When Beauty Disappears :(

By: Monica Pana

Last year I’ve presented to you the Tulip Symphony from Herăstrău Park. A Splendor in the Grass. A beauty that takes your breath away. A joy to the soul.
This year I present you nothing. Because it no longer exists. Because nobody is interested in anything. Because in their pursuit to death, people forget to enjoy and to enjoy others.
Because… what is beautiful… always disappears 😦
It’s a shame!

Note: The copyrights on the article belong to the author. The responsibility for the opinions expressed in the article belongs exclusively to the author. Please visit her site, look around! to read more of Monica’s fine work!

Composting the Easy Way

By: Michael J. McGroarty

compostinghandsHaving an ample supply of good rich compost is the gardener’s dream. It has many uses, and all of those uses will result in nicer plants. However, composting can be time consuming and hard work.  I place a reasonable value on my time, so spending hours and hours turning compost piles doesn’t qualify as a worthwhile exercise, at least in my book.  Nonetheless, I do compost, but I do so on my terms.

I built two composting bins. Each bin is five feet wide, five feet deep, and four feet high.  I built the bins by sinking 4” by 4” posts in the ground for the corners, and then nailed 2 by 4’s and 1 by 4’s, alternating on the sides. I left 2” gaps between the boards for air circulation.  The 2 by 4’s are rigid enough to keep the sides from bowing out, and in between each 2 by 4 I used 1 by 4’s to save a little money.  The bins are only 3 sided, I left the front of the bins open so they can be filled and emptied easily. Photos of my compost bins are on this page: http://www.freeplants.com\composting.htm

I started by filling just one of the bins. I put grass clippings, dried leaves, and shrub clippings in the bins.  I try not to put more than 6” of each material on a layer. You don’t want 24” of grass clippings in the bin, you should alternate layers of green and brown material.  If necessary, keep a few bags of dry leaves around so you can alternate layers of brown waste and green waste.

When we root cuttings we use coarse sand in the flats, so when it’s time to pull the rooted cuttings out of the flats, the old sand goes on the compost pile.  In our little backyard nursery we also have some plants in containers that do not survive. Rather than pulling the dead plant and the weeds out of the container, and then dumping the potting soil back on the soil pile, we just dump the whole container in the compost bin. This adds more brown material to the mix, and is a lot easier than separating the soil and the weeds.

Once the bin is full, the rules of composting say that you should turn the material in the bin every few weeks.  There is no way that I have time to do that, so this is what I do. I pack as much material in the bin as I can, before I start filling the second bin.  I pile the material as high as I possibly can, and even let it spill out in front of the bin.  Then I cover all the fresh material with mulch or potting soil, whatever brown material I can find.

Then when I’m out working in the garden I set a small sprinkler on top of the pile and turn it on very low, so a small spray of water runs on the material.  Since I have a good water well, this doesn’t cost me anything, so I let it run for at least two hours as often as I can. This keeps the material damp, and the moisture will cause the pile to heat up, which is what makes the composting action take place. 

Once I have the first bin completely full, I start using the second bin.  As the material in the first bin starts to break down, it will settle, and the bin is no longer heaped up, so I just keep shoveling the material that I piled in front of the bin, up on top of the pile, until all the material is either in the bin or piled on top of the heap.  Then I just leave it alone, except to water it once in a while.  The watering isn’t necessary, it just speeds the process.

Because I don’t turn the pile, I can’t expect all of the material to rot completely. The material in the center is going to break down more than the material on the edges, but most of it does break down quite well.  The next step works great for me because I’ve got a small nursery, so I keep a pile of potting soil on hand at all times.  But you can really do the same thing by just buying two or three yards of shredded mulch to get started, and piling it up near your compost bins.  If you do this, you will always have a supply of good compost to work with.

Shredded bark, left in a pile will eventually break down and become great compost.  The potting soil that I use is about 80% rotted bark.  I make potting soil by purchasing fine textured, and dark hardwood bark mulch, and I just put it in a pile and let it rot.  The secret is to keep the pile low and flat, so that it does not shed the rain water away. You want the mulch to stay as wet as possible, this will cause it to break down fairly quickly.

So I keep a pile of rotted bark mulch near my compost bins. When both bins are completely full, I empty the bin containing the oldest material by piling it on top of my rotted bark mulch.  I make sure the pile of rotted mulch is wide and flat on top so that when I put the material from the compost bin on top of the pile, the compost material is only 5 to 10 inches thick.

My mulch pile might be 12’ wide, but it may only be 24 to 30 inches high.  Once I have all the compost on top of the pile, then I go around the edge of the pile with a shovel, and take some of the material from the edges of the pile and toss it up on top of the pile, covering the compost with at least 6” of rotted bark. This will cause the compost material to decompose the rest of the way.

Once you get this system started, you never want to use all of the material in the pile. Always keep at least 2 to 3 cubic yards on hand so you’ve got something to mix with your compost.  If you use a lot of compost material like I do, then you should buy more material and add to your pile in the late summer or fall, once you are done using it for the season.

Around here many of the supply companies sell a compost material that is already broken down quite well.  This is what I buy to add to my stock pile.  But I try to make sure that I have at least 3 yards of old material on hand, then I’ll add another 3 yards of fresh material to that.  Then in the spring I’ll empty one of the compost bins and add the compost to the top of the pile.

The pile of usable compost will be layers of material, some more composted than others. Kind of like a sandwich.  So what I do is chip off a section of the pile from the edge, spread it out on the ground so it’s only about 8” deep, then run over it with my small rototiller.  This mixes it together perfectly, and I shovel it onto the potting bench.

Having a pile of rotted compost near your compost bins is great because if you have a lot of leaves or grass clippings, you can throw some rotted compost in the bin in order to maintain that layered effect that is necessary in order for the composting process to work well.

Sure this process is a little work, but it sure is nice to have a place to get rid of organic waste any time I like. Then down the road when I have beautiful compost to add to my potting soil, I am grateful to have done the right thing earlier, and I know that I have wasted nothing.

Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most interesting website, http://www.freeplants.com and sign up for his excellent gardening newsletter. Article provided by  http://gardening-articles.com. 

Note: The copyrights on the article belong to the author. The responsibility for the opinions expressed in the article belongs exclusively to the author.

Planting and Caring for Flower Bulbs

By: Michael J. McGroarty
As first provided at: http://gardening-articles.com 

There is nothing quite as welcome as those beautiful spring flowers that seem to emerge from nowhere to welcome the arrival of spring. Bulb type flowers are really unique plants, because they spend most of their days resting quietly beneath the surface of the soil. Then right on schedule, up they come, full of bloom and vigor, and then almost as fast as they came, they go. Except for the green leafy part of the plant that tends to linger longer than we would like them to.

Despite their short bloom time and unattractive foliage after the blooms are gone, they are still a wonderful addition to any landscape. But how should you care for them? First let’s talk about how to use them in your landscape. Flowers of all kinds are best when planted in groupings. Many people buy 25 or 50 bulbs and just go around the yard planting helter skelter. That’s fine if that’s what you want, but when planted that way they tend to blend in with the landscape and really don’t show up well at all. When you plant them in large groups they are a breathtaking showpiece.

In the early spring start thinking about where you would like to create a bed for flower bulbs. Prepare the bed by raising it with good rich topsoil, and if at all possible add some well composted cow manure. Do this in the spring while you are in the gardening mood, you may not be in the fall. Over the summer fill the bed with annual flowers to keep the weeds down, and to pretty up your yard for the summer. Come fall all you have to do is pull out the annuals and plant your bulbs to the depth recommended on the package.

If you think you could have a problem with squirrels digging up the bulbs and eating them, you can also wrap the bulbs in steel wool, leaving just the tip of the bulb exposed so it can grow out of the little wire cage you’ve created. Or you can just plant the bulbs and then cover the bed with chicken wire or plastic fencing until the bulbs start to grow in the spring.

When the bulbs come up in the spring and start blooming, you should clip off the blooms as they start to wither. This keeps the bulb from producing seeds, which requires a lot of energy, and you want the bulb to use all of its available energy to store food in preparation of the bulb’s resting period. Once the bulbs are completely done blooming you don’t want to cut off the tops until they are withered and die back. The million dollar question is how to treat the tops until that happens.

Many people bend them over and slip a rubber band over them, or in the case of bulbs like Daffodils tie them with one of the long leaves. This seems to work because it is a very common practice among many experienced gardeners. However, Mike is about to rain on the parade.

I strongly disagree with this theory because back about 6th grade we learned about photosynthesis in science class. To recap what we learned, and without going into the boring details, photosynthesis is the process of the plant using the sun’s rays to make food for itself. The rays from the sun are absorbed by the foliage and the food making process begins. In the case of a flower bulb this food is transported to the bulb beneath the ground and stored for later use.

So basically the leaves of the plant are like little solar panels. Their job is to absorb the rays from the sun to begin the process known as photosynthesis. If we fold them over and handcuff them with their hands behind their back, they are not going to be able to do their job. It’s like throwing a tarpaulin over 80% of a solar panel.

In order for the leaves to absorb the rays from the sun, the surface of the foliage has to be exposed to the sun. On top of that, when you bend the foliage over, you are restricting the flow of nutrients to the bulb. The veins in the leaves and the stem are a lot like our blood vessels. If you restrict them the flow stops.

You decide. I’ve presented my case. Bending them over seems to work, but I’ve spent a lot of money on my bulbs. I want them running at full speed. What I do is clip the blooms off once they are spent, and just leave the tops alone until they are yellow and wilted. If they are still not wilted when it’s time to plant my annual flowers, I just plant the annuals in between the bulbs. As the bulbs die back the annuals tend to grow and conceal them. If one shows through I clip it off. It seems to work well for me.

Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most interesting website, http://www.freeplants.com and sign up for his excellent gardening newsletter.  Article provided by http://gardening-articles.com

Note: The copyrights on the article belong to the author. The responsibility for the opinions expressed in the article belongs exclusively to the author.