DIY Yards and Health

DIY Yards and Health
Helping the Do It Yourself home owner in making themselves and surroundings healthy

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Straw Bale Gardens

straw bale garden
Seems like everyone is trying to find some way to garden that is easier. Bending over or getting on your knees is something that makes gardening just painful.

The straw bale garden is an interesting idea in that it is a quick raised bed, the straw decomposes and creates heat that helps the ambient temperature of the soil, and it's relatively cheap.

Not a bad idea but there are a few issues. One is that the straw bale honestly is messy. It will shed and not look that attractive especially as it begins to disintegrate. As it disintegrate you have the issue of how to get rid of it without making more mess. One way to help the process is to build something around the bale but keep in mind the oxygen is very important around that bale and watch out for spontaneous combustion which has happened in hay stacks for years.

The other item not discussed much is that just like hydroponics that we discuss in the pages above, where are the soil nutrients? Soil goes through a microbial process that builds the natural elements our bodies need. Just because it grows fast and big does not mean it has the nutrient absorption that is the key reason to raise our own food.

Still; not a bad idea, but soil and nutrients need to be considered as with all raised beds. This brings us to the subject of mid-summer feeding raised bed gardens.

There is a definite drop as the living organisms in the soil start to fail in a raised bed. This is partially to a interlinking of those micro-organisms that can draw nutrients from hundreds of feet away. The main one is Hypha or Hyphae for plural. This is an amazing network that raised beds cut off. This simply means you need to add worm tea a couple of times a year to insure that the soil is feeding you the nutrients you need in your diet.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Understanding how to use your worm composter

Worm Composter
Worm composting is the key to great returns on raised garden beds.

It is important to make sure you understand how it all works. You'll read lots of information seeming to contradict themselves, but keep to these facts and it will help.

One reason there are contradictions is there are no control factors enforced on how worm tea is produced and how it is labeled.

The Leachate that comes out of the tap on the bottom of your composter is not compost or worm tea. It is drainage from the bins. This has proven to be a great fertilizer for some people, then, other times it can actually harm plants...why? Because the extract from the worms "gut" is what we are looking for to have the micro biology of aerobic organisms that we want. However, if you put raw vegetables in whole, those vegetables will be full of liquid, rotting, and discharging a fluid full of anaerobic bacteria whose function is to break down plant cellulose > that isn't what we want on living plants.

So we have people grinding their vegetables up, putting them in with lots of paper products, which the worms consume quickly, not allowing the drainage of decaying plants in the basin, who say the leachate fertilizer is's actually from the worm extract, so they are right. Then we have people who put in whole rotting vegetables, who get the anaerobic drainage, that actually can harm living plants.

So how do we tell the difference? Well smell actually is the best way, if it's earthy smelling then it's probably from the worms, if it's foul smelling, it's full of anaerobic bacteria. Many people use this method, but still, I recommend pouring the leachate onto the compost pile, and let it do it's job one way or the other.

Worm tea is the powerful stuff we put on our raised garden beds to replenish the mycorrhiza to produce great healthy food. This is from the actual worm castings in the worm bin. This is done by putting the fresh castings in a tea like bag, putting an air pump (like from a fish tank) in and farming off the good stuff into a liquid we can put on the garden. This must be done in a short period of time, in order to get the aerobic affect before the anaerobic takes over. See details.

I hope it doesn't seem to complicated, it really isn't once you've done it. And the results are amazing.
It's simply having the knowledge that takes a few hours to learn, that makes all the difference in success or failure.

Weather Stress on Trees

We had our last cold snap here locally but other states have really been hit. And now we see a quick warm up to the eighties.

pine with damageHow do trees handle this?

 Often the answer is, "not well".
The best way to see what is happening to your tree is to look at the very top first. This will show signs of stress first. The second is to look at the foliage and judge it against healthy trees. The third is to step back and see if there are areas of the tree looking worse than others.

The most difficult part of diagnosing trees is the fact that they don't do anything fast. Heat stress or chemical damage can take weeks to show. So it is crucial that you always look into the history of what the tree has gone through, over the last few months, to make a correct diagnosis.

We will see trees struggle with these extremes in temperatures however, if we feed them and water them properly, most trees can push through one or two extreme stresses.
It's when multiple stresses compound that we see trees die.
UPDATE JUNE 15: That stress we were talking about this early spring is just now showing the damage. People don't understand, or even believe, that a tree will take three months, or, in the case of covering the trunk flare, fifteen years; to show damage from poor tree health care. But that is exactly why their trees often die and they really don't know why. 
We are seeing trees die on one side and live on the other. WHY? The tree's vascular system runs fairly vertical. This means that their "arteries" go up and down. So if you damage them on one side at the trunk base, you'll see death on one side of the tree.
In the case of that late freeze, it was severe enough in some trees to actually freeze and damage the cambium layer on one side. The tree had nutrients enough to put on the first round of foliage, but as soon as the heat hit, it couldn't support the leaf tissue with the damaged "arteries" called phloem and xylem in a tree.
The result is symptoms appearing months after the damage occurred. People who specialize in trees see these late results and know that often symptoms can not be fixed. And at the very least, they can not be fixed quickly in a safe way for the tree to react to a chemical or nutrient. If you  want healthy trees, you have to be diligent in the care and pay attention to what they are going through.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Tree Feed

I feed decidua's trees in the spring, and then evergreens in the fall; with a organically balanced Tree Feed - NOT fertilizer.

Tree Feed
Do not let someone put nitrogen sticks, drench or deep root application on your trees, unless they can prove a nitrogen deficiency.

The International Society of Arborist ANSI standards has greatly reduced the traditional thinking on nitrogen due to the fact we do not want trees to grow fast, but strong.
An organic balance will be the elements that help the tree sustain itself which is found in correctly created "Organic Tea" type products which encourage the Mycorrhiza  to work in a symbiotic relationship with the plant.
The real problem I see during the summer is lawn care companies filling up the tree well with broadcast fertilizer. You can easily see the pellets and they are usually set for 3 pounds of nitrogen per thousand square feet five times a year. This is way too much for the tree and creates lots of long term problems.
The answer I have had to use is either to ask the lawn care company to blow the pellets out of the tree well or in extreme cases where I can see the tree is way over fertilized, we have the home owner throw tarps or sheets down around the tree drip line. After the application the pellets are gathered into in the tarps and recycled back to the hopper.
If you have a lawn care company, stress to them you do not want them to fertilize under the trees more than once a year in the second application.
The other problem lawn care companies create is they over apply a selective herbicide such as 2.4-d around the root base of the tree. These are systemic herbicides that can sicken or even kill the tree. Again, ask the lawn care company to only spot spray with the minimal amount of herbicide possible around the tree's drip line.
These are the health tree tips that make my customer trees so healthy and strong versus the neighbor who really doesn't care.

Friday, May 2, 2014

When to Plant Trees

Mothers Day is a popular tree planting event, however I've sacrificed more trees to the weather patterns around mothers day than any other time.
When to plant trees

The best time to plant a tree is when it is dormant. Spring is not the best time if the weather had already warmed up and the plant is in bud or has leafed out.

If you must plant in the spring; watch the weather patterns closely and try to time it in a cool down. Make sure the tree does not have too much water or too little, using a simple potted plant water probe to check wetness.

Tree health is about reducing the stresses on the tree. Replant shock is maximizing the amount of shock the plant can take so any OTHER shock, such as a week without water, insect attack, or too much nitrogen from the lawn fertilizing, can tip the balance and start the tree in what is called a death spiral.

The best time to plant is in the fall or even winter if the ground is not frozen. A decidua tree is hibernating and will not even notice the change. The problem with this plan is it is often freezing and you can't get any water on the tree. You'd think that because the tree is dormant it doesn't need any water. But we don't want those freshly cut roots to desiccate all winter long. There are usually little warm ups which will trigger small shoots of roots and if that ground is dead dry, those roots will die.

The answer is to use a watering device, I'll get one on the blog page here for new plantings, that basically is a slow release of water. If it is not too full it can freeze and not rip. But if there is a warm up it will automatically wet the tree as it needs it. This same device is good for any newly planted trees.

Over watering does as much damage as under watering. So I like to plant by digging drainage trenches out from the planting hole back filled with organic matter and drainage rock. This does two things; first it helps keep us from overwatering. We can water the tree pretty liberally because we know excess will drain off and not drown the roots. The second thing it does is give roots an avenue they will want to go out that will give the tree a faster stable root mass.

See the Tree section above on the airspade for what those trenches look like.