Green Manures: Let’s Look at Legumes

by D.A. Salazar, MG Class of 2009

Young faba beans.

Young faba beans.

We’ve all heard that legumes are “nitrogen fixers”, and can do great things for poor, tired soil. It being the season for planting cover crops (a.k.a. green manures), and as legumes figure large in that capacity, let’s take a look at how legumes work their magic.

First a refresher: Legumes are of the family Fabaceae, also called Leguminosae, and their fruit takes the form of a dry seed or pulse that grows in a pod. Grain legumes include chickpeas, faba beans, lentils, field peas and winter or Austrian field peas. Forage legumes include alfalfa, clovers like red and sweetclover, and the vetches. Legumes are plants high in protein — and proteins are full of nitrogenous amino acids, which means legumes require a high intake of nitrogen.

Also known as “N.”

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Bee Killers Sponsor National Pollinator Week

This article appeared in the June 11 issue of Organic Bytes, the newsletter of the Organic Consumers Association. It’s a must-read for home gardeners and food growers. Our thanks to Tori Benz-Hillstrom, MG Class of 2009, for bringing it to our attention.

Apis 1 wikimediaConcerned about the bees and the butterflies? Interested in celebrating National Pollinator Week? It’s happening June 16-22, 2014.

And it’s brought to you, in part, by none other than Monsanto and Bayer.

In 2007, the U.S. Senate designated a week in June as National Pollinator Week. Every year, the Secretary of Agriculture signs a National Pollinator Week proclamation. As the public has grown increasingly concerned about the link between toxic chemicals and the die-off of bees and monarch butterflies, National Pollinator Week has evolved into the Pollinator Partnership. The Pollinator Partnership is a nonprofit that describes itself as “the largest organization in the world dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems.”

Who supports (i.e. funds) the Pollinator Partnership? Among others, Bayer and Monsanto — the very companies that are killing pollinators with insecticides and genetically engineered crops.

Read the complete article at Organic Bytes.

Take back National Pollinator Week! For some great ideas on encouraging pollinators in your garden, visit the Pollinator Pages at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

A Guilt-Free Guide to Lawn Care

by D.A. Salazar, MG Class of 2009

What?  You say your place looks nothing like this?

What? You say your place looks nothing
like this?

“Lawn” has become something of a naughty word in recent years. As drought conditions decimate much of the western U.S., we’re learning all kinds of fun facts about the badness of the manicured lawn: They suck up 2-3 times as much water as other plants (especially natives) while runoff from endless rounds of fertilizer and pesticide applications can cause long-term damage to those precious water resources. All this for something that doesn’t even bloom!

Here in the moisty green climes of the Puget Sound region, though, growing a lawn is hardly the problem – it’s keeping it under control. For many of us, the lawn keeps growing whether we water it or not. Still, the cry is the same: What do I do? What do I do?
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The Myth of Well-Behaved Ornamentals

by Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor,
Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University

happy-flowers-day - CopyThe Myth: “Garden plants do not become invasive.”
We’re all familiar with weeds in our landscapes: Calystegia sepium (hedge bindweed), Equisetum arvense (horsetail), Taraxacum officinale (dandelion), and Cirsium arvense and C. vulgare (Canadian and bull thistle) are but a few of the weeds we battle in Pacific Northwest gardens. Larger herbaceous and woody perennials such as Hedera helix (English ivy), Ulex europaeus (gorse), Cytisus scoparius (Scots broom), Rubus discolor (Himalayan blackberry), and Polygonum cuspidatum (Japanese knotweed) are ubiquitous in parks and along roadsides. These species have cost countless hours of labor and gallons of herbicide in our quest to restore impacted landscapes to a more natural and diverse state.
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Planning a Firewise Landscape

In the Pacific Northwest, fires are a natural part of the changing landscape, and homeowners must take special precautions to protect their lives, homes, and property. As we map out our gardens for this year, Amy Jo Detweiler and Stephen Fitzgerald of Oregon State University Extension Service give us their advice for designing a safe, smart, firewise landscape.

When landscaping around a home, most homeowners are interested in creating a landscape that is aesthetically pleasing, complements their home, and has variations in color, texture, flowers, and foliage. When selecting plants, you also should consider the flammability of plants (i.e., fuel), particularly if your home is located in or adjacent to a forest or rangeland.
Firewise drawing
Homeowners should take active steps to minimize or reduce the fuel and fire hazard around their homes, including the use of fire-resistant plants in the landscape. Equally important is proper plant placement, plant spacing, and ongoing plant maintenance. These practices, when combined, can create a fuel break and help protect your home by blocking intense heat.

Flammable plant material in your landscape can increase the fire risk directly around your home. The 1991 Oakland Hills fire in California is a prime example of how flammable plant material (Eucalyptus trees) can act as fuel and contribute to the intensity of a wildfire. More than 3,000 homes were destroyed in that devastating wildfire.
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Soil Testing and Soil Improvement

Soil Sample clipart
While many of us have our garden plans laid out for the year, it’s not too late to do what we can to improve our soil before we get to planting. WSU Extension-King County and the UW Center for Urban Horticulture help you get started.

The best way to know what your soil needs is to test it every two or three years. Soil tests that are commonly offered include:

pH – determines the acidity of your soil and estimates how much lime is needed to adjust the pH to an optimal level.

Nutrients – determines the levels of available plant nutrients. Often, labs don’t bother to test for nitrogen, since this test is often misleading. In this area, you can assume your soil needs moderate inputs of nitrogen every year. Some labs test for calcium. This is unnecessary too, since you will be adding lime (calcium carbonate) for pH balance anyhow.
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Composting With Kitchen Scraps (A Primer)

Compost cycle 3
Composting is nature at its most efficient: organic waste decays, disintegrates, decomposes, providing food for beneficial microorganisms and insects, eventually releasing nutrients into the soil from whence it all came, allowing the process of growth to continue in a never-ending cycle of life. We gardeners can help the cycle along with careful management of the composting process – and one of the easiest ways is to compost food scraps from your kitchen.
In this primer, we’ll give you an overview of three common, no-brainer methods of kitchen scrap composting: the Worm Bin, the Digester, and The Hole in the Ground.
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The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear

The precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States has led to a dramatic decline of insect populations. This fascinating article, by Montana-based journalist Jim Robbins, appeared in the New York Times Sunday Review on November 22, 2013. Below is an excerpt.

Monarch CAHNRS On the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.

This year, for the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.

“It does not look good,” said Lincoln P. Brower, a monarch expert at Sweet Briar College.

It is only the latest bad news about the dramatic decline of insect populations.

Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.

That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.

“There’s no question that the loss of habitat is huge,” said Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who has long warned of the perils of disappearing insects. “We notice the monarch and bees because they are iconic insects,” he said. “But what do you think is happening to everything else?”


Read the complete article at the Sunday Review online, or download a printable copy here.

Monarch butterfly photo courtesy of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

Green Manures in Your Garden, Part 2

Now that we’ve got a little background on why green manures work, what do we do with them?
The Stewardship Gardening team at WSU Extension gives us the how-to.

Flowering vetch

Flowering vetch.

How Do I Work With Green Manures?

Choose the best plants for the time of year and the situation. Growing a mixture of green manures, for example a grass and a legume, is a good idea. Sow or transplant green manures into a prepared garden soil. Green manures may be planted prior to harvest of many late season crops by undersowing. Lightly cultivate the soil under or between maturing crops and sow the green manure seeds. By the time the crop is out of the way a few weeks later, the green manure will be germinated and growing. Green manures may also be planted between rows of raspberry plants in the fall, providing irrigation is available.

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Green Manures in Your Garden, Part 1

In late summer and early fall — as harvest time celebrates the fruits of our labors — we begin looking ahead to next year, and planting green manures now can help improve your soil in preparation for next spring. In Part 1, the team at WSU Extension – Stewardship Gardening
gives us the rundown on green manures and how they work.

Winter Wheat Benjamin Brink OregonianSuccessful gardening depends upon soil quality. Organic matter is a vital part of soil quality. Organic matter makes soil easier to work, improves water and nutrient retention for easy absorption by plants, improves soil aeration, and helps the soil warm up earlier in the spring. Since soil organisms constantly break down organic matter, gardeners need to build and regularly replenish their soil organic matter. Green manure crops are high in nutrients and are an important and inexpensive way to produce organic matter for the garden. Instead of buying and bringing home bags or truckloads of compost or manure, bring home some seeds to plant a green manure crop.

What Are Green Manures?
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