Composting Info from the Maynard Board of Health

March 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Tips, tricks, & ideas 

Composting is a great way to recycle our organic “waste” into a beneficial soil amendment for our yards and gardens. Composting at home can also help reduce methane production at landfills. Using the compost in our landscapes helps store carbon in the soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere. Compost creates healthy soil, reducing or eliminating the need for fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation. We can reduce our trash by 50 percent or more by composting leaves, grass clippings, garden debris, fruit peels, vegetable scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells, paper towels, napkins and even paper bags.

It’s easy to make compost, and the Town of Maynard makes it even easier by offering rodent-resistant home composting bins for $35.00, over 50% off the retail price. To obtain a discounted compost bin, please contact or visit the Maynard Board of Health office.

The Board of Health sells The Earth Machine which has a capacity of 11 cubic feet, the equivalent of about 4 bags of leaves. It has a sliding door at the bottom for removing compost and a locking lid. It is made from 50% post-consumer recycled plastic.

The compost bins help hold in heat and moisture, keep animals out, and look more attractive than open compost heaps. Organic material will start to turn to compost in the bins in 3 to 6 months. Compost, known as “black gold” to gardeners, replenishes nutrients in the soil, helps retain moisture, makes the soil easy to work, and helps plants resist disease. Compost makes plants healthy so they can overcome adverse conditions without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

Fill your compost bin using three parts “brown” material and one part “green” material. This provides food for the compost organisms in a recipe that will not create odors. “Brown” ingredients include leaves, straw, dried grass clippings, wood chips, sawdust, pine needles, and paper products such as paper towels, napkins, bags, plates, coffee filters, tissue and newspaper. “Green” materials include fresh grass clippings, weeds, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, manure, and seaweed. Make sure the materials are damp as you build the pile, especially the “browns.” As you build the pile, sprinkle on several shovelfuls of rich garden soil or finished compost after every 12” of fresh material.

Leaves are an important ingredient of a compost pile. Without them, a compost pile may become too wet and create odors. If you have leaves available, use them to start your compost heap and save the rest to add during the summer. Compostable food scraps and grass clippings should be buried under about 6″ of leaves, where they will decompose odorlessly. If leaves are in short supply, add plenty of paper towels, napkins and torn up paper bags to provide the necessary carbon, and always bury your food scraps under this material.

Most of the composting work is done by soil organisms that convert organic material to humus. They need oxygen, just as we do. Lack of oxygen will slow down the composting process and cause odors. Turn your pile, fluff it with a hoe or turning tool, or build air passages into the pile to keep your compost pile aerobic and odor-free. Or use a compost bin that allows air to penetrate the pile.

In about three months, the material will start to turn to compost. The material at the bottom of the pile will be ready first. As more time goes by, the level of compost in the pile will rise until it is easy to access just below the surface. You will know your compost is ready to use when it looks like rich, brown soil and no longer resembles the original materials.

Compost benefits all plants, and there are many different ways to use it. Add a handful of compost to each transplant hole when planting seedlings or potted plants. Spread another handful on the surface of the soil around the newly planted seedling, making sure that the compost is not touching the stem or trunk of the plant. Spread compost as a mulch around perennials, shrubs and other existing plantings. If you are planting seeds, apply one-half to three inches of compost and mix it in with the top four inches of soil in the seedbed. To rejuvenate lawns, screen your compost using ½” screening.

Sprinkle the screened compost on the lawn about ¼” deep. Screened compost is also excellent for reseeding lawns. Sprinkle it ½” deep over the bare spots and distribute new grass seed on top. You can even make excellent potting soil with compost by mixing equal parts compost, sand and loam.

For additional information, please visit the Maynard Board of Health office where composting brochures are available.

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Tips for Selecting Seeds

February 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Tips, tricks, & ideas 

The Concord, MA website has published a great list of tips for selecting seeds to grow in our area. Here are just a few:

  1. Choose open-pollinated seeds
  2. Think variety
  3. No peat moss
  4. Focus on New England sourcing

Part 1 is here, and part 2 is here.

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Holistic Approach to Growing Edibles

December 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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For those of you interested in a holistic approach to growing edibles, check out this video about Lost Nation Orchard.

Lost Nation Orchard – the Holistic Approach from Chris Conroy on Vimeo.

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Proper Pruning and Re-thinking Plant Diseases

December 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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From the Kitchen Gardens website comes a really great post on proper pruning. We’re taught that the best approach when pruning is to remove the three D’s: Damaged, Diseased, and Dead. This article challenges that belief and goes into some very interesting explanations why that might not be best.

We tend to think insects and diseases are making our plants unhealthy, but actually, they are there because our plants are unhealthy. This is one of the biggest shifts we need to make in our thinking when moving to organic gardening practices.

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Composting, Mulching, Reading List, and Planting Calendar

November 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Tips, tricks, & ideas 

Kristi Twichell of Growing Gardens Together, a Boston-area garden coaching service, gave a talk in Maynard in October 2010. The talk, which was open to the public and sponsored by MCG, included a number of helpful handouts. Below are the materials from that talk.

Composting is Easy! [PDF]

Mulch Basics [PDF]

References for Composting

General:

http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/compostbrochure.pdf

http://www.mass.gov/dep/recycle/reduce/compos01.htm

Worm Composting:

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http://www.mass.gov/dep/recycle/reduce/vermi.htm

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Do-it-yourself composter plans:

Compost tumbler plans:

http://www.compostbinplans.com/compost-tumbler-plans/

Ultimate compost bin:

http://www.organicgardening.com/feature/0,7518,s1-3-79-1736,00.html

Wood and wire bin:

http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/9538/all-about-compost

Sources for ready-made composters:

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Composters are usually available at many retail stores such as Home Depot, Sears, garden centers etc. as well as online sources such as Gardener’s Supply (http://www.gardeners.com). A Google search will yield many choices.

SUGGESTED READING LIST

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Coleman, Eliot. Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.

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White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1999. This book gives good basic information and goes beyond to discuss how to extend your growing season.

Deardorff, David and Wadsworth, Kathryn. What’s Wrong with My Plant? (and How Do I Fix It?). Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc., 2009. A book to help gardeners diagnose disease and pest problems in their own gardens. Covers problems in all types of plants.

Gillman, Jeff. The Truth about Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn’t and Why. Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc., 2008. The author is a professor of horticulture and reviews scientific evidence to help the reader decide what techniques are most likely to work in his/her garden.

Smith, Edward C. The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible.

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North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2000. Good introductory book covering all the basics with lots of good pictures.

Web sites

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: Often universities with horticulture departments (eg., Cornell, U. Mass, U of Conn) make lots of information available to the home gardener. Organic Gardening magazine (http://www.organicgardening.com) and Fine Gardening (http://www.finegardening.com) have good ones too.

Seed catalogs: In general it is a good idea to get your seeds from catalogs located in areas as similar to yours as possible. In our area, what grows a bit north of us is likely to be hardy here. Try the following: Johnny’s (http://www.johnnyseeds.com); Pine Tree Seeds (https://www.superseeds.com) which offer seeds in small quantities; High Mowing (http://www.highmowingseeds.com) which is organic and independent; Baker Creek (http://rareseeds.com) which isn’t local but has great pictures and a huge variety of heirloom seeds.

Skippy’s Planting Calendar

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May 23, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Composting with Worms

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Tips, tricks, & ideas 

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Happy Earth Day! Here are thirteen ways gardeners can help the environment. Composting is definitely on the list, and this article gives an overview of one type of composting that’s easy to do in small spaces, even indoors, all year long.

Vermicomposting is the practice of recycling organic matter by feeding it to worms. Not all worms can be used for vermicomposting; the most commonly used worm is Eisenia foetida, aka the red wriggler. These worms can eat up to 50% of their own body weight in organic matter per day and double their population every 3 to 4 months. Worm compost is rich in nutrients and microorganisms and makes a great fertilizer for house and garden plants.

There are lots of good reasons to compost with worms:

  • It’s easy
  • It’s fun
  • Worm bins take up very little space
  • It can be done indoors, so even people without yards can do it
  • It can be done year-round
  • It diverts waste from landfills, thus helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions
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Vermicomposting in Six Easy Steps

  1. Acquire a bin. Instructions for purchasing or building your own can be found at http://tinyurl.com/wormbin (PDF).
  2. Prepare the bedding. Instead of soil, composting red worms live in moist newspaper bedding. Like soil, newspaper strips provide air, water, and food for the worms.
    • Using about 50 pages, tear newspaper into 1/2″ to 1″ strips. Avoid using colored print, which may be toxic to the worms. Place newspaper strips into a large plastic garbage bag or container. Add water until bedding feels like a damp sponge, moist but not dripping. Add dry strips if it gets too wet.
    • Add the strips to the bin, making sure bedding is fluffy (not packed down) to provide air for the worms. Bin should be 3/4 full of damp newspaper strips.
    • Sprinkle 2-4 cups of soil in bin, which introduces beneficial microorganisms. Gritty soil particles also aids the worms’ digestive process. Potting soil or soil from outdoors is fine.
  3. Add your worms. Special composting worms can be purchased online or at some specialty stores. A pound of worms is plenty to start with for the average family.
  4. Feed the worms. A balanced diet includes fruit and vegetable scraps that would normally be thrown away (such as peels, rinds, and cores) along with eggshells (crushed), tea bags, coffee grinds and filters, breads/grains/cereals, and wood ash from the fireplace (in small amounts). Limit the amount of citrus fruits and onion skins that you place in the bin. Do not add meats, bones, oils, or dairy products.
    • Bury food scraps in the bin. Lift up bedding, add food scraps, then cover food with bedding.
    • To help the worms eat your scraps more quickly, cut into small pieces—the smaller, the better.
    • Measure the amount of food. For a new bin, start with just one pound. After a week or so, you can start feeding worms approximately 3 times their weight per week.
    • Monitor the bin every week to see if the worms are eating all the food. Adjust feeding levels accordingly.
  5. Cover the worms. Place a full sheet of dry newspaper, burlap, or cardboard on top of the bedding. This will help maintain the moisture balance, keep any possible odors in the bin, and help prevent fruit flies from making a home in the bin. Replace this sheet frequently if fruit flies are present, or if bin gets too wet. Cover the bin with a lid made of plastic, plywood or cloth. Leave the lid ajar or drill holes into the bin so the worms get some air. Place the bin away from windows and heaters, out of the elements, ideally where the temperature stays between 60-80°F.
  6. Keep worms happy! Feed them about once a week. If bedding dries up, spray with water. If bedding gets too wet, add dry newspaper strips. Fluff up bedding once a week so the worms get enough air.
You can download a PDF file with this information here.
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Plant a Row for the Hungry in 2010

May 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Kitchen gardening 
. This program, a national effort started by the Garden Writers Association in 1995, is a simple way for gardeners in Maynard to provide nutritious, healthful, local, fresh produce to the Maynard Food Bank and Open Table Maynard. Just plant an extra row of one or more types of edibles, and bring the produce to our Plant a Row coordinator’s house. If you are interested in participating, please contact us for details.

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