The weather appeared questionable for July’s “Saturday in the Garden” with rain all night but as Nancy Berlin, staff at Prince William County’s Virginia Cooperative Extension stated, it was the best July weather in her memory. The rain brought less temperature and humidity. As a result, there were a good number of people for the morning’s program. Awards were given out by Nancy to those Master Gardeners who have finished their internship and to those who completed milestone hours of volunteer service. If you’re interested in becoming a Master Gardener, informational classes will be the first week of August. Read more about the program here.
In the Zen Garden, Lynne Lanier proudly sits, who just completed her Master Gardener Internship.
Joe Ray, Master Gardener Volunteer, specializing with compost, spoke about backyard composting. The Teaching Garden does hot composing. This is the quickest method for making compost. With hot composting, the pile’s temperature is kept optimally at 122-140°F. At this temperature your compost can be completed in 2-3 months. If you use cold composting, it can take up to six months to two years to complete.
Joe Ray with Nancy Berlin showing a hot compost pile.
The Teaching Garden uses no fertilizers; only compost is added to improve the soil. You can compost many items available in your yards such as grass clippings (if not treated with herbicides or other pesticides. Grass clippings from a golf course is a no-no), leaves, yard trimmings, flowers and house plants, hay and straw can be used. From your house you can use fruit, vegetable scraps, egg shells (but not yolks), & coffee grounds. Some animal manures can be used such as chicken, cow, horse, etc. but not dog or cat manure. With any manure, hay or straw that you use, be sure to ask about any herbicides they may have used on their pastures or fields since some farmers use certain herbicides to kill weeds and these may pass through their animals and not be completely degraded when you apply them to your garden. These manures could harm or kill many of your plants even year after you put them in your compost and spread onto your garden. Other materials that should not be used are meat, grease, bones, cheese, sour cream, butter, salad dressing, peanut butter, diseased or insect-ridden plants and reproductive parts of troublesome weeds/invasive plants, weed seed heads, rhizomes, etc. Some of the above can attract rodents as will bone or blood meal. You NEVER want to compost coal or charcoal ash, black walnut leaves, twigs or pressure or other treated wood, shavings or sawdust from these items. Wood ash form fireplaces are okay but only use a small amount. If you have odors coming from your compost pile, it probably has too much green materials and is rotting – add leaves and turn it. Keep your pile above the soil by using pallets (make sure they are not treated wood) and cover which will aid in decomposing. Worms or insects should not be in the pile if it is heating up properly. Generally the inside of the pile will decompose more quickly than the outside of the pile. Repeatedly the compost team will move the inside material to the outside. Also you will occasionally need to water the pile.
The Backyard Composting handout provided is also available online from the Virginia Cooperative Extension. The compost bin recommended is available from Prince William County for $25. Check out the other LINKS at the top of the page for more sites on composting.
Paul Gibson, Master Gardener Volunteer, spoke about the Cooks’ Garden which practices sustainable, organic gardening.
Paul said “If you feed the soil, the soil will take care of the plants.” Compost and cover crop are the two sources that amend and improve the soil. Never step in your garden. If you do so, you will lose 50% of space as you compact the soil with your weight losing the space necessary for air and water to provide nutrients to your plants. Every plant has a window of time when it is optimal to plant. People should refer to the Planting Schedule for our area. Now is the time to start planting for a fall crop. You should try not to leave any section of your garden empty. If a vegetable is done, plant a cover crop. If you leave it empty, you’ll most likely have weeds so do a cover crop and put nutrients back into your soil. Row covers are recommended as they let moisture and light in but gives your crop bug protection. Be sure to leave the covers on until the plants need to be germinated. Don’t forget about crop rotation. Paul said most of the garlic we buy in the store comes from China. We can get better varieties and tastes by planting them ourselves. One clove planted will yield one head of garlic. We’ve had 50% more rainfall than normal so there is abundant fungal disease and great foliage growth. Tomatoes are showing early blight due to the excess rain so do remove the infected leaves and throw them out in the trash – do not compost the diseased leaves. Remember to leave the Tomato Hornworms on your plants if they have tiny white eggs sticking on them. These would be the eggs of the Brachonid wasps and these wasps are beneficial to the garden. The infected hornworm is now a host for the eggs so leave them alone so the wasps can emerge. Good flowers for the vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects would be marigold, nasturtiums, anise hyssop, buckwheat as cover crop in the summer (it takes 30 days from seed to flower), cilantro, and carrots (they will go to seed in their second year and send up flowers similar to Queen Anne’s Lace.) Pictured is Cleome also known as Spider Flower Cleome hasslerana
Grow the annual flower, cleome outside your garden to attract Harlequin bugs –Murgantia histrionica so they keep off your Cole crops (a.k.a. crucifers or brassicas) such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, collards, horseradish, arugula. Other crops that may be affected by this bug are: asparagus, bean, cantaloupe, onion, pea, potato, squash, and tomato, as well as fruits such as grape, peach, pear, and raspberry. Row covers will also discourage this bug from your plants. Newspapers were set underneath the pumpkins to protect them from the abundant moisture we’ve been having which may cause rot and bugs nibbling on the fruit from the soil.
So much information was given out it is impossible to repeat here. Next “Saturday in the Garden” will be August 8. Come and learn from these knowledgeable people.