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Features (Green Living)

Get out and dig to be ready for spring

If you did a good job of building your compost pile last fall, now is a good time to stimulate more microbial activity.
    Just before Christmas, temperatures in my compost pile dropped below 100 degrees from a high of 130 degrees measured just three weeks earlier. This falling temperature is due partially to a drop in surrounding ambient air and partially to a lower rate of microbial activity.
    Microbial activity in composting can fall because of low levels of oxygen, excessive dryness, less available carbon or fewer sources of nitrogen. For most home composting projects, low levels of oxygen are unlikely unless your compost pile is taller and wider than 12 feet. Exchange of gasses is likely to be fine as leaves are bulky and do not pack easily. Thus, compost cooling is most likely due to a sudden drop in ambient air or dryness.
    To check for moisture, thrust your hand into the compost and squeeze firmly. If the composting waste feels wet like a sponge, there is adequate moisture. If the compost feels on the dry side, drag out the hose and wet the pile down with a heavy stream of water. After the compost appears adequately wet, use either a grub-hoe or digging spade, going as deep into the pile as possible while adding more water. The excess water will drain deeper into the composting mass.
    If possible, empty the composting bin and wet the waste before re-filling the bin. Digging into the composting materials will grind the larger particles into smaller pieces, stimulating greater microbial activity. Ground leaves compost faster than whole leaves.
    Within a week after you’ve reformed the pile, temperatures within it should increase. However, if your compost pile is less than three feet by three by three, it is not likely to give you much temperature rise due to a lack of mass.

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.

Species depend on your yard and you

What if your backyard were the last place for wildlife to live? What if now were your last chance to help?
    It is, and it is.
    So says Doug Tallamy, the University of Delaware entomology professor, who comes to Bowie for Earth Day to explain why.
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Support the Chesapeake with your license plates

Buying a new vehicle this spring comes with extra benefits to the Bay. Bay-area dealers are competing for the next three months to see who can send the most customers off their lots with Treasure the Chesapeake Bay license plates.
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More drop-off boxes, more space in closets, more community funding

Clean out your closets and support the Calvert County D.A.R.E. program in one fell swoop. Nine new donation boxes bring Calvert’s textile recycling locations to 16, making it easier for citizens and earning more money for the county.
    “Instead of these resources being landfilled, the profitable and recyclable textiles are sold on the market for reuse by others or for fibers,” explains Calvert County Recycling Coordinator Bill Teter.
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Building an edible forest that mimics nature and may even fix environmental damage

An edible forest sounds like something out of Willy Wonka. Ripening pears and bright berries drip from trees. Branches brim with cherries, blackberries and blueberries.
    The food forest is an idea ripe for the picking. It’s an idea Birgit Sharp, of Fairhaven, is already planting.
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Grasonville environmental center schools grown-ups

So you want to learn more about life in Chesapeake Country, but you’re just a bit intimidated by lengthy Master Naturalist classes with lots of study time and volunteer hours?
    The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center in Grasonville has the answer you didn’t know you were looking for.
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Better options for bagging leaves become the rule

Be sure to ask Santa for compostable paper bags or a new bin for your yard waste in 2017. Beginning in January, neither Annapolis nor Anne Arundel County will accept plastic bags in its curbside pickup of grass clippings, leaves, Christmas trees and other yard waste.
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Visit the Annapolis Green House for gifts, ideas, recycling

Not every gift you’ll read about in Bay Weekly this week wants wrapping. But the gifts you do wrap can look pretty without generating a ton of waste in the form of boxes, bows, ribbon and tissue paper. The eco-organization Annapolis Green has set up shop as the Annapolis Green House at 92 Maryland Avenue and is-wrapping gifts using unique, innovative packaging in recycled, fun materials that would otherwise go to waste....

Beekeepers political activism rewarded

Buzzing through the halls of the Maryland Statehouse during the 2016 legislative session were some distinctive lobbyists: beekeepers, dressed in full regalia, advocating for a Maryland ban on home use of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides.
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