such as root rot or pest infestations.

 

Assess damage and manage hazards immediately.  Look to certified arborists (tree care professionals) to help with pruning and removal of hazardous branches and trees.  They have the skill, equipment and expertise to do the job safely and properly.

 

Most trees can usually withstand a week or less of flood conditions. More than this and you will start seeing leaves yellow and curl, branches die and extended periods of standing water can cause death for some trees. 

 

In the garden, seedlings and young transplants may have been killed or washed away. If this is the case, wait for the soil to dry before replanting. Early season crops such as leaf lettuce, spinach and radishes should be washed before eating and no garden produce exposed to raw sewage should be consumed.

 

Soil will also have an impact. When it is caked on the leaves of plants, it can block sunlight, preventing the plants from photosynthesizing (making needed energy) and the leaves can eventually yellow and die. Once the landscape dries out a bit, you can gently wash off any soil stuck on the leaves. Additionally, soil has been adversely affected by the floods. The water logged soil kills many of the micro organisms that help create a healthy soil foundation. The pounding rains and dislodged soil particles can add to soil compaction. Be sure to wait for the soil to dry before you start the rebuilding process.  Adding organic matter such as peat moss and compost will help add needed micro-organisms and start the rebuilding process. 

 

“If your new plantings were washed away and gardens flooded, the good news is that there is still time to plant. If the damage is more extensive, try containers this summer as you rebuild the landscape,” said Myers. “And if you were lucky enough to escape damage – help a friend.  A few flowers can bring a smile in less than 15 seconds and your waterlogged gardening friends may just need a bit of garden relief.”

 

For additional gardening tips, garden podcasts, videos and more, visit www.melindamyers.com

 

Myers, best known for her practical, gardener-friendly approach to gardening, has more than 25 years of horticultural experience in both hands-on and instructional settings. She has a master’s degree in horticulture, is a certified arborist, and was a horticulture instructor with tenure. Myers shares her expertise through a variety of media outlets.

She is the author of numerous gardening books, including “Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening.” She hosts “Great Lakes Gardener,” seen on PBS stations throughout the United States and “Melinda’s Garden Moments,” which air on

network television stations throughout the country. She also appears

regularly as a guest expert on various national and local television and radio shows. She writes the twice monthly “Gardeners’ Questions” newspaper column and is a contributing editor and columnist for Birds & Blooms and Backyard Living magazines. In addition, she has written articles for Better

Homes and Gardens and Fine Gardening. Myers also hosted “The Plant Doctor”

radio program for over 20 years.

 

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Runoff resolution

With the copious amounts of rainfall Eastern Iowa has received this spring, the Iowa Storm Water Education Program offers the following timely advice on lawns, runoff and water quality:

 

 

 

Can a Healthy Lawn Improve Water Quality?

 

 

   If you live in a newer neighborhood, chances are that during construction the valuable topsoil was removed from the site (and may even have been sold) and what remains is heavy clay subsoil.

    Heavy equipment was driven across this soil causing compaction. Then, once construction was completed and lawn preparation began, the compacted soil was lightly scraped, a thin layer of topsoil added, and sod applied over the top of that. In most cases, the lawn now functions similar to placing sod on top of a concrete block!

    The soil is so heavily compacted that the roots can’t penetrate to obtain the necessary nutrients from subsurface soils. This results in having to water frequently and over apply lawn chemicals.

     Rainfall that runs off compacted lawns, driveways, parking lots, rooftops, and streets flows into the storm drains. It is not directed to a wastewater treatment plant, but simply discharged, untreated, directly into local streams and lakes. The major concern with this is all the excess fertilizer, pesticides, motor vehicle fluids and sediment that accumulates on compacted lawns, driveways, parking lots and streets. These pollutants, carried along with the rainfall runoff, contaminate and severely pollute and impair our local waterways.

     What can you do to change this situation? There are a number of key things you can do with your own property. The starting point is to soak up as much of the rainfall on your property as you can, so that it doesn’t flow into the street. If your lawn is of the compacted type described above, chances are, it is not helping to reduce the runoff.

     Here are a few suggestions:

• Restore the health of your lawn by aerating and then apply a thin (1/4-1/2”) layer

of compost and seed.

• Use fertilizers containing zero phosphorus (the middle number on the fertilizer

bag indicates the quantity of phosphorus). Sweep up any fertilizer that is spread

onto sidewalks, driveways or streets and spread it back on the lawn.

• Use native landscaping and native turf in your yard.

 

     We all need to protect and improve the water quality in our streams and lakes. Please think about doing your part!

     Visit http://www.iowastormwater.org to learn more about storm water issues and contact your local community for additional educational information on storm water management.

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