Posts tagged fertilizer

Rain: Too much of a good thing

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

     He was correct.  A climatologist said July was going to be wetter and colder than normal.  Did you imagine we’d be wearing jackets and sweatshirts on mid-summer mornings?  A couple of my houseplants living on the deck for the summer got relocated under the eaves.  They were experiencing a little too much of a good (rain water) thing.  It has been nice not having to drag hoses or fill the water wagon as much this year.  The soaker hose has been pretty much dormant, too. 

    It does bother me letting all this precious water run off, though.  Rain barrels have become a popular efficient way to retain that wonderful commodity that Mother Nature provides. Rain barrels don’t need to be plugged in or powered up.  They’re good for the environment and save money. 

    Rain water is preferably to municipal water for gardens because it provides a beneficial pH balance, thus creating less of a need for fertilizer. 

     Rain barrels situated at the base of a gutter or downspout, are typically modified recycled 55 gallon food grade drums, and include a filter, spigot and with an overflow pipe usually directed  on to a flower or vegetable bed.  Commercial rain barrels are available with costs varying.   Rain chains, water-funneling devices, can be used in place of down spouts for an esthetic effect.  Maybe you would want a decorative rain barrel situated on either side of your patio door. 

     Rain barrels may provide a good source of water should we have a water restriction order.  While the primary use is plant associated, rain water can be used to wash a car, scrub patio furniture or even flush a toilet. 

     Rain barrels do require minimal maintenance.  Leaves and other debris have to be removed from the filter and the gutter supplying the water.  Also, users need to guard against mosquito breeding and algae.  All in all helping  the environment far outweighs a bit of inconvenience.

    And, speaking of mosquitoes, just a reminder with all of the moisture we’re experiencing, the most common floodwater mosquito will be laying eggs in any source of stagnant or muddy water.  Remember to regularly empty and clean the kids’ wading pools, the pet’s water dishes and the bird bath.  Tall weeds and grasses harbor mosquitoes during the day.  Reduce the incidence of the problem and reduce the population of the annoying and possible disease carrying critters.

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Gardening addiction

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

                 Over the road and across the highway to the garden center I go.  The car knows the way, never to stray………………..   I told myself I already have enough plants for this year.  Can gardening be addictive?  Unfortunately I read somewhere that June is the time to walk around the yard looking for bare spots or drab areas that could use a little sprucing up with annuals.  And June is still prime time for planting annuals whose duty is to mask those early blooming perennials and waning spring bulbs.   I‘m going scoot out of here early in the day, returning quickly and maybe nobody will notice.  Morning is the best time to plant anyway, ahead of the hot daytime sun.  Nobody will discern me watering the new plantings daily because the hanging baskets get a drink daily and the container plants every other day. My potting soil didn’t have fertilizer in it, so I’m going to try a starter solution of fertilizer when I introduce these new plants into the landscape.               The next task is weeding, also a morning chore.  It keeps me out of the hot daytime sun.  Do you agree that weeding is a bother?  Not many folks enjoy it.  Pesticides limit weeds but also discourage bees, butterflies and birds.  Our Creeping Charlie is so aggressive. Hopefully, a pesticide will slow its pace, but a layer of hardwood mulch is an alternative to commercial weed killers. 

          Grooming beds certainly dresses them up.  Deadheading, –  removing fading flowers –  improves a plant’s appearance and encourages continual bloom.  I bought a pair of good garden shears this spring. They sure make a clean cut. I’ll remove the flower buds or flowering stem back to the first set of leaves.

                Participating in an exercise class several times each week keeps my doctor happy, but playing in the dirt is certainly therapeutic.  The dog and I and sometimes a cat or two could just spend hours and hours in the gardens.  Flower or vegetable gardens each create a soothing no worry-be happy atmosphere.

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Worm poop challenge

It’s December and I still have a few homegrown tomatoes, picked just before the first frost when they were still green.

Tomato challenge

Tomato challenge

  

 

 

  Some of them came from test plants I grew with vermicompost from TerraCycle.  Last spring, the company’s James Artis had sent samples of TerraCycle products, including a liquid form of vermicompost, also known as worm poop.

   Worms create a rich fertilizer and I wanted to test out TerraCycle’s on my tomatoes.

   I planted containers with Snoberry, cherry and Tomatoberry varieties – two of each kind. On one of each variety I used Terracycle weekly, along with regular watering. On the other, just regular watering, but no fertilizer of any kind.

   It wasn’t the most scientific experiment, but worked well until the containers, on my back porch, were beset with problems. Two were taken out when a screen fell during a windstorm. The others survived, but were neglected to an extent after Iowa’s catastrophic floods in June. The floods didn’t reach my house, but kept my attention diverted elsewhere.

   So I was surprised when doing fall cleanup to find some of the plants had actually produced tomatoes. I believe they were the Terracycle plants, but didn’t have much to compare them with at that point in time.

   Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to conduct a more thorough test, or maybe some of you have used TerraCycle or other vermicompost and could describe your results.

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Keeping a pot in the house

   Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith, offered the following on keeping mum pots in the house and other fall advice for Iowans:

               

Feel free to ask questions:  Master Gardeners love to visit.  If a M.G. doesn’t have an answer, he/she will be eager to do the research for an answer as well as satisfy our own ongoing curiosity of all plants living—and sometimes dead.  Following are some common fall inquiries:

·         Most trees can be trimmed between December and February.   Hold off on fruit trees until late February.  Clean instruments between trees to prevent disease transfer.  Cut outside of the “collar”.  Maximum trimming should be 1/3 of the tree.

·         Grape Hyacinth may send up shoots now:  it should be o.k.

·         Saving Dahlias and Callas:  do not store in plastic bags as moisture will create mold.  Layer the bulbs, but don’t allow them to touch by putting vermiculate between them.  Cure the bulbs in a warm area for a few days then store at 45’ in the basement.   Do not allow the bulbs to freeze.

·         Oleander can be trimmed.  Cut ¼ off to main branch.

·         Clematis:  some of rabbit’s favorite food!  Try fencing with chicken wire.   No need to mulch.

·         Burning Bush:  can be trimmed any time, but recommend after leaf loss.  Vibrant color this year possibly due to excess spring moisture.

·         Spirea can be trimmed now.

·         Geraniums can be left potted in a sunny window for the winter.  Or, shake off the root dirt and hang upside down in a paper bag in the basement or unheated attic. Dip roots in water monthly.  In February, cut away dried area leaving nubbins.  Dip in Root Tone after potting to initiate growth.

·         Mums:  generally not winter hardy.  Root system won’t withstand Iowa’s freezing winter.   Can keep in pot in the house if cut back.  Plant in the spring on the south/sunny side of the house.

·         House Plants:  will probably have little new growth as they use spend energy adjusting to being moved inside.  

·         Routinely monitor animal management strategy.  In years of high animal population and limited food (think last winter!), they will eat almost anything.

·         Pest –free debris from fall clean up can be composted.

·         Do not fertilize now.  Improve the soil with the addition of shredded leaves, well-rotted manure, or other organic matter.

·         Drain garden hose and put away. 

·         Direct sunlight and freezing temperatures can diminish efficacy of liquid pesticides and fertilizers.

 

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“Compostales”

   The winner of our compost contest was announced  and her essay on composting magic was posted earlier, but there were others who shared great advice and fun stories. Dustin Hinrichs, one of our judges, noted that he enjoyed reading the “compostales.” I like Dustin’s terminology, so here are some of the compostales that were also entered in the contest. More will be posted later. Enjoy, and thanks to all who entered!

 

Duane Thys of Cedar Rapids:

 

I LOVE COMPOST!!

 

I  HAVE BEEN COMPOSTING FOR OVER FORTY YEARS.   PRESENTLY I HAVE TWO PLASTIC BINS AND A WIRE CAGE.  I ‘FEED’ THE BINS FROM THE CAGE WHICH  HOLDS  LEAVES AND GARDEN REFUSE.  I LAYER GRASS CLIPPINGS, KITCHEN SCRAPS, DRYER LINT, PAPER, ETC.,  WITH THE LEAVES AND GRASS CLIPPINGS.    I HAVE NEVER HAD ENOUGH COMPOST.  I   TOLD MY WIFE THAT I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE ALL THE COMPOST IN THE WORLD.  SHE THINKS  I’M NUTS.

 

I ALSO RAISE RED WORMS.  THESE ORIGINALLY WERE FOR FISH BAIT ALTHOUGH I SECRETLY WAS THINKING ABOUT MORE COMPOST.  THIS TURNED OUT BETTER THAN EXPECTED.  THE WORMS MAKE EXCELLENT BAIT , BUT THE COMPOST IS  AWESOME.   USING TWO BUCKETS  I DEVISED A COMPOST TEA MAKER .  THIS BREW MAKES EVERYTHING FROM ASPARGAS  TO ZENNIAS  GROW. 

 

GETTING ENOUGH ORGANIC MATERIAL  HAS BECOME A PROBLEM.  THE WORMS NOW EAT ALMOST ALL THE KITCHEN  SCRAPS SO MY OTHER COMPOST SOMETIMES GOES WITHOUT.  I TAKE LEAVES AND GRASS CLIPPINGS FROM  NEIGHBORS.  (EXCEPT THE  ONES WITH DOGS) 

 

I WAS TAUGHT NOT TO WASTE ANYTHING  SO, COMPOSTING COMES NATURALLY TO ME.  I CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHY SOMEONE WOULD THROW AWAY PERFECTLY GOOD GARBAGE.

 

Neena Miller of Scotch Grove:

 

   The first time I was aware of the benefits of composting was when I was in ninth grade and had a pony (1968.)

   Mucking out the stalls was my chore to do, in order to have my beloved pet, and, although it was hard work, it was very beneficial (especially to the summer garden.)    Throughout my life, I have always known my mother to continue the composting tradition by collecting kitchen scraps and lawn clippings to add to the compost bin.

   Today, I continue that tradition on the farm. I have a bucket under the sink for all kitchen scraps. I keep a dishcloth over the top, to keep away gnats.    In the garden, I have a circle of wire (like chicken wire) where I deposit the kitchen scraps from my bucket, layering with yard clippings, leaves, manure and pulled weeds.

   The different “green” debris and manure, which I variegate in the pile, create heat, which cooks the compost pile, creating a germ free “super” fertilizer for my new garden and potted plants. The “waste” factor of using a garbage disposer and flushing these valuable nutrients down the drain, or throwing leftover food products in plastic, non-biodegradable bags into our garbage dumps is huge.

   In a situation in which we cannot dispose of kitchen waste immediately, we might simply freeze it in a plastic bag until we can. This way, our world and our lives can be replenished the way nature, and ultimately God, had designed.

 

 

Nancy Feldmann of Manchester:

 

I like to compost. It’s my way of giving back to the earth. You might say I’m a naturalist at heart, because I love gardening, composting, sun drying my laundry and saving gray water. I grew up on a farm in NE Iowa and things I learned there brought me to where I am today – an avid recycler of almost any product. All of my containers are recycled, I buy in bulk and reuse containers whenever possible. My composting method right now consists of a plastic laundry hamper with holes in it -I’d love to move up to more modern technology. All of my compost feeds my garden soil, which in turn feeds my family. (Did I also say I am a Supervisor at Goodwill? I believe in helping people learn to be independent. Our people is our most important job at Goodwill and recycling is our second most important, which really coincides with my beliefs of giving back.)

 

 

Heather Hospodarsky of Cedar Rapids:

 

I love my newly found composting routine.  We have a family of 6 and eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.  My newest composting helper is a cat litter bucket with a tight fitting lid.  I was unable to find a bucket that would hold a few days worth of compost until a friend, with cats suggested this.  It stays in the garage and I take the compost there as needed.  Our bin several yards from our house and we empty the bucket a few times a week.  It feels so good “recycling” our food waste instead of sending it to the landfill. 

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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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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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Overseeding lawns

Richard Jauron, Horticulture Specialist at Iowa State University Extension, offers the following on overseeding lawns:

Healthy, well maintained lawns are attractive landscape additions.  Lawns in poor condition, however, are somewhat unsightly.  The poor condition of a lawn may be due to poor management, heat, drought, diseases, insects or other factors.  In severe cases, the existing lawn may have to be destroyed and a new one established on the site.  Lawns that contain over 50 percent desirable grasses can often be improved by overseeding.  

Overseeding is the sowing of grass seed into an existing lawn.  In Iowa, the best time to overseed a lawn is late summer (late August to mid-September).

Site Preparation

Good site preparation is necessary for successful overseeding.  If possible, identify and correct the problems causing the lawn to decline.  Overseeding may only be a temporary solution if these problems are not corrected. 

To reduce the competition from the established turfgrass, mow the lawn at a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches.  Successful overseeding also requires good seed-to-soil contact.  Simply throwing or broadcasting seed over the lawn typically results in poor seed germination as much of the seed is resting on the thatch layer or soil surface.  Rakes, core aerators, vertical mowers, and slit seeders can be used to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. 

Overseeding Small Areas

Small areas can be prepared by gently raking the thin spots.  When raking, it’s necessary to break the soil surface without pulling out the existing turfgrass.  After raking, sow the seed by hand.  Then, work the seed into the soil by gently raking the areas a second time. 

Overseeding Large Areas

Large areas can be prepared by using a core aerator.  Core aerators are machines with hollow metal tubes or tines.  They remove plugs of soil when run over the lawn.  To prepare the site, go over the lawn three or four times with the core aerator.  When finished, there should be 20 to 40 holes per square foot.  Apply the seed with a drop seeder.  Afterward, drag the area with a piece of chain link fence or drag mat to break up the soil cores and mix the seed into the soil. 

It’s also possible to prepare the site with a vertical mower.  When run over the lawn, the knife-like blades of the vertical mower slice through the thatch and penetrate into the upper 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil.  One or two passes should be sufficient.  Afterwards, remove any dislodged debris from the lawn.  Sow grass seed over the lawn with a drop seeder.  Work the seed into the soil by again going over the site with the vertical mower. 

Large areas also can be overseeded with a slit seeder.  A slit seeder makes small grooves in the soil and deposits the seed directly into the slits. 

Core aerators, vertical mowers and slit seeders can be rented at many garden centers and rental agencies.  If you would rather not do the work yourself, many professional lawn care companies can overseed your lawn. 

Post Seeding Care

Keep the seedbed moist with frequent, light applications of water.  It’s usually necessary to water at least once or twice a day.  Continue to mow the lawn at a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches.  Mow the lawn frequently to reduce the competition from the established turfgrass.  When the new seedlings reach a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches, gradually increase the mowing height over the next several weeks.  The final mowing height should be 2-1/2 to 3 inches.  Approximately six weeks after germination, fertilize the lawn by applying 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.  

When properly overseeded, a thin, scruffy-looking lawn can be turned into a thick, lush lawn in just a few weeks. 

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A Midsummer’s Garden

Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith shares the following:

 

Can you believe it’s already July?  The favorite daughter’s corn (all 24 stalks—remember it’s her first garden adventure) are way taller than knee high.  Her two tomato plants are huge; the pumpkin plants absolutely covered with blossoms.  The kids are so anxious to see the fruits of Mom’s labors. What fun this is!

                So how is your vegetable garden fairing?

§  You may be surprised to know that you will want to water soon, if you haven’t started already.  Gardens – vegetable and flower -need about one inch of water per week.  Remember it’s best to water thoroughly early in the day. 

§  Fertilize leafy vegetables and sweet corn when the plants are about half their mature size. Peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and beans should be fertilized when they have started producing fruit. Spread about two cups of a low-nitrogen fertilizer about six inches from the plant for every 100 feet of row.  Never put fertilizer directly on the fruit.

§  Continue to monitor for pests, add additional mulch if needed and remove weeds to prevent competition for water and fertilizer.

§  If you feel you must use a weed killer be careful to not get any on your ground cover.  Herbicides will kill any plant they touch.  A helpful hint is to cut the top and bottom from a milk jug, cover the weeds with the milk jug and spray the weeds inside the container.  Once the herbicide is dry, move the jug on to the next group of weeds.

§  Does your garden have a hot spot—lots of sun and dry?  There is still time to fill in. Plant some annuals.  Zinnias, Sunflowers, Dusty Miller and Cleome are both heat and drought resistant.  Deadheading (removing dead flower heads) will increase flower production.

Do enjoy your garden where the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor will be a tasty and safe special treat for the entire family. 

 

Another reminder – if you would like to become a Linn County Master Gardener  contact the Extension Office at (319) 377-9839 for information regarding the program.

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