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This week, Joe tells you how to successfully compost in winter to jumpstart your spring garden. Don’t miss our interview with Dr. Stephen Kress, National Audubon Society’s Vice President of Bird Conservation and popular author as he discusses ways to attract and care for backyard birds this fall and winter. Do you have a black thumb when it comes to keeping houseplants looking their best? As winter rolls in, attention turns towards indoor plants. Joe answers a listener’s question by sharing the seven most common ways to kill a houseplant.
Show Notes-Growing a Greener World Podcast, episode 004
Hi, it’s Joe Lamp’l and welcome to Growing a Greener World. This is a show for people who love to garden and spend time outdoors, and who really care about environmental stewardship.
Well, even though the temperature says its time to get indoors, this week, we’ll tell you how to heat things up outdoors to make composting a cool-season activity too.
Next we’ll interview Dr. Stephen Kress. He’s vice president of Bird Conservation for the Audubon Society as well as author of many books on birding and backyard wildlife management. Today we’ll focus on how we can attract and protect backyard birds this fall and winter.
We also answer a listener’s question in a unique way by covering the seven most common ways to kill your houseplants and share some fun facts about one popular plant that you likely didn’t already know.
If you have a question or comment, contact us anytime! Our comment line is always open. The number is 206.337.0375 or send us an email at email@example.com.
I. Composting in winter
In a moment, we’ll get to that interesting interview I had with Dr. Kress from the Audubon society on what those backyard birds are doing in the wintertime. But first, here’s something you could be doing this winter; composting! Even though most of my tools have been put away for the season, composting is one activity I do every just about every day, so I can hit the ground running when the weather warms up again.
Now it’s no secret, cold weather can dramatically reduce the rate of decomposition. But having the right mix of brown and green waste, and providing sufficient moisture and oxygen are still the most important factors. When these four elements are in sync, microorganisms are busy at work creating the internal heat needed for making compost any day of the year.
The basic components to making compost are the same, no matter what time of year so let’s do a quick review; Brown waste provides the carbon source needed to decompose the raw material. Outside, it typically comes from leaves, twigs and straw. Inside the house, paper and cardboard from paper towel rolls, egg cartons and such are the most common sources.
Green waste provides nitrogen that fuels the energy exchange during the decomposition process. Outside, yard debris from grass clippings is the most common source. Inside, the kitchen provides most of the rest with items such as vegetables, salad scraps and fruit.
Combining three or four parts brown to one part green waste will serve as an easy guide to getting compost off to a good start and keep it cooking.
Water is also an essential ingredient to making compost. However, too much water is just as bad as not enough. To keep it simple, add enough water so that it consistently has the moisture of a damp sponge. Even though it may be freezing outside, the interior of a compost pile can be significantly warmer.
Oxygen is the forth-essential element. Turning your pile with a pitchfork or other tool once a week or so will breath new life into your compost heap…literally. But if this winter activity doesn’t excite you, drill large holes in two-inch or wider PVC pipe and place it down into the center of the pile. As contents are added around it, oxygen will be supplied to the center, helping to keep it aerated.
The size of your pile is another important consideration. A heap or bin that is 3’x3’x3’ is ideal since it is large enough to retain heat at the center, yet small enough to manage. Smaller piles don’t have enough insulating depth and lose too much heat such that even the bacteria that function in cooler temperatures become inactive.
Assuming all is well to this point, cold weather can still dramatically reduce the rate of decomposition and so can the size of the material you add. Make the material smaller before tossing it into your pile. This provides more exposed surface for bacteria to break down the ingredients more quickly.
Another good way to heat and keep compost cooking through winter is to insulate it. Tightly packed bales of straw around the pile with an optional clear cover can allow the warmth of the sun in while keeping much of the cold out.
Activators are yet another way to turn up the heat. The best activator is finished compost. It has billions of essential microorganisms needed to inoculate fresh material. A few scoops is all it takes to start the process. Another source is plant-based, bioactive nitrogen found in such meals as cottonseed, soybean, corn, canola and alfalfa. These items can usually be found in feed and farm supply stores across the country. Other good nitrogen sources include blood meal, feather meal and fishmeal.
So there you have it. composting through winter, not only gives you a head start on spring, but also keeps all that volume out of the landfill. Green or brown, it’s all ‘black gold to me. And that’s not only good for our gardens; it’s good for the earth.
II. Interview with Dr. Stephen Kress on Backyard Birding in fall and winter
STEPHEN W. KRESS
Next is an interview with Dr. Stephen Kress. He’s Vice President for Bird Conservation for the National Audubon Society and Director, of the Seabird Restoration Program. He’s a respected ornithologist, with special interests that include habitat management for land birds, and methods for attracting songbirds to properties large and small. In addition, he is the author of many books including The Audubon Guide to Attracting Birds; and North American Birdfeeder Guide; I caught up with Dr. Kress recently for an interesting conversation.
Interview in Podcast (not transcribed)
Dr. Stephen Kress is VP for Bird Conservation at the National Audubon Society. For more information on Dr. Kress and his work, you can visit the following websites:
III. Poinsettia Facts Maybe You Didn’t Know
Quick, what’s the number 1 potted plant sold in the United States? Need another hint? It’s a member of the Euphorbia family and native to Mexico. And if you just need one more clue, here it is: All those sales take place over a very small 6-week window!
Well, hopefully you know by now, it’s the poinsettia.
It’s thought that Franciscan monks were the first to begin using poinsettias at the holidays to decorate nativity scenes in Taxco, Mexico. They are named for the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett who brought attention to it. And just in case you need a reason to celebrate on December 12, well that’s National Poinsettia Day!
What many perceive to be flowers are really the colorful bracts. While we enjoy them over the holidays, getting them to bloom again it is a challenge. So here’s the low down if you’re up to the task. After Christmas, cut the plant back and fertilize once per month until spring. After all danger of frost has passed they can be planted in the garden and enjoyed throughout the spring and summer.
Now poinsettias are photoperiodic which means they respond to day length. So, 8-10 weeks before Christmas dig the plants up and place them in a location where they receive 12 hours of total darkness each day. This can be accomplished by placing a box over the plants or by putting them in a closet or unlighted basement area. If you can provide an equal amount of daylight and darkness each day, they should be colorful and ready to enjoy by the following Christmas.
And by the way, it is a myth they’re poisonous. They’re not!
IV. Seven Ways to Kill a Houseplant
1. Over water it. It’s the number one contributor to houseplant death. Far more plants die from over watering than under watering. What you should do; Stick your finger into the soil. If it’s damp or your finger comes up dirty, hold off adding water until it’s dry.
2. Provide low humidity. Climate controlled indoor environments from heaters and air conditioning also act as dehumidifiers, making average levels well below the 40 to 60% humidity plants prefer. So what you should do? Try placing houseplants on top of pebbles in a shallow tray and keep it filled with water but make sure the bottom of the pot is not sitting directly in the water. Misting your plants each day can get messy but is also effective. If you will be away for a week or so, make a temporary humidity tent by placing dry-cleaning bags over the plants or place them in the bath tub with a little water in the bottom.
3. Give it very little light. Although some houseplants can survive on just artificial light, nearly all plants benefit from natural light. How do you do that? Set them in an area near a south or east-facing window if possible. Periodically rotate the plant so all sides benefit from the most direct sunlight during the week.
4. The forth way to kill your houseplant is be sure to over-fertilize it. Because these plants don’t photosynthesize at the same rates as outdoor plants in a full-sun environment, their supplemental nutrient needs are less. Forcing plants to grow with artificial stimulants under lower light environments places unnatural stresses and can disrupt a plant’s natural cycles and deplete reserves. What you should do; To replace nutrients that leech through the soil, feed your plant with a water-soluble fertilizer at half the amount suggested for outdoor plants once or twice a month.
5. Exposure your plants to drafts or direct heat. Most houseplants are tropical. In their natural environments, they thrive in warm climates. However, exposing plants to direct heat when placed near a vent will quickly dry them out. Conversely, cool or cold drafts can be too much for heat-loving plants too. What you should do; Keep plants away from drafty windows, doors and heating vents.
6. Ignore pest problems. Just because a plant is indoors, that doesn’t mean it’s free of pests. Many insects hitchhike into your house undetected under the protective cover of beautiful foliage. In fact, houseplants can be the perfect host for many pests sinc e they aren’t exposed to natural beneficial insects and other predators that would otherwise keep populations in check. What you should do; Most houseplant pests such as mealy bugs, white flies and aphids can be dealt with using a mild soap and water bath or horticultural oil. If weather permits take the plant outside and spray it with the hose or leave it outside and let natural predators do the job.
7. Allow it to become pot bound. Just because that plant you’ve had since college is still looking good above ground, don’t assume all is well below. Eventually roots can become so intertwined within the confined space of a container; water, nutrients and even oxygen can have a tough time getting through. What you should do; Once a year or so, lift the plant out of the container and check the roots. If they’re in a tightly wound, circular pattern, it’s time to repot into a slightly larger container. Loosen the roots to break up the pattern, refresh the soil and repot.
Now, just as a reminder, the previous list was the 7 most common ways to kill your houseplant. However, most demand very little to keep them looking their best. With just a minimal amount of care, they can provide years of enjoyment and beauty to any indoor space.
Well, that’s it for today. This show was produced by The joe gardener® Media Network. You can access the show notes from this episode as well as any previous shows on our website at joegardener.com. You can also order a signed copy of my latest book, The Green Gardener’s Guide. And don’t forget to check out my blog; Compost Confidential.
If you have a question or comment, call us anytime. That number is 206.337.0375 or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And until next time consider this from William Longwood:
Over fertilized plants may be beautiful but are otherwise useless, like people whose energies are devoted so completely to their appearance, that there is no other development.
Thanks for listening! This is Joe Lamp’l and I’ll see you back here next week for more Growing a Greener World.