Compost — it’s not rocket science

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At the bottom is the newer pile and the almost composted pile is at the top finishing up.

At the bottom is the newer pile where fresh materials are added, and the almost-composted pile is at the top finishing up.

If I have to listen to another person’s excuses for not composting I think I am going to scream. They say they have no carpentry skills, and can’t make a bin or cannot afford to buy a bin: You don’t need a bin. All you need is a pile and — yes — it will work.

They say they don’t have time: If you have time to put it in the garbage, you have time to put it in the compost pile. They say they are afraid it will look bad: It does not. They say they are afraid it will stink: It will not. They say they are worried that animals will scatter it: If you don’t add meat to the pile — which you should not — you won’t attract animals. If you want to put bones in there, lobster or mussel shells for instance, dig them down deep and cover them up and nothing will bother them.

Seriously, folks, composting is not rocket science. Oh yeah, I already said that. I know there have been books written about composting and formulas and yadda, yadda, yadda… But really all you need is a simple pile and it will work. Include garden clippings, dried leaves, grass clippings, kitchen fruit and vegetable trimmings (no meat nor fat which can slow down the composting process), coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags, etc. and if you make a place for them it will compost.

For years I had just such a pile, still do, and it works just fine. Last year we put in three posts and a couple cross pieces to sort of “fence it” off since it is right in sight of the back yard. Even so, it never was unsightly, never had an odor or other caused any problem at all. And basically it is still just a pile.

We put up a couple posts with cross pieces to conceal the compost pile. No bins needed.

We put up a couple posts with cross pieces to conceal the compost pile. No bins needed. The compost would work without the little fence and wasn’t unsightly before it was added.

Here’s what I do:

• In the fall all the raked leaves and garden trimmings go into the compost area. In fact they swallow it up. All winter kitchen trimmings go into the leaves. I just bury new stuff down into the leaves.
• In the spring I turn the whole thing with a pitch fork. By then the leaves have settled down some and are actually wet and matted. Turning the pile incorporates some air into the ingredients.
• All summer I add new stuff from the kitchen, yard and garden trimmings.
• About half way through the summer I turn the pile. By then there usually is a nice layer of almost-composted material on the bottom. I fork the uncomposted things to one side and rake the mostly-composted material into a second pile to finish working.
• By late summer the second pile is completely composted, and I remove it to spread on the beds. The newer pile is turned and piled up to be left to work, and a new pile is started where the removed compost used to be. Still two piles.
• By fall the older of the two piles is ready to be used. That’s also when I cut back gardens and add a lot of green material along with the fall leaves. And the process begins again…

Composting does a lot of good things. FIrst of all it creates beneficial soil supplements that are completely free. Not only is compost free, compost provides your plants with beneficial microbes that do more than just feed them. It also makes them healthier plants and eliminates the need for commercial fertilizers. Composting keeps garbage out of the landfill. It is a simple way you can help the environment and yourself. It’s simple, it’s easy and if you garden you need a compost pile. So, why aren’t you composting?

Bee banquet

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clover 2

One of the things that happens when you sign up for one of those lawn services that treats your grass with a cocktail of pesticides/herbicides/fungicides and fertilizers is that you end up with a monoculture. That’s it, just one type of grass.

Aside from all the poisons that are being added (Why else are those little skull and crossbones signs posted after every treatment?) and the problems that creates for you and your pets and the environment, your lawn becomes just about as helpless as a newborn babe. That means your baby of a lawn becomes an easy target for any disease that comes along the pike, and is then a chem-junkie that cannot survive without frequent “treatments.” You and your lawn are now hooked.

On the other hand IF you were to forego the chemicals and say, seed in some different grasses and clover to your mix you not only get a green lawn that benefits — rather than threatens — pollinators. The clover helps to fix the nitrogen in the soil, which in turn feeds the various grasses. In effect the lawn is “feeding” itself. It’s what they call a win-win, for your grass, for the environment and your pocketbook as well.

Lately we have been leaving patches of the blooming Dutch clover for a honeybee banquet. Other pollinators enjoy it too. Plus by letting it bloom and go to seed, we are getting more than one benefit. Okay, I’ll admit it is pretty much a low-impact improvement, but hey, it’s summer and the living should be easy.

Flowering shrubs for early blooms

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6 Cedar in deep snow

Considering the feet of snow that covered the sunny border last winter, it seems hard to believe how quickly the flowering shrubs shrugged off the dormant season and put on their spring show.

One of the first to display its finery was the Snow Day ‘Blizzard’ pearl bush with its impressive flurry of snow-white white blooms.

snowberry

The ornamental quinces were next and there is nothing subtle about their spectacularly brilliant flowers. Deep orange, pink and red balls crowd the branches of Double Take series ‘Orange Storm, “Pink Storm” and ‘Scarlet Storm” quinces.

quince 'Scarlet Storm'

quince ‘Scarlet Storm’

Not to be overshadowed, the Yuki Cherry Blossom Deutzias chimed in next. These sweet little shrubs are compact and form colorful groundcovers. Be warned, however, you are bound to fall in love with this unique choice.

'Yuki Cherry Blossom' deutzia

‘Yuki Cherry Blossom’ deutzia

When it comes to early impact, count on the Weigelas. ‘Sonic Bloom Red’ not only provides brilliant purple/pink blooms, but reblooms through the fall on spreading plants.

sonic bloom weigela

Oh yeah, the hydrangeas and bush roses are coming along and they will be spectacular, but thank goodness for those early spring bloomers that get the garden started with color, form and interest.

Quickie Coconut Soup

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coconut soup

Quick and easy to make with things you probably already have on hand, this Asian-inspired soup begins with an envelope of dry chicken noodle soup mix. It is full of flavor, character and a bit of crunch too. Without further ado, here it is:

Quickie Coconut Soup

1 envelope dried chicken noodle soup
3 cups water
1/3 cup one-inch pieces of thin spaghetti, soba noodles or dry noodles
1 cup coconut milk (approximately half a can, wrap and freeze the rest for another time)
Juice of half of lemon or lime
Dash red pepper flakes
Julienne sliced leaf lettuce, Romane is good but any leaf lettuce will do, about a cup per soup bowl
Chopped chives for garnish
Add ons can include: corn kernels sliced from a cob, shredded chicken or tofu, etc.

• Slice up lettuce and place about a cup of shreds in each soup bowl. Set aside.

• Bring three cups water to boil. Add dry soup mix and pasta and boil gently for approximately 10 minutes or until pasta is done. Stir in coconut milk, lemon juice and red pepper and any add-ons you desire. Bring to a boil again.

• Ladle hot soup over lettuce in bowls. Garnish with chives. Makes four servings.

Plant profiles: Two variegated woody vines for the tropics

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Variegated golden chalice

Variegated golden chalice

That consummate plantsman, David Fairchild, wrote in “The World Was My Garden” of his dislike of variegated plants. He commented that they often looked like bits of trash in a landscape. But Fairchild might have changed his mind about variegated plants if he had seen a couple of spectacular and quite elegant variegated vines: golden chalice and stephanotis.

Big yellow blooms the size of softballs make the golden chalice (Solandra: Zones 9-11) a standout, but combine that with creamy-white and soft green foliage tipped with purple emerging growth and you’ve got one stunning vine in the variegated example. This substantial woody vine will climb, though it has no clutching tendrils as do some. Provide a sturdy support for this one, along with full sun with afternoon shade, and a compost-rich, well-drained growing medium.

stephanotisVariegated stephanotis (Stephanotis: Zones 10-11) produces drifts of sweetly-fragrant, waxy white blooms intermittently in warmer months. With no clutching tendrils, this evergreen vine can be trained up a support with ties to keep it in place. Variegated stephanotis has creamy white and pale green foliage. Situate this vine with slightly filtered sun exposure, and provide a well-drained growing medium for best performance.

Tomato AP just in the nick of time

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DIagnose tomato diseases, like this one, with a new AP available just in time for the growing season.

DIagnose tomato diseases, like this one, with a new AP from the American Phytopathological Society, available just in time for the growing season to use with your iPhone, iPad or Android devices.

A new AP, Tomato MD, from  The American Phytopathological Society (APS)  helps gardeners, professional growers and consultants identify and manage more than 35 key diseases, insects, and physiological disorders of tomatoes.

Like all titles developed by APS PRESS, university experts in plant disease and entomology have reviewed all images — 210 in total — and information to ensure scientific accuracy. And while the information was written by scientists, it is very understandable and published in an easy-to-use, non-scientific format. Tomato MD is also fully downloadable, making it possible to use the app anywhere, anytime without a WIFI or cellular connection.

Download and review Tomato MD through the free APS ‘Plant Health’ app for your iPad, iPhone, or Android devices. The full version is just $2.99, and the demo version is free.

Coleus basics for all gardens

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'Marooned' coleus:jpnse grass

Coleus — named the annual of the year for 2015 by National Garden Bureau —  may conger up visions of Victorian or Grandma’s gardens. But don’t be fooled, today’s coleus varieties have come a long way with brilliant choices for shaded or sunny spots with ruffled or frilled foliage, solid colors, splashes, blotches, streaks, flecks, margins and veins. The wide and exciting range of coleus varieties available should nicely augment anyone’s planting palette.

Here are some coleus basics to get you inspired and growing from the NGB:

Getting Started

Raising coleus from seeds is relatively easy. Seed strains offer uniformity and may include mixes or consistent coloration with identical plants. Seed packets can be quite affordable and a wide range of coleus varieties available from seed vendors. Time seed sowing to be 8-12 weeks before the last frost date. Sow seeds in at least three inches of growing medium (maintain at 70 degrees F) and seeds should be sown on the surface as they require light to germinate. Well-timed, even watering, misting (for humidity) and frequent observation are encouraged.

Overwintering coleus plants as houseplants is an option although temperatures near 70 degrees F are required. Rotate plants and pinch back as needed to maintain form. Consider grow lights to provide adequate winter lighting conditions.

Designing With Coleus

Solid color coleus varieties such as Redhead and Lime Delight Premium Sun (both bred for the sun) can be very impactful and make a statement in the mixed border while those with variable coloration may become “color echoes” for neighboring plants with similar (or contrasting) flower and/or foliage colors. The repetition of certain coleus colors and form can lend unity and harmony in the garden. While a solitary specimen can add a “punch” of color, consider the impact of mass planting as well. Foliage with lighter coloration can provide illumination in shadier locations while dark colors (for example, any coleus with Chocolate its name) in the same setting will create depth and contrast. Consider coleus just one of many available tools in your gardening “toolbox.” (Note the dramatic contrast of the velvety ‘Marooned’ coleus and Japanese grass in the photo above.)

Coleus in Containers

All coleus have excellent container potential if they are given adequate well-draining soil mix, reasonable nutrients and the proper sun exposure to thrive. Avoid windy locations as coleus can be prone to breakage in extreme winds. Slow release fertilizers are recommended for your containers although half strength liquid fertilizer applied every 2 weeks over the growing season should be sufficient. Coleus do not show their best coloration if over fertilized so be conservative and consistent. You may want to consider water retention additives to help alleviate some watering needs, particularly in sunny locations. Drainage is vital so consider adding additional drainage holes as needed.

The container style, color and ultimate placement should also be considered in advance. Coleus filled containers, if moveable, allow for instant color as they can be positioned as needed and used to add color, provide immediate interest and accent areas of the garden, deck or patio.

Coleus certainly has the potential to be included in hanging basket arrangements. Some of the trailing selections are ideal for the edge of an elevated container while larger varieties can be utilized for a strong foliage contribution in the center of the basket. Consider watering needs as coleus are naturally thirsty and a hanging basket can be one of the most challenging situations in terms of moisture retention and associated watering needs. Wind protection is also warranted.

Coleus Problems

Coleus may become stressed by lack of heat and moisture. Excessive or inadequate moisture may lead to challenges with insects or diseases. A healthy coleus plant is the best defense against these challenges. Slugs, snails, spider mites, mealybugs, whiteflies and occasionally aphids may be challenges under certain conditions. While there are few fungi, bacteria and viruses that affect coleus, there may be occasional issues of stem rot, root rot or downy mildew which all have a direct relationship to moisture inputs and associated growing conditions.

Relocating the plant, pinching healthy cuttings for re-establishment or removing the plant might be options to consider. Healthy, young plants will frequently outgrow some of these challenges if properly “encouraged” or may never exhibit problems because of their vigor.

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