Gardening FAQs 2018-01-13T18:12:29+00:00



Dog urine contains high levels of nitrogen, which causes grass to become greener. Under certain conditions (i.e., heat or drought stress) the nitrogen may actually burn the grass, causing it to die and leaving a bare spot in the lawn with a dark green circle around the dead grass. This type of reaction is similar to the damage caused by an over-application of fertilizer. The excess nitrogen in the soil causes the plant to give off moisture, instead of absorbing it, and if the area is not watered thoroughly it may cause the grass plant to die.

This damage can usually be avoided by watering these areas thoroughly to dilute the concentration of nitrogen in the area. If the areas are already dead, they will have to be removed and re-seeded. No home remedy is available, nor will changing your dog’s diet help. A solution that may work for you is to train your dog to eliminate in the same area, such as the back of the yard where it is less noticeable, or in an area with no grass such as a shady spot or a gravel driveway.

Bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and fescue may be mowed as low as 1 1/2 inches and as high as 3 inches, making sure no more than one-third of the grass blade is cut off each time you mow.

It is recommended to mow at the higher setting during the warmer months and at the lower setting in the spring to stimulate new sheath (lower portion of the grass blade) growth and in the fall to help prevent disease from settling in over winter.

If you want to seed a new lawn these are the steps you should take to achieve a nice lawn:

Choose your seed—You need to consider the environment of your lawn when considering what seed to use. Is the lawn shady or does it get full sun all day? Does it get a lot of traffic? Use the advice found on this site and the instruction on lawn seeds products avaible to you.

Prepare the seedbed—Prepare the seedbed by having the area plowed and disced, or by using a rototiller to till the top few inches of soil. If leveling is needed, it can usually be done with nothing more than a shovel, wheelbarrow and a garden rake.

Adding topsoil is unnecessary, unless you need it for filling low areas. TIP: Don’t work the soil too finely, as this makes the surface crust over and dry out too quickly. Soil particles from pea-to-marble size are ideal.

Sow the seed evenly—Use a handheld, drop or broadcast spreader. Spreading by hand is not recommended, since obtaining uniform coverage is difficult.

Be sure to fertilize—Applying Starter Fertilizer will help new seedlings develop faster and grow into a thicker, greener lawn. After applying seed and starter fertiliser, rake the area lightly to work the seed about 1/4 inch into the soil.

Mulch—Mulching is recommended to reduce the frequency of watering on flat areas.

Water is crucial—Watering is crucial to seedling success. Only the top inch of soil needs to be kept moist, so watering frequently rather than deeply is best.

Mowing and fertilising—When it’s time to mow, set your mower at a height of about 1 1/2 inches. Be careful not to damage the young plants. Remove clippings so seedlings will not be smothered.

Many weeds will be eliminated by regular mowing. Others can be treated by applying one of a combination of weed and feeds, after the lawn has been mowed at least four times.

Apart from building a cage around your garden, you may have to experiment a bit until you find something that works on this particular cat. Some gardeners report success using a variety of deterrents to make the garden less attractive to cats.

One is to scatter thorny branches (such as rose trimmings) over the surface, another is to spread a layer of wire mesh such as chicken wire over or just under the mulch to make digging impossible; another is to use a repellent spray applied to the garden (there are commercial varieties intended to repel cats; or you can make your own concoction with garlic or pepper or both); yet another is to use the “predator urines” packaged for garden use.

Finally, some gardeners report that a pet dog is the most effective deterrent they have tried.

Types of Composting

The first question many beginners ask is ‘What is the best bin? The first question should be, what do you want to do?

Look at what materials you want to get rid of or have access to, and how much compost you want or need. Once you know what materials you have available or can scrounge you can decide on what type of bin is appropriate.

A variety of manufactured bins are available; many do not work any better than cheap do-it-yourself types. There are many informational sites that have detailed drawings in building any type of setup you might need.

some of the most common are:

  • Pallet BinThe cheap way to get started could be a square bin made of salvaged wooden palettes wired or screwed together. Pallets are easy to come by and make sturdy containment areas.
  • Wire Mesh BinRound bins made of hardware cloth are also very simple, cheap and effective. Diameters of three to five feet are best. Just get some sturdy utility fence material and form it into a cylinder. Use some zip ties or just twisted wire to hold the ends together. You can line the inside with breathable landscaping fabric or even plastic sheeting to help retain the moisture. Fold the top edge over and secure it with clothspins or binder clips or even staples.
  • Rotating TumblerTumblers advertise quick and easy compost but often beginners have problems with them. For best results, tumblers require filling at one time, and carefully measuring the moisture and green/brown ingredients. They are a poor choice to start with unless you are willing to devote considerable effort to monitoring the inputs. After some experiance you may choose to add a tumbler as an addition to your efforts.

Odors and animal pests are often a source of worry for beginners but proper understanding can eliminate problems. A proper balance of browns mixed in with the greens will keep the pile from smelling sour. Kitchen scraps should be buried in the middle of the pile, close to the surface they may draw pests. Problematic materials like fish should be buried deep or used in a special pile.

The three major methods to compost are:

An Bin

  • Hot or Cold. Slow or Fast. Pile it and Let it Rot or Turn and Tend Regularly. The options are endless. This is the method that is most commonly used and is one of the most fool proof. Pile in your ingredients and nature takes it from there. The amount of care and work you put into the process determines your results somewhat, but even if you do nothing time will eventually reduce the pile to compost. Dust to dust and all that.
  • A size of 3’by3’by3′ is said to be the minimum to get things to heat up for the best result. A hot pile is NOT required for the materials to break down. Heat does speed up decomposition, but requires more frequent turning and water. Microorganisms cause breakdown at temperatures between 50F and 158F. One reason for desiring hotter temperatures is to kill any weed seeds that may be present.
  • Moisture and air are also necessary for composting. The hotter the pile, the more often it should be turned over to let air in. Heat dries out the pile core quicker. In hot dry climates you may want to wrap somthing around open compost piles. Covering the pile is a personal choice but a top of some kind will prevent rapid drying out of the pile and help to reduce leaching out of the nutrients. The location of a compost pile in sunny or shady areas of a yard does not really matter. The heat build up is provided by the microbial activity going on inside.Vermiposting
  • A worm bin. A good choice for those with limited space, and fisherman. Makes small quantities but the material is VERY high quality. In colder climates, this should be done indoors since the worms work best between 50F and 90F.” A good means of recycling food scraps.Lasagna or Sheet Composting
  • Also known as “Interbay Mulch”. This involves putting the materials directly on the beds to be enriched. Simple and cheap, this is a very “low impact” method. There are many folks just “rediscovering and improving” on this method that has been called a number of things in the past.
  • Layer a mix of greens and browns as if making lasagna and let it sit and decompose in place. This is a great method of putting vegetable beds “to sleep” for the season ensuring a rich fertile bed for the next seasons planting.
  • You can also use this method to prep grassy areas and transform them to planting beds.

The Compost Mixture

  • Some of the benefits of composting are reduction in diseases and wilts; a slow release of nutrients, moisture conservation, and improved tilth. It promotes a greater diversity of soil organisms that serve to “innoculate” your plants from a number of problems.
  • It can be applied in a number of different ways. Mixed in as an ammendment, top dressing for slow realease and mulching benifit, even made into “tea” as a root feed or tonic.
  • The process of composting is the breaking down by bacteria, mixtures of nitrogen-rich materials aka “Greens” with carbon-rich materials aka “Browns”.
  • Examples of “Greens/Nitrogen Rich” things would be: freshly cut grass, used coffee grounds, seaweed, spent flower blooms,tea leaves or vegetables and peelings.Basicly most organic, growing things that are still fresh and moist.
  • Examples of “Browns/Carbon Rich” things would be: paper, fall leaves, straw, sawdust, shredded newspaper or woodchips.Basicly any dry or woody/twig types of things.
  • Ingredients not suitable for composting are oil, grease, bones, fat, and diseased plants.

Folks often ask where they can find materials to compost. The short answer is EVERYWHERE. But for the sake of clarity the very incomplete list below offers a few sources. As with everything in life, balance is good so go for several different items on this list.

Good browns, all readily available, most for free

  • Old 100% cotton clothes especially whites w/ no dyes.
  • Laundry lint from drying cotton clothes (don’t include any fabric softener sheets)
  • Floor sweepings
  • Black and white newsprint (preferably shredded – goes quicker – and preferably printed w/ soy-based ink – no heavy metals…)
  • Brown paper bags from grocery store
  • Torn/shredded carboard: brown boxes, brown packing tubes, toilet paper and paper towel rolls, tubes egg cartons (avoid printed, glossy or refined looking boxes, etc: cereal boxes would be bad, generic brown shipping boxes good)
  • Cotton-based and paper-based kleenexes and paper towels
  • Aged twigs: break ’em up as small as you can
  • Aged wood chips (smaller and older the better)
  • Sawdust from untreated lumber (check with a lumber yard)
  • Wood ashes in VERY SMALL doses. Not barbecue charcoal ashes though!!! Too many heavy metals and carcinogens. Throw BBQ ashes in the trash and don’t dump anywhere on your, or anyone else’s, property.
  • Straw
  • Dried grass: either mow and dry or rake up dead grass from the lawn
  • Dead leaves(though not those from diseased plants)

Greens that are easy to come by

  • Grass clippings: These will mat together so mix well with the browns as you add to the pile)
  • Plant prunings: Don’t add prunings from diseased plants as some of the diseases may survive the composting process.
  • Spent flowers: Avoid adding flowerheads that have gone to seed for obvious reasons.
  • Coffee grounds: Your own or call the local coffee house/diner to collect theirs.
  • Kitchen scraps: Very seedy items need to be composted in hot piles to avoid having many volunteer plants sprouting. Also anything that will root such as potato skins and onions unless they’re very finely chopped or mushed in the processor.
  • Corn husks are good greens. Many grocery stores will put a garbage can by their corn displays, this “garbage” is often free for the asking.
  • Barnyard animal manures: Cow, horse, chicken, goat, sheep, and rabbit are good. Again, bury these well to avoid unwanted visitors (especially flies…). NEVER use dog, cat, or human manure/feces as they may contain pathogens or diseases that could be harmful.
  • Green “manures”: Alfalfa hay, vetch, winter rye, several legumes and clovers are good sources of Nitrogen either as cover crops for the garden (during winter) or cut and put in the pile.
  • Fish parts: Scales, bones, heads, and other seafood scraps. Don’t use these unless you have a very large pile and are willing to bury these in the center where it’s hot or your furry four legged neighbors will stop by for a feast.
  • Egg shells: Put these in the food processor with other kitchen scraps to create a slush or chop/smash them to a fine powder or they’ll stick around forever. This isn’t really a green but it is a good source of calcium for plants, especially for tomatoes.

To add moisture to your pile

  • Collect rainwater to use at a later date but cover and enclose the containers so you don’t breed mosquitoes.
  • Ever need to “run the water” to get hot water…don’t let the cold water wash down the drain! Collect it and use it on the garden.
  • Collect “gray” water from clothes washers, dish washing sinks and machines, and showers. Put a bucket by your feet in the shower, run a line from your washers, etc. The soaps in rinse waters actually add beneficial nutrients and can be broken down in compost. But, don’t overdo it because you don’t want to add more than can be used…you can always use this type of water elsewhere in the garden, too.
  • Make a small indentation in the top of your pile to “collect” rainwater.
  • Some folks collect (or directly deposit) urine as it is a very good source of nitrogen and will heat up a pile very nicely.

Some “Don’t Ever Add to Compost” items

The main reason that most organic composting books don’t recommend composting meats, dairy products, human manure, etc., is not that it’s a sin, it’s wrong, or it’s bad. It’s really because most home composters do not know how to design or manage, their hot composting systems to get the piles aerobic enough, and hot enough, to keep it from smelling funky, and to break down all the potential pathogens that may exist in it. Small urban lots or apartment or condo gardeners would be hard pressed to manage a large enough composting system to effectivly handle such potentialy problematic items.

The authors have to be very careful and conservative in their teaching, so people don’t screw up their whole garden or kill themselves.

Most home composters have lukewarm or cool piles. This could cause all kinds of odor and disease problems in the pile, if the user is not careful. The items listed can in fact be successfully composted but you need to up the skill level a bit before attempting it.

  • Already mentioned never to add dog, cat, or human solid wastes.
  • Greases, oils and fats are not good.
  • Bones (except seafood) take eons to break down and may attract unwanted visitors.
  • Ashes from barbecue charcoals. Wood ashes are OK in SMALL amounts but BBQ coals like Kingsford contain many bad things and should be tossed out.
  • Seeds: Though some seeds are killed (or sprout and then are killed) in the composting process, don’t test your luck.
  • Diseased plant parts: Several organisms which cause disease can survive the composting process
  • Pesticides, fungicides and herbicides
Composting can be the best thing you can do for your garden. The advantages of feeding the microbial soil life with a steady supply of organic materials has benefits that chemical fertilisers can not match.
The options available to you are many. Hot compost, cold compost, leaf mold, Interbay Mulch. Many roads to the same end result, which is well rotted, rich organic material to enhance and feed the soil.
You can also use the finished, composted material to brew “teas” to water the plants with. Recent research has been showing this to be a very powerful tool to naturally protect your plants from a wide variety of diseases and blights.

A few of the major composting methods that are employed by home gardeners are:

Cold Compost Pile: A pile which is made up of greens and browns and then left alone to rot in place for several months to several years.

Hot or Active Compost Pile: A pile which is made up of greens and browns and then turned and aerated often to incorporate air, water, and/or fresh ingredients. Require more effort but often results in finished compost within a several weeks to a few months.

Sheet Composting or “Lasagna” Bed: Also known as Interbay Mulch. A specific sort of compost pile in which green and brown materials are built up in lasagna style layers over a present or future garden bed site.
Pit or Trench Composting: A method where you bury organic material directly in the ground, sometimes along side of plantings, in a shallow trench.

Many folks are intimidated and think composting is a difficult process. It is not, Nature has been doing it for quite some time. But you do have to follow some basics to be successful.
The “best” way to go about it depends on many factors. If you ask yourself some questions about your specific needs it can help you to focus and determine what would be most successful for your specific situation. The amount and diversity of organic material you have available to compost determines your needs somewhat, as well as the quality of the finished product.

“The Questions below can help you to clarify what your needs and requirements are. This is not a test so don’t be intimidated. Just use the questions to focus your attention on what will work best for you.”

What is your zone?
City, Suburb or Rural?
How large is your garden?
Do you grow vegetables?
Do you have lawn area?
Do you want to recycle the yard and kitchen waste?
Do you wish to make as much compost as possible?
How much space do you have/wish to dedicate to your compost pile? ? ft. x ? ft.
Do you need a bin, or do you have plans for beds that you could use Interbay Mulch on?
How much do you want to spend on materials to build your bin?
Do you want a “Hot” pile (faster and more work) or a “Cold” pile (slower but easier?
Do you have any physical concerns that would make turning the pile difficult?
Do you wish to make Leaf Mold?
Do you feel you could use a Worm Bin?

A weed is a plant that is growing where it is not wanted, it can have strong and healthy growth, and is able to overgrow valued plants by overcrowding, thus depleting soil nutrients and moisture that would otherwise be available to preferred plants.
Common, small brown ants are not a threat to trees. However, because they love the honeydew that aphids produce, they will set up housekeeping with them. And the aphids can be damaging. So whenever you see ants, check for aphids. An exception to the above would be the Fire ants/Harvester ants that are large, red, black or red and black. They do eat leaves.

A good lawn and garden begins with good soil. You can usually find a private lab listed in your Yellow Pages, on the Web or get a referral from a University or Garden Center as to the general PH level of the soil in your area.

They are generally quite inexpensive for a basic evaluation (less than £10). You can get home test kits but the feeling is that the lab tests are more reliable.

A soil test will help determine what your native soil is so you can select plants that will do well on your land. In most cases the lab will make recommendations for amendments you can add to alter the characteristics of your soil for optimal plant growth.

Having your soil tested allows you to determine the best plants for your garden and gives you a baseline for improving it depending on the type of plants you wish to grow.

Testing on a regular basis allows you to monitor the available nutrient, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium and add what is needed for optimal plant growth and vigor.

The best time to test your soil is in late Autumn or early spring. This gives the soil microbes time to adjust to, and incorporate the corrections.

The Testing Process

Most of the labs will send you the details on how they want you to collect samples but they are basically similar to this.

Gather together:

  • A Clean Bucket
  • A Clean Trowel
  • A Clean 1 Qt container for the sample

Collect The Sample

  1. Dig a number of holes 6-8 inches deep in the area you wish to test.
  2. Take a thin slice from the wall of the hole and place it in the bucket.
  3. Repeat for each of the holes you dug.
  4. Thoroughly mix all the soil together.
  5. If the soil is very wet spread it out on some newspaper to let it dry a bit. It is important to have a dry sample. If the sample is too wet it can give false results.
  6. Place some of the collected soil in the container and seal. Mark the bag with your name, address, and date.



The testing agency can give you specific recommendations on amounts of material you need to add to get the desired results.

  • Alkaline Soil-pH above 7.0 pH too low–Adding sulfur will lower the pH
  • Acidic Soil-pH below 7.0 pH too high–Adding lime will raise pH
  • Poor Nitrogen Content Addition of fertilizers Natural (preferred) or synthetic will increase the soil’s nitrogen content.
  • Nitrogen Levels Too HighIt is possible to have soil that is too rich. Too reduce the nitrogen content water well and often and add no additional fertiliser till levels are reduced.
  • Low Phosphorus Levels Bone meal or super phosphate will bring up the phosphorus levels.
  • Phosphorus Level Too High Use a fertiliser that is lower in phosphorus and plant densely to use up the excess.
  • Low Potassium Level Add potash to raise the potassium
  • High Potassium Levals Add no additional potassium till levels are reduced.

Side Note Gardeners who practice Organic methods have often found chemical additions to be a temporary fix. It has been shown that the addition of vegetative matter, in the form of compost, worked into the soil every year will usually have the effect of leveling out chemical unbalances. This often will have a much more permanent and positive effect.

Improving Soil Texture/Drainage (Tilth)

Soil falls into a number of categories. Clay, sand, loam, and many combinations. Each has distinct characteristics. Poor draining, unable to retain nutrients, dense and hard to plant in or work.

In most cases the addition of organic materials will improve the condition of whatever type or soil you may have.

A few of the things that are effective are:

  • Compost
  • Peat Moss
  • Leaf Mold
  • Shredded Leaves

Autumn leaves are routinely bagged and left at the curb. This is a tragic waste of a valuable resource. Below are a few methods of utilising this treasure to better advantage.

Shread in Place for Lawn Feeding or Stockpiling

If the ammount of leaves on the grass is not too deep you can just run them over with a mulching mower. Make a few passes over the area in different directions and set the deck high. Going slowly and keeping the blade very sharp also helps.

This reduces them to small chips that will readily decompose into the lawn and act as an organic fetiliser.

If there are huge volumes of of leaf you can collect some of the total to use in other ways detailed below.

Leaf Mold

Leaf Mold is the result of cold composting of leaves by a fungal process. The resultant material is a very rich soil additive that can not be beat.

  • Rake the leaves onto a large tarp. You can move a surprisingly large pile of leaves in this way.
  • Drag this to some out of the way corner and set up as large a wire mesh bin as you have room for. Just get some sturdy utility fencing mesh and wrap it into a circuler bin and secure the ends with a couple of snap links.
  • Fill the bin with the leaves wetting them down as you go.
  • To retain moist conditions you can wrap the inside of the bin in 6 mil plastic sheeting and fashion a cover cut from a piece of old carpeting or just use a tarp.
  • Next fall unclasp the bin and move it one side and cover over the now somewhat reduced original pile.
  • Reclasp the bin and reload it with this years crop of leaves.
  • Do this one more time in year three.

You now can harvest and use the very well decomposed material from the original batch and will have created an ongoing system.

Chip and Stockpile

If you have access to a chipper/shredder you can run them through it and stockpile the now greatly reduced volume in lawn bags.

If you haven’t got a chipper you can collect them with the bagger on your mower. Depending on the effectiveness or your mower this may need two or three passes to reduce the volume sufficiently. This works best if the leaves are very dry and crispy.

  • Rake the leaves into long rows the width of your mower deck.
  • Make a pass over the row.
  • When the bag is full empty it out, again in a long, narrow row and run down the line again.

A couple of passes will reduce most leaves to the size of corn flakes.

These are an ideal “brown” or carbon ingredient for the compost pile. You can also just mulch your beds with this material as it is.

Organic Weed Control Methods ~ Mulching

What is Mulch?”

Mulch is a protective covering (such as of bark chips, compost, or grass clippings) overlaid on the ground.

Mulch reduces the moisture loss from the soil by preventing evaporation from sunshine and desiccating winds.

Mulch prevents erosion by eliminating or reducing the “splash-away” effect of torrential downpours.

Mulch helps regulate soil temperature by shading it in the summer thus keeping it cooler and helps insulate it in the winter from chilling winds. This temperature regulating effect helps encourage the root growth of plants.

Mulch helps to keep fruit clean (such as strawberries and tomatoes) by reducing muddy splash-ups during rainstorms.

Mulch controls weed growth by smothering seedlings, prevents daylight which helps foster germination from reaching weed seeds, and prevents air-borne seeds from taking hold in the soil surface.

Mulch helps prevent damage to trees and bushes by protecting their stems and surface roots from damage by mechanical garden tools such as weed whackers, edgers, and lawn mowers. Mulch helps prevent soil compaction by providing a cushion to walk upon. Walking on bare soil will compact it reducing its aeration and ability to drain.

Mulch provides a more unified and tidy appearance to flower beds and borders.

Mulch helps reduce yardwaste disposal and cash outlay. If you utilize your own yard wastes by chipping pruned branches and limbs, make your own compost, or use grass clippings and raked fallen leaves for mulch you won’t have to bag and haul them to the curb for collection or pay for their disposal, you won’t utilize land-fill space, and you’ll keep your wallet in your pocket because the mulch you create is free.

Mulch enriches the soil as it breaks down and releases nutrients back into the ground. Mulch, if not already decomposed, will encourage microbial organisms which are beneficial to healthy plants.


“What are some common mulches?”

Chipped hardwood bark mulch: Is readily available for home-owners from township landfills. It is made from ground and/or chipped trees. It is often free or available at a low cost. The downside of chipped bark mulch from municipalities is that it may contain bark from diseased trees. Compost it for a year before using it in your garden. Before you apply the aged bark mulch topdress your garden soil with fertilizers high in nitrogen such as blood-meal, cottonseed-meal, manure, or guano.

Softwood bark mulch: Made from pine, fir, or redwood, is available in many different sizes. It is long lasting and excellent for use in foundation plantings.

Compost: Is an excellent mulch that you can make at home by composting various yardwastes such as leaves, grass clippings, plants and soft-wood bush prunings, coffee grounds, and non-animal kitchen wastes. Partially decomposed composted material is one of the most nutrient rich mulches you can use. As it breaks down it releases nutrients into the soil.

Crushed Corncobs: Regionally available inexpensive mulch. It is generally available as a dyed or natural product. Corncob mulch is a cushioning mulch and is often used in playgrounds.

Hay: Often used in rural and farm gardens because it is more likely to be available at the least expensive cost. The use of aged bales may reduce the weed content. Apply hay mulch after the ground has warmed to discourage mice and voles from tunneling under it.

Spent Hops: Available from breweries. Can be a bit “whiffy” after application but the scent will dissipate after a few weeks.

Buckwheat Hulls: Buckwheat hull mulch is fluffy and is excellent for use around perennials and annuals.

Cocoa-bean Hulls: Cocoa-bean hull mulch is a rich brown color and smells like chocolate-heaven (yumyum!). Apply it in a thin layer as it can otherwise become slimy or moldy. If applied at greater than a three inch depth you may wish to occasionally rake it to stir the hulls about, thus reducing the dampness which fosters the mold.

Peanut Hulls: Peanut hull mulch is available from garden centers near peanut growers and processors. As it breaks down it provides some nitrogen to the soil.

Lawn Clippings: Grass clippings are best used after they’ve been allowed to dry. If applied while they’re fresh they can compact and generate heat while decomposing. They can produce strong odors the first week or two of decomposition but the scent will subside after that. It is not recommended to use grass clippings from lawns that have been treated with pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides.

Leafmold: This mulch is available from most municipal composting facilities or you can make your own. Autumn gathered leaves left to decompose over winter will provide you with leafmold ready for use the following spring. Fallen Leaves: The least expensive form of mulch available. It is readily available in Autumn near woody areas. Fallen leaves may be used as is, chopped with the lawn mower to reduce their size, or compost them during winter and use them as leafmold the following spring.

Manure: Available as a bagged commercially composted product at garden centers, or available fresh from stables and farms. Fresh manure should be composted for at least six months to reduce nitrogen burn when applied around plants and to reduce the viability of weed seeds in the manure itself.

Mushroom soil/compost: Is available at garden centers or sources near commercial mushroom growers. It is generally inexpensive.

Peat Moss: A commonly used mulch, it is attractive when applied thickly. Look for course-grade peat moss when using it for a mulch. It can be cost prohibitive when used for mulching large areas. Peat moss will shed water when it’s dry rather than absorbing it. You can help maintain it’s moisture by watering this mulch regularly when you also water your lawn.

Pine Needles: Are a light colored, fluffy, and pretty mulch. Leave them in place under pine trees rather than removing them. Rake them from your lawn grass and use them to mulch around acid-loving plants such as azaleas, blueberries, and rhododendrons. They are also excellent to use as a cushioning mulch for garden paths and will release their pine scent when walked upon.

Sawdust: Available from timber mills or other wood processing businesses. As it decomposes it can cause nitrogen loss from the the soil so if used in garden beds apply nitrogen rich fertilizers regularly. Sawdust is an excellent mulch for garden paths. It is not recommended to use sawdust from chemically treated or painted wood.
Straw: Can be used for winter protection as an overlay in muddy areas and will provide some traction on icy paths. It is also frequently used as a mulch in veggie gardens. Do not use straw mulch in frequently used areas as it is highly inflammable. Do not use it to mulch walkways as it can be easily ignited by a carelessly tossed smoldering cigarette butt.

Wood Chips: Can be obtained from arborists, utility companies, municipal yard waste facilites, and garden centers. They are very long lasting and make a good overlayment for paths and walkways.

To learn more about mulch and the wonderful effect of compost and micro-organisms in the soil please visit the “Soil, Compost, and Mulch Forum” and do read their fabulous FAQs. Taking care of your soil is vital to having a garden of healthy and vigorous plants.

“What is a hoe?”

A hoe is a garden tool with a thin flat blade usually on a long handle that is used especially for weeding and/or loosening and breaking up soil around plants. Hoes with short handles are often called “hand hoes.”

“How do I use a hoe?”

Hoeing works best when weeds are small and haven’t yet begun to bloom and set seeds. Use the hoe to sever the tops of weeds from their roots just below the soil surface. Carefully scrape the soil with the hoe, it’s blade will barely enter the soil and will cut the stems of the weeds. Young severed weeds may be left on the ground to wilt and break down where they are.

“How do I clean the hoe after use?”

Brush off any loose soil from a hoe, then wipe it with an oily rag to keep it from rusting inbetween usage. When not in use store the hoe in a shed or garage with the blade edge facing the wall.

“How do I sharpen a hoe?”

A hoe is a cutting tool. It works best when it’s blade is kept sharp. To sharpen a hoe:

*Use a flat general-purpose file to sharpen the blade of the hoe.

*Hold the file at a 45 degree angle on the edge of the blade. (It may help to place the handle of the hoe in a vice-clamp to hold it securely while you sharpen the blade.)

*Sharpen the hoe using strokes going in only one direction, do not use “back and forth” motions. Only a few strokes should be neccesary to sharpen the blade of the hoe.

Removing weeds by manually pulling them from the ground is the most common form of organic weed control. It’s easy to do, doesn’t pollute the environment with toxins, and is also cost effective because it’s free.

What is the best way to manually pull weeds?

Grab the plant close to the ground, encircling it’s leaves with the fingers of one hand. Take a small-bladed knife or sharp-edged hand trowel with your other hand and use it in the soil to slide under the roots of the weed to loosen them and help remove the plant from the soil.

Use care to avoid disturbing the surrounding soil, mulch, or leaf litter to prevent bringing deeply buried weed seeds closer to the surface where they could sprout.

Hand pulled weeds can be left on the ground to break down where they are except for any that have developing or mature seeds. Developing or mature seeds should be cut from the plants and bagged for curbside disposal.

Any weed with parts that could possibly re-sprout from their nodes (such as Honeysuckle ~ Lonicera japonica or perennial Morning Glory ~ Ipomoea indica) should also be removed and bagged for curbside disposal.

A noxious weed is any particular plant designated by a government agency as being injurious to the public’s health, agricultural practices, recreational enjoyment, wildlife, personal or private property.

Grow your own tomato plants in five gallon buckets. They can be moved around easily and are a great project for home or at the office. These will work very well if you garden on a patio, balcony, or a deck!

Needs: 5 gallon bucket, nail, hammer, soil, wooden stake, water, plant food, tomato seedling, sunshine.

Using the hammer and nail bang about a dozen holes into the bottom of the bucket–this is to allow excess moisture to drain from the soil.

Fill the bucket with soil to about four inches from the top. Add a handful of granular plant food and scratch it into the top of the soil.

Insert the stake down into the center of the soil, making sure that its end is more than halfway down into the soil.

Transplant the seedling into the center of the soil, close to the stake.

Water the seedling thoroughly, making sure that the soil is saturated…the excess water will drain away through the holes in the bottom of the bucket.

Place the bucket in a sunny location that gets more than six hours of sun a day.

Water the soil often so that it doesn’t dry out….in warm weather it may require as much as a gallon of water a day.

As the seedling grows tie it to the stake with string to help support the plant.

Harvest the tomatoes when they are ripe.

The following were culled and edited from an ongoing thread. Many thanks to all the posters for their inputs. Additional tips will be added as time allows.

  • Overwatering Most new gardeners think that the more water the better when usually, just the opposite is true. Take the time to learn exactly what the water needs of you plant is and count to 10 before turning on the hose. If you are watering anything daily you are probably watering too much.
  • Trying to Grow Non-Native Species Since the plant has to grow where it is planted or die, you improve it’s chances and yours dramatically by growing what is native to your area. Checking with a local nursery or supplier, using a seed catalog company from your region, and talking to other local gardeners can save you lots of heartache and backaches.
  • Not Knowing Your Zone We all move at sometimes and when you planted in one place isn’t the time to plant in another. Local gardeners, your county AG agent and local nurseries are a good source of information.
  • Fertilising More is not always better, often it is worse. Take the time to learn the nutrient needs of your plants and the differences in various kinds and levels of fertiliser. If you feed your tomatoes nothing but fish emulsion you will have lovely big, green plants. But no tomatoes. If you feed your roses lots of nitrogen rich fertiliser you will have lots of lovely rose leaves. But nary a rose.
  • Beware Of Overly Invasive Plants Often plants are listed in catalogs as: readily reseeding or vigorous or having a spreading habit or being extremely hardy. This often may mean the plant can become invasive and spread well beyond your intended area. Catalogs are wonderful resources for finding special plants. But some catalogs just go too far with their colorful descriptions, implying that a plant is trouble-free, carefree, practically perfect in every way.
  • Plant Lust New gardeners would do well to avoid the “I just gotta have it!!!” syndrome. Purchasing plants that require a growing environment you cannot possibly provide is not only costly but frustrating. Going to a nursery is like going to the grocery store. Make sure you have a list first, and stick to the list!
  • Kill All BugsThose new to gardening often feel that “the only good bug is a dead bug.” NOT TRUE. A healthy garden will always have a population of insect life GOOD and BAD. The key is balance. Remember, the garden isn’t your house, it is theirs and most of the insects in the flower bed and vegetable garden are good guys. They may nibble on the occasional leaf or bud but they more than earn their keep by eating up the bad guys and providing pollination services. Less than 5% of the various insects, beetles, spiders, worms and caterpillars, etc., are true pests so “nukeing” the garden with pesticides often does far more harm than good.
  • OvercrowdingOvercrowding plants doesn’t do it any favors. Plants need room to breathe and good air circulation. They also need light to reach them and planting too densely blocks the plants ability to reach it’s full potential. Overcrowding stresses plants and makes them more prone to disease.
  • Avoiding Weeding Whether by hook, crook or hand those weeds have to come out of the garden and flower bed and getting them out before they go to seed can make a world of difference. You can do much to limit the problem or weeds (ground covers, mulching ect) but there is no free lunch. All gardens need some maintenance.
  • Not Preparing New Beds Properly Piling soil on top of your lawn or new flower beds WILL NOT kill weeds. They will thrive and flourish in the rich new soil. Be diligent in pulling and digging the area and amend the soil. The time spent building a good weed free soil base before planting will make the future tending of the bed much easier and satisfying.
  • Plants die, so get over it. The most important thing that gardeners should realise, is that every living thing has a prescribed life span. Sometimes plants die for no earthly reason whatsoever even though you’ve done everything “right,” Don’t obsess over it! Dig it up and plant another.
  • ALWAYS plant the right plant in the right place, or another way of putting it, suit the plant to the site. Don’t try to plant a Hosta in a prairie garden, it ain’t gonna work. Conversely, don’t plant something that likes it hot and dry in a moist, shady spot.
  • ALWAYS keep in mind the mature size of a plant/tree/shrub. The biggest mistake that people make is initially planting things too closely, not realizing how large something will grow. Then 3 years down the road they’re complaining how their perennial bed is crowded and overgrown. A rule of thumb is to plant something the distance of 1/2 its size, i.e., if a plant grows 2′ wide, plant it 1′ from its neighbor.
  • Start small. Build one 4′ X 8′ bed or till one 25′ X 25′ patch. A new gardener has to build their skill and make time for gardening into their lives. Take more time thinking, than ordering from catalogs. The more time you spend in your garden planning, the greater the odds are you will take the time to find out where you really want things placed. Moving an improperly sited apple tree gets a lot less fun 4, 5, or 10 years after the fact. Moving them to a new site is often a bigger job than just digging a new hole a bit bigger than the root ball.
  • Feed your soil, not the plant. The secret to a great garden is great soil. Try to add large amounts of organic materials like crushed leaves, grass clippings, and homemade compost. Your plants will never be happier.
  • There’s nothing special about seeing dirt in between your plants. Mass your plants. Massing doesn’t mean overcrowding. Plants that touch and overlap slightly create their own microclimates, thereby keeping out weeds.
  • A garden based on flower color alone is boring! Plant your garden keeping in mind foliage color, texture, and winter interest. As garden writer Ann Lovejoy say’s if you can look at your garden in winter and like what you see, you’ve got good design.
  • Again, don’t obsess over something that doesn’t turn out right! Gardening is supposed to be fun!
  • The best way to level your lawn is with a tractor and a box blade. For those of you with smaller lawns, or no access to a tractor, here’s a summary of how you can level your lawn yourself…1. Mow with a rotary mower at the mower’s lowest setting.2. Scalp to 1/16 inch with a rented, self powered and propelled, reel mower. The purpose of this is to scalp the yard as low as possible and remove the debris. If you cannot rent a reel mower, mow at the lowest possible setting of whatever you have and remove the debris.

    3. Core aerate (if you think you must, sigh)

    4. Top dress with [*****your local topsoil*****] mix.

    5. Drag a large mat over the topdressing to make it super level. Drag in all directions until you are happy with it.

    6. Seed or sod.

    7. Roll the seed or sod with a rented water fillable roller.

    8. Fertilise.


    1. This step may hit roots, soil, or hidden rocks in your soil. Be careful.

    2. The only way to completely remove the turf and keep the roots alive is to mow as low as possible. This exposes all the high and low spots to make step 4 work better.

    3. Don’t aerate before step 2 or you will have trouble mowing. If you have low spots you want to raise, don’t aerate the low spots but aerate heavily in the high areas so you can sweep all the cores to the low areas.

    4. *****We’re still working on what to use in this step.***** I also want to come up with an easy way to estimate how much top dressing to buy. Basically you get 1/4 to 1/3 inch per cubic yard per 1,000 square feet. So 4 cubic yards will provide about an inch of cover on 1,000 square feet. There are probably issues with how to get this out of a pile and relatively evenly distributed before dragging.

    5. You can use chain link fencing with boards to weight it down or an inverted shipping palate.

    6. Use the best seed you can find. It will be the seed with the lowest % weed.

    7. The roller is needed to push the seed into the soil and provide good contact. Sod needs to be rolled so that the bottom of all the sod is touching the soil.

    8. If you were doing this in an organic program, you would fertilise with alfalfa at 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet about 2-3 weeks prior to starting this process.

  • Below is a checklist to help you provide enough information to correctly identify lawn problems. This can be especially helpful for first-time posters. This is only meant as a guide and users should not feel compelled to answer every question. Please use this in any information requests to us.

    Background Information:

    1. Where you live?

    2. What type of grass you have?

    3. What products you have applied to your lawn, and how much? These include fertiliser, herbicide, fungicide, insecticide, etc.

    4. How often and how long you irrigate?

    5. Is the lawn established, or have you recently seeded/re-seeded or added sod? If so, when?

    6. At what height you mow and how often?

    7. Results of soil test if applicable.

    Specifically describe the problem being as descriptive as possible

    8. Entire lawn is affected or a specific area(s)?

    9. If it is a specific area, what is different about this area? This can include: Shade, standing water, insects/pests, weeds, moss, rocks, heavy traffic, etc. Also, if the problem area is ring-shaped or spreading in any way.

    10. If your problem is with weeds, what type of weeds?

    11. How long you have noticed this problem and it is recurring?


    12. Do you have a preference towards a synthetic or organic solution?

    13. Past efforts to remedy the problem.

    14. Are any solutions not feasible? (hand pulling weeds for 2+ acres, daily watering, etc.)

  • Ironically, all a good gardener’s hard work, mulching, irrigating, keeping a compost pile can actually ATTRACT moles by providing plenty of worms, grubs etc. for them to eat. Their constant search for underground insects can cause serious damage to lawns and gardens, so it would seem that destroying soil insects would decrease their activity…but actually, damage may be increased as the animals burrow even more in their territory to find the scarcer food! Also long-term eradication of soil insects is impractical, if not impossible.

    Other means of getting rid of moles that DO NOT work:

    Fumigating: car exhaust, poison gas cannisters etc., are a wasteof time when dealing with moles, their tunnels are far too extensive to fill with gas. You may succeed in repelling them, or maybe killing one, but tomorrow…THEY’LL BE BAAAACK!

    Poison baits: moles are primarily insect eaters, poison baits are generally grain-based.

    Mothballs: moles maybe temporarily repelled, or more likely, just dig different tunnels. In the meantime, you have poison lying around for children or pets to find.

    Vibrating or ultrasonic devices: As lovely lawn decorations, windmill daisies may may bother your neighbors, but your moles won’t mind a bit.

    Chewing gum, broken glass, human hair, etc., etc., etc. : Again, really not effective. Homeowers sometimes think they’ve run off a mole using one of these methods, most likely, she’s just gone to deeper ground to have babies, who will be ready to dig their own tunnels in a month!

    Recommended methods for getting rid of moles

    Trapping: The ‘harpoon’ type trap is probably the easiest to use, but does require careful placement. You’ll need to watch the mole activity to find active ‘surface runs’ . Often these are located along a barrier, such as a driveway, or along the edge of a woods or hedge. They tend to be fairly straight, and may appear to connect two or more mounds or the curving ridged paths where the moles hunt. Once you think you’ve found a main runway, make a hole in it, the mole will repair it in a day or two if it’s an actively used run, which means it’s a good place to trap.

    The trap should carry instructions on how to set it. Lightly depress an area of the run, and place the set trap over it, so that the trigger just barely touches the depressed area. The support spikes should straddle the tunnel without blocking it. Also, take care not to damage any other part of the run, the mole needs to be able to get to the trap area. A bucket placed over the trap can help keep children or pets away.

    Check the trap often, if not tripped within a few days, try another location.

    Other methods: Moles can easily be observed at work, for those with strong stomachs, a pitchfork or shovel straight into a moving burrow is quite effective. Or you could try to dig up the creature and transport it elsewhere…be warned, these little velvet-coated beasts are fearless, and can deliver a painful bite or scratch!

    Some dogs and cats are good mole-hunters, though it seems more of a game, as moles taste unpleasant, and few predators actually eat them.

    When placing a garden or lawn near a wood or field where moles are plentiful, a ‘mole barrier’ can keep them out. Sections of galvanized hardware cloth or aluminum sheathing, 3 feet wide, should be buried to a depth of 24″. Six inches should be left exposed above the soil, and three inches can be bent forward on the bottom, towards the source of the moles, to discourage them from digging underneath it.

  • Q: How high should I mow my grass?

    A: You should mow the grass at the highest setting on your mower or at least 3 inches. Each time you mow, you should cut no more than 1/3 of the grass height. Note: There are exceptions for some warm season grasses such as bermuda centipede, and bentgrass that grow more dense at lower mower settings.

    Q: How should I water my lawn?

    A: You should water deeply and infrequently. The goal for most lawns is 1″ per week, and it is best if that is delivered “all at once” instead of over several days.

    Q: Should I mulch or bag my clippings.

    A: Mulch in most cases. Mulching returns nutrients to the lawn, as well as organic matter. It also helps to retain water. Sometimes it may be helpful to bag if you have an annual weed infestation which is setting seeds, or if your grass has gotten extra long between mowings.

    Q: Will mulching contribute to thatch?

    A: No. Thatch is caused by roots growing near the surface. Mulching helps to deter thatch by helping with the decomposition process.

    Q: What is the best cultivar for my lawn?

    A: Check for cultivar performance by state or post here and someone will help you decide.

    Q: How do I level a bumpy lawn?

    A: You can fill in low spots with a one quarter inch layer of topsoil or sand. You may have to gradually fill in a low spot to avoid smothering the grass. Another alternative is to lift the sod with a shovel, fill with sand or topsoil, and replace the sod.

    Q: How do I get rid of weeds?

    A: Annual weeds that grow from seed can be prevented with the application of a pre-emergent herbicide (CGM for Organic) prior to seed germination. There is also a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent many perennial type broadleaf weeds. After the weeds appear, you can apply a post-emergent herbicide or pull the weeds by hand.

    Q: Which is better, spike or core aeration?

    A: Core aeration is preferred because it removes small cores of dirt to ease compaction. Spike aeration can compress some types of soil and add to compaction issues. However, spike aeration is best for sandy type soils.

    Q: Can I overseed my lawn and still apply a pre-emergent for weeds?

    A: The majority of pre-emergents prevent germination for all types of seeds. A newer pre-emergent under the name Tupersan is a selective pre-emergent that can be used at the time of seeding to prevent weed seed germination and allow grass seed germination.

  • Pruning can be done any time of year, but there are definitely BEST times, especially if there is a lot to be cut.
    Deciduous trees that flower before the end of May should be pruned as soon as blooming is over.
    Deciduous trees that flower after May should be pruned between Jan & Mar. Prune flowering cherries in late summer, flowering evergreens in May, conifers in autumn. Cut out dead, damaged, or diseased wood as it is discovered.
  • The following are some tips on dealing with slugs.
    • A spray bottle of half ammonia/half water is good. When you go on patrol, spray slugs at will. If it does not seem strong enough to you, add a little more ammonia. This is a very effective way to zap the slithery critters.
    • Diatomaceous Earth will also work. Slugs do not want to cross it. It will rip them open. Look for this at a garden store and maybe wear a dust mask when you apply around your plants.
    • Water your plants in the morning and let ground dry during course of the day. This simple trick is very effective.
    • Copper strips about 4 inches wide. Some people swear by this, some say it does not work. The theory is that slugs will get zapped if they cross the copper. Look for this in a garden store.
    • Lay a board down over some wet ground. In the morning, or whenever, go out with a bucket of soapy water or the half ammonia/half water mix. Pick up the board carefully and look at the underside. There will probably be slugs on it. Scrape or pick them off and throw in bucket.
    • Beer traps made from margerine tubs or soda bottles and placed around the area you wish to protect also can be effective.
    • There are a number of organic snail baits such as: Escargo, Sluggo, or Worry Free. They are very effective.
  • It is possible to get rid of aphids with sprays or ladybugs, but the sprays only work till the next rain and the ladybugs will end up in the garden which has the most aphids which is probably your neighbors.

    An answer for people who like to fuss

    Here is a natural insect spray: Blend together 1 garlic bulb, 1 small onion, 1 t cayenne pepper, 1 quart water. Steep one hour and add 1 T liquid hand soap. Store in the refrigerator.

    This is a permanent solution.

    Plant allium (chives, garlic, onions) as companion plants surrounding or bordering the plants which are susceptible to aphids. The allium has to be in the ground year round. This method has kept my garden aphid-free for 15 years, even though it is neighbored by aphid-laden trees.

  • Tilling

    Repeated tilling will kill the grass over a period of a year.

    Covering the area

    The grass will die within the year if covered completely. Plastic works, but has to be removed before the area can be used. A heavy layer of newspaper eliminates the need for later removal. Hold the newspapers down with material which will compost. It, too, will become part of the soil.

    Using corn gluten

    Apply corn gluten after tilling. Seedlings can be planted, but seeds should not be sowed for a while. The product is organic and not harmful to pets or children. It is available from Gardens Alive.


    If local regulations permit, the area can be burned with the cooperation of the local fire department. That will take care of the shallow lawn grasses, but leave the deep-rooted native prairie grasses. Do not till after the fire. Just start planting. Use mulch to preserve moisture.

  • To get rid of weeds to start a new garden is easy. Cover the ground with black and white newspapers on which you put soil or mulch or both. You can then garden immediately. The weeds will get choked and the paper will eventually compost. Plastic cover is possible but can lead to fungus diseases. Digging or tilling the soil first is counterproductive because it brings more weed seeds to the surface, it may, however, be necessary to loosen up severely compacted soil.
  • As fertiliser

    The trees can be planted in the snow in places where the soil is alkaline. The falling needles will lower the pH, which is helpful on strawberry beds, on bulbs, on perennials, especially on alkaline prairie clay soil. The flowering bulbs get super-vivid colors with that treatment. Where the soil does not have a snow cover, the branches can be cut off and used to cover bulbs and perennials. Hang bird feeders on the branches.

    As support for climbing plants

    In the spring, plant the trees in large holes into you throw manure or compost and cover with soil. Then I stick in the seeds of cucumbers, pole beans, squash, morning glory, and anything else which can climb up on the tree.

    Chop off the branches and form a teepee with the tips of the trunks tied together. These teepees will support climbing plants, including large pumpkins.

    As decoration/windbreak

    Municipalities plant the trees in the snow as decorations and as windbreaks for skating paths or winter festivals. Later they use large chippers to make chips for gardens and parks.

    For fish breeding

    A water bird refuge throws the trees onto the ice of its large ponds. In the spring, they sink to the bottom and create breeding grounds for the fish population.

  • What is OG? Well it very controversal based on who you talk to. Some OG people are strictly conservative in their gardening methods, while others are more adventureous and experimental. Some OG ideas are classical, ancient, and mystical. Other ideas are more modern, scientific, state of the art. Well what is it then?

    This is not the best, but it is a good laymen definition of OG:

    “ORGANIC GARDENING – the science and art of gardening by incorporating the entire landscape design and environment to improve and maximize the garden soil’s health, structure, texture, as well as maximize the production and health of developing plants without using synthethic commercial fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides.”

    One of our forum members, Organic_Johnny, used this statement also to help define organic gardening from an ecological point of view:

    1. Choose your plants to fit your garden, rather than insisting on growing picky and tempermental plants that require constant fertilizing.

    2. Amend your soil with organic materials, e.g, break up clay with compost, rather than reaching for the gypsum right away.

    3. Plant things that will attract and maintain a population of beneficial insects, etc., and cultivate the soil in such a way as to encourage good fungi and bacteria that will fight off the bad guys.

    4. Never throw organic material in the trash…re-introduce it to your local slice of the biosphere!

    Both organic and natural soil amendments are slow release, contain organic matter, and usually have a NPK ratio whose sum of the top 3 major nutrients is less than 20. They are usually designed from decomposed animal or vegetable remains or mineral rocks. They are designed to feed the soil microherd insoluble OM, not supply lots of available soluble plant nutrients.

    Synthetic fertilizers have higher NPK because they are designed to chemically build the soluble nutrients of the soil without any organic matter. They also are not designed to feed the soil microherd. Synthetics are normally made from petroleum products or mineral salts.

    There are actually 3 major classes of environmentally conscious gardeners today. (Note: none of these 3 classes believe in the use of synthetic fertilizers) They are all similar but also quite different:

    1. Organic Gardening – these people don’t use anything in their garden that has any potentially harmful chemicals, preservatives, colorings, etc. in their gardening strategies. The modern idealogies of this philosophy are based from men like Sir Albert Howard and J. I. Rodale and his family and company. They garden all year round regardless of weather or climate conditions. Economics, common sense, and environmental concerns drives the focus of this philosophy. All composting and green manuring techniques are key to this philosophy. Organic soil amendments are grass clippings, hay, straw, animal manures, human urine, leaves, dolomitic limestone, greensand, etc.

    2. Biodynamic Gardening – these gardeners believe almost the same as the OG people, but they go to the next level. This philosophy was founded mainly by Rudolph Steiner. They believe strongly in gardening during appropriate astrological signs, religion, critical seasons of the year, etc. They are even very adamant about what organic materials goes into their compost at certain specifc times. (i.e. Special uses of comfrey and stinging nettle in compost piles during special times of the year) Their focus is not maximizing crop production like the OG people, but maximizing the physical and spiritual needs of nature. They use special soil amendments like stinging nettle, comfrey, yarrow, and dandelions in many of their gardening functions.

    3. Natural Gardening – these gardeners are similar in the basic philosophy of the OG people, but not as strict in their choice of soil amendments. They will use a safe natural product that has good organic matter in it, even if it contains a minimum use of preservatives, colorings, etc. Natural soil amendments are blood meal, bone meal, fish emulsion, kelp spray, cottonseed meal, cattle feeds, etc.

    4. Permaculture and other forms of sustainable farming – Permaculture in laymen terms is basically an extreme form of organic gardening where the farmer can only use materials on his/her farm to recycle to make compost, soil amendments, fertilizers, etc. for his farm. No buying or getting of organic material or natural fertilizers from outside or commercial sources.

    To make things even more complicated, the USDA has redefined certain guidelines and regulations for any farners who want to be classified as “USDA certified organic”!

    The truth is, almost all environmentally conscious gardeners cross over back and forth between these 4 major classes. You as a gardener have to decide for yourself which philosophy style best fits your needs.

  • There are many different types and brands of fertilizers. What works for some may not work for others. And the variety of seed will also be different for different people.

    Even for full grown plants, most horticulturalists are in agreement that commercial fertilizers should be used at half the recommended rate stated on the product.

    Commercial fertilizers are salt fertilizers which can burn plants when too much is used. Be cautious, it is always best to dilute commercial fertilizers, especially with seedlings. If you start with a good quality growing medium that is designed for seed starting to begin with, you shouldn’t need to use any additional fertilizer at all.

    Fertilizers contain salts that can kill the plants you’re trying to keep alive, especially if it’s allowed to build up. This is because the salt absorbs water more readily than plant roots, effectively starving the grass. Salt itself can also be toxic to plant roots by causing the buildup of sodium, bicarbonate, and boron. Salt injury can cause plants to be more easily susceptible to soil-based plant diseases.

    Nature has been growing plants year after year – for millions of years and seasons on it’s own – without the help of humans to come along and fertilize with commercial products. Have a little faith in all the hard work nature has put into creating the seed in the first place. Keep it simple and don’t try too hard. If you feel you still need to use some, stick with natural fertilizers such as seaweed/kelp, fish emulsion, etc.

    In the end, compost (comprised from at least five different sources) is the absolute best fertilizer you can use. You can’t use too much of it, it’s already at the proper pH, and it’s free if you make it!

  • Some of the best, effective, yet safest, pesticides and fungicides for organic garden use can be made without using any dangerous chemicals. The best way to control harmful pests and insects is to design your total garden landscape and annual gardening strategy to incorporate continuous companion planting ideas and various intense gardening and biodiversity concepts in order to increase beneficial insect and animal populations to control the harm animals and insect populations. Intensive organic mulching through your garden landscape also controls many pests. Some advanced organic gardeners don’t even use any natural pesticides or fungicides, because their soil structure and garden techniques encourage massive populations of beneficials.

    However, there are exceptions where a few ideas are needed to control pests. Here is a simple list of classic organic and natural concepts:

    1. Companion planting and intense gardening – you can plant certain plants close together to help fight diseases, control pests, or even improve the soil for its neigboring plants’ health.

    2. Garlic, onions – all alliums are great for killing soft body insects. Flying insects can be paralyzed by direct hits. Also a great fungicide. Best if crushed or liquified in a vegetable oil tea. Use several cloves of garlic per gallon of water.

    3. Hot peppers – fresh or powder is great for repelling rabbits and other pests. Many soft body insects can be killed by its acidic “burning” effect. Best when mixed with garlic sprays applications.

    4. Canola oil, vegetable oils – mineral oils work also, but they are made from petroleum products. Oil sprays suffocate soft body insects. Don’t use too much on sensitive plants. May burn leaves. Don’t use no more than 1 cup of oil per gallon of water.

    5. Alcohol – rubbing alcohol is good but it is made from petroleum products. Drinking alcohols are made from plants. Using only a few tblsp per gallon of water will kill many soft body insects. Too much alcohol in water will produce a super herbicide.

    6. Apple Cider Vinegar – Use 1-2 tbls per gallon of water for a mild fungicide or acidic liquid fertilizer. Like alcohol can be a natural herbicide if too much is used in tea. Most white vinegars are made from petroleum products. Apple cider vinegar can contain up to 30 trace elements.

    7. Corn meal – Use as a topdressing or in a tea for fungal control.

    8. Compost teas – This multi-purpose fluid can contain beneficial microbes and soluble nutrients that can be a mild fungicide and disease controller.

    9. Ground cloves – great repellant and can kill flying insects. Use several tblsp per gallon of water.

    10. Japanese beetles – these pests are best controlled by killing their larva during the winter and early spring seasons with mild topsoil tilling, or using milky spore or beneficial nematode soil applications. During the warm season, the best way to control them is with traps. Simple inexpensive traps can be made by placing several small open milk jugs, cans, or buckets all over your garden. Inside the cans place some rotten fruit or fruit cocktail in 1/2 can of water with 1-2 tbls of liquid soap and 1-2 tblsp of canola oil. You can also add dry molasses or liquid molasses for extra microbial power in the soapy tea mixture to attract and kill them. Also planting a border planting of buckwheat will attract these pests away from your crops.

    11. Diatomeous earth – this natural powdery substance will poke insect bodies and dehydrate many soft body soil organisms, but not earthworms. It can kill bees if direct contact of a spray mixture. This can be used on the soil or sprayed on the plant with soapy water. Unlike most natural pesticides, D.E. can stay in the soil working for decades.

    12. Neem oil – like vegetable oil sprays, it suffocates insects. However, neem goes the extra step of destroying soft body insects’ ability to reproduce and makes them starve by removing their appetites.

    13. Liquid soaps – Only use natural soaps or Murphy oil soap or mild liquid dishwashing soaps like Ivory. Soap help make teas stick better to plants and pests, and they also paralyze many insects in direct contact. Use no more than 1-2 cups of soap per gallon of water. Do not use much on flowering fruit or vegetable plants. Can hinder fruit production.

    14. Citrus acid and molasses – repels and kills fire ants and similar pests. Mix 1-2 cups per gallon of soapy water. Hot boiling water mixed with garlic products, poured over the fire ant mounds will also kill the queens. You can produce citrus acid from crushing whole oranges or lemons into a tea.

    15. Tobacco products – this is definitely a classic natural pesticide, but most organic gardeners today stay away from it. It may kill beneficials too if abused. It can cause diseases on tomatoes if not properly used. Most modern pro-tobacco pesticidal tea experts suggest to brew a tobacco tea no more than 30 minutes, to be safe enough to not harm beneficials like bees and ladybugs. You can mix in a liquid soap as a spreader-sticker. NOTE: Do not use tobacco teas on nightshade family crops.Also recent research has proven that the available nicotine produced in a tobacco tea is not the same stuff as nicotine sulfate. It is much safer than nicotine sulfate or rotenene. Just one drop of pure nicotine sulfate on your skin can may you sick. Homemade tobacco teas have great knock down power for tough pests like Japanese beetles. Chewing tobaccos are the most safest, natural forms for these homemade tobacco teas.

    16. Bleaches and Peroxide – great fungicides. However, most commerical bleaches are not natural. Use 1-2 tblsp per gallon of water.

    17. Dolomitic Limestome, Hydrated Lime, Bone Meal, Egg Shells – sprinkle a little lime or crushed egg shells around soil areas where snails and slugs live. Most high calcium carbonate products will work. Also a light dusting of lime on plants acts as a fungal control. Egg shells also have the extra benefit of discouraging snails and slugs because of its rough edges.

    You can mix together several of the above materials in a special compost tea brew and it will become even more powerful against pests. Be careful not to abuse these brews, because they may harm beneficials if not used properly.


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