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Composting: A Lazy Gardener’s Guide

Posted on June 13, 2017 by | Comments Off

If you’re an avid gardener, you’re probably familiar with home composting. The premise is simple; mix kitchen scraps with a bunch of leaves or straw in a bin to make a rich, organic fertilizer for your plants. It’s green! It’s economical! It’s easy! Or so they say.

I love home-grown vegetables. Specifically tomatoes, because I’ve found the ones available in grocery stores to be nothing short of inedible. I’m also known to grow epic corn, eggplants, artichokes, lettuces, kale, cucumbers, potatoes, watermelons, zucchini, blackberries, herbs and green beans. The point is this: I’m good at growing things. The secret to my success? Good soil and a laid-back (bordering on lazy) attitude. Unfortunately, home composting using a bin requires a certain level of attention to detail that just doesn’t jive with my “lazy gardening” philosophy.

Here’s how bin composting works:

1. Choose a bin. You can purchase a simple pre-made bin from a garden center or spring for a more expensive tumbler. You can even make your own from a large lidded trash can. I made my own by drilling a bunch of small holes in a hefty green trash can to let oxygen in.

2. Layer nitrogen-rich green waste (grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, flowers) and carbon-rich brown waste (dead leaves, sawdust, shredded paper).  Each later should be about 2-4 inches thick. Make sure green waste from your kitchen is always covered by green or brown waste from your yard to keep it from attracting critters.

3. Turn it at least once a week. The decomposing microorganisms responsible for turning your waste into fertilizing compost need oxygen to survive, and turning the pile allows air to circulate and speeds things along. A tumbler makes this step easy (you just rotate the side handle a few times) but you can also use a pitchfork or shovel.

4. Be patient. Compost is ready to use when it no longer looks like raw materials and instead like rich soil. This may take a few months!

Once I completed my homemade compost bin, I was ready to roll. I kept dead leaves and topsoil nearby to sprinkle on top of any food scraps, mixed it up every week, threw in a bunch of worms to help out the decomposing microorganisms, and got… grubs. Lots and lots of grubs. So I dumped Trial 1 onto the lawn (the neighborhood songbirds had a heyday) and tried again. I figured I didn’t have enough brown waste, so I added more leaves and shredded paper and less food scraps. The result? More grubs. It was gross. And most of my food scraps were still completely recognizable! Ever the optimist, I tried again. Unfortunately, the third time was NOT the charm and I was once again thwarted by those pesky fly larvae.

Maybe my homemade compost bin was ineffective. Maybe I didn’t add enough leaves or have the right brown-to-green-waste ratio. Maybe I didn’t mix it enough, or mixed it too much. Maybe I wasn’t patient enough (this is likely true). Who knows. The point is, after three tries and way more grubs than I ever want to see again, I gave up. I figured I’d just have to be one of those people who buys fertilizer from the store each year.

My compost bed in early spring is ready for action!

My compost bed in early spring is ready for action!

A few months after quitting composting, I was dealing with the remnants of an ill-fated attempt at growing acorn squash and thinking to myself “I wish I still lived in Troutville and could just rake all this stuff into the woods.” And then, a light bulb! Just because I live in the city now doesn’t mean I have to use a bin to make compost! Like my country brethren of yore, I could just rake it into a pile, dump some dirt on top, and let nature do its thing. So I dug a hole in one of my raised beds, added the vines and exploded acorn squash, topped it with dirt, and went on my merry way. A few weeks later I dug the spot back up and found rich, beautiful soil. It was a Lazy Gardening miracle!

 

3 weeks post food scrap addition and looking lovely.

3 weeks post food scrap addition and looking lovely.

Two years later and that raised bed is my own personal dirt factory. It’s active about ten months out of the year (my commitment to sustainability doesn’t go so far as to dig through ice in the winter) and produces enough compost to fertilize all my produce and fill the small sinkholes in my yard. I add fruit and vegetable scraps, thin cardboard, shredded paper, grass clippings, leaves, dead plants, tea bags, spaghetti… pretty much anything biodegradable that isn’t meat or cheese. I literally just dig a hole in the ground and bury stuff. I don’t worry about layering brown and green waste, adding earth worms or mixing it; I just let the bugs and microorganisms in the soil do their magic. As a family of four, our big black curbside trashcan is rarely half-full and I’m able to avoid the dreaded clear plastic yard waste bags most of the time. All in all, it’s been a great success.  But I have learned a few things:

  • It turns out this method actually has a name: Trench Composting.
  • Although you can get away with burying large food scraps in your compost pile (I bury our jack-o-lanterns whole after Halloween), it does take longer for them to break down. So cut your kitchen scraps into small pieces if you’re in a compost-creating hurry.
  • The key is to success is ADEQUATE BURIAL. This gives easy-access to worms and microorganisms while repelling flies, ‘coons and other varmints.

My retired compost bin serves a new purpose

My retired compost bin serves a new purpose

 

If bin composting works for you, that’s great! But if you’re like me, have failed at it repeatedly, and have the space for a food scrap burial ground (a.k.a. Trench Composting) then try out my Lazy Gardening method. Your tomatoes and trash can will thank you.

Guest post submitted by Molly Bertsch, HRSD Community Educator.

 

 

 

Posted in: Gardening, Going Green, Household tips, Lawn and landscape, Outdoor tips, Uncategorized

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Naturally Deter Mosquitoes from Your Yard

Posted on April 12, 2017 by | Comments Off

Mosquitoes in the GardenAs the world average temperature rises our winters are becoming milder and summers hotter. This phenomenon is one of the main reasons why mosquito populations are growing so rapidly. Mosquitoes live longer and also breed at a quicker pace in warmer climates. Add that to the naturally wooded areas and waterways that make up Hampton Road and it’s mosquito paradise which is why you should know how to control mosquitoes, and how to do it in an eco-friendly way.

One of the most common mosquitoes in Virginia is the Asian Tiger mosquito, which is notorious for spreading such diseases like Zika and West Nile viruses. So it is very important to know how to prevent their breeding.

Since these mosquitoes like to breed in small, watery spaces, it is very important that we pay extra attention to how we store our trash. Cleaning up litter will not only decrease the number of mosquitoes in your area but will also be beneficial to the environment as a whole. Also, don’t keep any standing water around. Mosquitoes need standing water to breed, so leaving even the smallest capfuls of water standing in your yard will provide mosquitoes more space for breeding. Simply turn over any containers that might collect rain water, clean your gutters and use products like mosquito dunks if you have a pool or rain barrel, so mosquitoes don’t start breeding in your yard.

You can also try planting mosquito repelling plants in your backyard. Plants like citronella grass, marigolds, mint, and lavender to name a few are great at deterring mosquitoes. And they also look great, so on top of having additional mosquito protection you will also have a beautiful garden.

Mosquitoes have been and probably will always be a problem once summer arrives. But you can lessen this problem with these few simple, eco-friendly mosquito control methods.  

Guest blog contributed by Karen Thompson, owner and main editor of InsectCop.net.

Posted in: Gardening, Lawn and landscape

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Add Drought-Tolerant Color to Your Yard

Posted on April 3, 2017 by | Comments Off

1There is nothing lovelier than a yard awash in colorful blooms. However, lush gardens can be difficult to maintain during the dry, hot months of summer.

Fortunately, there are many eco-friendly, drought-tolerant plants that can add vibrant color to even the driest of yards. The key to a beautiful color landscape is choosing plants that thrive in their environment. Keep these tips in mind as you shop for plants.

Stay Close to Home

Look at species native to your area when choosing plants for your garden. Local plants have evolved to survive on the average rainfall in your area and should require very little supplemental water. These plants are also accustomed to the insects and other wildlife in your area, which is best for the ecosystem.  

Stay away from invasive species and plants that are not ideal for your growing zone. It is much harder for non-native species to do well—they often require more water and are less pest- and disease-resistant. You avoid the need for chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides if you choose plants that naturally thrive in their surroundings.

2

Think Succulents
In desert-like, extremely dry areas, some of the most popular drought tolerant plants are succulents and cacti. The fleshy leaves of these plants hold water and allow them to thrive in even the driest of environments. You can find succulents in a huge variety of colors, sizes and shapes, making them a great fit for almost any garden. If your area gets a hard freeze in the winter, consider growing succulents in pots and containers so you can bring them inside once the weather turns cold.

3

Pick Perennials

You may immediately think of flowering annuals when you think about garden color, but there are an unlimited number of flowering perennials that can add pops of color to your space year after year as well. Perennials tend to be hardier than annuals and come in a variety of types. You can find perennial ground covers, climbing vines, grasses, shrubs and even roses and flowering bulbs, many of which are drought tolerant. Remember that perennials come back year after year and continue to grow, so when putting them into the ground, make sure you leave enough room for the plants to expand.

4

Change It Up with Annuals

Annuals complete their life cycle in one season and are a great way to add supplemental color to your yard or garden. Because of their short lifespan, annuals tend to be prolific bloomers and are showier and bolder than their perennial counterparts. Planting a few new annuals every year allows you to change up the look of your planting beds.

In some warmer climates, annuals can survive multiple seasons, which make them act like pseudo-perennials. You may want to experiment with different varieties to see how they do in your specific zone.

5

 

Consider the Foliage

We often associate color with blooms, flowers or fruits, but foliage can be a long-lasting and easy to maintain source of color in your yard. Colorful grasses and shrubs add large bold swaths of color, while trees can not only provide seasonal color, but can also add shade and protect the plants below from the heat and direct sun of summer.

Just like other plants, drought-tolerant trees do best when planted in their native climate. Keep in mind that many trees are only considered drought-tolerant once they are established. Small trees and saplings require more water to promote proper root growth and expansion.

Be Wise About Water

Conserving water in your garden and yard shouldn’t end with your plant choices. You can reduce the amount of water you need to use in your garden if you’re smart about your watering habits. Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure you water plants during the cooler hours of the day.
  • Use drip line irrigation instead of sprinklers, which lose a lot of water to evaporation.
  • Add mulch and compost to your planting beds to trap in moisture.

 

A beautiful garden begins with good plant choices and lasts with proper care and maintenance. Focus on native plants that do well in your specific zone and won’t require a lot of additional water or pest prevention. Then add color through blooms and foliage, and consider both annuals and perennials to give the perfect balance of seasonal color and hardiness.

With her three kids and a busy home life in the San Francisco area, Kim Six is a DIY home improvement blogger who keeps her eye on organizational techniques. Kim writes her home lifestyle and organizing tips for Home Depot. For gardening options for all environments, visit the Home Depot site here.

Posted in: Beautification, Gardening, Lawn and landscape, Lawncare, Outdoor tips

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How to Shop for a Greenhouse

Posted on February 16, 2017 by | Comments Off

Green HouseDeciding to buy a greenhouse catapults the novice gardener into the big leagues. Even a small model provides the space and the conditions to extend the gardening season and try new techniques, such as starting seeds early, that just are not possible in most gardens. Here are four questions to ask yourself when deciding on a greenhouse that meets your needs.

1.       How will I use the greenhouse?

The answer to this will help determine the size and the features you may want. Walk-in greenhouse kits designed for residential use range in size from 5×5 feet up to 8×20 feet. You can find smaller, portable kits for about $100, but more permanent kits can cost from several hundred up to several thousand dollars, depending on the size and features.

Smaller models are great for getting a jump on spring planting by starting seeds early, but if you want to grow plants to maturity, you will need a bigger model. Your plans for the greenhouse will also determine the “extras” you will need (see below). Of course, you will have to balance your gardening needs with your budget and the available space for constructing the greenhouse.

2.       Where will I put it?

If you plan on growing plants to maturity or using the greenhouse over the winter, you will want maximum sun exposure—at least six hours a day. It’s best to situate the greenhouse so that its longest dimension faces south, which means most of the space will receive direct sunlight. This is especially true in the winter when the sun appears lower in the sky.

Select a spot that is convenient to get to and has access to water. You may also want access to electricity.

Before you purchase a greenhouse, check with the local building department to ask about zoning requirements, such as how close you can erect the greenhouse to the property line, and whether you need a building permit. In some locales, any structure on a foundation requires a permit, and some kits require a concrete slab or a wooden foundation.

3.       What are my options in materials?

Greenhouse frames are available in a number of different materials:

  • Aluminum and galvanized steel. These provide the strongest greenhouses, but they are the most expensive.
  • PVC pipe. These don’t provide the structural heft of an aluminum or steel frame, but they are relatively inexpensive. PVC structures are often used for portable greenhouses.
  • Wood. These provide a rustic, classic look and are usually made of insect-resistant woods such as redwood or cedar. Be aware that wood components will require periodic sealing or staining.

While glass may be the traditional glazing material, greenhouse kit manufacturers are now turning to plastics such as polyethylene and polycarbonate panels because they are lighter and easier to handle. Polycarbonate panels can provide either direct sunlight or diffused light to the plants. They also come in a variety of thicknesses, making them a better insulator than glass. Look for panels that are treated to block the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

4.       What extras will I need?

There are a lot of extras available to make your gardening experience more enjoyable:

  • Shelves and benches. Some kits come with shelves, but not all do. They make caring for plants easier. Make sure the frame can support the shelves and the plants.
  • Ventilation. Greenhouses get hot, so you will need at least one operable vent in the roof. Some kits feature vents that open automatically when the greenhouse becomes too hot. Larger models can accommodate ventilation fans.
  • Watering system. You can pull the garden hose into the greenhouse to water the plants, but automatic watering and misting systems are available. Some greenhouses include gutter systems that allow you to collect rainwater.
  • Heaters. Greenhouses placed in cold climates will need a heater for year-round use.
  • Sensors and controls. Keep the greenhouse functioning properly with controls that track the temperature and humidity levels and can automatically operate watering and ventilation systems.

A greenhouse kit can enhance your gardening experience, and the right kit will provide years of gardening pleasure.

Fran Donegan writes on home improvement for Home Depot. Fran is a longtime DIY author and has written several books, including Paint Your Home.

Posted in: Lawn and landscape, Lawncare

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Free Soil Testing for New Bay Star Homes in October

Posted on October 3, 2016 by | Comments Off

Soil Test-FallThemeDuring the month of October, any family that signs up to become a Bay Star Home will be automatically entered to win a free soil test! Soil testing is the only way to know whether or not your lawn really needs chemical fertilizers. And when you accidentally apply unneeded fertilizer to your yard, you contribute to local water pollution. Also, as part of your pledge to become a Bay Star Home, you’ll receive a welcome packet that includes great tips from askHRgreen.org, local information from your city or county, and a garden flag or other gift in recognition of your commitment to a cleaner Hampton Roads. Get started now!

Free soil testing made possible by funds generated from the sale of Chesapeake Bay license plates. Learn more at http://dls.virginia.gov/commissions/cbr.htm

Posted in: Lawn and landscape, Lawncare, Waterways

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