October ... Ghosts, Ghouls and Garlic

October, I love October. No other month compares. Our days get shorter, the air is crisp, leaves change into vibrant colors and there is the smell of wood smoke in the air. October means pulling out our sweatshirts, eating caramel apples, raking leaves, Halloween and garlic.

Yes folks, October is for garlic.

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Garlic, especially fresh garlic, is absolutely delicious and it is crazy easy to plant. There is really nothing to it. I try to get mine in around Halloween, not to ward off vampires, but because that’s just the best time in our region to do it. I used the following video off YouTube to plant my garlic patch. I hope you find it as useful as I did.

Repel Insects ... Naturally

Here it is, mid-June and by now your garden is established and producing an array of colorful blossoms.  If you're like me, there's always room for more. So, try to include plants that will not only add texture and color, but a purpose.

All of your hard work in planting your garden can be all for naught if you can't enjoy it. Those pesky mosquitoes and insects can ruin an evening in the garden or patio. This is the time to consider plants that will not only look lovely, but will also be productive ... plants that will help control insects naturally.
There are several that will produce the results you want and be eye pleasing in your yard. Here are just a few herbs and flowers that can help repel insects, produce flowers to add to your home, herbs to add to your cooking and beauty to your already existing garden.

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Lavender; for centuries it's been used for its fragrance. It should be planted in the sunny areas of your yard and areas that will you wish to be pest free. When dried and made into sachets, lavender makes a wonderful repellent against moths. 

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Lemon Balm; another mosquito repellent, grows well in this area, can be utilized dried as tea and is a lovely leafy plant that loves the sun. Though it is from the mint family is doesn't spread by underground runners, but rather by seed. It's best to trim down a few times during the growing season to prevent it from seeding and getting out of control.

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Marigolds; beautiful and in all types of varieties. Their distinctive aroma not only repels mosquitoes, but aphids, white flies and cabbage maggots. Marigolds are often used in companion gardening for just this reason. You want plants to work for you especially if they have these extra benefits for the gardener.

Lemon Basil; this variety of basil seems to be the favorite to repel mosquitoes. There are many different varieties of basil available. It wouldn't be summer without fresh basil and tomatoes or fresh pesto. Lucky for us, pesky insects are repelled by it's wonderful aroma no matter which variety you choose.

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Chrysanthemum; incredible colors and a truly hardy plant, bringing color to any flower arrangement. It produces pyrethrum which is a very effective bug repellent. Use as a companion plant to discourage aphids, leafhoppers, spider mites, ticks among others.  Tolerates high heat and early chills of fall.

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Lemongrass;  a close cousin to Citronella. Lemongrass is a natural repellent because it has a high geraniol and citral content. It can be applied directly to the skin by crushing the base of the stalk until the inside is mushy pulp. Twist and squeeze the oils directly to the skin. Another plus, it makes a great tea.

So, this is just a few of the herbs and flowers that help repel insects. Granted, if you are being overpowered by mosquitoes there may be other problems in your garden or patio. The big one is standing water....get rid of it! Just a small cap full of standing water enables mosquitoes to bred and make your life miserable. Below, I've added a few recipes for natural insect repellent that I found on the web. It might be worth trying it out...at least you'll smell like a million bucks!

 

HOMEMADE CITRONELLA SPRAY
1/2 cup distilled water
1/8 teaspoon Epsom salt
1/2 cup witch hazel
10 drops citronella essential oil
10 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil
10 drops lemongrass essential oil
5 drops tea tree essential oil
5 drops cedar wood essential oil

DIRECTIONS: Pour the water into an 8oz plastic spray bottle. Add the Epsom salt and shake until the salt is dissolved. Pour in the witch hazel. Add the essential oils. Ready to use.

 

HOMEMADE CITRONELLA LOTION
2 to 2 1/2 tbsp emulsifying wax
1/2 tsp stearic acid (a plant-based stabilizer)
1/3 cup (75ml) grapeseed oil
1/2 cup distilled water or lavender floral water
1 teaspoon (5ml) vitamin E
10 drops grapefruit seed extract
10 drops citronella essential oil
10 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil
10 drops lemongrass essential oil

DIRECTIONS: Stir grapeseed oil, emulsifying wax and stearic acid in the top part of a double boiler, warming slowly over a low heat until the wax is completely melted. Remove from heat and pour in the Vitamin E. In a separate pot on the stove, gently warm the water just until lukewarm. Slowly pour the water into the oil, stirring constantly with a wire whisk until the mixture is thick, cream-colored and smooth. Let cool slightly. Stir in the essential oils and the grapefruit seed extract. Pour the homemade bug repellent lotion into a clean, sterilized 8oz (250ml) dark glass or P.E.T. plastic bottle and allow it to cool before putting the lid on. Shake the bottle occasionally as the lotion cools to prevent the ingredients from separating. Store in a cool, dark place.

 

 

Sustainable Landscapes

April showers bring May flowers and we're off to a great start. Farmer's Almanac is supporting cool temperatures with rain for April and with more rain into May. Time to think about maintaining sustainable landscapes. This type of maintenance creates a healthier, longer term lawn by the simple use of native plants, water harvesting and compost.

Begin with native plants for the mid-west. Native plants are a great way to contribute to your soil and environment. Plus, they're just beautiful and if conditions are right, supply you with a beautiful landscape full of color. Native plants require little to no maintenance. Except when first planted, they require minimal watering. Because these plants are native to our area there is no need for fertilizers or pesticides. Your sustainable landscapes will conserve water and energy, reduce waste and aid in preventing soil erosion by decreasing runoff.

Orange Milkweed

Orange Milkweed

Black Eyed Susan

Black Eyed Susan

Maidenhair Fern

Maidenhair Fern

Purple Coneflower

Purple Coneflower

It takes approximately 500 years for 1 inch of soil to naturally develop,
while one good rain storm can wash away .04 inches of the soil -- on a site
with no plant cover, significantly more. Preserving topsoil helps to keep your
plants healthy and prevents the topsoil from drying out and blowing away.
By amending the soil you add nutrients back in the earth as well as volume and aeration. The surefire way to do this is through compost.
 

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Composting will improve soil structure so that soil can easily hold the correct
amount of moisture, nutrients and air ... very useful for recycling kitchen
wastes, leftover crop residues, weeds, and manures.  

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The last element for maintaining a sustainable landscape is water harvesting. There are many different methods and techniques to harvest water. Here are just a few ...

  • Capturing runoff from rooftops
  • Capturing runoff from local catchments
  • Capturing seasonal floodwaters from local streams
  • Conserving water through watershed management

Some of the advantages of harvesting rainwater include:

  • It's absolutely free to use and it's a clean source of water
  • It's free of chemicals found in tap water
  • Rain barrels are easy to install
  • The water can be used for many different purposes
  • It's environmentally friendly
  • It's excellent for irrigation
  • It reduces the use of ground water

In a nutshell, the basics ... native plants, composting and water harvesting. These are just three of the many ways to creating a healthier garden and preserving existing plant life, while also conserving resources. It's good for the environment and it's good for us. The basics. 

A Plastic Society

Ariel view of Lawn-Corps from a United flight.

Ariel view of Lawn-Corps from a United flight.

A year ago I was on a United flight when, from the air, I was amazed at an unexpected site ... Lawn-Corps! It reminded me of a line from a Jason Isbell song: “From the sky we look so organized and brave." It rings true. We’ve all marveled at our earth from an airplane; the incredible patterned farmland in squares and circles, the neatly planned grids of neighborhoods with ribbons of road and highway. How spectacularly perfect our world looks from the air. From the ground, the reality that our city, our world, is not so organized and those that pollute it, not so brave. 

What's left behind after a compost screening.

What's left behind after a compost screening.

We bear witness daily; the senseless polluting of our earth, endangering wildlife, waterways and the air we breathe. Litter has made a home along our city streets, highways and in our parks where our children play; cigarette butts, pop cans, fast food wrappers, and plastic ... lots and lots of plastic. We see it at Lawn-Corps too, a water bottle in this bag, a flower pot in another, tennis balls and landscape netting. It may seem insignificant, but it adds up ...  it all adds up.

Recently, I came across a great video narrated by "The Dude" himself, Jeff Bridges. It was eye opening and a bit horrific. I found the statistics alarming and was so moved that I found it important to share its message with you.  I urge you to watch and share it with others in hopes that it will inspire all of us to do the right thing. 

Until next time ... have fun playing in the dirt.

 

 

 

Deep Summer Tips

Summer is here, however, as I write, Kansas City will be experiencing record low temperatures, a summertime version of last winter's "Polar Vortex". When the heat does arrive, it can take a toll on your lawn and garden. So far this summer, Kansas City has been fortunate with rainfall, but we've been waiting for the other shoe to drop … and when it does, here are some helpful tips to get you through. 

  • Water … do it early in the morning. Plants will be more receptive in the coolness of the morning and there will be less evaporation. Try to avoid watering in the evening to prevent mold and fungus growth. Also, a deep, penetrating soaking is much more effective than surface watering which can create shallow root systems and can stress lawns and gardens in time of drought . A good rule of thumb is an inch of water a week.
Water deeply, early in the morning

Water deeply, early in the morning

  • Mulch … this is a great way to keep plant roots cool during the heat of the day. Mulch is also an excellent way to retain moisture in the soil. There are a variety of mulches you can use such as grass clippings or chopped leaves. Some folks even use cardboard or newspaper, but I personally find it unattractive in the garden. The decorative wood mulches provide an attractive landscape and are effective in retaining moisture and preventing weeds. Also, as mulch decomposes it will add other beneficial nutrients to your soil. 
Janice uses pine bark mulch in her garden.

Janice uses pine bark mulch in her garden.

  • Deadheading … get the most out of your flowering plants by deadheading. You will extend your plant's life and allow it to produce more flowers all summer long. So, after the blooms have died and faded, simply pinch or snip the dead blooms off the plant. If done daily, it won't take any time at all.
Pinch or snip dead and faded blooms.

Pinch or snip dead and faded blooms.

  • Mowing … raise the cutting height on you mower to its highest level, no shorter than 3-1/2". Taller grass is more drought resistant and will grow deeper roots which are able to handle stress better. Mow regularly and don't wait till your grass gets too high because the clippings can smother your grass. An industry standard is not to cut more than 1/3 of the grass blades. As you do this, don't bag them. Let the clippings fall back onto the lawn for added nutrients. Also, don't mow in the heat of the day as the heat can burn your lawn.
Raise mower blade and let clippings fall.

Raise mower blade and let clippings fall.

Well, these are just a few tips for the deep summer. If you're new to gardening, I hope this helps. If you've been gardening awhile and have any gardening tips, please, feel free to share. 

Till next time … see ya!

Compost

It's June and at Lawn-Corps, that means compost. The growing season gives us plenty of green waste coming into our Belton facility for recycling and that's just what we need to start producing our star product.

 

Compost Fields

Compost Fields

The mountain of dry leaves from last fall can finally be processed and it takes green to do it.  There are several factors to producing compost and certain chemical requirements are needed. Nitrogen, from green waste, carbon, from dried leaves, oxygen and water.

Brown and Green Waste

Brown and Green Waste

To begin the composting process, we build long windrows of brown waste (carbon) which provides microorganisms with a source of energy needed to decompose organic matter and add green waste (nitrogen), needed to accelerate composting.

Early stage of compost

Early stage of compost

The rows are turned and watered frequently. Turning the windrows adds oxygen which helps reduce odors. Watering gives life to the tiny microorganisms that break down the organic matter. When watering, we have to keep in mind that too much water will cause odors and loss of nutrients, too little water slows down the decomposition. 

Turning and watering windrows

Turning and watering windrows

The science of composting is far more detailed than what I’m talking about here. Basically, we cook our compost. It’s called thermophilic composting. A few days after combining all the browns and greens, the process slowly goes in to the thermophilic stage. Heat starts building and steam starts rising. It’s a great indicator that we’re on track when the temperature of the compost is measured between 140 - 160 degrees. The compost is rapidly decomposing and at those temperatures, killing weed seeds and disease causing organisms.

The compost is cooking!

The compost is cooking!

The entire process takes about sixty days. After the compost has cured it goes through the screener to remove any large woody items that might remain. 

Curing stage before compost enters the screener

Curing stage before compost enters the screener

It’s a beautiful product that we take great pride in. The color of the compost is deep and rich, the texture is soft and fluffy and it packs a punch in your garden!  

Finished product

Finished product

The impact it has on your garden is undeniable. Not only are you amending your soil but your plants thrive. Flowers pop with color, vegetables produce abundant crops and lawns become more lush.

Flowers grown in compost.

Flowers grown in compost.

Seeing is believing. Come visit us on the farm and see for yourself.