Thursday, December 10, 2009

"The gardening season officially
begins on January 1st,
and ends on December 31."
- Marie Huston

Are Deer eating your plants?

Woodbridge Greenhouses recommends using Plantskydd®.
Keeping deer off your trees and out of your garden can be challenging. We have had numerous calls about what to do with rabbits and deer causing tree and garden damage.
We have been recommending the repellent Plantskydd®.
  • 100% natural.
  • Odor repels animals BEFORE
    they even taste your plants.
  • Spray now for winter-long protection.
Call us today for our off-season hours.

Feathered Friend

Audobon's Christmas Bird Count

Did you know? In 1900, as an alternative to the "side hunt," in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most game (including birds), the Audobon Society began a Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Birds "hunted" during the CBC were identified, counted and recorded. For the past 109 years, braving cold temperatures and snowy conditions, volunteers in "binocular brigades" recorded bird counts in winter, before spring migration.

Through the information gathered during this annual event, birds urgently needing conservation assistance were identified and helped. Over the years, the data has also documented the comeback of once-endangered birds, the impact of climate change, and informed the protection of birds and our environment.
As I read about the bird count, I could envision my perfect Christmas morning. Perhaps a light snow is falling. I am snuggled in warm jammies in a comfy chair aimed at our bird feeders. The steaming hot cup (cider, coffee or tea) I'm holding warms my hands. The children are playing quietly with their Christmas presents. Hubby is reading the paper. As I put the cup down, I reach for a notebook and pen and join the Christmas Bird Counters in recording the Junkos, Chickadees, Blue Jays, Cardinals, and...hmm...grab my book to identify...I can never remember what kind of bird that is.
It's a nice thought, eh? The reality is that there are no local counts scheduled in Rhode Island (and the children will be too excited to be quiet...or eat breakfast, and we'll be trying to rush off to a family gathering).
Perhaps a birdwatcher reading this will be interested enough in the bird ount to create a local Christmas Bird Count in Rhode Island. Counts are scheduled this year between December 14th and Jan. 5th. You can join one of the dozen counts in Connecticut or Massachusetts. Click on this link for information or to sign up:

A better reality:
Since Christmas is just around the corner, and the snow has begun to fall. On Christmas morning, once the presents have been exchanged, I encourage you to pause. Look outside at the birds. Watch them, enjoy their antics, and be thankful for the moment.
If you are interested in attracting more birds to your yard, here are links to previous bird feeding articles:

Decorate outdoors with Delicious Ornaments


Feathered Friends
"From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens -

the garden outdoors,

the garden of pots and bowls in the house,

and the garden of the mind's eye."

- Katherine S. White
Give the gift of Gardening: a perfect solution to holiday giving.

Woodbridge Greenhouse Gift Card

Woodbridge Greenhouses Gift Cards
Simply CLICK to buy on-line OR CALL 401-647-0630.
'We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,'
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December."

Oliver Herford, I Heard a Bird Sing

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows
- Elizabeth Coatsworth

Are Deer Eating Your Plants?

Woodbridge Greenhouses is recommending Plantskydd®

Keeping deer off your trees and out of your garden can be challenging. We have had numerous calls about what to do with rabbits and deer

We have been recommending the repellent Plantskydd®. This repellent is 100 percent natural and gives off an odor, so the animals never even taste the plant.

It's time to spray your plants now for winter long protection. Call us today for our off-season hours.

"Our Father, fill our hearts, we pray,
With gratitude Thanksgiving Day;For food and raiment Thou dost give,
That we in comfort here may live."
- Luther Cross, Thanksgiving Day

Buh Bye Bugs, Hello Feathered Friends

Garden Bugs have made way for Winter Birdwatching

It's time to say goodbye to the critters, pests, bugs and slugs that enjoyed our gardens this summer. Goodbye also to the red-backed salamanders and stink bugs (thankfully not many in number this year) of early autumn. With this October's shock of three tiny, early snowfalls, I'm gearing up and getting ready to welcome our two-legged feathered visitors.

While birds of various species are in the area year round (like the Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Doves, and American Goldfinch), as the seasons change, many of our birds of summer head south for warmth. Keep your feeders stocked now to give a much-needed boost to any migrating stragglers on their long trek.

Fill your feeders now for the early scouts...
Soon, though, other birds will arrive from further north scouting out backyards for the best offerings. Winter birds like Black-Capped Chickadees, colorful Cardinals even Evening Grosbeak and Cedar Waxwing will soon be arriving. Even local birds who normally eat insects, like Nuthatches, will need to supplement their diet. High on all of their priority lists are food, shelter and water.

Setting up your backyard feeders now may take the edge off winter stress for wild birds. They will continue to forage in the natural habitat through winter. Studies show that most wild birds will die in their first year of life. But if they can survive this first year then they stand a strong chance of living for some considerable time.

To attract a broad variety of birds, provide a nice selection of feed in different types of feeders in diverse locations. Seeds, suet, nuts, and fruit are the basic foods for wintering birds. Avoid seed mixes since the birds waste much of the seed while hunting for their favorites.

  • White proso millet and black oil sunflower seeds appeal to a majority of birds (quail, juncos, etc.).
  • Niger, or thistle seed will please goldfinches and pine siskins.
  • Suet, or hard fat are preferred by insect-eating birds (woodpeckers, nuthatches, etc.).
  • Cracked nuts are attractive to many birds, but peanut-butter is a less expensive offering.
  • Fresh or dried fruit (apples, berries, grapes and other fruit) are favored by robins and waxwings.
Give me shelter
Trees and brush nearby are important in feeder placement; birds use them to cautiously approach feeders and as escape cover from predators, but they shouldn't be so close or dense to provide ambush cover for predators like cats.

Bird feeders need regular cleaning to maintain sanitary conditions. Left alone, you may be feeding your feathered friends fungi and bacteria, that may potentially harm visiting birds.

Clean Your Feeders, whether New or Used:
  • Sanitize your empty feeder by soaking it in a large container filled with Audubon's recommended solution of one part bleach or vinegar to nine parts water for 30 minutes to a full hour.
  • Cautiously (with gloves and protective eyewear) scrub it down, then rinse thoroughly.
  • Let it air dry in a sunny spot before adding fresh seed.
  • Repeat monthly to keep your birds healthy and avoid fungus and bacteria that are easily spread by the communal feeding habits of birds.
Squirrel troubles?
This is a great time of year to collect acorns and other wild nuts. When snow is blanketing the ground, offer squirrels their own food. Perhaps, just perhaps, they may leave your bird feeders alone.

Did you know...
  • An American robin can live up to 12 years.
  • Some blackbird species live for 15-plus years.
  • Blue jays can live for more than 18 years.
  • Both the great blue heron and the Canada goose can live for more than 23 years.
Quench their Thirst.
Do your bird friends a favor by supplying open water for drinking and bathing. You will enjoy their antics as they bathe to clean their insulating feathers.

With a little preparation now, you'll be soon be enjoying a yard filled with feathered friends.

T hanks for time to be together, turkey, talk, and tangy weather.
H for harvest stored away, home, and hearth, and holiday.
A for autumn's frosty art, and abundance in the heart.
N for neighbors, and November, nice things, new things to remember.
K for kitchen, kettles' croon, kith and kin expected soon.
S for sizzles, sights, and sounds, and something special that about.
That spells THANKS for joy in living and a jolly good Thanksgiving.

- Aileen Fisher, All in a Word

Plants for a Winter Garden

The transformation often happens gradually. The flowers slowly fade and fall leaves drop lazily as your garden drowsily transitions from colorful, lush summer to the subtle simpleness of winter.

Evergreen shrubs are an obvious pick when planting for a
winter garden. As are evergreen groundcovers and vines like Boston Ivy. "Hens and Chicks" works in the winter, as well as different kinds of Euonymus.

Our Favorite Picks for Your Winter Garden:
Some perennials and deciduous shrubs that excel at providing interest in your winter garden may not be show stoppers the rest of the year. Some of our favorite exceptions include ornamental grasses, Winterberry, Red twig dogwoo
d (Cornus sericea) and Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus).

Ornamental grasses like Miscanthus, Panicum, Blue Fescue and Blue Oat Grass, maintain their structure and some of their color during the fall and winter.

It's Got it All...

Picture the Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea) in your garden with a light lay
er of snow clinging to its delicate red branches. The picturesque branches have brightened to a deep red with the cold weather. Suddenly a black-capped chickadee alights on a branch, displacing a fluff of the light snow. The bird stretches its neck to snap up a white berry from a twig. You think back to May and June when the shrub was graced with delicate white blooms and the shrubs branches were still brown in the heat of the summer. At six feet tall, you notice that should this shrub even reach its largest height of ten feet tall, it will still provide a nice transition to the trees behind it. Red Osier Dogwoods (Cornus sericea or Cornus stolonifera) are native to North America.

Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus) is a member of the Hazel family. Some varieties do produce nuts. Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (HLWS) was first discovered
in the mid-1800s in England. Its most striking feature are the twisted branches and gnarled trunk. Harry Lauder's Walking Stick is not picky about location, light, water, or soil; it also resists most diseases and pests and is not considered to be invasive. It grows sloooowly, but some varieties may reach up to ten feet and spread out to twelve feet. Like all Hazels, HLWS produces pale yellow flowers called catkins that persist well into winter and contrast nicely against the gnarly brown branches. Harry Lauder's twisty branches make great focal points for indoor arrangements.

Winterberry (Ilex Verticilata) is one of our favorites. It's a native holly that loses its leaves (deciduous), the birds love it, it's easy to grow, requires little care, has few pests, and the berries are some of the last ones that birds will eat, so they are prominent through mid-winter.

Winterberry ranges in height from three to fifteen feet, and varies in width, also. In a wet area, it will spread into a dense thicket which provides shelter for birds. Given drier conditions, Winterberry will spread less.

With a light snowfall gracing its slender branches, it puts on a show comparable to the Red Twig Dogwood, but with red berries. For more berries, you'll need a harem of five female plants for each male.

Banish Boring and Bare
As your garden falls asleep, the foliage browns, curls, droops, and drops, the bones of your garden stand out. If it seems boring and bare, it's time to think of these features for the colder months: Size, Bark, Silhouette, and Berries. Not just the foliage and flowers that we think of in spring and summer.

Size and Bark, Bark, Bark.

Of course, with their prominent size, trees provide the largest points of interest year round. Unburdened by their cloak of leaves, their size, silhouette and bark are on display. Consider planting a Japanese Maple for its dark colored bark, or birch for its silvery sheen and layered bark. Known for their stately nature, elm trees are endowed with a lovely mottled bark. For texture, sugar maples have a deeply grooved bark.

In addition to Henry Lauder's Walking Stick, deciduous vines like wisteria can be trained to form strange, twisting sculptures for the winter.

Berries and Seeds Feed
Other trees, like Pagoda dogwood and Amelanchier, have interesting fruits or seeds that form during late summer and fall and persist well into winter.

NOTE: Although bittersweet's vines both produce berries and contort and twist, they are an invasive plant that chokes out native plants.

Adding a plant or two for winter interest will certainly work wonders to break up the dreary doldrums of winter.

Renee C. Brannigan

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Give me the end of the year an' its fun
When most of the plannin' an' toilin' is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin' with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An' I'll put soul in my Thanksgivin' prayers."
- Edgar A. Guest, Thanksgiving

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"In the garden, Autumn is,
indeed the crowning glory of the year,
bringing us the fruition of months
of thought and care and toil.
And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil time,
do we get such superb colour effects as
from August to November."
- Rose G. Kingsley, The Autumn Garden
"Just before the death of flowers,
And before they are buried in snow,
There comes a festival season
When nature is all aglow."

- Author Unknown

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Garden Bug of the Month: Ladybugs

Lady Bug, Lady Bug, Fly Away Home...

It's a common belief that ladybugs bring good luck. Perhaps you've been lucky enough to find lady bugs in your garden, or puzzled to find them in your home during the winter. We've compiled a variety of ladybug facts to perhaps unravel a few mysteries:
  • Coccinellidaeis is the family of beetles known as ladybugs (in North America), ladybirds (UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa), and lady beetles (preferred by some scientists), other names include ladyclock, lady cow, and lady fly.
Colors, spots, and stripes?
  • Most orange ladybugs are an Asian species imported in the late 1970s to fight crop- and tree-eating pests.
  • Ladybugs also come in pink, yellow and even black.

  • The bright colors of ladybugs warn predators of the insect's disagreeable taste.
  • Can have as many as 20 spots.....or no spots at all
  • The number of spots on a ladybug do not identify its age.
  • The number of spots on a ladybug identify the species.
How Ladybugs got their name

According to legend in Europe, during the Middle Ages, swarms of insects were destroying the crops. The farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. Soon ladybugs arrived and ate the pests saving the crops. Their red wings were said to represent the Virgin Mary's cloak. The black spots were symbolic of both her joys and her sorrows. The farmers began calling them "Our Lady's Bird" and "The Beetles of Our Lady". Over time they became popularly known as "Lady Beetles".

Ladybug Metamorphosis
In the springtime, ladybugs move into dense foliage where they will live, feed, lay
eggs, mate and pupate.
  • New life starts when a female ladybug lays a cluster of eggs (from 20 to 50 eggs) near an aphid colony which hatch in about seven days, usually in March and April.
  • Ladybug larvae resemble miniature blue-black alligators. The larvae are larger than their parents, and eat more than them, too. Each larvae will eat more than 400 aphids during their brief larval stage of about two weeks. When aphids become scarce, the larvae will devour smaller ladybug larvae; this cannibalism is a form of population control.
  • When ladybugs emerge from their pupal cocoons, a few hours in the sun will dry their wings and deepen their color.
  • In autumn ladybugs supplement their diet with pollen to store up energy. Then large groups of ladybugs over-winter (hibernate) together in a dry, protected spot, such as at the base of a tree, along a fence row, under a fallen tree, or under a rock.
  • When spring temperatures rise and the aphid population blossoms, ladybugs will emerge to lay their eggs. For several days ladybugs will then devote themselves to a frenzy of eating and mating. Once clusters of yellow-orange eggs are laid to continue the lifecycle, the adult ladybugs will die.
Should ladybugs show up as unwanted guests inside your home, it's most likely the Asian lady beetle. Asian lady beetles can be yellowish-orange to red with 19 black spots on the back that vary in darkness or may even be missing.

Ladybugs in your home are only a nuisance since they do not feed, lay eggs, or reproduce indoors; nor will they damage your house structure, carpets, furniture.

Should you find some ladybugs in your home this winter, consider it natures way of letting you know that you have a gap or crack in your home to repair before less pleasant creatures gain entry.

Natural Pest Control
  • Gardeners and farmers alike use ge numbers of ladybugs to control pests (aphids, spider mites). In the 1880s, California Citrus Growers purchased thousands of Australian ladybugs to save crops from a destructive scale insect that came from Australia and was killing large groves of lemon and orange trees. It took two years, but $1,500 worth of ladybugs conquered the scale insect infestation and the trees bore fruit again. The Australian ladybugs saved the California citrus industry that is worth half a billion dollars today.
  • The Mall of America releases thousands of ladybugs as a natural means of pest control for its indoor gardens.
By the case you were wondering:

Ladybug! Ladybug!
Fly away home.
Your house is on fire.
And your children will burn;
All except for little Nan,
Weaving gold laces
as fast as she can.

This children's rhyme dates back to Medieval England when the farmers would clear the fields after the harvest to prepare them planting by burning the old Hop vines. The poem was sung to warn ladybugs who were still eating aphids on the vines. Her children (larvae) could crawl away from the danger, but the immobile pupae (Nan) remained fastened to the plants (laces) and couldn't escape.


"There is no season when
such pleasant and sunny spots
may be lighted on,

and produce so pleasant an effect
on the feelings,

as now in October."

- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Plant of the Month: Fothergilla

A favorite of ours, the lovely, Dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) is a dense, mounded flowering shrub that deserves a place in every home garden. It is a year-round beauty that is on URI's Sustainable plant list and is native to North America. It grows as wide as it does tall, and doesn't require any pruning.

Blooming from April through early June, the fragrant, white bottle-brush shaped flowers put on a delicate show before the leaves emerge. The
honey-scented flowers last about two weeks and later develop into green seed capsules.

Fothergilla is also called Witch Alder, and is a relative of Witch Hazel. It
produces small witchhazel-like nuts. In summer the distinctly-veined, leathery leaves are a deep, dark blue green.

Come autumn Fothergilla's foliage turn brilliant, almost fluorescent, shades of red,
orange and yellow in the fall. For the best multi-colored autumn display, plant it in full sun. Fall color develops from a scarlet tip and ranges from yellow, orange, and magenta. An evergreen backdrop of Rhododendrons or Arborvitae will accentuate Fothergilla's colorful fall show. During winter fothergilla's tangled branches provide nice texture to your winter garden.

When planting Fothergilla, it prefers acid, moist soil in either full sun or partial shade. It flowers best and produces best autumn colors when planted in full sun. It is highly adaptable, so will do well in part shade.

Fothergillas are named for Quaker physician John Fothergill (1733-1814), a physician and gardener in 18th Century London.

The lovely, dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) is a dense, mounded flowering
shrub that deserves a place in every home garden. Fothergilla may be small, but with year-long interest, it can have a big impact in everyone's garden.
Youth is like spring,
an over-praised season
more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes.
Autumn is the mellower season,
and what we lose in flowers
we more than gain in fruits."

- Samuel Butler

Best Time to Plant Trees and Shrubs...

Why is Fall the Best Time to Plant Trees and Shrubs?
by Renee C. Brannigan

For gardeners the cool fall temperatures are wonderful for working outside. Take advantage of this season and our End of the Season Sale to add a new tree or a grouping of shrubs to your landscape. If you have plans to add to your gardens, fall may be the best season to plant, surpassing even the spring for many reasons:
  • The cooler fall weather is less stressful for plants, as well as gardeners. The trees are entering their dormant phase, so handling them now will be the least disruptive.
  • The soil is usually warmer and dryer than in the spring and has not frozen yet..
  • Since plant roots grow when the soil temperature is 40 degrees or higher, planting now gives them time to acclimate before the ground freezes and before spring rains and summer heat stimulate new top growth.
  • Although plants are dormant during the winter months, their root systems are developing and becoming established. Since there is no growth in the upper branches, the plants energy is directed towards its root system, making it stronger. Once spring arrives, this expanded root system can better support and take advantage of the spring rains to facilitate the surge of spring growth.
  • Ground covers and shallow-rooted shrubs may be heaved out of the ground by alternate freezing and thawing of the soil that often occurs in winter. Prevent this with a 2-4 inch layer of mulch will minimize wide soil temperature fluctuations.
A few planting tips:
  • Wait until early spring to fertilize
  • Water well in the fall before the ground freezes.
  • Natural woodlands left intact can easily be amended and "tamed" by incorporating wildflowers and shade loving shrubs to create a nice transition between your yard and the woodlands.
  • Low-growing shrubs incorporated into a rock garden with ground covers are a great solution for a steep slope and/or surface stones or ledge.
  • When choosing a tree, definitely keep in mind the mature size of the tree or shrub you are considering. It sounds obvious, but it's easy to forget when you see a really nice tree or shrub.
At Woodbridge Greenhouses, we are happy to help you choose trees and shrubs. Another great resource is the University of Rhode Island's List of Sustainable Trees and Shrubs
( The list excludes invasive species while including native plants that are: better acclimated to the region, not as prone to pest problems, and more favorable for native wildlife than exotic plants. Sustainable species are also lower maintenance, have fewer pest issues, and need less water.

The URI Sustainable Plant Guide lists plants which do well in Southern New England (USDA Hardiness Zones 7a-5b). While many favorite plants aren't listed (either because they are high maintenance or due to pests), as they say on their website:
"Life would be indeed dull without a rose,
but most of us would not want to maintain a half-acre of them."

A sample of listed trees include: Red Maple, American Hornbeam, Hackberry, Sour Gum, American Hop Hornbeam, Fire Cherry, and White Oak trees. Some of the native shrubs listed are: Sweet Pepperbush, Winterberry Holly, Mountain Laurel, Swamp Azalea, Highbush Blueberry, American Highbush Cranberry.

Enhance your yard with some trees and gain many benefits:
  • energy savings by shading your home during summer months next year and many years to come;
  • trees produce oxygen, cleaning the air you breathe;
  • create sound and visual screens;
  • add color and texture to the landscape;
  • provide shelter and sometimes food for birds and wildlife;
  • fresh fruit and nuts for you to enjoy;
  • increase your home's property values; and
  • control runoff in heavy rains
While we are celebrating trees, take a moment to learn about the Rhode Island Tree Council and their list of Champion Trees found throughout our state:


Monday, September 7, 2009

"The foliage has been losing its freshness

through the month of August,

and here and there a yellow leaf shows itself

like the first gray hair amidst the locks of a beauty

who has seen one season too many."

- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Prepare your Compost Pile Now to Reap the Rewards this Spring

By Renee Brannigan

Compost is one of the most important tools in my garden. From bins and barrels, to heaps and bags, compost piles come in a wide variety of configurations and sizes. Composting is a great way to utilize your kitchen trimmings, garden and yard waste to improve your garden, your family's health, and the environment.

The Wonders of Compost

For those of you new to the wonderful world of composting, compost looks like dirt and is what is left over when organic matter decomposes. Basic composting incorporates just four ingredients: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and water, with the right conditions (oxygen added by simply turning it over each month, and water from occasional rain) to create a nutrient-rich soil additive that:

  • produces, strong, healthy plants,

  • attracts earthworms,

  • amends soil with beneficial natural organisms

  • provides needed nutrients,

  • lightens heavy soil for better drainage,

  • retains moisture in sandy soils,

  • keeps soil loose enough for tender roots to seek out nutrients.

Gardeners who compost include laissez-fair gardeners (like me) who just keep adding to their pile hoping for some black gold some day, to those impressive individuals who can produce wheel barrows full of compost each year, and who can even recite the ideal percentage of nitrogen vs. carbon (aka C:N ratio, approximately 30:1 – I just had to look it up). The waste we add to our compost piles will decompose on its own, but in a well-managed compost pile, it will happen much faster.

Like every gardener with a compost heap (and every cook with a conscience), I regularly add kitchen scraps, garden and yard waste to our compost pile. This is a “cool compost” pile which will eventually break down, but needs to be turned occasionally to aid decomposition. Our compost pile actually got turned once this year when my dear hubby moved it from the side of the garage to behind the garage. Although the waste in my pile had broken down some, most of it could still be identified...yuck.

Through a little research, I've learned that the contents of my under-performing cool compost pile can be incorporated into a “hot” or “super” compost pile. September is the best time to start a “super compost” compost pile so it can heat up before the cold weather arrives, cook all winter and produce black gold in time for spring gardening

Making a Super or Hot (or Super Hot) Compost Pile

The key to getting your pile hot enough to sustain enough heat through the winter is to make it big enough. The larger the pile, the more heat it will generate as it breaks down. Plan to make it at least 3 feet by 3 feet. When it gets cooking, a hot pile will kill weed seeds and diseases because it reaches higher temperatures (about 160°).


Ideally, a hot compost pile should be located out of drying winter winds. Locate your pile on high ground to avoid stepping in slop when you tend it.

Hot Compost Ingredients:

  • My original compost pile of kitchen scraps, spoiled fruit and veggies, peels, eggshells and coffee grounds, too. (no salt, meats, fats, etc.).

  • A pile of green stuff (nitrogen): spent annuals, overgrown greens, weeds, grass trimmings, everything that has bolted or is past its prime, fresh grass clippings, basically, anything once vegetation that still contains its moisture. Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer can also be used as a nitrogen substitute @ 1 cup per square yard of carbon materials.

  • A pile of brown stuff (carbons): last years' fallen leaves, small sticks, corn cobs (rinsed of salt), manure, woody dry materials such as dry grass clippings, dry leaves, woodchip, sawdust (small amounts), basically, anything that once grew, but is now dried.

    NOTE: AVOID meat scraps, fatty or salted foods, excessive wood ash, sawdust in large quantities. Also, fresh animal manure (from grazing farm animals, not from cats and dogs that are meat eaters) should be allowed to age in the elements, to wash excessive salts and urine from the contents before adding to the compost pile.

    Which reminds me of my dear father's organic garden. Many years he would pick up a barrel or two of manure from a nearby farm, but he would constantly read about and try a variety of organic gardening methods. One year, though, his garden grew better than most. In fact, some of his tomato plants were almost as tall as him...but what a stink when he planted it. That year he followed the lessons taught to the Pilgrims and buried fish scraps from a local seafood store under his crops. Yes, it was a jungle...the tomato plants were over 6 feet tall, but, ahhh, the pungent odor when he brought home the fish!

Bin, barrel, pile or heap?

The structure that supports your pile is up to you. If you have the resources, many fine bins can be purchased in a variety of configurations (round, square, barrels that rotate, etc.) and materials (wood, plastic, metal).

Anything that contains your pile is sufficient. You can simply use untreated/unpainted wood, chicken wire, reinforcing wire or wooden pallets (I use three screwed together in a horseshoe shape). A piece of cardboard or weed block underneath will prevent weeds from growing up through your pile, and your precious nutrients from leaching into the ground below.

Make a garden lasagna...

  1. For your hot compost pile, keep the air moving by starting with a layer of course woody material like woody plants (tomato vines, corn stalks, etc.) small sticks and twigs that will eventually rot, but won't pack down.

  2. Top that with a layer, about a foot thick, of brown ingredients (carbon) topped with some soil.

  3. The third layer is kitchen waste or stuff from your cool compost bin if you have it. But never meat, salt or fats. The ideal percentage of carbons to greens is approximately 30 to 1 carbon-to-nitrogen ratio.

  4. Lightly moisten the layers to speed up the decay. The pile shouldn't be dripping wet, more like a damp towel. I have also read that adding a little beer supplies yeast that will keep the bacteria in your compost pile very happy.

    Water Saving Tip: To conserve water, keep a pitcher near your kitchen sink to collect running water while you are waiting for hot water from the tap. Add some of that water to your compost bucket and use the rest to water your plants. Before bringing my pail of kitchen waste to the garden, I usually pour in enough water so that when I twist the pail, the veggie scraps and coffee grounds are loose and not stuck to the sides. I started doing this so I didn't have to scrape yucky stuff out of the pail, and realized that it's a great way to gradually add water to your compost.

  5. The next layer can be up to 18-inches, of green stuff including.

  6. Repeat layers until either your bin is full or you run out of materials.

  7. Top your pile with a really thick layer of loose straw or fall leaves.

  8. Cover your pile with an opaque tarp, plastic, layers of cardboard or hay bales, since microbes stay active in a warm, moist environment. The cover will minimize drying from winter winds, protect it from too much rain, increase the temperature to kill weed seed and pathogens, and generally speed up the decay process. This winter don't shovel off the snow since it will further insulate your compost pile.

Maintenance: Bring on the heat...if you're into gadgets, a compost thermometer is even available to monitor the baking process. Ideally, you should turn the pile after the temperature has peaked and has begun to cool down. Otherwise, no maintenance is needed for your hot compost pile this winter. I'm more the “set it and forget it” gardener, so I'll just start another pile to dump in my kitchen compost pail.

Is it done yet?

This spring, you'll know your compost is ready to put in your garden when it resembles dark soil and smells like earth. Just mix some into your soil for strong, healthy plants.

TIP: Before adding compost to indoor plants, first sterilize a thin layer of it on a foil covered baking sheet at 200 degrees for about thirty minutes.

With a little preparation now, you can start a super compost pile now that will have time to heat up enough to keep it brewing through the winter using “ingredients” right in your yard. Whether you compost using a bin, barrel, a humble heap; whether it's large or small, you will get the added benefit of knowing that you’re not just adding your yard waste to the growing mass at the Central Landfill. You are actually improving your garden, your family's health, and the environment while creating organically-rich soil.

Whether you make your own, buy it by the bag, or have a truck load dumped in your driveway, adding compost is a great way to give your plants a boost of rich nutrients and improve your soil

There are many ways to create black gold...this is just one method. Share with us how you compost.

"By all these lovely tokens

September days are here,

With summer's best of weather

And autumn's best of cheer."

- Helen Hunt Jackson, September, 1830-1885

Pest of the Month: S L U G S

Although they are slimy and destructive to gardens, slugs are very interesting creatures. The name "slug" is a non-scientific word, for a gastropod mollusc that has no shell (descendants of snails). Slugs are very destructive and can be difficult to control.
  • While they look like they have antennae, most slugs have two pairs of 'feelers' or tentacles on their head; the upper pair being light sensors, while the lower pair provides the sense of smell. Both pairs are retractable and can be regrown if lost.
  • Slugs' bodies are made up mostly of water since they must generate protective mucus to survive. In dry weather slugs will seek shelter in damp places like under tree bark, fallen logs, rocks, wood piles, and planters to retain body moisture.
  • The bottom of a slug is called the "foot". Slugs move by rhythmic waves of muscular contraction on the underside of its foot. It simultaneously secretes a layer of mucus on which it travels, which helps prevent damage to the tissues of the foot. The mucus secreted by the foot contains fibers which help prevent the slug from slipping down vertical surfaces.
  • As a slug moves, it leaves a slime trail which helps other slugs identify them. While useful to find a mate, it is unfortunately how predatory slugs locate other slugs.
  • Some species of slug secrete slime cords to lower themselves onto the ground, or to suspend a pair of slugs during copulation.
  • Different species of slugs have vastly differing diets. Everything from dead leaves, fungus, and decaying vegetable material; to living plants; and and some carnivorous slugs are predators who eat other slugs, snails, or earthworms. Most slugs will on occasion also eat carrion, including other dead slugs.
  • Like snails, slugs macerate food using their radula, a rough, tongue-like organ with many tiny tooth-like denticles.
  • On top of the slug, behind the head, is the saddle-shaped mantle, and under this on the right side are the genital opening and anus, on the other side is a respiratory opening.
  • Some species of slugs hibernate underground during the winter in temperate climates, but in other species, the adults die in the autumn.
  • Since slugs contract their body when attacked (which makes their bodies more compact and harder, making it more difficult to grasp them combined with the slippery mucus provides some protection against predators) use a tool (like tweezers, tongs, or chopsticks) to pick them up.
  • Common Species of land slugs are mildly poisonous, often times after one ingests a land slug no signs of poisoning are seen, but after several hours severe diarrhea, cold sweats, mild headaches, insomnia and dizziness occur. In a few rare cases, humans have contracted parasite-induced meningitis from eating raw slugs.
  • Slugs are hermaphrodites, having both female and male reproductive organs. Once they find a mate, they encircle each other and exchange sperm. A few days later around 30 eggs are laid into a hole in the ground, or beneath the cover of objects such as fallen log.
  • If you have chickens or ducks, you may not see many slugs near your fowl. Frogs, toads, snakes, hedgehogs, Salamanders, eastern box turtles, as well as some birds also enjoy juicy slugs.
  • Slugs lay small masses of eggs in soil cracks. The young slugs that hatch from these eggs travel through the soil and damage germinating seeds and root crops. Eggs hatch in 2 to 4 weeks. Slugs grow for 5 months up to 2 years before reaching maturity
  • Deter slugs by reducing the humidity in your garden by using drip irrigation or soaker lines. Overhead irrigation should be done early in the day to allow more time for leaves and soil to dry before the nightly activity of slugs.
  • Attract slugs to your bait using a trap boards or moistened newspaper placed on the soil surface. Check the shelters every morning and kill any slugs found. When not regularly maintained, remove the traps.
  • To Trap Slugs bait them with fermenting materials like beer or sugar-water and yeast mixtures which can effectively attract, trap and drown slugs. The range of such traps is only a few feet, so place many around problem areas to significantly reduce slug populations. Slugs normally feed at night, so baits should be applied around dusk in moist areas. Put the bait in a deep container buried up to the rim in the ground so that the pests can't climb out and will drown.
  • If they didn't drown in your bait, you'll need to kill them somehow. Try a homemade solution of household ammonia mixed with water (4 to 1). It will quickly kill the slugs. If you spray your plants with it, they'll love the nitrogen boost. NEVER MIX AMMONIA with bleach!
  • Effective Repellents and Barriers that slugs won't travel over include acid, alkali or abrasive materials like diatomaceous earth, wood ashes and similar materials placed around plants provide some protection unless they get wet.
  • Salt is so toxic to slugs that putting table salt on a slug can kill it. We don't recommend this technique since too much salt may kill your plants.
  • Certain metal ions also are highly repellent to slugs. Barriers of copper foil exclude slugs from greenhouse benches and raised bed plantings. Other copper-based materials, such as copper sulfate, repel slugs.
  • Molluscicides are pesticides effective against slugs and snails. Slugs are not susceptible to poisoning by most insecticides. NOTE: Metaldehyde is the most commonly used and effective molluscicide. It is sold often in the form of granular baits (Bug-Geta, etc.) or as a paste or gel (Deadline, etc.). Do not apply Metaldehyde to vegetables and edible crops. CAUTION: Metaldehyde, like antifreeze, is attractive to and hazardous to dogs.
Alternative baits use the active ingredient includes iron phosphate (ferric phosphate) and is in products like Sluggo, Slug Magic and Escar-Go!among others. NOTE: Iron phosphate products can be used around edible crops and do not pose special hazards to dogs.

"Our fear of death

is like our fear

that summer will be short,

but when we have had

our swing of pleasure,

our fill of fruit,

and our swelter of heat,

we say we have had our day."

- John Donne, 1620

Plant of the Month: Joe Pye Weed...

...not a weed at all.

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium) is more likely recognized along roadsides than in gardens.
  • Joe Pye Weed is not a weed at all, it is a native American herb/wildflower cultivated as an ornamental in English cottage gardens. It's a perennial that spreads by sending out horizontal underground stems (rhizomes) that can be divided every 2 years.
  • It is named after Native American herbalist, Joe-Pye, who according to legend, used it to cure fevers.
  • The easily recognizable flowers of Joe Pye Weed range in color from its native color of dusty pink to cultivated colors of white, lavender, wine and dark purple. The extra large flower heads average 5”, and can reach 8” and contains clusters of up to 22 tubular flowers.
  • The blooms open in July and continue to look great until hard frost, when they age to bronze that will last all winter. They make lovely cut flowers that can be dried. Each bloom also produces many, many seeds.
  • Joe Pye's large blooms are loaded with nectar and pollen that attract bees, birds and butterflies including Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Monarch.
  • It grows best in moist areas (along riverbanks), but it will adapt to a dryer location. Likes a sunny location in fertile soil. It has hollow stalks which may need protection from strong winds. It staked early, it is easier to keep stalks upright, or pinch back Joe-Pye in the early summer to keep them more compact.
  • Joe Pye Weed is a vigorous grower that will try to grow taller than surrounding plants, with some varieties growing up to 10 feet tall. Choose your location carefully for this fast-growing plant as it may overtake other plants in your garden. Woodbridge Greenhouses has in stock a beautiful dwarf variety called "Little Joe" that grows to just four feet tall.

"By all these lovely tokens

September days are here

With summer's best of weather

And autumn's best of cheer."

- Author Unknown

Thursday, August 6, 2009

" ... if I wanted to have a happy garden,

I must ally myself with my soil;

study and help it to the utmost, untiringly.

.... Always, the soil must come first."

- Marion Cran, If I Where Beginning Again

RI DEM Warning: Late Blight Threatening All Local Tomato and Potato Crops

This blight needs to be taken seriously. It is the same blight that caused infamous potato famine in Ireland. Please follow the link to learn more about Late Blight. DEM is asking gardeners, as well as commercial growers, to check their plants DAILY for brown lesions. Of course, the blame for this outbreak is the damp and humid weather we are experiencing.

The news release provides all the information you need. They are concerned that the spores, which spread easily, will reach commercial growers. "DEM views the disease as a serious threat to agriculture."

" Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet

and the winds long to play with your hair."

- Kahlil Gibran