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Archives for March 24, 2014

5 Tips for Raised Bed Gardens

Raised beds carry a litany of advantages that make them an ideal solution for novice and experienced gardeners alike. But to get the very most out of your beds, follow this advice from the pros.

Build and Test Your Soil

Begin your gardening season with a soil test. This will identify what your soil has or lacks. In turn, you use this information to build your soil.

Start with the planting mix. Most of these are blends of peat moss, bark, and/or compost, and they help growers spoon-feed nutrients to their crops. However, mixes lack a high mineral content and do not provide all the nutrients needed for plants to thrive. Without a strong organic and mineral structure, the nutrients will leech through the soil before plants can use them. Correct this by adding compost to convert the blended mix into soil that holds nutrients, water, and oxygen for plants to use.

Although plants may require more fertilization in the first year or two of gardening, the need for added fertilizer decreases as you build the soil structure to the point where it retains nutrients.

“Good organic matter definitely reduces the need for fertilizer, so building the soil is important,” says Howard Eyre, DelVal’s associate professor for the landscape architecture department, adding “don’t neglect testing the soil’s pH. Consider the needs of your crop and adjust pH as needed based on your soil tests, not by guessing what the plants need.”

For example, blueberries require an acidic soil to thrive, but tomatoes (contrary to what many people will tell you) prefer a slightly acidic, almost neutral pH. Extremely high or low pH causes nutrients to lock up in the soil, and this can lead to plant discoloration, stress, and low yields.


Use solarization to rid the growing medium of soil-borne pests. By spreading a large sheet of clear plastic held in place with bricks, you can raise soil temperatures high enough to kill weeds, insects and their eggs, and various soil pathogens. Yes, this requires more time up front in preparing your beds, but this method can save you time, trouble, and expense later in the growing season when you have to deal with infected plants or damaging insects.

“Many people incorrectly think that solarization sterilizes the soil, and this will kill beneficial organisms,” says John Long, DelVal’s greenhouse manager. “But we regularly use this method in our greenhouse raised beds and enjoy reduced pressure from pests and weeds because of it. This method also provides a valuable lesson for our horticulture majors who use raised beds to schedule, sow, harvest, and weigh their production for a practical lesson in companion planting, crop rotation, and commercial vegetable production.”

Solarization is easier in warm climates, but even in northern regions you can use the method to heat the soil to around 110 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period.

Use Plasticulture

Years ago, growers used constant cultivation to stay ahead of weeds, but research has shown this can break down the soil structure that you worked so hard to build. So make use of plasticulture, the method in which you place black plastic over the soil and plant crops through it. Drip irrigation installed under the plastic provides proper moisture. This reduces the need for soil cultivation (weeding) and elevates the soil temperatures in the months when you would like to extend the season for temperature-sensitive crops.

If you are not into plastic and want to repurpose something from around the homestead, you can also use old carpet, wooden planks, bark mulch, or leaf mulch to discourage weeds. “Remember, weeds take vital nutrients and moisture from your plants and impede the harvest,” says Kristin Hulshart, DelVal’s director of the College’s Roth Center for Sustainable Agriculture in North Wales, Pa.

“As soil temperatures begin to heat up, your raised bed may also benefit from swapping the early-season fabric row cover or clear plastic row tunnels for a black woven shade cloth,” Hulshart says. “This can coax your cool-weather crops, such as strawberries, radishes, and lettuce, into producing a little longer into the heat of the summer.”

Plant Cover Crops

“Growing vegetables is very taxing on the soil and can strip away its nutrients,” says Scott Smith, assistant farm and horticultural production manager at DelVal’s South Campus Farm. “Planting cover crops in the off-season or between crop rotations adds back in these vital soil nutrients.”

Cover crops add significant organic matter, and future plantings benefit from the stored nutrients. These crops also improve soil structure by reducing compaction and opening up soil pores to store water and oxygen. Some of the more common cover crops are oats, buckwheat, rye, and clover.

Grow With Worms

Worms are terrific little soil engineers. They break down raw organic matter into smaller pieces that beneficial fungi will make available to the plant’s root system. They also help blend organic matter through the soil, and their tunnels improve soil oxygen and water-holding capacity.

Consider building a vermicomposting bin with red worms to convert kitchen scraps into a nutrient-dense organic matter called castings, a great energy source for plants. You can also add night crawler worms directly to your beds to help build the soil structure.

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Gridlock at Birmingham’s waste tips after council begins charging ‘garden tax’

Police were called as angry drivers found themselves stuck in mile-long jams at rubbish tips, believed to be sparked by Birmingham’s controversial “garden tax”.

Officers were despatched to the Lifford Lane tip in Kings Norton as tempers frayed because of huge demand to dump green waste, councillors were told.

meeting heard the city council’s decision to charge £35 to collect grass cuttings had triggered a surge in the number of people using communal
rubbish dumps instead.

20,000 of Birmingham’s 400,000 households have so far signed up for the
scheme, with thousands more deciding to drop off their garden waste at the city’s five tips.

Coun Deirdre Alden (Con, Edgbaston) said drivers arriving at Lifford Lane faced 45-minute waits. Long queues have also been spotted at the depot in Sutton Coldfield.

“People are queuing for 45 minutes with the queue reaching a mile,” she said.

“They are having serious trouble getting to Lifford Lane, even the police have been called.”

Coun Alden urged the Labour-run city council to extend opening hours of the sites.

Jon Hunt (Lib Dem, Perry Barr) added: “It was inevitable that residents
would decide to take their garden waste to recycling centres once the council decided to press ahead with its ill-conceived charging policy for garden waste.

“We have all seen the long queues – and they will get longer. Not only is recycling being reduced but queuing cars are adding to fumes and greenhouse gases.”

Hunt said the Labour leadership could have kept the previous free doorstep garden waste collection by reassigning some of the £30 million being spent on wheelie bins.

The council said it was considering extending opening hours and urged taxpayers to avoid tips at weekends and from 10am to 3pm on weekdays if possible.

cabinet member responsible for bins, Coun James McKay (Harborne), said:
“We are always looking to see how we can make the service better with less and less money to do so.

the opening hours would mean spending less on something else, but we’re
looking to see if there’s a way we can make it work.”

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Garden Tip: Watch now how water accumulates in yard

As you begin your spring cleanup and planning, think about how water works in your yard and the needs of your plants, including trees and shrubs.

How does water behave in your yard? Do you have an area that’s consistently wet or dry?

Don’t fight your site. Look for varieties that thrive in those conditions.

Get to know the water needs of your plants. Some can handle a moist area and some do best with good drainage.

Where is your hose? We’ve got plenty of moisture now, but come July, rains tend to peter out. Placing containers in easy reach of hoses or watering cans makes far less work for you.

Think about placing a bird bath in the midst of plants with high water needs. Between birds splashing about and you refilling the bird bath, those water-craving plants get extra moisture with little effort.

Mulching trees and shrubs keeps weeds away and moisture available. Try winding soaker hoses through your beds under mulch for a simple solution to getting water to plant roots easily without losing it to evaporation.

With a little planning, you can keep yourself and your garden happy.

Garden Tip is courtesy of Heather Prince, The Growing Place, 630-355-4000,

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It’s hard to showcase landscape garden design

While working at Stowe House in Buckinghamshire, William Kent must have
influenced the great Capability Brown, who was, at that time, the young head
gardener there. Rousham House in Oxfordshire set another precedent in
landscape design. Our beautiful countryside was to become part of the
landscape designer’s palette.

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REwatch: Get inspired and welcome spring!

Just as we expect March to come in like a lion – with cold and unpleasant weather – and go out like a lamb – milder and more pleasant – the first day of spring brought a fresh dusting of snow that quickly melted as the clouds drifted apart, allowing the sun to peek out and keep working its magic on all those leftover icy mounds that have been piling up since the first of the year.

It’s definitely time to let a little sunlight into our lives and celebrate the fact that there will most certainly be warmer months ahead. Unlike any other season, spring evokes a sense of renewal, making it the perfect time to rejuvenate our surroundings indoors, while Mother Nature does her thing outside.

Until winter’s chill is permanently out of the air – there’s still a chance of snow in the forecast next week – use this time to enliven your home with a few bright pops of color and new accessories that reflect your personality and style. There are plenty of places to look for inspiration, and a number of local experts are making it easy for you to get some personalized tips as you transition into this exciting and vibrant time of year.

Next week, join host Old Green Shutters Antiques at the Lake County Fairgrounds for their annual Hunt Gather Pop-up Markets. Featuring food, cocktails, music, art, antiques, vintage and handmade goods, Thursday, March 27 is a special ticketed preview night from 6 – 10 p.m. and Friday, March 28th is open to the public with an entry fee of $3 from 1 – 8 p.m.

There were just a handful of early preview party tickets remaining late last week. For more information, contact Carey Rowell at Old Green Shutters in Crown Point (219) 663-4425 or email

Old Green Shutters invites you to this unique shop local experience where you can find great treasures and also “support the makers – artists, craftsmen, photographers, writers, designers, musicians, the self-employed, the individuals, the go-getters and do-it-yourselfers.”

Next month, award-winning interior decorator and local St. John business owner Cathi Lloyd of Decorating Den Interiors will be presenting her free 2014 Interior Design Colors and Trends seminar at the Munster Library on April 2 and again at the St. John Library on May 13 starting at 6:30 p.m. in both locations.

According to Lloyd, who has been bringing her smart and simple design philosophy to Northwest Indiana homes for more than 20 years, this inspiring and entertaining interior design seminar is based on the recent High Point furniture market with a great variety of before and after photos illustrating color and style trends in home design. She will also share room makeovers from Decorating Den Interiors, which have been featured in Good Housekeeping, Traditional Home and House Beautiful.

Lloyd, who won first place in the Children’s Room category in the 2013 Dream Room Contest, will also discuss creative design solutions for every room in a home, reminding participants that spaces need to be both beautiful and functional.

For more information, contact Cathi Lloyd at (219) 365-0198 or

Back at the Lake County Fairgrounds, the annual Home Lifestyle Show sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Northwest Indiana (HBA) will once again bring builders, remodelers and associated industry professionals together on Saturday, April 5 from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sunday, April 6 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

“As a more traditional home improvement show, our focus in on the exchange of ideas,” HBA Executive Officer Vicky Gadd said. “It’s about inspiring people to enjoy their homes. What’s really great about the Home Lifestyle Show is the fact that you’ll be primarily talking to small business owners, the people who in most cases are doing the work. Not only are they experts in their fields, they keep up with new ideas and will be displaying the latest trends. It’s all here, under one roof.”

Adult admission to the Home Lifestyle show is $7 (look for $2 off coupons in The Times) and LeRoy’s “Hot Stuff” will be providing concessions both days. Look for a complete schedule of events including face painting for the kids from noon – 2 p.m. both days at

Then, in anticipation of enjoying some sustained warmer temperatures, the Illiana Garden Pond Society will host their 13th Annual Waterscape Weekend Garden Pond Expo Saturday and Sunday, April 26-27 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Discover how you can take your backyard and landscaping to the next level with expert advice from local experts on water features, lighting and gardening.

Look for wind twirlers, stone bird houses, hot tubs, outdoor fireplaces, yard art and much more to be on display. Plus, vendors will be selling fish, equipment for water gardens, plants including aquatics, glass art décor, gourd décor, lighting and irrigation options plus much more to enhance outdoor living. Look for Lake County Master Gardeners who will also be on hand to answer gardening questions and host educational workshops. Adult admission is $5. For more information, contact Expo Chair Kathy Bartley at (219) 789-6207 or go to

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Local briefcase published March 23


Pediatrics organization gets national honor

The Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has been named Best Small Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics for 2013. This was announced on March 16 at the Annual Leadership Forum held in Chicago. President Sheila Idzerda, M.D., Vice President Pepper Henyon, M.D., Secretary-Treasurer Tanya Jagodzinski, M.D., and executive director Molly Taylor were present to accept the award.

Names and faces

Brad Stephenson completed two days of TRANE Advantage training and one day of TruComfort Variable Speed training for TRANE heating and cooling systems.

Montana Legal Services Association announces that MLSA attorneys Bob LaRoche and Amy Hall are recipients of the Montana Justice Foundation Champions of Justice Awards.

LaRoche and Hall are among 35 legal professionals chosen this year for their significant contributions to justice in Montana.

LaRoche started with MLSA in 1969, worked briefly for legal aid in Idaho, then came back to MLSA in Billings. Specializing in public benefits, he has dedicated his career to advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves, assuring fairness in the justice system for the most vulnerable in our society.

Hall began with MLSA in 2002 after 12 years with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. Known as a passionate advocate, Hall previously practiced family law and now specializes in housing issues, providing access to the courts for countless Montanans who cannot afford private legal representation.

MLSA congratulates LaRoche and Hall, as well as all of the honorees.


Volume One Bible has new owner

Manna Basket Ministries, a local Christian charitable organization, has purchased the former Volume One Bible Store. The store has been renamed Harmony Road and is operated by Manna Basket Ministries.

Harmony Road is located at 434 N. Last Chance Gulch and is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. All proceeds from sales go to fund the work that Manna Basket Ministries does, such as helping missionaries, churches, pastors and orphanages both locally and around the world.

Bibles, books and gifts as well as work from local artists can be found at Harmony Road. Imported items will be available from the various missions that Manna Basket Ministries supports in Bethlehem, Kenya, Costa Rica and other places.

For more information call Bonnie at 443-3648 or 461-5133.

New lawn, landscape company opens doors

The Grounds Guys of Helena and Bozeman, a lawn and landscape company owned by Joshua and Jasmine Talley, has opened its doors and is ready to serve the people of Helena.

The Grounds Guys of Helena and Bozeman offers a variety of lawn care and landscaping services. They provide professional skills and knowledge of lawn care services.

To learn more about The Grounds Guys of Helena and Bozeman, call 315-4217 or visit

Applications open for Leadership Montana

Leadership Montana is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing together business, government, education, nonprofit, health care and other leaders from around the state for a program of leadership development, networking and education on the issues facing Montana today.

The class begins in September and meets once monthly over the following eight months in various locations around the state. This year’s class will begin with the orientation and retreat in Big Sky, then travel to north-central Montana, Missoula, Helena, Sidney and Butte, before culminating in the graduation celebration in Billings in April 2015.

The class of 2015 will be the 11th Leadership Montana class and will join an alumni organization of over 400 graduates from 50 different Montana communities. More information is available online at or by calling Montana office at 896-5877.

Nonprofit Communication Grant

An orientation meeting about the 2014 Excellence in Nonprofit Communications Grant Award, which is available to Helena-area nonprofits, will be held on Tuesday, March 25, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the large conference room of the Lewis Clark Library at 120 S. Last Chance Gulch. RSVP to 443-5860 or

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UMW: Student project aimed at removing campus ivy – The Free Lance

To freshman Maggie Magliato, the University of Mary Washington’s Fredericksburg campus isn’t just a school, it’s a thriving ecosystem.

On a recent Sunday she spotted the first blue jay of spring on the way to brunch in Seacobeck Hall, “and I got so excited,” she said.

But the English ivy, which covers the ground and climbs trees and academic buildings on campus, doesn’t contribute aesthetically to the school’s collegiate character for her. Magliato, an environmental science major, knows the ivy is an invasive species that strangles the biodiversity of the campus’ ecosystem.

So Magliato, with the help of the campus’ Greenhouse community—of which she is a member—has begun a project to remove much of the ivy from UMW.

For five hours on a recent Sunday, the group tore ivy from the ground and trees near the UMW entrance on Sunken Road.

Magliato used saws and clippers to remove the ivy by severing the vine from its roots and pulling it off trees, rolling up sections that cover the wooded floor like a carpet and sending it all to be composted by the school’s grounds department.

The Greenhouse is one of five current living–learning communities at UMW. The community is made up of 93 freshmen who live together in Randolph Hall. They take a first-year seminar course together and are required to complete a service project like Magliato’s.

With Magliato that Sunday morning were Greenhouse founder, sophomore Kathryn Erwin, and member Joe Dragone, a freshman.

Dragone’s Greenhouse project, which Magliato will in turn help him with, will be cleaning up the trash-choked stream that flows past Woodard Campus Center.

He will also be reinforcing the storm water system next to Woodard to ensure the runoff reaching the Chesapeake Bay is clean.

He, like Magliato, spent most of his time on the ivy project with a saw, cutting through ivy roots as thick as an arm from American Beech trees.

Those trees—which are native and have become a part of the campus as a place where students carve their initials—and native loblolly pines are among those Magliato wants to protect.

Erwin said getting ivy off the trees wasn’t such an arduous task after trying out different techniques.

Erwin established the Greenhouse community last year, when she began at UMW.

“It’s great to be able to work all year to develop skills and their passion for the environment,” she said.

Freshmen, she said, develop their own project ideas, and she doesn’t mind what they embark on as long as it has an impact on the area and they are passionate about it.

“This project, it’s all Maggie,” she said.

The dense ivy cover on that side of campus takes over space where native plants could grow. And even though the ivy is a ground cover, it also branches into vines that grow up trees and buildings.

The ivy’s dendrites can get into building cracks and widen, and take away valuable resources from trees.

“By helping the trees, we’re helping the birds, too,” Magliato said while uprooting ivy. “Right now I can hear a woodpecker, and that bird will benefit from this.”

Alan Griffith, professor of biology at UMW, said the problem with invasive species is two-pronged.

By displacing native plants, it decreases the population size of other species in an area.

But it also decreases species diversity. Since the ivy is so successful, fewer species of plants can take root.

He said that people earlier chose English ivy for landscaping because of its appearance and its successful growth rate. But other, native pants can work just as well in a garden.

He said people who go to a landscaper or garden center should ask an important question. “Say ‘I’m interested in planting native plants. What native plants meet my needs?’”

He also recommended finding plants that are good at sustaining soil and water conservation.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” he said. “We came here from other places and people brought plants with them. That’s fine, it’s natural to do that, but the problem arises when those plants decrease the native population.”

And ivy isn’t the only invasive species to propagate on the campus. Joni Wilson, campus director of landscape and grounds, said dealing with invasive species on campus is a daily chore.

While mitigating the ivy is one such task, she said it has been in the area so long that it has become important to preventing soil erosion and cannot be removed in some places, like behind Trinkle Hall, where it thrives.

She uses service projects like Magliato’s, the annual Good Neighbor Day and area organizations to keep the ivy in check.

Just as troublesome as that plant, though, is Ailanthus altissima, more commonly known as “tree of heaven,” which has moved in on campus in the last decade.

Wilson said the tree spreads more seeds than most and takes root easily in new areas.

“Pay attention to all of the tree lines in Caroline County,” she said. “It’s everywhere.”

Privet, a flowering bush, is another invasive species Wilson has a hard time controlling. Years ago, a landscaper planted a hedge of privet, and while that hedge is maintained, its offshoots are collected and composted.

In her landscaping, Wilson makes an effort to include only native plants.

One area she is particularly proud of is the landscaping around the Anderson Center and U.S. 1.

“All of that landscaping is native,” she said. “And it has the university’s first native perennial bed. It’s a real commitment to native, sustainable planting.”

Flox, baptisia and inkberry are among the flowering native plants included in the bed.

Magliato’s project is one of the ways Wilson can continue that commitment. But Magliato doesn’t see the project as simple mitigation. She said she’s learning from it, too.

“I’ve always been someone who loves the outdoors in nature,” she said. “It seemed natural to go into conservation. Doing things outdoors like this helps me get hands-on experience.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976



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Home Green: Xeriscaping saves water, money – even energy – Las Cruces Sun

Las Cruces has a major case of spring fever. Trees and flowers are budding everywhere. Even our mesquite trees, which hold tight until the last risk of a freeze is over, are finally letting go and are showing signs of green.

Now is a perfect time to highlight some of the easiest and most rewarding ways to “green” up our homes through landscaping. Landscaping adds beauty, color and life to our homes. With just a little forethought and planning, your home’s landscaping can also help you save energy, water and money.

Around our town, it is common to see yards that are mainly comprised of rocks or gravel with minimal or no plants. That type of landscaping is sometimes referred to as “xeroscaping” (presumably on the assumption it means “zeroscape”), but the correct term is “xeriscaping.” Xeriscaping refers to the conservation of water through creative landscaping using native, drought-resistant plants to create beautiful, low maintenance, natural-looking landscapes that enhance the home. Unfortunately, many homeowners have misunderstood the concept, and have covered their yards with gravel and plastic. This type of landscaping is not only unappealing, but it is self-defeating as far as water conservation is concerned, and it also can have very counter-productive effects on cooling bills in the summer.

Thoughtfully designed xeriscaping can beautify the home, enhance your enjoyment of outdoor living, conserve water and save money on heating and cooling bills. Here are some of the things you can do:

1. Design landscaping for shading and cooling. Heat from the sun is absorbed through windows, walls and rooves, making our homes difficult to cool in the summer. Well-placed trees and shrubs provide shade to help keep your home cool. Trees also release water vapor that cools the surrounding air temperatures. Because cool air settles near the ground, air temperatures directly under trees can be as much as 25 degrees cooler than air temperatures above nearby pavement. Trees planted to the west of the home are great for shading western-facing windows, doors and patios from the intense afternoon sun. Shrubs and ground cover shade the ground and pavement, reducing heat radiation and cooling the air around your home. A study in Arizona found that well-designed landscapes reduced air-conditioning costs in homes by as much as 25 percent.

2. Add trees or shrubs for blocking or deflecting wind. Properly selected, placed and maintained landscaping can provide excellent wind protection, or windbreaks, which can actually reduce heating and cooling costs, and make your outdoor living much more pleasant.

3. Use regionally appropriate, low water-use and native plants. Plants that are native to our area are typically very drought-tolerant, and are well adapted to our soil and climatic conditions, in turn requiring minimal fertilizer. Native plants are more resistant to pests and diseases than are other species.

4. Group plants according to their water needs. Plants with similar watering needs should be placed into specific “hydrozones” to reduce water use and protects the plants from either underwatering or overwatering. Areas of grass should be kept to a minimum, and should always be separated into different hydrozones because grass has higher water needs.

5. Maintain or upgrade automated timed irrigation systems. Homes with automatically timed irrigation systems use about 50 percent more water outdoors than those without. Your system can waste even more if it’s programmed incorrectly, or if you have a leak. Make sure to check for clogged, missing, or broker sprinkler heads or drippers. A leak about as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month. Replacing a standard clock timer with a WaterSense labeled irrigation controller can save an average home nearly 8,800 gallons of water annually.

If you want to get some great ideas for beautifying and greening up your home with landscaping, you will want to catch the Las Cruces Tour of Gardens on May 3 this year. If you do, you will see some great examples of fabulous gardens and landscaping, like the home of my neighbors, Steve and Mary Lacy, who inspired me to write about how landscaping can enhance a home’s beauty, enjoyment, comfort and sustainability. They have put all these principles to work and have achieved amazing results. If a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing these homes on the Tour of Gardens is worth much, much more. I’ll see you on the tour!

Renee Frank is a local Realtor with certifications in energy-efficient and environmentally responsible features of real estate. Her Home Green column appears the fourth Sunday of each month. She may be reached at Read her blog at

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