May 2015

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Question

Hi Growing Club,

My parents live in SW Florida and I planted a sugar apple sapling several months ago (similar to the cherimoya). I’ve included a picture of when it first started growing and a most recent picture when it began a new growth cycle. I’m wondering 1) why it seems to have grown irregularly and 2) how we should go about pruning it for the future. It’s about 4 to 5 feet high right now. I’ve heard of urban gardeners who prune back half of all new growth about 3 times a year to help it grow wider not taller, is this advisable for all trees or only certain species? When are the best times to prune? (more…)

Starting this month we will be creating a series of videos on how to Create a Drought Resilient Landscape. In this introductory video, we take you on a tour of our model home, The Growing Home, and show some of the elements of a drought resilient garden and home.

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Question

Hi Growing Club,

This morning I am getting ready to move my starter plants into our raised bed (3′ x 5′) and what do I find? Termites! AGAIN! When we first built the bed last year and put the soil in they emerged in a swarm after a good spring rain. I think the might have come in with the soil. We bought local topsoil with local river silt compost and I think they might have been in the broken tree pieces. ANYWAY….. I want them gone. I am thinking diatomaceous earth (food grade of course) but wanted to hear your thoughts. And if you think I am heading in the right direction how much for our raised bed? I am in Virginia, zone 7.

Thank you in advance!

Jo Anne

Answer

Hi Jo Anne,

Oh that doesn’t sound too pleasant. We are actually quite unfamiliar with termites here in Southern California, since I believe they prefer moist soil (something we are generally lacking). One easy solution to your problem, however, is to make your raised beds out of something other than wood. Wooden raised beds have their uses in certain cases, but in general, there are plenty of other better materials to make beds out of. You could try using stones, bricks, broken concrete, or any other non-degrading material (just don’t use plastic). These materials are usually available for free on Craigslist and you can make much prettier shaped beds out of them (not just square). You can also just leave your bed unlined and that’s perfectly fine.

Also, I wouldn’t use Diatomaceous Earth (DE) in the soil. DE is a general purpose pesticide and would probably have a damaging effect on both the termites and the beneficial organisms and microorganisms in your soil.

Hope that helps! Good luck!

Rishi

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Question

Hello Growing Club,

I’ve heard that soil in urban areas is often contaminated. Should I get my soil tested? Who do I get it tested by?

-Janice

Answer

Hi Janice,

You’re right, soil in urban and suburban areas is often contaminated and we should be concerned about it. Especially in older cities or cities that used to be industrial centers, soil is often contaminated with heavy metals that can be toxic to humans and especially children. Old homes were often painted with a lead based paint and homes near busy streets often have lead-contaminated soil from the times when gasoline was not unleaded. It’s a good idea for everyone to get a soil test before starting to grow food.

Make sure when you take your soil sample you create a composite sample. A composite sample is made by mixing soil together from a few different spots in your land.

For the actual testing, we use Wallace Laboratories. You want to get their Standard Agricultural Suitability test, which will give you an analysis of heavy metals, and a breakdown of all other macro- and micro-nutrients. They are also very friendly and you can call them if you have any questions.

Hope that helps! Happy Gardening!

-Rishi

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Question

Hello Growing Club,

I purchased a compost bin at one of the LA County Smart Gardening classes. I’ve been saving vegetable and fruit peel scraps for a while now and storing them in the freezer until my husband put the bin together. It’s now together and I’m not sure where to begin. It doesn’t have a bottom to it he says. Is that common? If so what’s the first layer I should put down green or brown or does it matter? He and I are both very new at all of this.

– Nettie Wilson-Johnson

Answer

Hi Nettie,

Great question and congratulations for starting composting! You are in for a fun learning adventure. It sounds like you bought a bin for starting a traditional compost pile (not a worm composting bin). To answer your first question, yes it is common to not have a bottom to your bin, in fact its great. That will allow microbes from your soil to come into your compost and for the reverse to happen as well.

For starting your compost bin, remember that the ratio of green (nitrogen-rich) material to brown (carbon-rich) material is very important. You want to have a 50-50 mix of these materials. Kitchen waste is a green material (along with animal manure and any fresh leaves). Brown material would be exactly that: brown (carboard, newspaper, dried leaves, wood chips, wood shavings etc.). To start your bin, mix the kitchen waste you have saved with an equal amount of brown material, and put it in your bin. Add water until the mixtures is moist, but not wet. If the pile starts heating up by the next day and doesn’t have a putrid smell, you’ve done a good job. If there is no heat, add more green material (or urinate on the pile). If there is a bad smell, add more brown material. Keep the pile moist, and turn it whenever it starts to get really hot. That should be all you need to get started!

You may also want to look into starting a worm compost bin if you are mostly compost food waste. They will be much easier to take care of and give you a better compost in the end.

Hope that helps! Happy Gardening!

-Rishi