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Autumn is surely here! IMG_7026 The trees have turned color, started dropping their leaves and begun looking a bit “bare”.  It is the way of the garden…even our little gardens here at Horizon House.  Here’s a link that has photos and a few comments about our gardens.

But, to get back to autumn, and how it affects us, AND our gardens.  I decided to write this post because I’ve just begun to read a book about soil, called “Growing a Revolution-Bringing Our Soil Back to Life”, by David Montgomery.  Jean D. had asked if the IMG_7018Garden Committee would co-sponsor a program, with the Conservation Committee featuring David Montgomery, to speak about this new book.   I thought that would be a great idea.  He will be coming to HH sometime in the not too distant future.  Anyway, I’m LOVING this book and how he explains about the soil and how we can replenish it with far less chemical intervention.  Anyway, it got me thinking about how we can get into this “mode” here, even in our little gardens!

It is a totally natural approach.  It’s wonderful, not only for the soil, but for insects, and the wildlife, of which many of us are not really aware.  It is also easier on the gardeners, as the chores we usually accomplish in autumn are diminished.IMG_7028

Our garden beds are looking a bit scruffy right now.  It’s a time when we fussy gardeners think it’s time to clean up all the debris.  STOP!!!  DON’T DO IT!!!!

When we remove all that debris, we stop the soil from replenishing itself.  The leaves, if left alone, will become places for microbes and little critters to hide for the winter.  All those little guys will use the leaves for food, passing it into the soil in a form that can be utilized as the roots gobble it up to feed the plants!  So, don’t be too quick to remove those leaves!IMG_7019

 

IMG_7020Also, the plants themselves, if left standing are happily feeding birds and little creatures.  There are green buds, berries and seeds, all of which keep our wildlife fed and passing it back to the soil as they hop from place to place.IMG_7024

Sure, it doesn’t look wonderful to OUR eyes, but the soil and wildlife will be so appreciative!IMG_7025  Pledge to become a MESSY GARDENER along with the Nature Conservancy.  This link will tell you more about how these techniques will really be good all around!

I think I will write a note in the ALERT telling people that our gardens may be looking a bit “scruffy” during the winter months…and WHY!  So, go ahead and experiment.  Leave those leaves alone, and let’s see what happens.  In the spring, you can clean up your garden if you want.  Letting the leaves break down further will be good for the soil, but if it looks too nasty for you, go ahead and clean it up in the spring, but leave the leaves for now!

Here’s to the Horizon House Garden Committee’s contribution to replenishment of the earth’s soil!  Have fun being MESSY!

 

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From the time we are just wee, little ones learning a catchy rhyme, “Rain, rain, go away.  Come again another day!” Until the present time when we stand aghast to read the news about yet another terrible rain event in the form of one or more hurricanes.

Rain is one of those things that we hate one minute but know the next, that we can’t exist without.IMG_0371

The most important element that we need to support life (any kind of life) is WATER!  It comes to us in the form of rain.  Rain fills the oceans and pushes the brooks into the streams, which form the rivers, etc.  So, we cannot do without rain!

 

Some climates have to live with little, or no rain, as in deserts.  Other places like rainforests, have to figure out how to handle the deluges.  As I recall the cliché is “feast or famine”!  Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are usually in the “feast” category…but not always.  This is where our skill, as gardeners and farmers, comes into play!

Our gardens have to handle both an excess of water, or in the dryest season of summer hold onto the little we get.  In other words, sometimes we need to deal with drought, just as we need to deal with the occasional flood.  Generally in the PNW,img_5618 the rain is frequent, but light. It keeps us constantly damp it seems, but doesn’t rain enough to get down to the deep roots where it’s necessary in order to be of any use to the plant above.  So, what are we to do?

As gardeners (I’ll include farmers in that all encompassing word) we all know that along with water, the most important ingredient is the SOIL!  Just like water, soil comes in different forms as well.  In a desert, it’s sand.  In a rainforest, it is almost pure compost. If it rains in the desert, the water is gone almost as soon as it hits the ground, because sand does NOT hold water and the dampness is burned off by the sun.  In the rainforest, the water is enclosed in the rich, deep compost, held in the shade, and available for whatever time is necessary!

What do we learn from this?  In a desert, there are no plants dropping leaves, or falling onto the ground to rot…so there is no compost forming naturally.  In the rainforest, there are trees and plants galore, which shed leaves, break off branches, and support animals that leave their detritus.  All of this falls to the ground, rots and becomes compost.  Now, if we could just get the two together!!!!

THAT is where the gardener begins to display his or her skills, and brains! compost-hand

Essentially, there are three things you need in order to create good soil for your garden. The growing material itself (which we call the soil); water; and air.  We aspire to “perfect” this combination in order to grow our crop, be it vegetables or flowering plants.

BUT, the bottom line is that we need to take the RAIN and hold onto it long enough, and deep enough, for the plants to utilize it.  If a plant is watered and just the top of the soil is dampened, the roots have no way of getting to it.  That is an unhealthy situation.  The roots will aim upward to get to the water, leaving them vulnerable to the next burst of heat, which will dry those roots out, and eventually kill the plant.  Water deeply!  THAT is the weak spot in our rainy climate.  We think because it’s always raining, we shouldn’t need to water, but that is NOT necessarily the case.

We need to figure out how to adjust the soil in order to hold and convey the water down to the roots of the plants.  This is done by combining our soil with compost.  That compost also loosens the soil, allowing space for air to be incorporporated.  A good equation!

In Israel, they have turned the desert into farms.  Go to this site and read how they created this miracle.  But, certainly this is not what we have to do in our PNW gardens, is it?

The Spruce has a wonderful article about building soil to hold water.  It would be worth a visit.

Here’s a link from the University of Maine, Extension Service telling everything you’d possibly need to know about soil,

Here’s to Happy Gardening…and perfect rainfall!

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Is the garden looking a little tacky?  It’s probably time to be “deadheading”.IMG_6831

At some point, every flower will stop flowering and begin to “set seed”.  The plant’s entire goal in life is to regenerate itself. IMG_6825 When the flower dies all it’s energy goes into making seed.IMG_6820  Unless you WANT seed from that particular plant, it is best to remove the “dead head” of the flower.  If you do this, the plant will try, yet again, to make more seeds, which translates into MORE FLOWERS!  So, deadheading not only makes the plant look neater, it actually stimulates it to make more flowers.

I went down into the three gardening terraces this morning to take pictures of examples.  So, you may see some pictures you’d rather not brag about.  IMG_6823It’s rather like taking pictures of your apartment the day before the cleaning lady comes! (Sorry)  But, they are just examples of when you need to start snipping, picking, plucking and cutting.IMG_6821

Deadheading is when you remove the dead blossoms and plant material from your garden.  I’ll talk a bit about it here, but in the meantime, here’s a link with a YouTube video explaining, and showing how to do it.  Deadheading video

When you “dead-head”, you can remove just the dead blossom, or you can follow the stem holding the dead flower down to the next healthy leaf.  You don’t want to have stumps of ANYTHING in the garden.  When you are done, it should look neat.

If you want, you can just let the seeds fall onto the ground around the mother plant, and hope for more of the same coming up in the spring.  Or you can put the debris into the compost pile.  Just remember, if that compost doesn’t get HOT, those seeds will sprout!

Do watch the little video, it will show you exactly what to do, with a demonstration!  In the meantime, I’ll be looking for nice, neat gardens!  🌺🌻🌱

 

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IMG_6256Daffodils are wonderful when they first pop up out of the ground.  They are among the first flowers to appear in our gardens and they are SO welcome!

IMG_6131When we get to about now…the flowers start drying up; dropping off; and beginning to form seeds.  They are not so pretty any longer!  So, now what do we do?

If you had a meadow’s worth, I’d suggest just leaving them, but we don’t have meadows of daffodils.  Ours definitely do not look grand among the other flowers that are coming into their own now.

So get out those pruners.  Cut each flower stem down as close to the ground as you can.  Don’t leave any unsightly ‘sticks of stems’ poking up.  They are not at all attractive.  BUT  DO NOT CUT OFF THE LEAVES!

The bulbs that you planted need those leaves to generate food for themselves.  They collect sun rays and fresh air. I’m sure you know the leaves are doing this.  You also have to understand that those bulbs are drawing nutrients from the soil, so this is a wonderful time to scratch a little fertilizer (or compost) into the soil around those leaves.  The leaves should stay until they begin to turn brown.  If it bothers you to watch the leaves just sitting there, seemingly doing nothing, notice that some gardeners fold them over and tie them together.  There are even folks who braid the leaves.  It’s a bit “labor intensive”, but it does work.  The garden looks a whole lot neater, and the bulbs continue to get their nutrition!  (This same technique works with other bulbs like tulips and hyacinths.)

Some people figure they’ll let seeds grow and plant them.  Don’t bother!  The seed will suck the life out of the bulb, and it will be years before you get a flower worth your attention.  You will be better off to be rid of the seed (what becomes of the dying flower) and nurture the bulb you have for an even more glorious flower next year, and years following.

When you are done, the spent flowers and stems can be dumped into the compost bins.  It couldn’t be easier!

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At our last Garden Committee meeting the topic of “SOIL” came up.  Although we all have a pretty good idea that as gardeners, we know what soil is…it ain’t necessarily so!  My aim here today is to acquaint us with the REAL meanings, definition and uses of various types of SOIL.  They are definitely not all the same!

For instance, do you know that “dirt” is the stuff under your fingernails; what’s on your dungaree knees; the debris carried into the house on your sneakers after being in the garden; what the dog brings in; and in general, what you need to vacuum up to keep the house clean?  That is NOT the stuff we plant our posies in!

What we plant in, is SOIL!  But, there really are different types of soil.  As gardeners we should be aware of what they are and how to differentiate between them, so we use them properly.

We could start by calling it a “planting medium”.  The reason for that is that there are so many soil types.  Here is a site from the University of Maryland Extension Service.  After a fair amount of searching I found this one which is pretty basic.  No super charts, or long chemical connections…just the simple facts.  I will go into more specifics about what is available to you here at Horizon House.

We essentially have 3 (three) different soil types available for your use.  Remember you should NOT need to add much soil at all.  All the garden beds have ample soil right now.  Occasionally, you might want to top dress, or dig in a bit of compost (as an amendment).  If for some reason you really do need to add soil, it should be in the “top soil” category.  So, here goes!

TOP SOIL   is what you will commonly find beneath your feet, in any garden environment!  Top soil varies in quality, depending on where it is found.  The top soil on a mountain top will  be very different from that on a river flood plain.  So, unless you know where it originates, you really won’t know at all whether it’s any good at all for your garden.  But, having said that, the Garden Soil we get is in a bag. We can rest assured that it is decent soil.  It is NOT special potting soil, that often has amendments added; nor is it mulch or compost.  It’s just plain soil…nothing more, nothing less.  Here is a link about soil basics  that you might find interesting.

MULCH  is what you put on top of the soil, around your plants.  It provides protection from drenching rain; it holds moisture which your plants can access easily; it provides shade for tender roots lying just beneath the surface; weeds cannot find their way into your well mulched garden; it provides warmth, protecting roots from deep freezes.  Over the year(s), if it is organic, it breaks down, adding texture and nutrients to the soil below.  This means that you can add, probably SHOULD add, new mulch every year, either in the spring or the fall.  Go to this link about MULCH which will add to your understanding of this product.  And by the way, do not worry about the mulch getting into the soil.  It will break down and become compost in the soil.  It will also provide instant bulk and moisture retaining qualities. (There is also non-organic mulch which will not break down, like plastic and rubber.  We do NOT utilize non-organic mulch in our gardens here at Horizon House.)

COMPOST is what I define as “Black Gold”!  compost-handIt is naturally broken down organic materials.  These are usually composed of leaves, grass, discarded garden plants (NOT diseased) and even non-fatty kitchen scraps(fat attracts “critters”). It sits and decomposes until it’s totally broken down.  A process that takes about a year.  Here is a link that will explain the process of making and using COMPOST.  For our gardens at Horizon House, we get bagged compost.  We should use this as an AMENDMENT to our garden soil.  It should NOT be 100% of the soil surrounding your plants!

Ragan suggests a ratio of about 4 parts garden soil to 1 part compost.  I’d say that’s even a bit high, but it’s a good guide.  The compost can be worked into the soil around your plant roots.  When you plant new materials, work some compost into the soil.

So there you have it.  I hope that helps.  I’ll try to get that little chart we talked about at the meeting posted somewhere in the E level storage area.

 

 

 

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Oh, my!  Why didn’t I know about this method of gardening about 40 years ago???

When our log cabin was built in New Hampshire, the builder cleared an entire meadow stacking the branches, logs, soil, grass, etc. in a huge pile at the back of a meadow.  I pretty much ignored it!  Sure, it grew wild flowers and plants.  Blackberries loved it, and so did the snakes, bees and other critters, but, since it was in a shady and out of the way place, I essentially ignored it.

Hugelkultur (or hugel) is a pile of logs, branches, wood chips, (etc.) covered with soil and planted!!!  It generates it’s own nutrients; stays moist; and because it is breaking down, it stays warmer generating a longer growing period.

Here is a link showing all the details of hugelkultur17 hugelkultur_bed I have included here a photograph taken from that page to show you how pretty they can actually be.  This one is small compared to what I might have had in New Hampshire!

It is such an obvious, good plan.  Where have I been???

I must admit, I did have a pile of chips (awaiting use as mulch) that I called my “nursery”.  I used that pile for inserting little trees, plants and shrubs I didn’t have time, or a location decided on yet.  It was wonderful.  The little plants grew so happily with little or no extra fuss.  They were warm and happy.  The pile was in the shade too.  I think that actually worked to the advantage of the newly planted orphans because they didn’t have to worry about sun scald, or the drying complications of too much sunshine.   That pile however, did not have any soil, which kept the plants from growing too rapidly.  It was kind of a “holding” technique.  I also have to say, that NH gets more inches of rain than our Pacific Northwest climate affords.  I think the plants might dry out here, using that technique.  From that standpoint, I’m sure the shade also helped.

I wish now that I’d included something about that huge pile, or the nursery, in my book…but I didn’t.  There’s lots more to read there however.  Aside from the calendar, there are tons of vignettes about my gardening adventures in New Hampshire.  🙂

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Mulch?  What is it?  Why should I DO it?  It sounds “labor intensive”…is it?  How will it help my garden?

Well, let’s look at all those issues:

What is MULCH?-1

  • Mulch is really any material you apply to the surface of the soil around your plants that
    • keeps weeds down
    • helps keep moisture in the soil, rather than allowing it to evaporate
    • provides nutrients (unless you use fabric or plastic) as it breaks down
    • Improves soil structure, if mixed in as you plant new materials
    • attracts earthworms
  • Why you should do it?  RE-READ the list above!-2
  • Labor intensive?
    • NO…once you’ve laid it down your garden is EASIER to care for and looks WONDERFUL!
  • How will it help the garden?  AGAIN, RE-READ the list above!

What’s not to like???-4

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