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Here’s your recipe for making them into rich compost

Don’t bag those leaves for the county to collect. Use them in making your own compost. It takes about a bushel of leaves to make a gallon of quality compost, which contains more nutrients and fiber than peat moss and is less acetic.
    Yard debris compost is made by blending grass clippings with fall-harvested leaves. The compost is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium and lots of important trace elements. Because the nitrogen from the leaves drains back into the stems of the branches from which they fell, yard debris compost contains less than one percent nitrogen, which is contributed mostly by the grass clipping.

Ancient Ailing Oaks

Q    I live in the St. Margaret’s area near the Bay Bridge. In my neighborhood, many, if not most, of the old oak trees are dead or dying. These are original trees in an area that was never farmed; I’m sure many of them are well over 100 years old. It is so distressing since they are beautiful and I love them and because it costs $2,000 to $3,000 to have them cut down. Do you know why they are dying? Is there anything I can do to save them? I think they are red oaks, though my tree identification skills are poor.
    Thanks so much for your help. I read your column every week and thoroughly enjoy it.
–Linda Williams, Annapolis   

A There is no way that I can determine the cause of death without seeing the conditions in which they are growing. I have cherry bark oak trees in my yard that are over 150 years old. I keep them healthy by vertical mulching every four to five years. When I moved here 22 years ago, they were in a sever state of decline, but after being vertically mulched, they revived. I suggest that you contact Mark Emmel at 301-345-2981. Mark is a good arborist and is familiar with vertical mulching.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

    Since grass clippings are not readily available in the fall, use this recipe to hasten the composting of leaves so that you will have compost ready for next spring:
    1. Build a compost bin that is at least five feet in diameter using snow fencing, turkey wire, pallets or such. The larger the bin, the better. Place the bin where it will not accumulate water.
    2. Fill a five-gallon pail with a shovel full of garden soil, one-half cup dish detergent and a cup of urea or ammonium nitrate fertilizer; top off with water. Stir thoroughly to create a soupy mud. The detergent helps wet the leaves, and the nitrogen-containing fertilizer replaces the grass clippings in providing the nitrogen microorganisms needed to build their bodies and digest the carbon in the leaves. The garden soil provides the necessary microorganisms, and the mud also helps wet the leaves.
    3. Place 12 to 18 inches of leaves on the bottom of the bin. First, pass the lawnmower through the leaves to chop them up and hasten the composting process.
    4. Use an empty coffee can or the like to wet the leaves with the muddy water. Before dipping into the muddy water, stir thoroughly to maintain a suspension.
    5. With a garden hose misting nozzle, wet the leaves thoroughly, washing some of the muddy water down through the layer.
    6. Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5 until the bin is full.
    7. Check the bin weekly. The composting process can be hastened by dumping your dirty dishwater over the surface of the compost pile. The detergent and grease will help wet the leaves.
    If you need exercise to stay in shape, mix the compost pile by turning it inside-out. Turning the pile in late January or February provides additional aeration, chopping the leaves and eliminating dry pockets that can occur in the initial building.

The interloper visits Spica and Mercury

Mercury is putting on its best pre-dawn show of 2013, more than doubling in brightness this week, from +1 magnitude to –0.5 (each order of magnitude is exponential, so an increase from +1 to 0 is a doubling). Monday marks the innermost planet’s greatest elongation — its farthest point away from the sun as seen from earth and its highest point above the horizon. Mercury rises a little before 6am and climbs nearly 15 degrees above the southeast horizon before the sun rises more than an hour later. Ten degrees above Mercury is blue-white Spica, but even this first-magnitude star pales compared to Mercury this week.
    First discovered last September, Comet ISON is heading into the inner solar system for the first time, coming within 700,000 miles of the sun November 27. If the comet survives that close encounter, it could live up to the comet of the century billing. If not, the next two weeks are your best chance to spot this long-distance traveler.
    With binoculars or a small telescope, look for ISON one degree to the west of Spica Sunday before dawn and less than one-half degree to the east of the star the next morning. By next Thursday and Friday, ISON will be within 10 degrees of Mercury — well within your binoculars’ field of view. Perhaps by then it will be bright enough to see with the unaided eye.
    Sunday marks the full moon, the Beaver Moon and the Frost Moon according to lore. The full moon floats just six degrees below the miniature dipper-shape of the Pleiades star cluster, while Monday night it is even closer to Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus the bull.
    The full moon’s glow washes out all but the brightest meteors in this year’s Leonid shower, which peaks between the 16th and 18th. Still, the Leonids are active through the month, so patience or luck will likely reward you with a few of these shooting stars.

     You have 10 days to complete your gift-giving mission. Having difficulty coming up with brilliant ideas to wow and impress?
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Break, don’t prune the branches

     Make attractive, long-lasting holiday decorations from boxwood and you’ll be keeping your plants both healthy and good-looking.
     The woody European native here since the mid-17th century is best pruned when near-freezing temperatures make the boxwood branches very brittle.
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’Tis the season for owls

     Santa’s not the only flyer of the December night skies. ‘Tis also the season for owls.
     Most owls are hard to see, so we usually only hear them. But once the leaves fall, it’s a little easier to catch a glimpse of these secretive night hunters. 
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Gifts they’ll really appreciate

     What to give the dedicated Chesapeake Bay angler on your list?
     The most helpful suggestion I can offer — if you haven’t already received exact, specific instructions from the individual in question — is to remember the Rule of Don’t.
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Take advantage of the quiet — and of migration — to go birding

     Winter is a wonderful time to study nature in Chesapeake Country. Yes, you read that correctly, the dreaded season of cold and snow. Before I am lambasted for being a warm-weather heretic, let me explain my reasoning.
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Artist John W. ‘Bud’ Taylor inspired an ethic of land preservation

     Mayo resident John W. ‘Bud’ Taylor told us (https://tinyurl.com/BW-Taylor-99) that for him, being outdoors wasn’t exactly a drive. “It’s more a refreshment, like recharging your batteries,” he said. It turns out that it was actually Bud, who passed away at the age of 86 on Oct. 28, who was recharging our collective drive all these years to treasure and protect the Bay landscapes. 
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North Beach wants to show the world a pretty, seasonal face

     The Calvert County town of North Beach takes beatification seriously. Last month, three awards recognized town citizens and business people for keeping up appearances.
     The yard of Denise LaGrange and Rit Aldi at 9210 Dayton Ave. was named October 2017 Yard of the Month by the North Beach House & Garden Club.
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Buy fresh evergreens and treat them for longevity 

     Wreaths, roping and swags sold in box and grocery stores may have been made in far-away Oregon and Maine, starting back in September, then stored in large coolers under high humidity. If the greens were harvested before the plants were exposed to freezing temperatures, they may well drop their needles before Christmas.
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