Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mulch helps your plants snuggle in for the winter

When the temperatures start to drop, I love curling up in my "nest" with a nice, warm snuggly blanket. Providing a layer of mulch to your plants is a great way to allow them to snuggle up for the winter, too.

Benefits of Mulch
Mulch retains moisture in the soil and moderates soil temperature while it adds nutrients, and reduces erosion and weeds. But another great benefit of mulch is that it helps to protect plants from frigid winter temperatures. Mulch can be purchased, by the bag or truckload; created by recycling "green waste" in the yard; and is even available for free from many cities and municipalities. Leaves, bark, wood chips, pine needles and straw all make wonderful mulches and are a great way to recycle your garden "extras".

For best results, mulch should be spread 2--4 inches thick over the roots of trees, shrubs and plant beds. Keep the mulch several inches away from the plant stem or trunk to prevent rotting.

Add new mulch as needed, usually once or twice a year, stirring the old mulch to promote air and moisture circulation to avoid matting.

Inorganic mulch such as gravel or colored rocks will not hold moisture and can even reflect heat, which is stressful to plants..

Create self-mulching areas under trees by allowing leaves to stay where they fall.

The Soil Workbook (pdf file), from the Landscape for Life website, provides these additional tips about mulch:

Consider what happens in a deciduous forest, one of nature’s champion mulchers. The leaves shed in autumn are transformed by the soil’s natural food web into plant food and the rich organic matter called humus that is the key to maintaining healthy soil. The blanket of organic matter protects plants from extremes of temperature, prevents soil erosion, and conserves soil moisture that otherwise would evaporate. 
  • Mulching provides your garden with these same benefits and more.
  • It also suppresses weeds, making life easier for you. And because mulch keeps the soil loose, there’s no need for regular cultivation with hoe or scuffle. Mulch conserves water—no small matter given that the proportion of municipal water used for garden irrigation is 30 percent in the eastern U.S., and can be 60 percent or more in the West.
  • By creating the conditions that help them thrive, mulch makes your plants less vulnerable to pests and diseases.
  • Mulch keeps the soil around plant roots from frying in summer and in winter helps prevent alternate freezing and thawing, which causes root damage.
  • Over time, organic mulches decompose and add nutrients and organic matter to your soil, improving waterretention and nurturing the soil fauna that promote fertility.
  • By cushioning the impact of downpours, mulch also helps prevent soil compaction, allowing water to penetrate and plant roots to breathe. 

Landscape For Life is based on the principles of The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™), the nation's first rating system for sustainable landscapes. This is the perfect time of year to be reading up on these principles to get a head start on next spring's landscape.

For Free mulch in the area, see: Free mulch and other garden goodies

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Time to put your mower out to pasture?

America's love affair with their lawns is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to environmentally friendly landscapes. Lawns are water hogs and can have pests and weeds that are frequently treated with harmful chemicals. Using gas powered equipment to keep a lawn manicured can put out more CO2 and other pollutants (plus noise) per hour run time than a Hummer.

Eco-friendly options for landscapes can include minimizing the size of the lawn and replacing it with ground covers, gardens or permeable surfaces such as mulched beds and walkways.

For the lawn that you do keep, make sure that it is mowed correctly, with the blade set to about three inches. Mulching mowers allow the grass clippings to be returned to the grass to put the nutrients back into the landscape.

Before your lawn mower is put to bed for the winter, take a look at it and decide whether it is time to put it out to pasture all together and get a more eco-friendly option. A new lawn mower might be the perfect gift for a homeowner who is trying to be more eco-friendly in the landscape.

Eco-friendly options for lawn mowers include electric models, solar powered mowers, reel mowers and more.

If you decide to keep your old mower, remember that keeping your mower in good shape helps benefit the lawn. Here are some steps to help put your mower to bed for the winter: Service Mowers Now Before Springing them Into Action Next Season

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lasagna Gardening

Lasagna Gardening

Lasagna gardening is the process of using layers of old newspaper, corrugated cardboard, leaves and mulch to create a garden bed. Lasagna gardening allows you to create a garden right on top of existing sod, thereby reducing the size of your lawn.

Reducing the size of a lawn saves water, reduces the need for harmful chemicals and reduces the amount of time spent mowing, which cuts down on air pollution. But a lasagna garden has its own benefits: it wards off pests and weeds without chemicals and helps conserve every drop of moisture.

Building a Lasagna Garden:

Lasagna gardening is a technique developed by Patricia Lanza. Here are the steps, taken from her book Lasagna Gardening which was published in 1998:

First, mark the outline of the garden on the ground, with either stakes and string or a sprinkling of flour. The actual size and shape of the garden are up to you.

For the first layer, you need something heavy to smother the existing grass and weeds. Most of the time, I use think pads of wet newspaper. Lay them close together, so the edges overlap slightly to keep the weeds from sneaking through. Another good option is flattened, overlapping cardboard boxes.

Next, add a 2 to 3 inch layer of peat moss to cover the paper or cardboard. Now, spread a 4 to 8 inch layer of organic mulch material over the peat moss. Add another layer of peat moss, and another layer of mulch and so on, until the beds are the desired depth.

You can plant fall-built lasagna gardens right away, let them "cook" first, or just leave them to break down naturally over winter for spring planting.

"Cooking" your lasagna garden is the process of covering the pile with black plastic and weighing it down with bricks or stones. The plastic traps the suns warmth and helps break down the "lasagna" quicker.

**Note: Just in case you are thinking of waiting until after Christmas and using your Christmas wrapping paper for the layers of your lasagna garden instead of newspaper, I checked several sources online and they all said that you shouldn't compost wrapping paper because of the unknown paper content and possibility of harmful dyes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How eco-friendly fertilizer led to the first Thanksgiving

If you read my post from a few days ago, you probably remember Squanto. Squanto is the Indian that helped teach the Pilgrims how to be successful gardeners here in this New World. One of the things that Squanto taught the Pilgrims was to put a dead fish into every hole in which they were planting seeds. 

Fish as Fertilzer
As far as I know, this is the first recorded mention of what is now a common method in eco-friendly gardening: fish as fertilizer. Here is an excerpt from the book Squanto's Garden, which explains the benefits that the Pilgrim's gardens would have received from the fish:

The reason that the fish worked to help the corn grow goes far beyond simple fertilization. True enough that the plants could feed and grow from the decaying organic material, but the fish also addressed deeper problems with the soil because of the calcium it provided: 

The calcium provided by the flesh and bones of the fish acted to raise the Ph of the soil, neutralizing the acidic soil of the region and allowing the plant to better absorb nutrients.

Calcium also softens or mellows a soil, making it more porous by expanding the clay element of the soil. Calcium builds the strength of a plant at a cellular level, helping make it more resistant to draught and temperature changes. 

Calcium also acts to feed soil bacteria that are essential to plant growth. 

The fish fertilization also provided the soil with high levels of quality nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur that helped the plants to grow. Nitrogen contains protein that encourages the growth of the green part of the plant. Phosphorus stimulates root growth and promotes fruit and seeds as they mature. Potassium promotes plant vitality and resistance to disease. Sulfur contributes to important microbial life in the soil. Without adequate soil bacteria, minerals in the soil don’t get broken down into usable nutrients for the plant. Squanto’s fish fertilizer played a big role in increasing soil bacteria as well as improving the nutritional value of the plants grown with his methods.

Benefits of Organic Fertilizers
There are now many organic fertilizer products on the market that contain fish, in some form. Fish emulsion, fish meal, hydrolyzed fish and fish powder all let you add natural, organic fertilizer to your plants without harming the planet. Since one of the biggest problems with chemical fertilizers is that they can wash into our waterways and pollute the water, it makes sense that fertilizer made out of fish parts would not create the same problem.

Squanto's Garden is a free e-book and you might enjoy reading the whole thing. In the meantime, here are some more eco-tips from Squanto's Garden.

There are many other techniques you can use to help your garden grow. Rather than using chemical pesticides, you can use nature to control the insect population in your garden. Just a single bird will eat hundreds of thousands of insects in a single year. You can bring birds to your garden by bearing in mind that they have four basic needs: food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young. By providing one or all of these needs in your garden, you can attract birds that will effectively control your insect population without any chemicals at all. 

The use of composting is an excellent way to encourage and promote earthworms in your soil. Earthworms mix up the soil and stimulate microbial activity. They also introduce valuable aeration to the soil as they tunnel. Always be careful not to apply chemical fertilizers (any of the common white powders) to your garden. These products kill or drive away earthworms as well as other microbes vital for a fertile, living garden. Composting will also add beneficial soil organisms that will protect the plant from predatory life forms. 

If your companion planting does not provide the level of ground cover that squash does, you may want to consider laying down mulch. Mulch helps to maintain a good level of moisture in the soil.

Information about Organic Fertlizers

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Top Ten Reasons our Family Get-Together will be like the First Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving for many reasons. First, it’s one of only two holidays that encourage most people to take time out from their busy lives and get together with their families. I think at least 30 people are expected at our family feast this year, which will be held in Michigan. Second, it’s all about being thankful, something that many people forget to do on the other days of their lives. But third, it’s all about sharing gardening and cooking secrets – which is really what the first Thanksgiving – way back in November 1621 – was all about.

In our family, Thanksgiving morning often starts with a walk through the vegetable garden, with sister-in-law Dorothy showing off her fall vegetables and letting us pick our favorites. In my opinion, Dorothy is the best gardener of the family – the one that can get anything to grow. She is, in effect, our Squanto.

If you don’t know about Squanto , he was, in many ways, the reason for the original Thanksgiving. There are conflicting stories about what really happened on the first Thanksgiving but most of the stories agree on the basic details:

In September of 1620, 102 pilgrims set sail for the New World aboard a ship named The Mayflower. Although their intended destination was Virginia, strong winds and storms forced them to settle in the area of Plymouth.

They had a brutally harsh first year and many of them didn’t live to see their first New England Spring.

The ones that did, however, were surprised when an English speaking Indian named Samoset visited them. According to writer Bill Heid, in his e-book, Squanto’s Garden, Samoset’s first words to the Pilgrims were:

“Welcome, English. I am Samoset. Do you have beer?” The Pilgrims were surprised but glad to accommodate Samoset’s request, as they had brought beer with them on the voyage. In fact, they had brought nine times more beer than water, because beer was much more potable. One of the first structures built in the New World by the Pilgrims was a pub, built from wood they had intentionally brought from England for just that purpose. This might strike many of us as strange who have been taught that the Pilgrims were hard, straight-laced folk; but the reality is that they were a lively group that worked hard, played hard and prayed hard. *

Several days later, Samoset returned with another Native American named Squanto. Since Squanto spoke English, his role was to act as interpreter between the Indians and the Pilgrims. However, his importance to the Pilgrims was much greater than that. Squanto taught them to garden.

The Pilgrims did not know how to survive in this new land but as a “native”, Squanto did. He taught them which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal powers. He taught them how to plant corn by heaping the earth into low mounds with several seeds and putting a dead fish in each mound to help fertilize the corn. He also taught them to plant other crops and how to tap the maple trees for sap.

In November 1621, The Pilgrims had much to celebrate, they had built homes in the wilderness, they had raised enough crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter, they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. They had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate.

** So they decided to have a feast. The guests at the feast included the 52 remaining pilgrims and about 90 Indians. One of the historical conflicts is about whether the Indians were actually invited or whether they just showed up when they heard all of gun shots from the Pilgrim men who were out trying to shoot some food for the feast.

The celebration lasted for three days. While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, it is believed that the meal included fowl (possibly turkey, duck and swan), venison, corn, pumpkins, squash and freshly caught seafood such as lobster, eel, crab and cod.

Because the Pilgrims had neither an oven or any sugar, the meal probably did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts.

For more about the history of the first Thanksgiving, see links below.

And for a little pre-holiday laugh, here are the:

Top Ten Reasons our Family Get-Together will be like the First Thanksgiving. 


10) Travelers will come from miles around to join in the feast. There will be conflicting stories about which ones of us were actually invited.

9) Like Samoset, the first question that many of the visitors will ask is “Do you have beer?”

8) The Men-folk will spend the week before the feast hunting for meat to put on the table. (Some of our men have been up at “hunt camp” since deer season opened.)

7) Venison will be included as part of the three day feast.

6) We will include freshly picked, home-grown vegetables in our Thanksgiving dinner.

5) The celebration will last long into the night and celebrants will sit around a fire.

4) The first Thanksgiving feast lasted for three days. We will eat leftovers and continue celebrating for three days.

3) “Between meals, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag (Indian Tribe) played games. The Wampanoag might have taught the English the Pin Game, where a player tried to toss a small ring onto a pin.” *** We will play a similar game, which we call horse shoes.

2) “Besides sports, there was also singing and dancing among both the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims."*** Many times, at least one of the wild men or women at our gathering breaks into song or dance.

And the number one reason that our Thanksgiving Celebration will be like the original Thanksgiving?

1) With all of the challenges we have faced this year, we still have much to celebrate and we will definitely, definitely remember to give thanks

* Squanto’s Garden

**The Pilgrim’s and America’s First Thanksgiving

*** The First Thanksgiving- slideshow

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Will Prince William & Kate Middleton follow in the royal organic footsteps?

So the big news of the last couple of days, of course, is that Prince William finally officially proposed to his beautiful girlfriend Kate Middleton. As an eco-minded gardener, my first thoughts aren't of the glamorous nuptials themselves, but whether the couple will follow in the royal footsteps and be organic gardeners.

If you aren't into the "green scene", you may not know that William's father, Prince Charles, has been an organic gardener since before William was born.

When he bought the 1000 acre Highgrove estate in 1980, The Prince was adamant that it should be an entirely organic garden and farm and began setting out to make it so.

The gardens have been developed to be as self-sufficient as possible with all green waste recycled for use in the gardens as mulching material or as compost. Natural predators are encouraged for pest control and only natural fertilizers are used. His Royal Highness desperately wanted to protect and enhance the native flora and fauna which have been in serious decline due to modern farming methods.

Quotes from an interview with Prince Charles explain his deep love and commitment to the environment:

'Even in the 1960s, when I was a teenager, I hated what was going on - the endless tearing up and pulling down of all the wild places, many of which had taken hundreds of years to grow and were being destroyed in one day.

'It takes forever to recreate lost habitats. And I also felt the chemical approach to farming and gardening was not something that could ever last. 

'To me, it was just not sustainable in the long run. We have to rediscover the vital importance of working with nature.'

It is said that the Prince of Wales and Camilla even spent much of their honeymoon personally installing the plants they had received as wedding gifts. For passionnate gardeners like the royal couple, this constitutes fun.

Prince Charle's book, The Elements of Organic Gardening , touts many of the principles that we all could stand to incorporate into our gardens: working with Mother Nature, using natural predators for pests, hand pulling weeds, and conserving water. His new book and documentary, called Harmony, prove that his love for nature and the environment go much deepen then his passion for gardening.

"I believe that true 'sustainability' depends fundamentally upon us shifting our perception and widening our focus, so that we understand, again, that we have a sacred duty of stewardship of the natural order of things," said Prince Charles in a statement last year. "In some of our actions we now behave as if we were 'masters of nature' and, in others, as mere bystanders. If we could rediscover that sense of harmony; that sense of being a part of, rather than apart from nature, we would perhaps be less likely to see the world as some sort of gigantic production system, capable of ever-increasing outputs for our benefit – at no cost."

But will young Prince William and the lovely Kate be spending their honeymoon in the garden? Probably not. But I can personally attest to the fact that it is difficult to NOT inherit a love of nature and the environment from a parent that feels it as strongly as Prince Charles. So I wouldn't be surprised if someday, the beautiful young Kate and William start organic gardens of their own.

Another "green" activity for Black Friday

Yesterday, I wrote a post called Turn Black Friday Green, which suggested that purchasing locally grown Christmas trees is a great activity for Black Friday.

Another popular activity that is often carried out on Black Friday is hanging up holiday lights and decorations. Perhaps it is just an excuse to escape the hectic after Thanksgiving shopping, but many men will be pulling out the ladders and untangling strings of lights to adorn their homes for the season.

This is a perfect time for another "green" outdoor activity - cleaning the rain gutters.

Why is keeping rain gutters clean important to the environment? Because it helps to prevent non-point source pollution, one of the country's leading causes of water pollution.

During a rainstorm, gutters route runoff from a very large surface—a home’s roof—to where it can drain away from the house. Raingutters and downspouts allow us to direct that rain runoff where we want it -- to rain barrels, gardens, or permeable surfaces that allow the water to soak into and remain on our property. If we don't keep our gutters clean, water can overflow into the street, adding to polluted waterways and even flooding.

If you are going to have the ladder out for the "hanging of the lights", why not take the opportunity to clean your gutters.

1) When cleaning out your gutters, wear heavy gloves to protect your hands since gutters often have sharp metal edges or screws.

2) If you have rain barrels, you may want to disconnect them from the downspouts before you begin cleaning.

3) Choose a sturdy ladder, and place it on a firm, level base.

4) Scoop out loose debris using a small garden trowel or your gloved hands.

5) After removing all of the loose debris from the gutters, use a hose to wash the remaining debris and any clogs through the downspouts.

Extra green hint! Leaves that are removed from your gutters can be added to your compost!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Choose a locally grown Christmas Tree

What would Christmas be without the tree? Through all the hustle and bustle and commercialism of the holiday season, there is still something almost magical about turning off the lights in the house and plugging in a newly decorated Christmas tree for the first time.

Most people would be hard pressed to explain why this simple act of bringing a tree indoors and covering it with decorations and lights can evoke such a sentimental response or why it is so important to their holiday celebration. And yet, for many people, the tradition of picking out the Christmas tree is one of the favorite activities that helps to turn Black Friday into Green Christmas Fun.

For some, Christmas tree shopping takes place in a department store parking lot or an empty field where hundreds of trees lie bundled and stacked, flattened from their long trip from another state. The tree is just another purchase picked up along with the groceries and dry-cleaning.

But for those who want to squeeze a little more sentiment into their holidays, the tradition of picking out the family tree begins on the farm – the Christmas tree farm, that is.

Environmental benefits of Real Christmas Trees:

While they're growing, Real Christmas Trees support life by absorbing carbon dioxide and other gases and emitting fresh oxygen. 

The farms that grow Christmas Trees stabilize soil, protect water supplies and provide refuge for wildlife while creating scenic green belts. Often, Christmas Trees are grown on soil that doesn't support other crops. 

Real Christmas Trees Are Renewable (and recyclable). 

Real Christmas Trees are grown on farms just like any other crop. To ensure a constant supply, Christmas Tree growers plant one to three new seedlings for every tree they harvest. 

On the other hand, artificial trees are a petroleum-based product manufactured primarily in Chinese factories. The average family uses an artificial tree for only six to nine years before throwing it away, where it will remain in a landfill for centuries after disposal.

Visiting a choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm is like a trip back in time when families would trek to the woods to cut down their own growing tree. At a Christmas tree farm, the feeling is very much the same. Children can run and play among rows and rows of beautifully shaped living trees to help choose the one that will best fit into their family’s holiday plans. The whole experience is a fun family adventure that adds a little bit more excitement to the holiday plans.

Besides the pleasure of the experience itself, choosing a tree from a local choose-and-cut tree farm has several other advantages. For one, the trees are much fresher than a tree that is cut in another state and trucked to the area. This means the tree will last longer, lose fewer needles and be less of a fire hazard.

Being able to see the shape of the tree in its true standing position is another advantage to buying from a tree farm rather than buying a tied or wrapped cut tree.

Purchasing a locally grown DC area tree means less fuel is used in transportation. It also supports the farmers of the area and boosts local economy.

Where to find locally grown Christmas Trees:

Butler’s Orchard- 22200 Davis Mill Road • Germantown MD 20876 • Telephone – 301-972-3299 Beginning the day after Thanksgiving. Choose and Cut your own Christmas Tree from acres of carefully pruned Douglas Fir, Canaan Fir, and White Pine! 5' tall and up.  

Gaver Farm- 5501 Detrick Road, Mt. Airy, MD – 301-865-3515 Choose and Cut your own and Pre-Cut selection from over 50 acres of beautifully shaped trees!  

Homestead Farms- 15604 Sugarland Road, Poolesville, Maryland 20837 Cut your own Christmas tree! Saws provided.  

Naughty Pine Nursery - 18200 Elmer School Road, Dickerson, MD - 301-785-8622 Large selection of Christmas Trees

Middleburg Christmas Tree Farm- Route 630 (Unison Road) and Christmas Tree Lane, Middleburg, Virginia. (540) 554-8625

Snickers Gap Christmas Tree Farm - 34350 Williams Gap Road, Round Hill, VA 20141 - (540) 554-8323 Now in their 30th year, they are a family owned choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm located near Bluemont, Virginia.

Ticonderoga Farms- 26469 Ticonderoga Road , Chantilly, Virginia ph: 703.327.4424 Beautiful selection and many other activities to add to the fun

For more information, visit: National Christmas Tree Association Quick Facts

Maryland Christmas Tree Association
And these lists from the Christmas Tree Farm Network:
Maryland Christmas Tree Farms
Virginia Christmas Tree Farms

National Christmas Tree Association Members in Maryland
National Christmas Tree Association Members in Virginia

For a more complete list, visit the article on dc.about.com: Christmas Tree Farms in Maryland and Virginia

Water, Trees & Gardens in the DC Area Program

How do gardeners think about water in the DC Area and what is the role of “Green Spaces” in managing water quality and quantity? These are the questions that will be discussed at the weekly DC Area Water Issues Program (DCAWIP) on Thursday, November 18, 2010.

This program will feature speakers on the ties between water, trees, and gardens, followed by a reception and GARDENING PROGRAMS FAIR.

UDC’s own Master Gardener Program Coordinator Sandy Farber Bandier will provide a brief overview of the Master Gardener Program, and share “a gardener’s perspective” on water issues in the DC area, based on her personal experiences and questions she receives from area residents. The main speakers for this week’s seminar will be Marcelo Lopez of Wiles Mensch Corporation, low-impact design expert and designer for Casey Trees’ new Brookland headquarters, and Mark Buscaino, Executive Director of Casey Trees, who will discuss Casey Trees’ work with the DC Department of the Environment on tree planting to address the city’s stormwater issues, as well as other water-related benefits from low impact design and green space.

During the Reception, area gardening programs will provide representatives to discuss their programs and display materials, sign up volunteers, and promote their programs. Information will also be available on the many programs of the new UDC College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES), including research, outreach, and extension.

As always, the DC Area Water Issues Program Weekly Seminars are FREE and OPEN to all students, faculty, water managers and other members of the "DC Area Water Community."

The program will be held at UDC-Van Ness , Building #41, Room A-03, 4200 Connecticut Avenue NW , Washington DC

4:00-5:30 pm Seminar and Dialogue
5:30-6:30 Gardening and Agriculture Program Fair and Reception  

For more information, contact Dr. Tolessa Deksissa, CAUSES/UDC, at 202-274-5273 or 
tdeksissa@udc.edu or Dr. Cat Shrier at 202-344-7894 or cat@watercatconsulting.com

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Creative ways with weeds - Using weeds to create dyes

I was poking around on the internet this morning and found another great gardening blog that I wanted to share. It is called Green Gardening with Ann Lovejoy and is written in Bainbridge Island, WA.

Ann's post entitled Creative Ways with Weeds points out another wonderul way to recycle garden "waste". Ann uses "weeds" to make dyes for her knitting projects.

Here is an excerpt from this wonderful post:

I also spin yarns for use in many projects, and one of my great pleasures is to dye yarn and fabric with natural dyes. I find it utterly fascinating to experiment with natural dyes, turning plain wool into lovely, delicate shades of green and gold, rust and pale orange, gold and soft yellow.

Putting Noxious Weeds To Work 

What does this have to do with morning glory? Besides adding great tilth to my compost, it makes a marvelous dye for protein fibers like wool and silk. Without any color fixer (mordant), natural yarn simmered in a morning glory infusion will turn a soft yellow. With alum as a mordant, the yarn will be a clear yellow. Add a touch of chrome and you’ll get a lively golden yellow. Copper makes the dye greener, while iron deepens it to a rich olive green. 

Many of my dye plants of choice are noxious weeds; not just morning glory, but ivy, Scotch broom, Canadian thistle, horsetail, and many more. It is amazingly satisfying to free a tree from its strangle hold, then cook up a big batch of the removed ivy. It smells quite sweet, rather like asparagus when cooking, and the resulting broth makes a gentle green yarn that is really beautiful. Read More

After finding that article, I spent quite a bit of time reading Ann's other posts. Her writing style is beautiful and personal and reading her posts made me feel like I was having a conversation with a new gardening friend. Here are some more great posts of hers that I think you will enjoy:

Getting the Garden Ready for Winter
Easy Care Garden Tips for Fall
What a Wonderful Day! - Adventures in mushroom hunting

Landscape Hints from an Eco-Cool Remodel Tool

I found this really cool....I mean ECO-Cool...Remodel Tool through an article on Treehugger.com.

The Eco-Cool Remodel Tool is one of several green tools on the website for King County, Washington's Solid Waste Division's website.

This neat web-based Tool lets you select an area of a model green home to reveal ideas and tips for environmentally-friendly renovations.

Here are some of the tips listed when you select the landscape area of the drawing (I have provided some links to local, related articles):

Patios, walkways and paths
•Use permeable materials for patios, walkways and paths such as clay brick, rock or concrete pavers, broken concrete, recycled glass pavers, crushed rock, wood chips, nutshells, and tumbled recycled glass to help minimize runoff and flooding. Impermeable (non-porous) surfaces such as concrete patios and paths do not allow rainwater to naturally percolate into the soil.

Designing your landscape to match its conditions, such as climate, shade and moisture levels will save you money and time, and will look natural and beautiful. Design your landscape so it requires minimal water and maintenance:

•Select native plant species. They are adapted to your area, many are drought-tolerant, and most do not need additional fertilizer.
•Certify your backyard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. Create a backyard habitat that will attract beautiful songbirds, butterflies, frogs, and other interesting wildlife for viewing from your very own window.
•Install water-wise or drought-resistant plants.
•Use pest- and disease-resistant plant varieties.
•Put the right plant in the right place (e.g. installing shade plants in the shade, not the sun)
•Use mulch to protect plants and conserve water.
•If your house is on top of a hill or other breezy location, plant trees or shrubs to block the prevailing wind. This will help reduce cold air infiltration.
Minimize the amount of lawn in your yard.

Irrigation systems
•Automatic sprinkler systems waste about 30 percent of the water they deliver. It is possible to design a landscape that minimizes the need for regular supplemental watering once the landscape is established.

Soaker hoses and drip irrigation are good alternatives to permanent in-ground irrigation systems. Soaker hoses are made from recycled plastic and are inexpensive. Drip irrigation systems apply water directly to the soil through tiny emitters so they allow for more precise watering to match the needs of specific plant types.

◦If you choose to install a permanent in-ground irrigation system, look for piping made from polyethylene, as opposed to PVC.
•Install a weather-based irrigation controller that automatically adjusts the watering schedule according to the weather.
•If your garden hose leaks at the spigot threads, try to install a rubber, round-edged washer instead of a flat-edged washer.

Rainwater harvest
You can minimize potable water use by storing roof rainwater for later use in the yard. Whichever system(s) you choose, you will be helping to reuse water that would normally go to waste in a storm drain. First, reduce your water consumption, then invest in harvesting systems.

•Water can be stored in rain barrels, cisterns or rain gardens.
•Cisterns are large tanks that can store hundreds to thousands of gallons of water, enough to significantly reduce or eliminate the need to use municipal water for landscape purposes.
•You can also put roof water directly to use in your yard with a rain garden. Rain gardens feature plants that thrive in wet conditions coupled with soils that allow safe ground percolations. Rain gardens must be carefully designed and located to avoid flooding.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Today is America Recycles Day - Take the Pledge

My husband and I are the kind of people who have a hard time throwing anything away. There comes a point, however, when it makes more sense to just toss something than to keep on re-using it. I mean, you eventually realize that the water you are using rinsing out old ziploc bags might just be a little more valuable than the bag itself.

As gardeners, a lot of great things can be recycled in your own garden or with your gardening friends. Seedlings, cuttings, seeds, thinned out plants and used pots are welcome by other gardeners. Ask your friends or post a message on one of the many seed/plant swap forums on the internet. The Northern Virginia Gardeners have a site for swapping and there are others available through Yahoo groups. And here's a great post by Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington Gardener Magazine, about seed swapping.

Of course, almost any type of plant material, such as leaves, mowed grass or plant trimmings can be added to a compost pile. Large limbs and tree trunks can be saved for burning in firepits or fireplaces.

The truth is, almost any item, inside or outside the home, can be recycled. To find the right place to recycle, use the listings on Earth911.com. Just input the item and your zip code and Earth911 returns a list of the closest recycling centers.

Now that you've made the decision to do you part, why not take the America Recycles Day Pledge

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Swap seeds for more variety in your garden

I'm excited to have Kathy Jentz, editor and publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine, as a guest blogger today. Kathy's article about collecting seeds for swapping, is a favorite topic of mine. Read on and enjoy!!


Get Free Plants to Grow and Share by Seed Saving

By Kathy Jentz

Autumn is harvest time in the garden and not just for your fruits vegetables. It is also time to start collecting your plant’s seeds. Many of your annual and perennial flowers are setting seed-heads and are about to burst open. Catch some of them before they do and you’ve got a head start on your garden for next year. Why go to the bother of collecting all those tiny seeds? The first reason is thriftiness. No need for anything in your garden to go to waste. Compost, recycle, and re-use. The second reason is frugality. Why buy new plants every year when you can grow your own for free? Even further, why buy unproven plants or seeds when you know the ones you are collecting from did well and obviously flourished in your yard.

Another reason to collect seeds is to ensure the propagation of heirloom varieties and rare, native plants that are not available through other means. Commercial growers and catalogs will often only carry the most popular plants and seeds. By collecting seeds from particular flowers and edibles, you are safe-guarding the future of these species. You are guaranteeing we will have a wide variety of genetic diversity in our future and not just the current “top growers.”

The final reason to collect seeds is to trade them. You may have 100s of Cleome seeds and another gardener has 100s of Poppy seeds. Why not trade a few hundred with each other? Again, you are getting new plants for free or close to it. Seed trading is a whole world unto itself. There are online groups, pen pal lists, and clubs for seed swapping.

Washington Gardener Seed Swap, January 29, 2011

This January, DC area gardeners will have the opportunity to meet up and swap seeds in person. Washington Gardener magazine is holdings its 6th Annual Seed Exchange on Saturday, January 29, 2011 from 12:30 – 4:00 p.m. at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD. The Seed Exchange will include seed swapping, door prizes, planting tips, and gardening workshops by local garden experts. Details will be online soon at www.WashingtonGardener.com

Seed collecting is easy. Just wait until the end of the growing season when your current flowers form seedpods. Check on them every few days. They are ready when the pods are dry, brittle, and just ready to open. Don’t wait too late or they’ll break open on their own and cast their seeds to the wind. Pick a day with little breeze and no rain. Go out in mid-morning, after the sun has dried out the air and dewdrops from the leaves. Take a piece of paper and put it under the seed heads then shake them gently. Be sure the seeds are thoroughly dry before you put them in tightly closed jars or zipper-closed baggies. Label them right away and store them in a cool, dark, and dry place.

That last step is the most important. Label them with the date and variety. Be specific as possible. Next spring you’ll be very glad you did – as many seeds look alike. The date is important as you will want to use up your seeds the next growing season or two.

A side note on seed collecting: not all plants can be propagated from seed. Many plants that you buy are hybrids or sterile. If you have hybrid flowers and vegetables, they may produce seeds. However, the seeds will often not produce offspring that is “true” to the parent plants. In other words, the seeds from hybrids are often a different variety than the plant you originally purchased and they are often inferior in quality.

A simple way to get started is to collect seeds from your common annual flowers that open-pollinate: zinnias, marigolds, forget-me-nots, four-o-clocks, cosmos, cleome, and sunflowers. Then, as your gardening skills grow, move on to perennials and biennials.

So take a few minutes this harvest season to collect those plant seeds and you’ll be all set next spring for a bountiful crop of new blooms.

** Kathy is saving seeds this weekend from her hollyhocks which came to her garden from her grandmother’s seed collecting. Kathy Jentz is Editor of Washington Gardener Magazine, the only gardening publication published specifically for the local metro area — zones 6-7 — Washington DC and its suburbs. You can follow Washington Gardener on Twitter or follow their blog or Facebook page.

Abundant acorns a harbinger of good things to come?

"Every mighty oak started out as a nut that decided he wanted to stand for something."

I was just walking through our woods and got a pretty good conk on the head. No, it wasn't a dead branch falling on my head (thank goodness!). It was an acorn. I took it as a sign of great times ahead.

If you have oak trees, or live near oak trees, you probably have noticed the unusual abundance of acorns this year. We've lived on our property for ten years and we have NEVER seen anything like the record-breaking crop of acorns. They carpet the ground. They stain our driveway. They drop like rain from the sky. And they even wake us at night when they clank against the rain gutters or other metal fixtures outside. I love it, just because I love almost everything to do with nature. And oaks are some of my favorite trees.

Apparently, this bumper crop of acorns is occurring in many parts of the country, or at least all up and down the east coast. I found articles online from Florida to Pennsylvania talking about the phenomenon, what might cause it and what it might mean.

An article on TBD.com said that :

"... the number of acorns falling on car hoods and driveways is at an all-time high in Allegany County, MD, which is located in the far western Maryland panhandle. There are an average of 25.65 acorns per oak branch. How is this fact known? Well, the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service keeps track of acorns on branches; this has been done every year since the 1970s."

The article went on to say " that lack of a major frost in the spring coupled with a dry summer helped the acorn crop breed furiously this year." 

Another article on Accuweather.com, said that the reason for a bumper crop of acorns, also known as a "mast year" may or may not have a tie to weather.

"Dr. Marc Abrams, a professor of forestry at Penn State, said mast years occur when nut-producing trees such as a oaks "produce an overabundance of nuts in a particular year, maybe five or 10 times more than an average year." 

However, Abrams described the mast year phenomenon as "one of the amazing mysteries in nature that we still do not have a handle on." 

Mast years happen irregularly, which Abrams said can make it challenging for scientists to understand what causes a mast year. 

According to Abrams, a mast year can occur twice in a row or they might be several years in between. 

"There's no way to predict it," he said."

An article on UPI.com said that the bumper crop of acorns will be the heaviest since 2003 and attributes the phenomenon to heavy rainfall early this year followed by a drier-than-normal spring.

But another article from 2006 said that a man had to take two pickup trucks full of acorns to the landfill!!

Interestingly enough, some experts think that the abundance of acorns will make deer hunting a challenge this year, since this year's deer are spoiled by a huge diet of acorns and will not have to come out of the woods in search of food.

Several articles stated that an old wife's tale says that an abundance of acorns also predicts a cold harsh winter. Other's refuted that legend.

But I figure if I'm going to go along with any superstition, I'll pick a more positive one.

There are many legends and symbols associated with acorns. Some of the more familiar are that acorns symbolize life, fertility, creativity, prosperity, immortality, patience, strength and good luck. It is believed that placing an acorn on every windowsill will protect the house from lightning and carrying an acorn in your pocket or purse will prevent aging. {I might not believe that one, but I'm putting a handful in my purse anyway!}

This article on NorwichBulletin.com had all sorts of fun facts:

Age-old traditions from the British Isles guarantee the carrier of an acorn in the pocket or the wearer of the symbol on their person long life, good luck, immortality, youth, ease of pain, protection from storms, from getting lost and from evil intent. Is it any wonder the motif has found it's way into jewelry design from ancient times through today?

Legend tells us that burying an acorn in the dark of the moon ensures you will receive money in the near future, linking acorn symbology with material prosperity. Why would anyone be out on a dark night gathering acorns? The belief is that acorns gathered at night are the strongest bringers of fertility.

And someone who is selling acorn jewely on etsy.com says this about oaks and acorns:

Oak trees, their leaves, and their seeds (acorns) symbolize life, strength, endurance, immortality, power, honor and loyalty. Because acorns appear only on adult trees they're also a symbol of patience and fertility. Adding to the oak's mystique is the fact that they are struck by lightening more than any other type of tree. The ancient Celts and Norse believed this was because of the immense spiritual energy within these trees. Druids would swallow acorns, believing it would give them the power of prophesy. Acorns have been carried for protection and as good luck charms by many cultures, bestowing upon the bearer longevity, wisdom, youthfulness, prosperity, spiritual growth, and stability and strength in their life.

I don't have any problem with the acorns so I haven't tried to figure out how to get rid of them. In fact, we have been collecting them and just keeping jars of them around the house because we think they are pretty.....and just in case any of the legends for luck, prosperity and long life are true.

If you have a creative streak, I also found several sites that have crafts to make out of acorns.

How to make an acorn wreath
Acorn Crafts on Matha Stewart.com

For me, I'm going to assume that they mean something good. And every time I crunch, crunch, crunch them while walking through my yard or have one conk me on the head while I take a walk, I'm going to smile, look at all of the beautiful trees in our forest and think about all of the great things I have going on in my life right now. And then I'm going to spend some time thinking about how great NEXT year is going to be with all of the health, prosperity, creativity and good luck that will be coming our way.

Why not pick up a few acorns for yourself and keep them around to remind you of YOUR hopes and dreams? They might be just around the corner, ready to take root and start growing!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Landscaping for Pollinators - Nov. 17th

Who cares about pollinators? We all should! Today's pollinators face many threats, including habitat loss and degradation and fragmentation of the landscape. As native vegetation is replaced by roadways, lawns, crops and non-native gardens, pollinators lose the food and nesting sites necessary for their survival. The good news is that we, the gardeners, can help.

Learn how to bring bees, butterflies and moths back into your landscape by choosing pollinator friendly plants and landscaping techniques that will provide the food and shelter they need. Paula Jean Hallberg, a Montgomery County Master Gardener and WV Master Naturalist will use content and materials provided by Connie Schmotzer, for the Penn State Master Gardeners, using a grant from Haagen Dazs. Valuable links and ample time for Q & A will be included.

Did you know that bees, butterflies, moths, and other pollinators are responsible for 1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat?! We need to help them survive! This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments & door prizes! Questions? Call Carole: 301.442.2023

Landscaping For Pollinators
Takoma Horticultural Club Meeting
November 17, 7:30 pm
Takoma Park Community Center
7500 Maple Ave., next to the Library

Information provided by Kathy Jentz, editor/publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine

You might also enjoy reading: The best thing you'll ever eat, thanks to local honeybees

Gwyneth Paltrow ...singing about organic gardening?

Did you catch Gwyneth Paltrow's song on the Country Music Awards? I meant to listen to it, but I was channel surfing (as usual) and must have ended up somewhere else during her song.

In any case, I just listened to it online and it made me think of....gardening. I know, a lot of things make me think about gardening. But I had just read this quote in a post on Mother Nature Network that indicated that Paltrow longs for a "simpler" life on a large organic farm:

"I would love it," enthuses Paltrow of rustic living. "My dream is to have land somewhere outside of Nashville and have a big organic farm outside of the city."

And then I listened to her song:

 Now, I know she isn't REALLY singing about gardening. But some of the lyrics of "Country Strong" could very well fit in with the challenges of gardening in harsh climates....and especially, organic gardening.

‘cause I’m Country Strong, hard to break
Like the ground, I grew up on
You may fool me, and I’ll fall
But I won’t stay down long
‘cause I’m Country Strong 

I have weathered, colder winters
And longer summers, without a drop of rain
Push me in a corner and I’ll come out fightin’
I may lose but I’ll always keep my face

I think many people assume that owning a farm, especially an organic farm, is opting for a simpler lifestyle when, in reality, the challenges of doing things naturally (organically) often add a few extra steps to the process.

In any case, I congratulation Paltrow on her singing and on her dreams. And the next time you are working in your organic garden, facing the challenges of "hard ground, cold winters and long summers without rain"....plug in your iPod and think of Paltrow....and come back strong!

Feeding the Birds makes their hearts sing!

I recently wrote a post about the importance of creating habitats for backyard birds during the fall months. Fall and spring are the months that you might see a lot more variety in the birds that visit your yard and garden as they migrate through to their winter and summer nesting places.

If you want to read a firsthand account of the pleasures of gardening for wildlife, there is a great one on Kathy Van Mullekom's Diggin' In Column.

It's a great article about the wonderful wildlife habitat that Tom and Gail Claydon have created on their Newport News property.

Here's the full article: Backyard Garden Offers Buffet for the Birds

Friday, November 12, 2010

City Blossom's Bulb Bash - November 20th

We are right at the very end of the planting season and City Blossoms wants to squeeze in one more celebration of our communities and gardens with another Bulb Bash! Come on out to Marion Street Intergenerational Garden at 1519 Marion St NW on Saturday, November 20th from 12-3. There will be a massive bulb planting, tasty potluck, warm drinks to sip, recipe demos, games and face painting for all ages. Our last Bulb Bash was a real hit so don't miss this one! If you would like to attend and bring a potluck dish please rsvp to Lola Bloom at lola@cityblossoms.org or call 202.870.8158

City Blossoms is a non-profit organization working out of the Washington D.C. and Baltimore areas to create urban gardening experiences and enrich the lives of children and their communities. For more information, visit their website: cityblossoms.org

Holiday Fun to get you glowing

I didn't really realize how CLOSE the holidays are until I walked into one of my favorite hardware stores yesterday and saw that most of the gardening section had been replaced with holiday decorations.

If you are looking for some great events and activities to take up some of the time that you were spending in the garden, here are a few great lists I found:

Eileen Weklar, the DC Feng Shui Home & Garden Examiner, lists some great upcoming activities for gardeners presented by Merrifield Garden Centers.

A Holiday Ladies Night, Christmas Floral Design workshop, and How to Create a Festive Container Garden are all on the agenda at various Merrifield Garden Center locations.

For more details, hop on over to Eileen's Examiner article about Holiday Seminars.

Over on her Diggin' In blog, Kathy Van Mullekomlists upcoming holiday events as well as nature programs, garden tours, etc. Activities include the Million Bulb Walk, a Camellia show & sale, and a Snow Garden show. You can get more information on these events by visiting her blog.

There is a great list of upcoming holiday events in Virginia over on Benzinga.com. Read the article on light shows and more on their site.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

8 Ways to Say "Thank You" to our Veterans, Memorial Day and Every Day

I grew up in the 70's, back in the days of tie-dye and hemp clothing and peace signs. It's funny to me now that so many of those things have come back into vogue. I was really too young to be a "hippie", but I did dress the part. I never attended a "sit-in" or a peace rally but I vehemently opposed the idea of war, in all of its forms. I held onto that belief throughout my life ... up until September 11, 2001.

That date, of course, changed all of us. I still can't bring myself to say that I think war is the answer to anything, but I do understand the necessity of it now. And I do have a whole new level of respect, appreciation and admiration for the men and women who serve to protect our country, as well as the families who love them.

One very positive change that has occurred in our country since my childhood is the respect that we show our military. When soldiers returned from Vietnam, they were sometimes met with icy stares, verbal abuse and even spit upon. Now, it is not unusual to see members of the military receiving applause or pats on the back as they walk through a crowded airport. I know that I always feel a tremendous rush of feelings when I see a man or woman in uniform. It's a combination of respect and admiration mixed with a gut-wrenching awareness of how I would feel if that was my son or daughter, brother or friend.

Whether it is Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, or no special day at all, here are some suggested ways to Thank a Vet:

1) Say thank you - If you know a veteran, or the family of a veteran, give them a call or send an email and tell them that you appreciate what they have done, or are doing, for our country.
2) Listen- If they want to talk about their service, let them. I don't care if you have heard your father's or grandfather's war stories before. Ask them to tell you about them again. And listen this time!
3) Send some love - Even if you don't know any veterans, personally, it is still easy to express your thanks. Get out your phone book and find the closet VA hospital or nursing home and send a big, patriotic bouquet of flowers or a colorful collection of cookies. Add a note explaining that they are for the resident veterans, with your heartfelt thanks for their service.
4) Attend a parade - If there is a parade close by, go to it. Take your kids, buy them some flags to wave, and really hoot and holler at the members of the military, young and old, who are marching in the parade.
5) Visit a Memorial Services to pay your respects - In you can't find a parade, there are plenty of memorials that you can visit to pay your respects.
6) Fly a flag - Flying the American Flag is a great way to show pride and respect for our country. If you don't have a flagpole, you can purchase small brackets that easily fit on the front of your home or your mailbox.
7) Give time or money to veteran's groups - It's a tough year for everyone and you may not be able to afford to make cash donations to as many charities as you would like. But many groups will benefit from your time as much as they would from your cash donations. One of our favorite organizations is Home for Our Troops (HFOT), a non-profit organization that builds specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans. HFOT is currently looking for volunteers to work on several projects in Maryland and Virginia.
8 ) Plant a tree in memory of a veteran - Planting a tree is always a great way to honor someone and will give you a permanent place to return to year after year to spend time and appreciate your freedom.

By the way, if you are wondering what the dedication and sacrifices of our veterans has to do with a gardening blog, the answer is "everything".

Gardeners might enjoy reading: Gardens provide peace of mind to soldiers at war

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Plant some trees, grow new friendships

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now. 
~Chinese Proverb

I remember, when I was a teenager, asking my grandmother how to meet nice men. She gave me some of the best I ever received. "If you want to meet someone that is right for you," Grandma said, " just keep doing the things you love to do and believe in. It lets you rub shoulders with other people with the same goals and ideals."

So if you are looking for a place to meet other eco-conscious people in the DC area, why not come out on Sunday, November 14th from 9am - noon and help plant trees along the Patuxent River shoreline to help reduce erosion?

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, with the help of volunteers, will plant 57 trees that were purchased with a grant from the Howard Forestry Board.

The trees -- 30 river birch and 27 black willows -- will be planted along the river at Scott’s Cove Recreation Area. WSSC is working with volunteers from the University of Maryland and Howard County Community College.

Howard County Forestry Board provided a $1,500 grant to cover the cost of the trees bought from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at a reduced cost through their Treemendous Tree Program.

Those who are interested in helping WSSC to plant these trees can call 301-206-8233. Interested volunteers can meet WSSC at the parking lot near 10973 Harding Road, Laurel at 9 a.m. to help plant the trees. WSSC is a steward of the environment and the Patuxent tree planting is part of WSSC’s continuing effort to protect the Patuxent watershed.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Can I put *bleep* in my compost heap? Or, what to doo with poo

My husband and I live in a pretty unique area. Our own property is heavily wooded, so various species of wildlife wanders through. Some of our neighbors, however, have different types of animals. Some have dogs and cats and others have horses, goats, pigs, chickens and creatures typical of rural living. Sometimes these animals get loose and roam free, so we often find various animal droppings in the yard. In other words, sh*t happens.

There was a time when I would have thought that sh*t was a questionable word, but apparently it’s not. There is a popular book and TV show with the word in the title. It seems that when you add the asterisk, it changes the pronunciation of the word to “bleep”, which of course, is a perfectly acceptable word. But in the interest of the general reading public, I’ll go ahead and keep the “bleep”.

I’m not really crazy about all of the “bleep” we find in our yard. We have found everything from horse to goat “bleep” with an occasional pile which may be sheep “bleep”. As I said, the neighbor’s fences are often in disrepair and it is not unusual for a horse or other large animal to wander down the street.

I’m usually not looking down when I walk through my lawn, especially when I just wake from sleep, so I sometimes find myself toe deep in “bleep”. I have quite a bit of tolerance for wildlife “bleep”, since I am a nature lover. But when domesticate pets or rural livestock finds its way into our yard and leaves a heap of “bleep”, I sometime want to weep.

The question is, should I sweep the “bleep” and return it to the creep that allowed their animal to roam and leave the heap?

After all, we know that heaps of “bleep” can cause toxic substances to seep into our storm drains, polluting water bodies such as streams, rivers, bays, creeks and even the lovely Chesapeake.

Perhaps I should keep the “bleep”, adding the heap to make my compost pile complete. Are there benefits to reap from “bleep?” I decided to ask my “peeps”.

I was told that the answer to this question depends on two things: 1) What kind of animal created the heap and 2) what kind of foods that the animal eats.

Some sources say that waste from “barnyard” animals has benefits to reap, but not the poo from dogs and cats and other pets we keep. Others say that manure from plant eaters (herbivores), such as horses, cows, and sheep, is okay but not omnivores or carnivores – animals that eat meat.

Since many barnyard animals, including pigs, goats and chickens, sometimes eat meat, I believe that the herbivore/omnivore definition is a little more complete.

But what about wildlife poo? Perhaps I should consult a zoo!

Some zoos have found new ways to conquer their mountainous piles of poo. Miami Metrozoo and Woodland Park Zoo are making compost from their ever-present doo. The Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York, is looking into ways to use elephant doo to power their entire zoo! But all of these sources seem to focus on the leaf-eating, herbivorous poo.

So what does all of this mean for me and you? Unless you are a scatologist – a scientist that is educated in various types of doo, it might be best to bid the unknown piles of poo adieu – carefully shoveling it into a plastic bag or two, and leaving it for the garbage crew. Placing the bag on your neighbors porch and running away, of course, is considered quite taboo.

For more of the scoop on what to do with piles of poop:

The Do’s and Don’ts of Composting Pet Poo – This post is on an EXCELLENT website called Confessions of a Composter!!
Composting: Do the Rot Thing (pdf file)
Guide to Composting
Can I Compost It?
Backyard Composting – It’s Only Natural (pdf file)
The Scoop on Poop – Safe Pest Waste Disposal (pdf file)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Snap some pics - start your glog

Quick! Before the first frost has turned your garden into a mushy mess, run out and snap some photos so that you can work on your "glog" during the dreary days of fall and winter weather.

What's a glog? A glog is a Garden Log of your garden, including all of your planting activities, photos, and comments to share with other gardeners online.

I'm a firm believer in keeping garden journals. I think they are a great way to figure out what works....and what doesn't in a garden. And what could be better than a site that allows you to share YOUR garden journal with others who have similar site conditions?

Thanks to Your Garden Show, a cool new website with roots in the DC and Virginia area, you can.

Virginia gardener Brennan Dunn, Founder of We Are Titans, the Norfolk, VA website design and development company that helped created Your Garden Show, explained a little bit about the project.

"Tom and Lisa Finerty, the founders of Your Garden Show (YGS), and I started working almost a year ago to plan out the development of a social network for gardeners," Brennan said. "They wanted to be able to allow anyone to easily publish and track their gardens, and allow for gardeners to show off their gardening projects to their family, friends and the rest of the world." 

"My Virginia-based team and I built and maintain the website, and YGS is constantly developing new features that help further connect gardeners. In the coming weeks, we'll be releasing a new version that's going to make sharing, showcasing and talking with other gardeners even easier, and we have some strategic partners that are really going to bring Your Garden Show to the next level and make it a gardener's virtual paradise, the likes of which have never been seen."
By creating an account on Your Garden Show, you can get ideas from other gardeners and inspire them with your own garden show; create and share a GLOG; and learn and contribute to better gardening with tips and expert advice from the community.

Although Brennan mentioned that many people from the DC area helped with the project, I couldn't find very many local gardens on the site. I did, however, find popular local gardener Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington Gardener Magazine (see above).

Why not add your garden NOW so that we can share photos and knowledge over the coming slow gardening months?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Autumn in the garden - great time for backyard birds

It seems like only weeks ago that we were still enjoying summer in our gardens. But rather than spending time reminiscing about the sunshine and summer flowers, it is time to get busy getting the gardens ready for winter.

Here are some posts and articles I found for protecting your plants and lawns for the coming frosts and freezes:
But I also want to remind you that fall and winter are a great time to feed and observe the birds in your backyard.

Maryland, Virginia and DC are all important stops on the Atlantic Flyway, one of four major migratory flight routes in North America. So every fall, hundreds of thousands of birds of many different species make their way along the coast from their summer nesting places in the northern U.S., Canada and even the Arctic on the way to their winter homes.

These migratory flights are often long and exhausting for many bird species, so providing food, water and a friendly spot to rest will help the birds and add music and life to your garden that will make you soon forget about the colorful blossoms that are gone for the season.

You may be surprised to find out just how quickly simple steps like adding a birdbath and hanging a feeder will bring visiting birds to your yard. For more information about creating a wildlife friendly landscape, read this post: 10 Tips for Creating a Wildlife Friendly Garden 

Wildlife Gardening Workshop November 6th

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Leave those Lovely Leaves

When it comes to Autumn, I feel very much like writer Elizabeth Lawrence who said:

Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn. ~ Elizabeth Lawrence

Unfortunately, once we have watched the splendid beauty of leaves splashing our trees with color and raining to the ground, we must then decide what to do with the fallen foliage. The main thing to keep in mind is to keep leaves out of the storm drains.

Here are some tips for tackling your fall foliage.  

1) Leave them be - For those who have a wooded lot you may decide to go natural and let them become leaf litter. Leaf litter, also called leaf mold, consists of leaves, bark and twigs which have dropped to the ground. It provides habitat for tiny forest critters and insects and organic matter for the forest floor.

2) Mulch them into your lawn - Use a mulching mower and mow over the leaves several times until they are finely chopped. Up to ¾" deep of shredded leaves can be left on your lawn without harming it.

3) Add them to your compost pile - Leaves can be added directly to your compost pile, but they will break down quicker if they are chopped up. You can rake dry leaves into low piles and mow over them several times with a mulching mower, as above, and then add them to your compost. Or you can vacuum them up with a leaf vacuum and empty them into your compost pile. Add layers of shredded leaves with the green materials you would normally add to your compost—vegetable and fruit scraps, weeds, grass clippings and plants —and let it all sit in a compost bin over the winter. By springtime you'll have some great, finished compost.

4) Use them in your gardens - Shredded leaves can also be used in your gardens as an organic "blanket" to help protect plants through the winter. Apply a 2- or 3-inch layer of shredded leaves to beds, keeping them from actually touching any plants. Leaves will help the soil retain moisture, limit weed growth and add nutrients to the soil as they break down. Decaying leaves will deplete soil nitrogen, so add an organic source of slow-release nitrogen to compensate before planting.

5) Prepare them for collection - If you don't want to use leaves in your own landscape, "donate" them to local leaf collection program. Many localities will pick up leaves from your home and grind them into mulch that is available to local residents. Please make sure you follow all guidelines for your particular area. Arlington VA Leaf Collection, Montogmery County Leaf Collection, Frederick Maryland, Falls Church. If your area is not listed, leaf collection is usually carried out by the local solid waste department.

Now here are a few DON'Ts

6) Don't forget the gutters - Clogged gutters can allow water to overflow and wash harmful elements into local storm drains. Gutters should be cleaned at least twice a year.

7) Don't leave them on sidewalks - Although leaf covered sidewalks are beautiful, they can also be slippery. Collect leaves from your sidewalks and use them in one of the ways listed above.

8) Don't burn them - Burning leaves creates smoke that contains dangerous compounds and can spark accidental fires.

9) Don't rake or blow them into the street - As mentioned above, it is important to keep leaves out of storm drains.

10) Don't park your car over leaves piled in the street - Even if you are taking proper precautions and keeping leaves out of the street, others may not be. Parking your car over leaves in the street creates a fire hazard.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wildlife Gardening Workshop - Nov. 6th

The District Department of the Environment’s final wildlife gardening workshop of 2010 will be held on November 6 from 1pm-5pm at North Michigan Recreation Center (4925 13th Street NE). The workshop will include presentations on landscaping for wildlife and gardening with native plants. There will also be a special presentation by Greg Butcher, Director of Bird Conservation for the National Audubon Society. Audubon is beginning an effort to increase awareness of and implement conservation efforts for the Wood Thrush, DC’s state bird. Dr. Butcher will give a short talk about creating and conserving habitat for the Wood Thrush. After the presentations there will be a planting of a garden of native shrubs and trees, which will mimic a multi-leveled forest ecosystem.

Participants will receive

· live native plants

· a birdhouse kit

· the book Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy

· U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service guide on native plants of the Chesapeake Bay region

· the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guide invasive plants of the mid-Atlantic states

· brochures and literature from Audubon and DDOE.

If you are interested please register at: http://ddoe.dc.gov/ddoe/cwp/view,a,1209,q,501441.asp

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