Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sherri's Helpful Hints

Gardening Tips

Making Compost

A compost pile can be started in sun or shade at any time of the year. Good ingredients include leaves, hay, grass clippings, tree trimmings, food scraps, bark, sawdust, rice hulls, weeds, nut hulls and animal manure. Mix the ingredients together in a container of wood, hay bales, hog wire, concrete blocks or simply pile the material on the ground. The best mixture is 75-80% vegetative matter and 20-25% animal waste, although any mix will compost. The ingredients should be a mix of coarse and fine-textured material. Avoid having all the pieces of material the same size since the variety of sizes will help air to move through the pile. Oxygen is a critical ingredient. Turn the pile at least once a month; more often speeds up the process. Keep the pile moist, roughly the moisture of a squeezed-out sponge, to help the living microorganisms thrive and work their magic. Compost is ready to use when the ingredients are no longer identifiable. The color will be dark brown, the texture soft and crumbly and the aroma that of a forest floor. Use compost in all bed preparation and as a high quality mulch around annuals and perennials.


The best mulch for any site anywhere is recycles plant material (leaves, twigs, spent plants, buds, bark, flowers and other plant debris) that grew on your property. That's the natural way it is done in the forest and on the prairie. The second best choice is purchased shredded native cedar. Third in line is shredded hardwood bark. Then there is a group in the middle that includes cypress which is not high on my list because it does break down well. We want the mulch to break down. That's what creates the true natural food for feeding microbes and plant roots. Pine needles make a good mulch but look a little out of place when use on property where no pines are growing. Lava gravel makes a good mulch and has the extra benefit of keeping squirrels and cats out. Looking more harsh than organic mulches and not breaking down into humus are the negative points. I'm not at all a fan of shredded rubber products, dyed wood or pine bark. It's interesting that the most popular mulch material, pine bark, is not very
good. First, it won't stay in place - washes and blows away. What does stay breaks down into a mucky material that does help plant growth.

Nature doesn't allow bare soil and neither should we. For shrubs, trees and ground covers use at least 1" of compost and 3" of shredded native tree trimmings or shredded hardwood bark. Mulch vegetable gardens with 8" of partially completed compost or alfalfa hay. Mulch preserves moisture, eliminates weeds and keeps the soil surface cooler which benefits earthworms, microorganisms and plant roots.

Mosquito Control Recommendations

Mosquitoes can be controlled and it doesn't have to be dangerous. The effective and non-toxic site management program for mosquito control that I recommend is as follows:

1. Empty standing water where possible. Even small containers such as pot saucers, old tires, soda bottles and cans hold enough water for mosquito breeding.

2. Treat water that cannot be emptied with gambusia fish or (Bti - Bacillus thuringiensis ‘Israelensis’) products such as Bactimos Briquettes or Mosquito Dunks.

3. Homeowners can spray to kill adult mosquitoes with plant oil pesticides such as Bioganics and Eco-EXEMPT. Garlic sprays work well to repel the insects for up to 30 days. Even better, broadcast dry minced garlic to the site at 2 - 5 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. Dr. T’s Mosquito Repellent is another good dry product.

4. Use organic landscape management to encourage birds, bats, fish, dragonflies and other beneficial insects.

5. Use skin repellents that contain natural repellent herbs such as aloe vera, eucalyptus, tea tree oil, lavender, vanilla, citronella and other helpful herbs. The Center for Disease Control now recommends lemon eucalyptus. DEET products should not be used, especially on children – as is stated on the label.

Nature's Weed Controls

A tip for gardeners especially in the orchard is to grow fescue and rye. Grow one crop only and kill it back with the vinegar herbicide mix. These cool season grasses give off their own allelopathic “herbicides” without hurting the crops. Michigan State has worked with rotations of ryegrass and sorghum for weed control in the vegetable g garden. Vinegar herbicide again is used to kill it down before the vegetable planting. Rye helps greatly with early season ragweed and common lambsquarters.

Courtesy of The Dirt Doctor

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