The Joy of Composting (with Worms)

by Diana Brooks, MG Class of 2013

cartoon-wormsI know that many of you Master Gardeners compost in various ways. Yard waste, for sure. Many of you probably already have worm bins. But for those of you who have not tried vermicomposting yet and might like to know more, this article is for you.

I won’t preach. You already know the benefits of composting food: keeps the methane-producing decomposing food out of the landfill; produces black-gold for your garden; saves you money; and you get to have a clear conscience when you find spoiled food in the fridge: it gets re-purposed as worm food.

Right now is a good time to experiment with your first worm bin! It’s super-easy. All you need is get started is 1) a container with a tight-fitting lid; 2) some worms; 3) some shredded newspaper or sawdust for bedding. Easy 10-step directions follow:

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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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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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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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Garden Club Talk: Keeping Soil Warm

Soil and hand + Blankets = Seedling

Linden Staciokas and Ted Sponsel live and garden half the year in Alaska and have lots of experience at warming up the soil. Linden writes a gardening column in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner; she also writes for American Horticulturist and for Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s “Tantalizing Tomatoes” hand book.

Lucky for us, Linden and Ted winter on Orcas island and will share their tips — everything from straw to horse troughs to different colors of plastic and more — at the January 15 meeting of Orcas Island Garden Club. The meeting is at 10 a.m. in the Madrona Room of Orcas Center.

For further information see

Fall Garden Cleanup

By Sara Sly, WSU Extension-Ferry County Master Gardener

Autumn maple leaf
As the weather begins to chill and the plants fade away, it is time to think about cleaning up the garden and our tools.

Time and elbow grease now will help get our hands into the dirt faster next spring.
In the garden, pulling back mulch and allowing the ground to freeze will kill many diseases, weed seeds and harmful insects/eggs. Frozen ground also helps prevent frost heaves from heaving plants out of the ground. This is a good time to add amendments to the soil such as aged manure, compost and organic matter like leaves, peat moss, etc.; weather and age over the winter will help improve the soil for healthy plants next spring. Once the ground is frozen for the season, spread fresh mulch or mulch that has been spread thinly over a tarp to kill any insects or weeds.

This is also a great time to take soil samples and send them to be tested for nutrients, minerals and possible chemical buildup that can harm plants. Laboratories are busiest in the spring and early summer when it can take months to get your results so send in the samples now.

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