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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.

Mine makes 15,001

     Five years ago in Wisconsin, Todd Bol built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former teacher. He installed it on a post in his front yard and filled it with books to give away. It was such a hit with his neighbors that he built and gave away several more, each with a sign that read free books.
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Satisfy thirst and more at the Mid-Atlantic Brewsic Festival and Fire Truck Show

    When my wife married me many decades ago, she assumed I would outgrow my childhood fascination with fire engines. I haven’t; I won’t; and this weekend I will satisfy my inner child at the Mid-Atlantic Brewsic Festival and Fire Truck Show. I’m going Saturday for the fire trucks and the music.
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However you play it, natural gas export is a high stakes game

     The biggest development proposed in Southern Maryland history looks much like a high-stakes game, with scenic Cove Point at the center of the board. At stake are millions of dollars in tax revenue, thousands of new jobs — and a quiet way of life Calvert County residents hope to preserve.
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An American in Annapolis

     I moved here from El Salvador 25 years ago. I came to try to have a better life. Especially for my sons and daughters. If I come here I can make more, I can give whatever my kids ask for.
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Bay Weekly’s here!

That’s front desk receptionist Yvonne Anderson’s emailed message to Maryland Department of Agriculture staff every Thursday, as soon as driver Bill Visnansky makes that Harry S Truman Parkway stop on his Annapolis route.

    Where do you get your Bay Weekly? Send your favorite pick-up spot and a photo to editor@bayweekly.com.

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Working at Dick and Jane’s in ­Harwood

Harner: With the late winter, things have been late comin’. It’s the first time it’s ever been this late.
    Englom: The first crop of peaches was taken out by the last late frost. We’re famous for our peaches, too. But we won’t be seeing many local ones for a few weeks.
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Sailing into your ken

    If you’re looking, you, like John O. Rogers, of Churchton, might find Pride of Baltimore II sailing into your Chesapeake viewshed. On Monday July 7, Pride set sail south, leaving Baltimore for Piscataway Park on the Potomac in Prince Georges County. She arrives Thursday, July 10, to join in Celebrating the Potomac on Saturday July 12. Deck tours are free from 11am to 5pm, with a $65 special sail (w/age discounts) later that evening (www.pride2.org).
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Talent Machine’s young actors are rehearsing for life

     Talent Machine is a gifted crew of kids and volunteers who make magic for audiences of every age. This year, the seven- to 14-year-old troupe is working on Peter Pan; the kids have learned lines, choreography and music to captivate audiences. From this experience, they’ll take away more than memories and new friends.
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