Monday, November 7, 2011

Going Green with Leaves

According to the National Audubon Society, every fall that Americans rake leaves, adds up to 8 million tons in plastic sacks at the curb to be picked up by their local trash management. This creates 20 percent of our garbage output according to the Environmental Protection Agency. They go onto say that trucking the leaves uses up a ton of fuel yearly.

In Holyoke, we have a city that collects the leaves and adds them to the lawn clippings and a local farming family, who uses them for compost. Some of the local residents request leaves for their gardens. The community garden also makes use of some of those leaves. Overall, Holyoke is actively participating in “going green”.

Leaves are an invaluable resource because they contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant extracts from the soil and air during the season. There are many studies which compare and contrast the levels of nutrients in leaves before they fall and after they fall. The nutrient levels tested are nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and the carbon/nitrogen ratio. These nutrient levels vary greatly among tree species. Along with that, the overall ecosystem plays a role in nutrient absorption and release.

Like our local farming family, other cities and municipalities have the opportunity to build a partnership with local producers with a technique of sheet leaf composting. This is an alternative method of leaf recycling. Sheet leaf composting is the application and incorporation of leaves on cropland actively devoted to agricultural production. Naturally, the leaves are mulch plus a soil amendment.

There is another method which is a conventional windrow composting that farmers apply. Windrow composting places the raw materials in a long row which is agitated or turned on a regular basis. This is a passive aeration method. The windrows are three to 12 feet in height with the variance in width of 10 to 20 feet.

The use of raw materials can be manures. When manures are mishandled, we open ourselves up to risks. Generally, it is important for the consumer to increase their safety by washing fresh produce and properly cooking the food. The manures that should never be added to compost are dog, cat and pig. The parasites they carry may survive in compost and remain infectious to humans. Extension can provide information on these other issues.

Either of the above mentioned methods have benefits to the local producers. Some of these benefits are additional income through tipping fees or contracts, cropland improvements in soil tilth, moisture holding capacity, structure and nutrients. Other benefits are sustainable agriculture and additional compensation for the use of cropland, equipment and manpower used during the post-harvest season.

The community also benefits with lower disposal costs, minimal hauling expense, eliminating the liability and expense associated with the operation, maintenance and management of a leaf compost facility plus we support local farmers.

The environment benefits from decreased soil erosion, improved soil nutrient holding capacity, reducing leachate and runoff concerns and decrease in potential environmental problems sometimes associated with a composting facility.

As for the homeowner and the avid gardener there are other ways to manage your leaves instead of raking which are as follows:

1) mowing them with a mulching mower

2) mulch for the vegetable garden by working in 6 to 8 inches of shredded leaves

3) 3-6 inches of shredded leaves around the base of trees and shrubs

4) 2-3 inches of shredded leaves in the perennial beds

5) Create your own compost pile for adding to different areas of your landscape at a later date

Now that everyone is going green with leaves, stay tuned for my next article on vermicomposting. Take going green to the next level by reducing your kitchen waste and garbage.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Time for Planting Bulbs in Eastern Colorado

Bulbs enhance your garden in a carefree way. Plant them at the proper time and they give you years of pleasure without much effort.

What kind of bulbs do best in eastern Colorado? Daffodils, snowdrops, squill, lilies and tulips are the best for this area. Hyacinths are popular, but the bulbs break apart and they flower less and less each year. Squill, hyacinth, daffodils and tulips are spring-blooming and need a winter chill in the ground. Planting during October and November are ideal when the soil temperature is cooling down into the 40’s.

Some unusual bulbs to try are autumn crocus which bloom in the fall and can be planted in July and August. Other crocus that is fall blooming are not considered as true bulbs, rather they are classified as corms. So they are bulb-like because they lack the outer fleshy scales like true bulbs. Montbretia and gladiolus are in the same class. However, they bloom during the summer and need to be planted in the spring. Once they are finished blooming, montbretia and gladiolus need to be dug up and keep in a cool place that is frost-free over winter. That can be challenging to find that cool place.

For the true bulbs that you decide to purchase, pay attention to the type of soil in your landscape. Tulips, daffodils and hyacinths planted in a light soil or a soil with more sand needs to be planted at a depth of 7 inches. While tulips, hyacinths and daffodils planted in a heavier soil with more clay need to be planted no deeper than 5 inches. Of the three bulbs mentioned, daffodils can be grown successfully in any soil even though a well-drained sandy loam is ideal. With daffodils or narcissus, there are nine different classifications of varieties. Narcissus jonquilla is classified in group number 6 with a description of grasslike foliage, small sweet-scented flowers, single or in clusters.

For fertilizing your bulbs, place bone meal in the hole with the bulbs. This will become available as the soil warms and the bulbs begin to grow. It acts as a slow release fertilizer. The middle number on the bone meal should be the highest number. The middle number corresponds to the amount of phosphorus which contributes to good root development, the production of fruits and seeds and helps balance an overabundance of nitrogen in the soil. In eastern Colorado there is about 1% nitrogen in our soils and certainly no overabundance. In our alkaline soils, phosphorus becomes less available to plants. Phosphorus moves very slowly in the soil, so place the fertilizer close to where the root zone of the bulbs will develop.

Bulbs can be used in the landscape to transition between one season into the next. You can use daffodils to take you from early spring through early summer. Daylilies can be used to cover the dead leaves of daffodils for the rest of the summer. Daylilies also offer a wide variety of rebloomers. Stella D’ Oro is the most popular and widely used rebloomer. There are a host of others in all colors for early, mid and late season in the garden. Bulbs can help you have an ever blooming garden.

Heirloom Bulbs are becoming more popular. Oddly enough these plants have been around for hundreds of years over the cultivated varieties that we now have. Heirlooms predate large scale agriculture.

Some of the best bulbs are heirloom tulips. Here are a couple of suggestions that will grow in zone 4.

Tulipa tarda is native to central Asia and spreads like a groundcover. The flower is a showy star-shaped flower with a yellow center and white tips on the petals. It is labeled as xeric. It grows best in full sun with a preference for afternoon sun.

Tulipa sylvestris is a zone 5a plant. It is also native to Asia Minor. It blooms in late winter, early spring or mid-spring. It is called the wild tulip. It has a yellow flower which makes for a great cut flower. Beyond being a great cut flower, the flower has an added bonus of fragrance. It makes Tulipa sylvestris a must have.

Tulipa polychrome is native to the mountains of Afghanistan and northern Iran. It is also hardy in zone 4 and grows best in elevations above 7,000 feet. This works as a suggestion for those of us who have a second home in the mountains or relatives who live in the mountains. Tulipa polychrome grows best in full sun with a preference for afternoon sun and blooms early in the spring. The flower has a yellow center with white petals. It is also labeled as xeric.

There are hundreds more to chose from. Using a wide variety of bulbs will extend the season from early winter into late fall. Something will always be blooming and your neighbors will be wondering what plant that is?