Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Tale of Two Trees

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, or how vertical mulching almost helped save my tree...

Most of us are aware of the five basic uses for compost. Do you know another use for backyard compost? Vertical mulching keeps your trees healthy and helps conquer some of their most ardent antagonists. It will relieve soil compaction and in turn, increase aeration, moisture permeation, and add beneficial micro-organisms to promote feeder root growth.

I was introduced to vertical mulching the middle of last summer when within a matter of a week, my sugar maple lost all of its leaves. I turned to a Master Composter who explained how I could save my maple. With this new information I set out to revive this most beloved shade tree. With willing (ok, some coercion) help from my husband, we purchased a bulb auger for our drill. Next we drilled holes in the soil at about 2 feet intervals around the drip line of the tree. A tree drip line can be thought of as a wine glass with the base being the roots, the stem being the trunk, and the bowl the crown. Turn your wine glass upside down and you have the drip line.

My husband drilled down approximately 18 inches and I filled each hole with compost. After a few weeks of keeping the tree watered, new leaves emerged. We strutted around like peacocks as our neighbors marveled at our accomplishment.

This spring we held our breath to see if the maple would leaf out to its full glory. Alas, it did not. Our tree had been granted life support but was unable to recover from years of neglect. We will be replacing the tree with another sugar maple and this time I vow to water and vertical mulch on a regular basis. Being pro-active is my new battle cry.

Oh you may ask, why a tale of two trees? The maple’s neighbor, an ash, has been infested with the emerald ash borer and too has to be put down.

… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Eek!!! There are Insects in My Compost Bin!

Help! It’s attack of the giant, mutant macro organisms!

Wait, what are they attacking? Your food scraps? In your compost pile?

And that’s bad, because….?

Let’s face it- most of our multi-legged, exo-skeletal neighbors have a bad reputation but they are actually great for your compost pile. Here’s some help in how to sort the good, the bad, and the ugly so you encourage the friendly creatures and discourage the annoying ones.

The Good

Many of the creatures squirming and crawling through your pile actually help break down material. You’ve probably seen the mini armadillos, a.k.a. pill bugs and sow bugs, and may also see the occasional millipede,
earthworm, nematode, mite, or springtail. All of these “bugs” shred plant material creating more surface area for bacteria and fungi to do their work.

The Bad
More annoying than bad, sometimes composters encounter fruit flies  or ants in the pile. Simply burying your food scraps under leaves or shredded paper will deter fruit flies- they will not burrow down into the pile to find a meal or lay their eggs.

I’ve heard of ants colonizing in the occasional bin as well. While these won’t hurt the composting process they
are a sign that your pile is not getting very hot. Turning your pile  will add oxygen and heat things up sending the ants packing and giving you finished compost sooner.

The Ugly

I confess, the thought of roaches in my compost bin gives me the heebee jeebees so I am grateful to never have had this problem. But I have heard a few times of this occurring. Roaches will not bother your compost bin, in fact they will help in the decomposition. Try heating up your pile  if you find it impossible to ignore them.

Another shiver-inducing creepy crawly are the always lovable baby bugs- squirmy white maggots.
If these cuties are a consistent problem you may need to bury your food scraps better since they may be house or fruit fly larvae. Maggot-like larvae can be any number of baby bugs though, so don’t automatically assume they are bad. They are part of the circle of life, the mini ecosystem you have created in your bin.

Most of the organisms you find in your bin are helpful so don’t get too worked up. Try not to pay them too much attention and they will return the favor.