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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Compost the Leaves of Summer

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright Jim Long, Oct 31, 2010

The Leaves of Summer

I’m sure leaf raking is great exercise and I’m sure I could benefit from more of it. The fact is, I really don’t like raking leaves and so I look for ways to not have to do it. I use a leaf blower when the leaves are newly fallen and still dry. If a stiff wind is blowing, all the better, hustling the leaves off down the hill. But more likely that would-be welcome wind blows the leaves right back again.

We have a lot of trees in the lawn. Several oaks, a couple of hickories, a silver maple, 2 native hard maples, several dogwoods, redbuds and assorted pine and cedar trees. When fall comes, there are enough leaves to fill a large dump truck, two or three times.

I used to rake the leaves into piles, haul some away on tarps and burn the rest in the driveway. But that meant a lot of raking, piling, tugging and emptying, not to mention piles of ashes and burnt gravel from the fires. Now I use the leaf blower to get the piles of leaves away from the buildings and into windrows. Then I use the riding lawn mower to chop them over and over into mulch. I start when the leaves begin to fall and repeat the operation several times over a few weeks until I’ve chopped up all the leaves from the now-bare trees.

But the next part of my little operation is the best. I rake the chopped up mulch into plastic garden carriers and take them to the compost pile. Once the leaves have been chopped into smaller pieces, even the big, leathery oak leaves will compost. I mix the chopped up leaves into the compost pile, along with some grass clippings and a bit of chicken manure from the barn. I turn over some of the older compost on the far end of the compost pit, then I leave it for winter. By next spring I’ll have compost that I can add to my garden soil. And I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something beyond just getting rid of the leaves.

This summer while in Dallas for a writer’s conference, our conference group visited a variety of substantial home gardens. One of those, a multimillion dollar house, had a big compost pile in their back yard, not unlike mine. All of their grass clippings, leaves, vegetable peelings and coffee grounds, went into their compost. I figure if a fancy place like that home in Dallas can do such a good job of composting, then my method of getting rid of leaves and making compost isn’t too far off the mark.

Want to know why leaves change colors? Go here.
To find my books on herbs, gardening and history subjects, visit my website: Happy gardening!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Controlling Japanese Beetles

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright 2010 Jim Long

Controlling Both Japanese Beetles and Armadillos!

This summer was my third year of dealing with Japanese beetles. Before that, I had no idea what one even looked like. The first year I had them I bought a Japanese beetle trap and hung it in the garden, and within days, had hordes of the beetles. (Recent research has shown that the traps actually attract more beetles to your yard then you would have normally had; so no more traps for me).

Japanese beetles begin as grub worms. You remember those pesky grubs you found when you were turning over the garden soil last spring? (Several other beetles begin as grubs, too). I feed the grubs to my chickens when I find them in the soil, but I miss a few thousand.

One of the best controls for Japanese beetles is something called Milky Spore Bacteria. It’s a powder that includes a natural bacteria that gets into the bodies of the grubs and gives them disease. They die and their decomposing grub bodies spreads the disease in the soil to more grubs. This bacteria is not harmful to humans, pets, birds or even other kinds of worms, like earthworms - which are beneficial. It only affects the grub worm stage of Japanese beetles.

Milky Spore Bacteria must be applied three times, once in the fall, the following spring, then again the next fall. It’s applied with a simple garden fertilizer spreader and you’ll find the rate of application on the Milky Spore bag; it usually comes in 10 and 20 lb bags.

There is, of course, another method of control, which is to apply a chemical grub killer to your lawn. It does kill the grubs, but you don’t want your pets or children in the grass for several days after the poison is applied. That kind of poison also kills everything else in your soil, including earthworms and over wintering beneficial insects. It often kills birds that eat the poisoned worms, often kills chipmunks, too. And if your cat or dog eats the dead or dying chipmunk, it will probably kill your pet, as well. (You don’t want to kill earthworms, or “fishing worms” as I grew up calling them. They are what keep your soil aerated, help increase the nutrients in the soil and keep the grass roots from becoming compacted).

The safest control is to use Milky Spore Bacteria, If your neighbor’s yard butts up to your lawn, getting them to apply the Bacteria, too, helps even more. Once the three applications of Milky Spore Bacteria has been applied, it remains in the soil for years, continuing to safely control Japanese beetles. Be sure to apply the Bacteria to your garden beds, in addition to the lawn, the sneaky grubs are everywhere.

According to Purdue University, things that have been proven to absolutely not work include the traps, interplanting with supposedly beetle-resistant plants, nor  grinding up the insect bodies and making a spray.

Milky Spore Bacteria is available at many hardware and garden stores (including Nixa Hardware in Nixa, MO). You can easily order it from companies that deliver it to your door. In checking the web, I found varying prices and sizes: Snow Pond Farm Supply Co. Phone 781-878-5581  Biocontrol (800) 441-2847 and Dirt Works, 877-213-3828. Order yours now and get a jump on next year’s Japanese beetle problem. Oh, and the other benefit of controlling the Japanese beetle grubs? Armadillos, which dig in your yard looking for the grubs, will go over to your neighbors yard and dig there instead!

To see what’s happening in my garden this week: To read past Ozarks Gardening columns from this newspaper, visit: and to see links to additional on-line information. Happy gardening!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bringing Herbs Indoors for Winter

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright 2010 Jim Long

Bringing Herbs Indoors for Winter

Every fall I receive questions from gardeners about bringing their herbs indoors for the winter. I’ve found that most people (myself included) aren’t willing to do all of the things necessary to get their herbs to thrive indoors, and ultimately before spring, will be disappointed. Here are the basics for growing herbs indoors in winter.

1-Start with smaller plants, which transplant easier than larger ones, and give the plant a slightly larger pot than you think it needs. For example, a well-established basil plant, 24 inches tall in the garden, will be fairly difficult to dig and transplant. But if it’s already growing in a pot, you can shear it back by about a third of the size before bringing it indoors. Also, be sure to spray it well, under the leaves, on the stems and around the rim of the pot with one of the food-safe insecticides listed below before bringing the plant indoors to avoid transporting insect pests with the plant.

2-Most culinary herbs require full sun to survive. "Full sun" means at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. Less light and the plants will be spindly and weak and not grow. A sunny window facing south, can help but the danger there is the window glass may act like a magnifying glass if the plant is too close and actually scorch the leaves. And most windows in winter only provide about 3-5 hours of actual sunlight each day, less than is necessary for an herb like basil to grow well. The most successful way to grow herbs indoors is to use either a greenhouse room that gives all day sunlight, or a grow-light with a timer set to be on 8 hours each day.

3-Once the plants are moved indoors, plan to spray the plants every two weeks with a safe insecticide, such as Safer's Soap solution, or ultra-fine oil spray to prevent mealy bugs, red spider, scale insects and aphids. Keeping current with the spraying will help avoid insect problems that once started are difficult to control and can destroy the plants. (To make your own oil spray: 1 cup vegetable oil mixed with 1 tablespoon dishwashing liquid. To use:
mix 1 tablespoon of mixture with 2 cups of water. Fill a spray bottle and shake wel, then spray).

Plants that work well indoors under a grow light or in a greenhouse room include chives, garlic chives, parsley, marjoram and oregano. Basil is more difficult indoors but can survive if provided with enough light.

Rosemary, on the other hand, should be kept in an unheated, well lighted room, such as a garage or enclosed back porch. Water it sparingly (about every two weeks) Too much water, or too warm a room, will kill rosemary. Sage, thyme, oregano, chives (and usually rosemary) are all hardy outdoors and can usually be harvested for much of the winter from the garden.

Once you have your herb plants indoors, don’t fertilize them. Plants go into a period of semi-dormancy, meaning they do little growing indoors in winter. Fertilizing them can actually cause them to die. Wait until March, when the days are beginning to get longer, then begin lightly fertilizing.

My book, Growing & Using the Ten Most Popular Herbs, is an excellent resource for this very thing. It's available from my website: and lists the requirements for growing all of the top 10 most useful culinary herbs. Happy gardening!