Organic Fertilizer

I recently spent time with my Garden Club friends.  The Master Gardener presentation was “Fertilizer – Organic or Not” and was very informative.

Her first question to the group got us all talking about what we currently use for fertilizer in our own gardens.  I have never really tried a fertilizer.  My attempt at compost lasted about as long as Springtime in Pittsburgh – not very.  And I’m now convinced that is most likely the reason I’m not so thrilled with the production of my plots as of late.

There are many types of fertilizer available, from the not so expensive garden variety ones that can be found at the big box stores, to the organic assortments available at specialty garden shops.  All personal preference of course.

The idea that struck me about organic is that you truly amend the soil with these types.  Organic means it comes from once living sources.  Blood, bone, dung.  Gross.  But effective and truly life-giving!  The non-organic types are great for instant satisfaction but don’t add any value to the soil – sort of a one-shot deal.

One of the garden club ladies shared her recipe for great soil in her gardens.  We live in an area that has much clay in the soil.  In fact, I could probably make pottery out of my soil, but that’s a story for another time.  On her suggestion, I purchased a huge block of “garden mix” and a large (and extremely heavy) bag of garden soil.

fertilizerGarden mix is mostly peat moss and perlite (white pellet things that help with aeration).  Garden soil purchased in a bag can be just about anything.  I opted for a bag of Miracle Grow, which was slightly more expensive than the store brand.  But I’ve had horrible experiences with soil in bags that smelled suspiciously like road finishing asphalt.  You never know what is behind that mysterious label.

Mix equal parts well in my 5-gallon bucket, add some water, and amend as I weed and plant the borders.  I’m sure the plants will respond well.  But this is one of those “non-organic” solutions.

We have been tossing the grass clippings behind the fence for years.  The thought has crossed my mind every so often to just take a peek under the mound and see what is there.

Unimaginable rich black soil matter (and earthworms!), that is what is under there!  I was so excited to discover this.  My husband thought I found actual gold.  I call it garden gold!

He just doesn’t quite get it!

So now, I’m mixing some of the garden gold with the garden mix and adding that to the borders.

We also learned about the numbers on those fertilizer packages.

fert analysis

Nitrogen – Phosphorus – Potassium.  5-10-5.

A fertilizer with a 18-24-6 analysis means that there is 18% Nitrogen (by weight) in the mix.  Now I know you are adding that up in your head – am I right?  That’s only 48%.  So what about the rest?  Filler.  And it’s OK because too much of a good thing can burn your plants.  So the manufacturers use a good filler to temper the mix.

A high Nitrogen mix is good for greens – grass, leafy foliage.  Higher Phosphorus content is good for root development, new plants, and blooms.  Potassium helps guard against disease, temperature extremes, and helps if your plants have been attacked by insects.

Did you know gardening could be so scientific!



Let’s Try Composting . . . again

I really want to be successful at composting – I really do.  I’ve tried a few times, and lost interest once it became too much work or had to be thought about too often.  In my latest attempt, the ingredients turned into a great attraction for fruit flies, which caused me to send the “kitchen scraps” ceramic container to the deck.  Where I promptly forgot about it.  And where it eventually cracked – ceramic does not do well in the winter around here.

With my current attempt, I’m thinking through the details before I step one foot into that, well, wasteland.

There’s a Recipe for Compost.  A pretty easy way to remember it is by color.

photo (4)

Right now, I have an abundance of leaves that I’ve raked up from the yard and shredded with the lawnmower.  I also can prepare some newspaper by shredding it with the office shredder.  So there’s my brown stuff.  I will keep my extra brown in a covered pile beside the composter.

The green materials seem to be easier to come by – kitchen scraps will be saved and stored in this handy-dandy trash can

photo (3)

I picked up at Wal-Mart.  I have biodegradable plastic liners from a former composting attempt.  I read somewhere that you can freeze these scraps so they are available when you need them.  That’s a great idea.

Because all these scraps take lots of time to become compost.  Lots of time.  So while I’m waiting for the compost ingredients to become compost, I can save these extra ingredients for the next batch in the freezer and in the pile next to the composter.

I have a composter that tumbles.  It’s very easy to turn, and makes compost in as little as 4 weeks.  So I’m told.


I have added layers of ingredients – 2 inches of green + 6 inches of brown then sprinkle with some water – to the composter .  You aren’t suppose to fill it up, so I made 3 layers.

Now I need to turn the composter once a week.  So I will add a reminder to my iPhone to remind me to turn the composter.  Turn it Tuesdays!

I have yet to make a successful batch of compost, but I’m hopeful that my renewed plan should have me turning out compost all winter.

I’ll keep you posted.

Putting the Garden to Bed for the Winter

Here in Zone 5a, the beauty of Fall is waning.

pathway to winter

Time for reality, and tending to winterizing before it gets too cold out there.  November is the perfect time for putting the garden to bed.

  • Divide and cut back perennials.

Tall grasses should be tied with twine or tape, then whacked close to ground level with hedge trimmers.  You can then divide the roots if necessary.

Daylilies, like the tall grasses, should be cut back if they aren’t already.  About once every three years or so, the roots can be divided with pitchforks, as demonstrated in this clip.

  • Gather seeds from the beautiful annuals you had in the garden this year.  Shake dried seed pods directly into small plastic bags, making sure to slip in a small piece of paper that identifies the seed before sealing.  Here’s a seed catalog project I’ve finally been able to achieve!
  • Once the frost has hit them, dig out annuals and throw them on the compost pile.
  • Fall is the perfect time to plant new trees or shrubs.  The roots will need plenty of water and will establish themselves before the ground has a chance to freeze.
  • Amend your soil.  Here in the Western Pennsylvania region, clay soil is pretty much the norm.  Amending the garden beds by adding compost annually really helps the plants and trees that are planted in this soil perform and breathe!
  • Empty hoses and shut off water from inside the house.  Bring those clay crocks and other breakables inside, they may will break 😦
  • Take a look at your bird feeder location.  Make sure it’s high enough to discourage ground invaders, in a nice sunny spot so birds will enjoy the location.  And make sure it’s not in the range of any domesticated animal run.  Sound like experience talking here?
  • Place a stick in the bird bath, so that when the water freezes, you will be able to remove the ice and refill with fresh water.
  • Protect cold-sensitive plants.  This could mean mulching with leaves or constructing burlap enclosures and filling with leaves.  Anything to keep the plants protected, but not too warm as to encourage growth.

With minimal pain, you will have a head start on the Spring chores once Mr. Winter goes back into hibernation.

Not to rush life along, but I’m soo looking forward to Spring!

The grass is indeed greener

I work at a university in Pittsburgh.  It’s not THE University of Pittsburgh, but it’s VERY closeby.  While the Pitt campus is virtually all concrete sidewalks and streets, the Carnegie Mellon University campus is very green.  In addition to luring some of the brightest students from around the world, CMU is very good at growing and regrowing lawns!

It’s amazing how many times I’ve seen them out patching bare spots.  Last summer, they replaced some underground structures right in the middle of a lawn called “The Cut”.  It was a mess, with half the lawn destroyed by the work.  It was eventually replaced with sod, and you can’t even tell where the work was done at this point.  This was a major re-establishment of green, but I’m more impressed with the smaller areas that are repaired every year.

Especially around this time of year, we start putting on our best face as the alumni and parents will be here shortly for carnival and graduation.  The flower beds will be planted and replanted just prior to commencement.  But the grass.  Ah, yes, the grass.

I’ve been watching the process, and it doesn’t look that hard.  Along the sidewalks throughout campus, there are plenty of corners that get trampled and the grass gets destroyed.  It looks like they mix grass seed with compost or some growing medium and toss that on the bare spots.  That’s it.  No muss, no fuss.  There is a sprinkler system that runs at night, so maybe a little fuss.

This inspired me.

I went home last evening and found 3 bags of grass seed – all unopened!  A quick look around the shed and I discovered a half bag of peat moss and a few bags of garden soil.  My former vegetable garden has mounds of good soil, and I scooped a few shovels into the wheelbarrow.  Mixed in the peat and bagged soil – doesn’t mixing dirt just feel soo good!!  I tossed in a bag of grass seed, the one that says it’s for shade and sun – I hope they know what they are doing!  I then proceeded to fill in the bare spots around the pool, around the deck, around the walkway.  A little water every night, and I’m hoping the lawn will look as professional as the CMU lawn.

Well, a girl can dream, right?

Puffer Poo

creator of Puffer Poo

This is Puffer.  She’s a 7-year-old Jersey Wooly.  I did not know a thing about rabbits when I bought her from a friend who raises them and shows them in the Westmoreland County Fair.  She also belongs to the local 4H, which is how she became involved with rabbits.  I still don’t know much about rabbits, other than they are far less social than dogs and not as crafty as cats.  And she doesn’t like me very much at all.

I truly believe her dislike of me stems completely from the fact that I’m the one who trims her nails and brushes her fur.  Not that I do either one of those tasks as regularly as I should.  And maybe that’s the problem.  If she were groomed as often as she should be, she would like it, right?  Eh, probably not.

My kids, well, actually my daughter, wanted a dog.  Unfortunately, the Hub is EXTREMELY allergic to dogs and cats.  In fact, I had to part ways with my cat because of said allergies, but that’s a sad story for another day.  Any time we visit my sister’s two dogs, the Hub has to make sure to take his allergy meds before the meeting.  These allergies are so bad that he ends up with asthma-like symptoms if he handles the dogs at all.

So I’m investigating “non-allergic” breeds, not that I’m convinced they exist.  I mean, it’s not the fur so much as the dander that causes the allergic reaction.  And even poodles, yorkies, schnauzers, any dog that does not shed still produces dander.  I think.  My sister’s dogs are shihtzus, very cute ones.  The Hub is fine with meds in his system, but he does get congested once we leave the house.  So for now, my husband’s health is trumping our dog-ownership.

But back to Puffer.  She creates some of the best fertilizer for the garden!  I don’t even have to add it to the compost tumbler.  It’s all ready for use.  She eats only hay and alfalfa pellets, so no ‘hot manure’ worries.  I call her special fertilizer Puffer Poo.  I save bags of Puffer Poo and spread in the flower beds in spring, then mulch a little into the beds in the fall.

Puffer has the life.  In the winter, she stays in the house, in her ‘indoor apartment’ (crate).  She’s in an excellent location, in the family room where my kids play xbox a lot.  Too much, actually.  But when the kids are in the family room, Puffer has free reign of the room.  She’s litter trained, too, which was an incredibly easy thing to do.  She picked the corner of her crate, I added a few samples of Puffer Poo right in the litter box, put the box in ‘her’ corner, and she knew exactly what to do.  Pretty crazy, considering how hard it can be to housetrain a dog.  We just need to make sure any wires are out of reach – what is it about electrical cords and extension cords anyway?  They don’t look very appetizing to me, but then again, neither does timothy hay and alfalfa pellets.  It’s almost time for her to be moved to her summer home.  Once these crazy days of frost are over (usually mid-May), I will transfer her to the outdoor pen.  This pen has two rooms, one with an excellent view of the cement pond.  I’m not sure how many visitors she has out there, but I have a feeling there are quite a few.  The raccoons have not figured out how to open her cage yet, but those crafty critters will probably do it someday.  Our neighborhood has an abundance of wild bunnies, and I’m sure they party it up when I’m not looking!