Christmas Cactus: How To Care For Them
During the holiday season, one of the most popular plants seen in households and to give as gifts is the Christmas Cactus. This popular plant brings bright color to the table, the mantle, or any other spot in the home. The Christmas Cactus is widely available and very inexpensive.
The Christmas Cactus has many names such as the Crab Cactus, the Holiday Cactus, the Link Cactus, and the Thanksgiving Cactus. Whatever you call this plant, it comes from the Schlumbergera family originating in the mountains of Brazil. Living in generally shady areas of the mountainsides with high humidity, this cactus is very different from our hot, dry native plants. They do not have thorns and are very easy to maintain. They're very adaptable and will adapt to indoor temperatures in any part of the United States.
I have five different plants, one of which is almost 30 years old. They are not huge plants so you can easily have several around the house. My plants bloom from November through May with little effort on my part.
Christmas Cactus Description
This tropical plant is long-lived with medium to long green stems that are segmented. The stems actually look claw-like and have points along the segments but they are harmless. It flowers from November through May in colors of white, pink, red, lavender, and orange. Due to their popularity, many hybrids are being developed and you may see other shades of these colors.
As the plant ages, the stems may become corky looking with some brown or grey tones. This is natural and gives the older plant some character.
Caring For Your Christmas Cactus
The Christmas Cactus is a good choice for a houseplant because it's very easy to care for and adapts to many different conditions in the home. As with all cactus, it needs bright indirect light during the day. Unlike most cactus, it prefers cooler temperatures. Air conditioning or swamp coolers will not hurt this plant. The plant does prefer a little more water than most cacti and it also prefers to be root bound. Actually, being root bound will help this plant to bloom and this is one plant that you should not repot unless it's absolutely necessary. It will tell you when it needs repotting by becoming wilty. Keep this plant away from heating vents or doors that open to the outside where it may get a winter chill. Although it likes cool temperatures, cold air will kill it.
Getting Your Christmas Cactus to Rebloom Year After Year
My youngest Christmas Cactus is 3 years old while my oldest is almost 30 years old. You can have long-living plants too with the right conditions. There are several things to keep in mind to do this. First, during September and October the plant will need cooler temperatures between 50-60 degrees. The cooler temperatures allow the plant to rest before reblooming. Secondly, limit watering during this time. Don't let the plant dry out but water it once every 3-4 weeks and don't water it thoroughly. Thirdly, the plant needs total darkness at night to help it rest. No street lights shining in the window or night lights in the house. Lastly, keep the plant root bound and it will produce more flowers. Sounds silly, but that's what the Christmas Cactus prefers.
My plants are located in two rooms: One on top of the hutch in the dining room and the others on the mantle or plant stands near east windows. They receive bright indirect sun and at night all year long, they're in total darkness. This is key to letting them rest. To give you an idea of how often to repot these plants, my 30 year old plant has been repotted only twice. My plants bloom off-and-on from November through May. All I do is water them and feed them once a month with Schultz's Cactus fertilizer except during September and October.
Propagation Of the Christmas Cactus
You can go green with these plants by propagating them and giving them to friends and relatives as gifts. They're very easy to propagate and you can do it by placing a cutting in a glass of water or in soil. Just take a leaf cutting with 2-4 segments and either place it in water or let it dry out for about a week. It'll form a callous on the cut end and that's when it's ready to place in a good quality commercial cactus soil. You can also use African Violet soil as it's high in organic matter which Christmas Cactus love.
During the months of October through December, you can readily purchase a Christmas Cactus at any local garden nursery or most grocery stores. They are readily available and make a nice addition to the home.
References: Ron Smith, NDSU Extension Service
Ed Hume Seeds
Image Credit: Sandy James
This is one weed that can kill your flowers and vegetables. Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) also known as wild morning glory grows as a vine and will climb up your plants and strangle them. Bindweed starts in a small clump by itself and in a short time it will start growing in vines along the ground and up anything it encounters. You will notice these with their small white or white with pink flowers. I have seen it climb and grow so vigorously to where it has broken plant stalks, taken down plants and caused fences to lean.
The roots of bindweed can be as long as 40 feet. They can get water from your neighbors yard. The seeds of this weed can live in the soil for many years. Sometimes roto-tilling can spread bindweeds bits of roots and seeds. When you pull bindweed you will seldom get all the roots unless the plant is very new. This causes the weed to grow in many more directions from the left over root. You can get bindweed growing into your yard from your neighbors yard.
When bindweed starts in early spring, you can see it as it grows along the ground in vines. You will have to dig it out roots and all right there. Any time after this you will never get all of the roots and it will continue to grow back. You can kill this weed naturally over time by continually cutting the vines and making sure the flowers are always cut or hoed as soon as you see them. By this continual cutting of the vines and weed as much as you can, it will eventually lose its ability to gather nutrients and die. Though it might be just a matter of time before more roots and seeds find there way into your yard.
Bindweed with flowers in the grass. Photo by Frank Vincentz/wikimedia
There are some homemade sprays using alcohol, vinegar, garlic and peppers that could work to kill this. But this plant is one tough weed to get rid of and sometimes you just can’t get rid of it using natural methods. Short of calling the Air Force and asking for an air strike you might want to think about using an all purpose plant killer such as Roundup. This product doesn’t damage the soil but kills the plant right down through the root. The best time to spray the weed is in the fall before the first freeze when the weed is storing up nutrients for the winter and the Roundup will then go into the root system. Roundup kills everything so be carefull with it.
If you didn’t spray the previous fall the second best time to spray bindweed is in early spring as the weed starts and before you plant your garden and anywhere else you see it coming up. It has been my experience that this is one of the first weeds to start growing in the early spring. During the growing season if you see more bindweed in your garden, you can use this roundup carefully. If the bindweed is close to your plants, use rubber gloves and a small sponge or paint brush, spray the Roundup on the sponge and carefully wipe it on the bindweed without touching your flowers and vegetables. You will notice the bindweed turning brown in about a week. Roundup kills the bindweed by allowing the weed to absorb the poison into its root system through its growing vine as it does any nutrient. So make sure you get it on the leaves of the vine, but not to the point of running off.
If you see this bindweed climbing up your tomato plant for example, don’t try and pull or rip it since you could also break your tomato or other plant stalks. Try and find the bindweed at the base of your plant and break the bindweed vine right there. Then you could try and unwind it from your plant or leave it and the remaining vine will die that way hopefully before strangling your plant.
Bindweed in evergreens and evergreen bushes can be especially hard to deal with. The best way is to trace the vine back down to the bindweed plant itself and cut the vine right there. There might be several different bindweed plants as their vines can grow all over the place. When you find the actual plant use the Roundup again using the above method of wiping or painting it on the weed itself.
Another product that works great to kill bindweed is Ortho Weed-B-Gone Max. You have to be careful with it when using it near other plants because it will also kill them. If you have bindweed in your lawn, this product is great to get rid of the bindweed without harming your lawn. You can use the spot spray Ortho Weed-B-Gone Max or a sprayer and spray the entire lawn.
Besides Roundup, other herbicides include Trimec, Tordon-K and products containing 2-4-D. Remember that some of these products will also kill everything else, so be careful when applying the weed killer. Use a brush or a sponge to wipe the poison on. If you are going to spray it on, do it when it is calm. You can also use a cardboard box or buckets to protect nearby plants when you spot spray.
One other note, when you dig, pull or cut the bindweed and its vines, do not throw them into your compost pile. Put them in your trash bin as these things can start growing even if you drop one on your lawn.
Good luck and may the force be with you because this is one tough weed.
© 2009 Sam Montana
Main article photo by Frank Vincentz/wikimedia.com
Tomato Vines and the Trellis
I have grown tomatoes on our balcony patio for several years now, and always with marginal yields for my efforts. Usually the tomato vines grow about 1 1/2 meters (about 4.5 feet) tall and thus, are necessarily tied to a trellis-like scaffolding of green sticks to support them. Growing on a patio with western exposure and a brick wall backdrop means that the plants will get hot and dry fairly often. Daily watering is always required. Over and under-watering are common occurrences.
Too much water and the pot sits in mud and the bottom leaves of the tomato plants turn yellow and drop. Too little water and the plant begins to wilt. I have tried various shading methods including a tarpaulin sunscreen for the balcony which did help last summer but I installed it a bit too late to really help the tomatoes grow properly.
As it is, I have to trellis-up the plants to avoid wind damage. If the tomato vines tip over they might survive but the space they would occupy on the limited footage of our balcony would be unacceptable. The plants must be tied upright. This of course means that the plants must work extra hard to draw-up water and nutrients one and one-half meters to the top branches and fruits. There must be another, simpler way to grow tomatoes on limited space.
The Tomato Vine as a Vine
I cannot claim ownership for this idea; I saw a commercial pot like what I am describing, used for some houseplant vines like philodendron, etc. You grow the plant upside down in the flower pot!
Beginning with a common terra cotta flower pot, we create a hanger for the pot. Use either wire (coat-hanger, etc) or if you are crafty, you can macrame a hanging harness for the pot. It will be hanging upright in the usual manner.
Use as Small a Tomato Plant as Possible
The idea is to have the tomato plant grow inverted whereby it will hang from the drainage hole in the flower pot. This way you will not need to tie-up or trellis the tomato vines; they hang by gravity. Since our balcony patio has that dreaded western exposure and brick-face wall backdrop, plants tend to scorch in the sun rather quickly. Daily watering is absolutely necessary. If the plant were hanging upside-down, the water would more easily run the length of the plant and there is no need to tie-up the vines. Hanging upside-down is also advantageous for us as it keeps the tomato vines below the sold-panel balcony rails, out of the wind as well as direct blazing sunlight.
Visualize the End Result: An Upside-down Potted Tomato Plant
I am eager to try this. I know that it will work. As the plant matures the stalk will increase in girth. This will also cause the stalk to swell and 'lock in' to the drainage hole, plugging-up any water that may leak out. I suspect that this arrangement will require less water to satiate the plant's needs as it all soak to the bottom towards the root-ball anyway.
The long and dry winter is coming to an end and you start looking around the yard. You’re noticing that some of the trees aren’t looking so well. Evergreens especially can start to look brown and start dropping their needles. On some types of evergreens this can be normal so it’s best to know what type of tree you are looking at and what its characteristics are.
Many parts of the United States are once again in drought conditions and the dry winds of spring do not help the situation. The lack of snow and snow cover with the evaporation effect of the wind blowing can dry the tree itself and the ground all the way down to the roots. In a bad drought condition your local area might even have water restrictions, which we have been dealing with on and off here since the late 1970s. You can see and feel the ground underneath your tree is hard as rock, and any watering on the top might just run off and not soak in at all. What you need to do is called root feeding or root watering.
Most tree roots are at a depth of between 6” and 24” and spread out an area of two to four times the diameter of the tree crown. For evergreens this usually isn’t very far out. The one way to really help a drought hurt or dying tree is to root feed it. At any hardware store or garden shop, you can buy what is called either a root feeder or a water needle. The one product I have used most is called the Ross root feeder. It is a long skinny pipe with a canister at the top and a connection for a garden hose. In the canister you can put fertilizer pellets that will fertilize the tree at the roots as you water it. You don’t have to use the fertilizer pellets, you can just attach the hose to the root feeder and water the roots.
To use the root feeder, attach the garden hose to it and push the needle into the ground. If the ground is really hard and compacted, turn on the water and let the water work for you and this will help push the root feeder into the ground easily. There is usually a lever on the top of the root feeder that controls the flow of the water. You can have the lever fully open or let the water soak into the ground slowly. You would root feed under the outer branches known as the drip zone. Usually you go around the tree four times. The package will have specific instructions on where to place the root feeder at how many places and at what depth depending on the size and type of the tree. There are several different types of fertilizer pellets depending if the tree is an evergreen or deciduous tree or as I call them, the kind with leaves.
The first time I used a root feeder, we had bought a house in the middle of a terrible drought and with strict watering restrictions. There was a 12’ ponderosa pine in the middle of the yard and it was almost totally brown. Everyone said it was dead and I should just take it out. I decided to try root feeding it. I did use the fertilizer pellets the first time and then over the summer continued to use the root feeder to get water to the roots. The next summer the tree was healthy and green and to this day it is about the nicest ponderosa pine on the block and about 30’ tall.
You don’t have to use the fertilizer pellets at all, just a good deep watering is all that’s needed sometimes to bring back a stressed tree. If the tree isn’t responding to the root feeding, check for bugs. Two things to look for are bugs that are boring into the bark of the tree or take a piece of paper and hold it under a branch of an evergreen and shake the branch. If tiny bugs fall onto the paper that could indicate a bug problem, you might try spraying the tree with a good hard spray that will knock off many of the bugs, otherwise you should call a tree doctor or arborist to check out the tree.
Dry windy and especially drought conditions can really stress a tree and a tree under stress conditions might not be strong enough to fight off bugs or disease. So keeping the roots good and watered is very helpful. You don’t want to over do the watering. Usually the water will soak in, but if it gets too wet than the roots can be starved for oxygen as the water takes the place of oxygen. To increase airflow and moisture to your tree roots you could take out the grass and put in bark or wood ships around the tree.
Root feeding is a great way to get the trees and bushes ready for another hot summer. Using the root feeder on really hard compacted parts of your lawn also works well to get the grass in shape.
One other note about the hose you use. Last spring I bought a new hose at Wal-Mart. It wasn’t like the hoses I used in the past apparently as the first thing it did when I turned on the water with the root feeder attached was expand and almost burst. You might want to make sure you have a more sturdy hose. That’s the first time I ever had that happen though.
© 2009 Sam Montana
Just when you think you have your lawn in nice shape, after raking, pulling all of the weeds and fertilized, a fairy ring shows up. They can make your lawn look unhealthy and ugly.
Fairy Ring Descriptions
A fairy ring is a disease of the soil and lawn. In most of the fairy rings I have seen, the fairy ring is a dark green circle or arc of grass that grows faster than the rest of your lawn with yellow grass or less green grass in the middle of this ring. Other times they fairy ring can be a ring of dead grass with green grass in the middle. Sometimes, mushrooms can grow around the fairy ring.
It has been my experience that fairy rings occur in a heavily used area of the lawn, but they can also occur anywhere in your lawn. Often, a fairy ring will occur in compacted and hot areas of the lawn like near the driveway, sidewalk or a pathway for you, your kids or dogs.
The Cause of Fairy Rings
The scientific cause of fairy rings in your lawn “is a piece of mycelium or spore at a single point feeding as a saprophyte in the thatch lawyer on organic material”. 
That doesn’t help you much when you look at your lawn and shake your head. In other words it is a fungus in your lawn. This fungus causes the breakdown of thatch and other organic material that produces nitrogen when they breakdown. The nitrogen stimulates the growth and greening of the grass which causes the ring of grass to be greener and grow faster causing the green fairy ring appearance.
Areas of your lawn where there is heavy foot traffic causes compression of the lawn which can lead to the fairy rings. This compression and buildup of thatch causes fairy rings to start. Drought-stressed lawns are more prone to fairy rings and weeds.
How to Get Rid of Fairy Rings in Your Lawn
Many times you will notice a fairy ring start in your yard as the first green grass of the early spring. This is a good time to find out if your lawn has a real thatch problem or just a simple raking. To learn more about thatching and raking your lawn, please read How to Rake Your Lawn Properly.
It has been found that changing the pH level of your lawn’s soil does not help to get rid of fairy rings. The following steps are what I have found to be the most effective with getting rid of fairy rings.
- You can use a thatch or bow rake and rake the fairy ring area.
- Rake the entire area outside of the green ring, the tall grass of the fairy ring and dry grass in the middle of the fairy ring.
- Next, aerate your entire lawn, especially the fairy ring areas. You can rent an aerating machine, hire a company or aerate by hand. Paying attention to the compressed and fairy ring areas of your lawn. You cannot put enough holes in the compressed areas.
- The best solution that has worked for me is to put soapy water made of dish soap on the fairy ring after raking and aerating. Soapy water helps the absorption of nutrients and water into the lawn.
- The soapy water should be made with dish soap that is not an anti-bacterial or grease cutting type of dish soap. A good soap to use is Ivory dish soap.
- Using a root-feeder or water needle is helpful after these steps to get plenty of water into the compressed area of your lawn.
If you can catch the fairy ring starting early in the growing season and do the above steps, you should have a healthy and nice looking lawn by early summer.
If the above steps do not help, you can do the following.
- Dig out the entire section of your lawn with the fairy ring, the ring and the center of the fairy ring and then rototill the entire area several times.
- Put the old sod and dirt into the trash, taking care not to let any of this fall onto your lawn. Any of the old soil or grass falling on your lawn can cause more fairy rings to develop.
- Put in new dirt and either use seed or sod.
More Help with Fairy Rings
Instead of digging out the fairy ring, you can also kill this part of your lawn. Putting dark plastic over the area will kill and sterilize the area. This can take several weeks or more, but it should get rid of the fungus causing the fairy ring.
If all of this fails and the fairy rings redevelop, you can have a professional lawn service fumigate your lawn. Fumigation should be left to professionals only.
Future Prevention of Fairy Rings
- Aerating your lawn each season is a great way to keep the thatch down and fungus out of your lawn.
- Do not overuse fertilizer or pesticides. It is best to water deeply instead of short time periods of watering.
- Water your lawn deeply for longer periods of time instead of short time periods each day. In dry weather one inch of water every three days should be enough.
- Watering for short time periods of only a couple of minutes per zone can cause the grass roots to become shallow and build up the thatch layer leading to fairy rings.
Copyright © Sam Montana April 2012
Gardening is one of those pastimes which brings happiness and health for all age people. There are a lot of benefits of gardening which show the importanc of this hobby. The physical benefits of fresh air and exercise are perhaps the most obvious, but emotional and psychological benefits cannot be ignored.
"Ever wonder why God placed Adam and Eve in a garden?" Upson said. "The reason is that gardening is good for you!".
Steve Upson, horticulturist for the Ardmore-based Noble Foundation says, 'The older I get, the more aware I become of the importance of physical activity in maintaining my health," Upson said. "Numerous studies show that regular physical activity reduces the risk of premature death, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, adult-onset diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, and certain types of cancer."
Gardening contributes to physical health, since activities such as digging, planting, weeding, and harvesting are all part of three types of physical activity: endurance, flexibility, and strength.
"Gardening is a labor of love. Exercise is just plain labor," Upson observed. "Human nature suggests that you're going to do something you love much more frequently than something you don’t love. Given the choice between a treadmill and gardening, I'll take the garden anytime."
These are some benefits of gardening in addition to being an enjoyable hobby.
• Positive Impact on health
Same as doing exercise, gardening burns many calories. When gardening, you will be doing activities such as mowing the lawn, cut the plants, trim pots, planting flowers and watering the plants. Gardening activities will burn between 280 calories to 380 calories per hour. The number of calories burned is the same with sexual activity during the three hours or the equivalent of jogging or running for 30 minutes or run a distance of 2.5 km. Even gardening can burn more calories than cycling. Gardening is equivalent to a workout at the gym that will spend a lot of money. In addition, this activity strongly supports the physical and psychological health. Gardening activities are also beneficial for men’s health, especially in matters of sex. Gardening can overcome the problem of impotence or erectile dysfunction for men. For men, gardening will reduce the risk of impotence.
• Reduce stress levels
Gardeners also can reduce stress levels a person. After finishing the day or a week full of busy and stressful, it would be nice to go home and start gardening at the end of the day or on weekends. Gardening activities can serve as stress relief, pain and frustration. In addition, while waiting for plants to germinate and flower buds, it will help someone to train your patience and look forward with positive thoughts. For those who are elderly (seniors), gardening activities also have many benefits. Taking care for plants can make the elderly feel that they still needed and would not be lonely. For those who are experiencing mental health problems or have psychological disorders, gardening activities also have a positive impact. With gardening, one can feel comfortable and calm. Especially when working on the garden with plants and flowers are beautiful and quiet neighborhood. Furthermore, caring for flowers and gardening activities can help a person gain confidence. However, gardening is not only benefiting people who carry out the activity but also others. People who live or be around the house with beautiful gardens would also benefit. Some research shows that people will feel more comfortable with the environment that many green plants.
• Curing illness and accelerate the process of health recovery
Some patients found the hospital will recover faster if located in a green environment or are in a room that has an indoor plant. When measured blood pressure and heart rate, patients who are in the treatment period and then be in a green environment will heal faster. So if a family member is sick, then by making a beautiful home gardening can accelerates the healing of family members. In addition, with gardening, it can reduce a person’s blood pressure so avoid hypertension.
Gardening activities was also able to help people with diabetes as the number of calories burned, will directly influence the levels of sugar in the body.
• Extend the age of life
As health is more stable and calm mind, then this will affect the age. Results showed that people who enjoy gardening have on average live longer durations than those who do not like gardening. Sure, gardening is fun. You can have a beautiful little garden in your home or garden area filled with green trees unsightly eye. This activity is also a lot of fun in addition to the benefits. Try to start making your yard become greener with gardening.
Useful links and resouces:
- Researchers at Kansas State University already have shown that gardening can offer enough moderate physical activity to keep older adults in shape.
* 'Benefits of Gardening' at 'Backyard Gardening'
Don't have a green thumb but like the architectural look of window boxes? No problem. Tired of filling your window boxes each spring and then cleaning them out each fall? No problem.
Use your existing window boxes as a summer display area. Cut foam packaging material to fit the bottom half to two thirds of the window boxes so that you have a stable platform. Now choose a theme.
A very popular theme is a beach venue. Grab the kids and comb the beaches. Gather drift wood, dried seaweed, pretty rocks, dried starfish, and seashells. Pieces of fishnet and buoys are good finds. Drape the fishnet over the edges of the window boxes. Attach starfish and seashells to bamboo skewers with a glue gun to stick into the foam for height and visibility. Use the glue gun to attach dried seaweed to the driftwood for a natural display. A solar light stake becomes a beacon. Use a life preserver as a window wreath.
Another beach theme that incorporates bright summer colors into your window boxes is to decorate them with beach toys. A pail and shovel next to an inflated swim ring or beach ball is simple yet dynamic. You will need to glue them in place. An old doll holding a "Gone Fishing" sign sitting amongst colorful fishing gear is whimsical.
A gardener friend uses her window boxes to hold and display her collection of stacked colorful empty pots and hand tools. Plastic watering cans in assorted colors hold cut flowers.
A man up the street simply displays a collection of flags from different countries while another displays pinwheels with a hand-crafted whirligig in his window boxes.
Miniature birdhouses from the craft store can be displayed in window boxes. A small plant stand holds a shallow dish as a birdbath. Visiting birds make for a live window box display.
Decorate your window boxes as a patriotic statement. Use strings of red, white, and blue lights. A flag bunting can be hung from the window box supports. Pieces of PVC pipe can be painted to resemble rockets. Glue on a plastic funnel for the nose cone. Dress an old doll as Uncle Sam. Don't forget the American Flag!
Use your window boxes to display those chia pets or garden statues. Set up a fairy house craft project and butterfly box. Garden gnomes love to be the center of attention.
If your window boxes have seen better days, replace them with boards cut to your window size. Screw the boards in place on the window box brackets. Decorate your boards the same way you would a fireplace mantel or bookshelf. Glue on or screw in you display items. To change for the seasons, just replace with another board.
There is an endless supply of creative colorful ways to set up window box displays other than the customary plantings. Besides, you can always just add a potted plant or herb to your unique summer display.
It's a craze that has come to the ears of every home owner, and even many apartment dwellers. The secret gardening type that you hear everywhere but just can't seem to understand. Is it some neo-gardening tip or just an old farmer's language that you just can't translate?
It's a little bit of both actually. Unless you actually stop to check that old dusty dictionary on your shelf, humus will just seem like some illusive word you've never been able to define. Heck! Most gardeners couldn't even truly define it, though they might have a place of experience to start from.
So what is Humus?
To be frank, it's just organic compost. That's it!
For me, it started to make sense why my grandfather worked so hard to prune the bushes and trees just right. Why he never threw away anything that could be composted. It sounded like a comprehendible thing to care for everything so specifically, when it seemed like quackery when I was younger. He needed to have all the plants grow on time and as healthy as possible to provide for plant matter for his vegetables and other flora. It's like a cycle. Year round you take your left overs, the flora excess, tree leaves, grass trimmings, doggy dribblings and you put it in a pile to be turned into a continuous stream of humus rich soil.
So how do you make humus for your garden? Here are some simple steps:
#1. MAKE SPACE
Find a place in your garden bed where you can throw a large amount of food scraps, cardboard and other compostables.
#Alternatively# you may also use a metal garbage bin or some for of compost container if that floats your boat more.
#2. MAKE MATTER
This is probably the easiest part of this whole process.
You will want to put anything and everything into your compost pile. When you mow the lawn, but the trimmings into your pile and make sure to mix them so lots of air gets involved. Things that can go into your compost pile:
- Vegetable leaves
- Banana skins
- Onion skins
- Grass clippings
- Raked up leaves
- Egg shells, but not whole eggs
- Old newspapers
- Coffee filters
- Coffee grounds
DO NOT Add:
- Anything with chemicals, herbicides or pesticides, and that include lawn clippings that were treated with chemicals
- Any kind of animal food or meat
If you wouldn't want to it, don't feed it to your plants. Other than the pet manure of course, that will break down into nutrients that are very beneficial to the plant and soil.
A Word of Caution: Adding your own rear end recyclings can be a risk. Huma-nure (human manure), is so far one of the most infectious and toxic sources on the plant. Mostly because of what we eat, the kind of drugs we take or the things we breath in. If you are a health nut and don't take any medications, your huma-nure is probably great for the garden and it will save you on the water and sewer bill to do this. IF you take any pharmaceutical substances, drink to much alcohol, eat junk food/non organic food all the time or work in an environment with toxic inhalants, then DO NOT put your poo in the garden. There is no need to continue that cycle in your own body or to poison your plants with it.
#3. AS THE WORLD TURNS
As the world turns, so should your compost. My rule of thumb is that it should be turned over a few times at least once per day. This will help the composting process work faster and produce you more humus rich soil sooner, giving you the chance to use some in your garden nearly immediately, as well as the chance to add your fresh throw outs without causing the compost pile to spill out on the ground.
#4. MOISTURE BALANCE
In order to get a fine humus mixture, you will want to abstain from letting the compost get either too dry or too wet. You want a healthy moisture balance in order to maintain the constant composting process. Everyday when you go to turn the compost, check to see how it feels.
You don't actually have to touch it, though that is more direct. You can just place your hands slightly above the pile. Is it giving off heat? Does it seem cold? Does it look dry or really wet? When all else fails, dip your finger in the top of it and see how it feels. If it is very dry, you'll want to water it down decently. If it is really wet, you'll want to add more too it. Preferably more cardboard or other matter that is drier and takes a bit longer to break down.
#5. ADDING IT TO YOUR GARDEN
When the compost is a deep chocolate brown, clumps together well but also falls apart without a ton of force, then it is ready to place in your garden. When you mix it in, try to add some extra sand and colloidal silver to give your plant some extra boosts with the fresh humus.
Add the humus to the garden soil where you would like it and then take a trowel and turn, churn and mix it in. When you go to plant any large bushes, shrubs or small trees, you'll want to take a bunch of the humus and layer it down before you plant your plant.
Add the humus to your soil every chance you get to turn your soil into the most organic humus rich soil. around!
When you compost, you are helping your gardens soil. Just remember a few important points. Do not add animal food into the compost pile. That can cause many problems, like adding bacteria and attracting critters that you do not want in your compost pile. Adding animal products is not organic and this is not composting.
Be careful of adding too much grass clippings, this can suffocate the compost pile. Always remember to stir the compost pile and during dry weather, take the hose and wet it down.
There is a fine line with a compost pile between too wet and too dry. It can be very helpful to buy a composting bin, this will keep critters like mice out of the compost pile that you have on the ground.
Moss, lichen and mushrooms, while they may have some similarity are not just varieties of the same organism.
- Moss is a non-vascular plant that reproduces from spores.
- Lichen is a growth of algae and fungus in a symbiotic relationship.
- Mushrooms are the fruiting body of a fungus.
Mosses are bryophytes, as are liverworts and hornworts. Bryophytes have no vascular system as in woody plants. Those plants with vascular systems are called tracheophytes, having xylem and phloem (vascular tissue) to carry water and nutrients up and down between the leaves to the roots. Mosses produce no seed but rather reproduce from spore.
The structure of moss upon close examination, may appear to be composed of minute stems holding up a pod that might appear to be a flower bud. However, the “stem” is really just a non-woody stalk called a seta holding up a capsule filled with spore. The growth below the seta which appear to be leaves are not true leaves. The “root” of a moss is merely an anchoring structure and is not a true root. Instead of receiving nutrients through a vascular system, mosses have the ability to absorb nutrients through their tissues but does not have a system to transport the nutrients through a large plant. This lack of a vascular system necessitates the small size of mosses.
- Moss can be found from arctic to tropical climates, having over ten thousand species
- Spanish Moss is not a moss; it is a flowering, seed producing plant
- Lichen is not moss; it is a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus
- Club moss is not moss; club moss is a spore producing vascular plant related to ferns
Lichen is a growth that appears on rocks, trees, soil and many other structures and material such as the shingles on your roof. The growth is a combination of algae and fungus living in a symbiotic relationship. The algae has photosynthetic cells which produce energy and nutrients for the fungus and the fungus traps and holds moisture for the algae. Lichen is scaley and grows in large patches in colors from rust to lime green. The color will be dependant on the type of algae and the type of fungus that have united. Lichen growth varies from very flat scaley, crusty organisms to more “leafy” and layered upright forms. You will not see a stalk and spore capsule as you do in mosses.
- Lichens contribute to soil formation
- Lichens are used by birds for nesting material
- Lichen is used in dyes
- Lichens are used in antibiotics and other medical preparations
- Lichens have a role in atmospheric nitrogen production
Mushrooms, like moss, reproduce with spore rather than seed and have no vascular system. They are, however, organisms classified as fungi and not plants. Mushrooms are the reproductive fruiting part of fungi. The fruit carries the spore that will reproduce more mushrooms. The fleshy fruit of the fungus is sometimes edible and sometimes deadly. Mushrooms have no true stems or roots. They have no leaves and no chlorophyll to produce nutrients for growth. Spores are dropped from the mushroom and produce underground hair-like structures called mycelium. It is through the mycelium that nutrients are absorbed and from which new mushroom fruit is produced. Some mushrooms have gills under the cap and some have tubes that give the mushroom a spongy underside. Mushrooms grow in soil, on rotting wood, on live trees and on other organic matter.
- A person who studies mushrooms is a mycologist
- There are approximately 250 edible mushroom varieties in North America
References and Resources:
If you have any type of fruiting trees you may have learned the hard way that they are not like regular trees, and they are not even like each other. The basics for any type of pruning is to start by removing any dead, damaged, diseased or crossing branches, always make clean cuts using sharp pruning tools, and it’s generally best to prune to an outward facing bud.
Don’t be afraid if you make a mistake, as long as you don’t prune the tree at the wrong time it will still be healthy and you can try it again the following season.
Pruning Newly Planted Trees
Young fruit trees received from the nursery have several branches. There will also be one to four leaders. Cut off all but one of these leaders. If there are two leaders, they will form narrow V crotches. Such crotches are weak and tend to break in a storm or under heavy crop.
Select the first lowest branch of your tree. It is important that all these lateral branches have wide angles where they join the trunk. New lateral branches will grow from the leader the second year after planting.
Five to eight lateral branches are sufficient for a mature tree. The lateral branches should be spaced 8 to 18 inches apart.
Remove all water sprouts that form on the trunk or lateral branches near the trunk. Except when planting, pruning should be done early in March.
The latest research indicates that pruning does not help overcome transplant shock unless the tree is receiving insufficient water.
Apples and Pears
Most apples and pears bear fruit on permanent fruiting spurs; fruiting spurs are similar in shape to those that grow from a rooster’s legs. They form on wood that is two or more years old. This means that the most important pruning is the establishment of a permanent framework. Once this has been formed, it’s a matter of keeping the center of the tree open, encouraging horizontal branches, removing any crowded growth and cutting back any overly vigorous side branches.
Cut back vigorous vertically growing shoots to the point from which they originate in summer. This is important to maintain an open vase shape, and in the case of pears especially, to control excess growth. The other thing pear trees do is produce too many fruiting spurs. It’s easiest to see these in winter, and this is the time to thin them out by keeping about 6 inches between each spur. You’ll get fewer fruit as a result, but those that are produced will be bigger and tastier.
Peaches and Nectarines
Both of these varieties fruit on wood formed last summer. With that in mind, a major pruning of peaches and nectarines is done every year and completed just after the tree has finished fruiting. Start by identifying fruiting growth by its characteristic cluster of buds, two fruit buds either side of a leaf bud. Cut this back by one half to two thirds. The tree will respond by producing numerous and vigorous side shoots. These should be allowed to grow as they will fruit next spring. In winter, there’s actually very little to do other than the basics: train to a vase shape and thin out any excess lateral growth by pruning right back to a main branch.
Plums and Cherries
The first thing to learn about plum trees is that European plums and Japanese plums are two individual species, each with a different pruning requirement. Japanese plums (Prunus salicina) fruit on last season’s wood, much like a peach tree so you should treat them similarly. European plums (Prunus domestica) form short pointed spurs on two year old wood. They require little pruning other than initial training and a cutting back over vigorous branches to encourage spur formation. Avoid pruning all plums in winter, as they can be susceptible to fungal disease.
Cherries also fruit on short spurs formed on older wood. They differ from plums as they tend to produce just a few main branches. To encourage spur formation, it’s a good idea to prune back hard in the first couple of years after planting to develop a framework of four to six main branches. On these main branches lateral branches will form, and in turn, spurs will form on the laterals. Once the main framework is developed, prune only to maintain a compact size and keep the tree neat.
The most important thing you can do for your apricot tree is to leave it alone while it’s dormant. They are notoriously prone to fungal infections during winter, and other than when first planted; pruning is best performed in autumn, or after the tree has finished fruiting. Apricots are generally heavy bearing trees that form fruit on both last season’s wood on small sprigs, and short spurs on older branches. The easiest way to prune an apricot is to cut all new wood back by half.
Natural farming is an excellent way of bringing back health to the soil. This is a more effective, sustainable, and environment-friendly way to grow plants compared to organic farming (see previous post titled Facts About Natural Farming). The key ingredients in making it work are the indigenous microorganisms present in the soil.
The Importance of Microorganisms
Beneficial microorganisms are employed in agriculture as agents of nitrogen fixation, and as a means to suppress insects and plant diseases. This will lead to improved crop quality and yield while reducing the need for labor. It is a no till farming technique. The application of beneficial microorganisms to the soil can enhance its capacity to support plants.
Periodically applying cultured beneficial microorganisms to the soil can bring back natural processes into play and enrich the organic components of the soil, this will lead to a greater diversity of useful microorganisms. The greater the diversity of microorganisms, the greater the diversity of crops that it can support. The culture becomes more effective in combination with crop residues, animal manure and even municipal wastes.
A concoction of these beneficial microorganisms can be produced by following the instructions below.
1 kilo of cooked rice
Wooden box (8.5" x 11" x 3") open on one side
Clean sheet of paper
1 kilo of crude sugar
1. Put the one kilo of cooked rice in the wooden box.
2. Cover the box with a clean sheet of paper and tie firmly with a string.
3. Cover the box with plastic to keep out rainwater, insects and small rodents.
4. Place the box in a safe place in the forest or amongst the leaf litter.
5. Remove the plastic and sheet of paper after three days. Molds will form on top of the rice.
6. Place the rice with molds into a clay jar. Mix with one kilo of crude sugar.
7. Cover the jar with a clean sheet of paper and tie firmly with a string.
8. Place the jar in a cool and shaded place. After seven days this will yield a mud like juice.
How to Use the Concoction
1. Mix two tablespoons of the juice to one liter of water.
2. Spray on soil and plants using a sprinkler or similar container.
The concoction will help revive soil nutrients, speed up composting, and make garden plants healthy and resistant to disease.
Higa, T. and J. F. Parr. Beneficial and effective microorganisms for a sustainable agriculture and environment. Retrieved on April 18, 2010 at http://www.agriton.nl/higa.html.
Lim, A. K., 2005. Handout on natural farming system and technology seminar. Davao: Tribal Mission Foundation International, Inc.