Learn With Us, week of March 1

Raised Bed Gardening CANCELLED
Saturday, March 7 10:00 – 11:00am
For Garden’s Sake
9197 NC-751, Durham, NC 27713

“Raised Beds: If You Build Them the Veggies Will Come” — This class will cover the several advantages of raised bed gardening including recommendations on planning, locating, preparing and constructing the bed. The presenter will also offer helpful tips on season extension, crop rotation, companion planting, improving your soil, using journals to record plant successes (and failures), protection from critters and plant supports. There will also be a discussion of such potential problems and pitfalls as contaminated beds or pest infestations

To register, email ann@fgsnursery.com or call 919-484-9759

Consider Composting

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

A few years ago I decided to begin composting, again. I had tried twice before in different places I had lived. Neither of those first two attempts were successful. There must be something to the saying: ‘Third time’s a charm,’ because I have fallen in love with composting.

Composting is the act of creating compost in your own backyard. Compost is decayed organic matter that once fully broken down makes an outstanding soil amendment for all kinds of plants, shrubs and trees.

Briggs compost
A three-bin unit is a more productive composting set-up and ideal for large amounts of yard and garden waste. This unit is at the Briggs Avenue Community Garden in Durham, which is on land owned by NC State and maintained with the help of Extension master gardeners. photo credit: Andrea Laine

Benefits of Composting
Compost improves the physical properties of the soil:  its color, texture, structure, depth, and water capacity. Compost also supplies the soil with essential nutrients, mainly nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen supports foliage growth and green color; It easily leaches from soil so it is important to replenish it. Carbon improves soil aeration, and water drainage and retention.

Composting is easier than I imagined it would be and helpful in so many ways. It is an excellent way to recycle yard trimmings and natural kitchen scraps year round. I no longer feel guilty about fruits or vegetables going bad before I have a chance to eat them; What does not feed me will feed my compost pile and, ultimately, my garden.

Home-made compost saves money. With a little effort and consistent attention, the pile builds up and breaks down quickly. Thus, I almost always have compost when I want it. Each spring I treat perennials and shrubs by working a shovelful in to the top few inches of soil under the plant canopy.

Siting and Building a Compost Pile
There are two ways to start backyard composting. You can purchase a commercially-manufactured bin or build your own enclosure. I have tried both types and much prefer the DIY approach as it is easier to maintain, especially when it comes to balancing moisture and aeration levels which are important components to a productive pile. A 4×4 cubic-foot enclosure is ideal. The sides must not be solid so air can pass through and around the pile.

Choose the right site for your composting. The first time I tried composting I placed my pile at the rear of a long, narrow acre. Its distant location, behind a shrub border no less, turned out to be inconvenient and, therefore largely ignored. My current pile is just behind a detached garage, out of sight yet still easy to access.

my compost structure
I used four shipping pallets to build my compost bin. Three of the pallets are crudely fastened in two places, using a wood block and nails, to provide structure. The slatted sides provide aeration. The fourth side is purposely unattached so I can access the pile to aerate or shovel out ‘finished’ compost. Photo: A. Laine

It takes about three to six months to produce finished compost using the “hot pile” method. The “cold pile” method will take about a year or longer. The difference being the temperature and moisture of the pile. Compost is ready to use when it is dark brown, has a light and crumbly texture similar to potting soil, and has a pleasant, earthy scent.

compost thermometer
Pile temperatures must exceed 131°F to kill most pathogens harmful to humans and pets, and they must surpass 145°F to destroy most weed seeds. Any kind of thermometer will do for this purpose. Photo: A. Laine

Feeding a Compost Pile
Ideally, begin with a layer of twigs and small branches to provide some structure and ventilation at the bottom of the pile. On top of that, add a layer of dead leaves and then a handful of soil to initiate microorganisms.

Contributions to the compost pile are commonly characterized as “browns” and “greens.” Browns are sugar-rich carbon sources that provide energy to microorganisms. Greens are protein-rich nitrogen sources that provide moisture to microorganisms. Composting works because microorganisms in the pile (such as bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa and nematodes) feed on this brown and green matter, converting it to what we recognize as soil.

compost carbon
Decaying branches from the woodland floor are great ‘brown’ additions to the compost pile. Photo: A. Laine

Materials I often add to my compost pile include:  coffee grinds and tea bags, dryer lint and floor sweepings, fruit and vegetable peelings, stems from herbs, flower stalks and dead blossoms, egg shells, and twigs that litter the ground. Since Durham County has a very good curb recycling program, I route my newspapers, cardboard and other paper scraps to the recycling bin. The nitrogen content of paper is low and would slow the pile’s decomposition rate, so it is best not to compost paper. Avoid pine needles, too; their waxy coating resists decay. I err on the side of caution and do not add weeds to my compost.

ceramic pail
You can purchase a decorative ceramic pail like this one for about $25, or a plastic utility bucket with handle for $5. Whatever you choose, make sure it has a lid to contain odors, and commit to emptying it regularly. photo: A. Laine

Tips for Composting Success

  1. Piles three to five feet high stay hot best.
  2. Smaller pieces compost faster; Take the time to cut deposits into two-inch pieces.
  3. Turn the pile weekly to aerate it and hasten breakdown of material. If it is too difficult to turn, at least poke holes in it. I use a pitch fork, but there is such a tool as a composting fork that may be easier/better.
  4. Add a handful of soil every now and then to initiate microorganisms.
  5. Occasionally, I add water to the bucket of household waste before dumping it on the pile; approximately 40 to 60 percent moisture is needed in the pile. (Water in the bucket also helps to fully empty its contents.)
  6. Rinse eggshells and set them aside. Once fully dry, crush them to hasten their breakdown.
  7. Pour a layer of dead leaves or rotting twigs (‘browns’) over fresh vegetable trimmings (‘greens’) to dissuade critters from entering the pile.
  8. Strive for a ratio mix of 2:1 “brown” to “greens.”
  9. Animal manure may contain composting-resistant herbicides. See NC State Extension publication Herbicide Carryover in Hay, Manure, Compost & Grass Clippings: Caution to Hay Producers, Livestock Owners, Farmers & Home Gardeners if you add manure to your pile.

I love having a compost pile for its utility in providing nutritious soil for my garden and a place for the recycling of vegetable trimmings, egg shells, and other organic household waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill somewhere. I can, and do, compost year-round. During cold weather the pile is unlikely to get hot enough to break down new additions. No worries though; Being North Carolinians, we know that warm weather will soon return.

References and Resources
How to build a compost bin: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/publications/Detail.aspx?PublicationID=347

The do and don’ts of adding matter to a compost pile: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/backyard-composting-of-yard-garden-and-food-discards

A list of Extension publications on home composting: https://composting.ces.ncsu.edu/home-composting/

Soil and the carbon cycle: http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/factsheets/factsheet91.pdf


Learn With Us, week of April 19

APRIL 21 – Getting Dirty with Durham County Master Gardeners Radio Show Kit Flynn has a namesake, but it comes with big responsiblities.  Listen as Dan Mason tells us a garden story about Kit’s Circus Wagon. Broadcasts Tuesdays at 2:00pm on WCOM 103.5  Can be heard live or replayed any time at http://gettingdirtyradioshow.org


Small Fruits for the Home Garden – Durham Garden Forum
Tuesday, Apr 21, 2015 6:30pm – 8:00pm
Where: Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson Street, Durham
Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and grapes – what you need to know to grow your own. Presented by Gina Fernandez, professor, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University.
$10.00 fee per class or annual membership fee.
Registration required. Contact: durhamgardenforum@gmail.com

APRIL 24– Getting Dirty with Durham County Master Gardeners Radio Show National Arbor Day is April 24, 2015.  The Durham County Master Gardeners have worked with several organizations to give away free tree seedlings to county residents.  Hundreds of individual trees representing about a dozen different varieties which thrive in our area have been made available to home owners.  Lise Jenkins caught up with volunteers working at one of the tree giveaway events and learned that everyone have a favorite tree. Broadcasts Tuesdays at 2:00pm on WCOM 103.5  Can be heard live or replayed any time at http://gettingdirtyradioshow.org

Tomatoes & Okra
Saturday, Apr 25, 2015 10:00am – 11:00am
Where: Durham Garden Center, 4536 Hillsborough Road, Durham
Growing tomatoes and okra are Southern traditions. Come and learn how to grow these two staples of the Southern garden. This seminar will also include advice on how to modify Durham’s soil for success in the garden. Presenter: Charles Murphy, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.
contact: 919-384-7526 or ann3dgc@gmail.com
Sign up at the store, e-mail or by phone
Include the seminar title and full name(s) of persons attending

Backyard Composting – Extension Garden Seminars
Sunday, Apr 26, 2015 3:00pm – 4:00pm
Where: Durham County Public Library – South Regional Library, 4502 South Alston Avenue, Durham, NC
Presented by Rhonda Sherman, Extension Master Gardener volunteer and NCSU Extension Specialist. Discover the basics of successful composting and vermicomposting. Learn how to transform food scraps, leaves, and other organic materials into a nutrient-rich soil conditioner that will benefit your lawn and gardens.
Free/ Registration required.
Contact: Cathy Starkweather, cstarkweather@dconc.gov 919-560-7410

Growing a backyard grocery for wildlife

by Nan Len

The cardinals who live in our backyard have brightened up many days this winter. In the summer, I am delighted to watch the hummingbirds buzz around our feeder and the bees methodically going from bloom to bloom. From spring to fall, four or five toads hang out on our driveway at night. I have watched a luna moth emerge out of its cocoon and I feel quite clever when I catch sight of a praying mantis. A couple of turtles, some snakes, and a fox have traversed our backyard.

I want more – more birds, more insects, more turtles, more toads and more mammals. This desire led me to read “Bringing nature home” by Douglas W. Tallamy (Timber Press, 2007)

Tallamy, a professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware, brought up a point that I had never considered: insects are the main food for many species of wildlife. The best source of food for many insects is native plants. In order for me to sustain and expand the diversity of wildlife in my backyard, I need to start thinking like a neighborhood grocer.

There is something deceitful about my seemingly benign grocery analogy. It is a ruthless little neighborhood where I am stocking the shelves. Many of my customers are also the daily special.

By making sure I have food and shelter for bees, butterflies, crickets, grasshoppers, and spiders, I am providing a meal for small mammals, toads, and birds, which are themselves a meal for snakes, bigger birds and mammals. These food chains make up the food web.

Most of these distressing events may take place out of my sight, but I fail as a grocer if I neglect the food preferences of anyone in my neighborhood. A test of my success is how diverse my customers are.

When you buy your next plant, reconsider your choice if it is labeled “pest free”. If nothing wants to nibble on that plant, isn’t that like your grocery store manager replacing your favorite apple with plastic fruit? If most of your landscape is pest free, then you have a grocery of beautifully packaged, cellophane wrapped, processed stuff with few interesting customers stopping by.

The statistics on the loss of natural habitats are distressing. I cannot change the years of unintended consequences of humans being humans. But by planting native plants, I can do my part to build a resilient food web. I will get to see more of my wildlife neighbors and they will find a good meal. I’ll settle for that.

Learn With Us, week of Feb. 1, 2015

Tuesday, Feb. 3 Getting Dirty with Durham County Master Gardeners Radio Show  – Broadcasts Tuesdays at 2:00pm on WCOM 103.5  Can be heard live or replayed any time at http://gettingdirtyradioshow.org
Understanding Soils – Complete Extension Gardener Series
Tuesday, Feb 3, 2015 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Where:Durham County Cooperative Extension, 721 Foster Street, Durham, NC
Good healthy soil provides a foundation for growing healthy plants. Learn more about soils and amendments to help you create the environment you need to grow plants well.
Free/ Registration required.
contact: Pana Jones – prjones2@ncsu.edu 919-560-0525
At Sarah P. Duke Gardens:

Thursday, Feb. 5 from 11 am – noon
Walk on the Wild Side
Stefan Bloodworth, curator, or Annabel Renwick, horticulturist, Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, Duke Gardens
Explore wild North Carolina in these seasonal walks through the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants on the first Thursday of every month.
Thursdays, Feb. 5, 11 am-noon

Location: meet at the Blomquist Garden entrance
Participant limit: 15
Fee per date: $7; Gardens members $5
Pre-registration required. Parking fees apply.
Call 919-668-1707 to register


Saturday, Feb. 7, select from two sessions
Mushroom Logs
Andy Currin, avid vegetable gardener and Duke University campus horticulturist

Enjoy fresh shitake mushrooms grown in your own garden! Each participant will be supplied with a 12” section of log, pre-drilled and ready to “plant” with mushrooms. Andy will take you through the process of seeding the log, sealing it with wax, and then maintaining it for the six months it will take to grow your first crop of mushrooms. Each log should produce mushrooms for several years.

Section a: Saturday, Feb. 7, 10 am-noon
Section b: Saturday, Feb. 7, 1-3 pm
Participant limit: 15
Fee: $35; Gardens members $30
Registration required; please call 919-668-1707.