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Archives for July 2015

Nursery owner looks to keep business diverse – Press & Sun

Ken Williams began mowing lawns as a teenager. Now, he owns a 57-acre nursery and landscaping business in Apalachin, with plants, produce, design services and landscaping crews.

In a recent interview, Williams, owner of WW Nursery Landscaping, discussed the challenges of running a small business, the art of gardening and why he’s proud to own “the place along the highway.”

QUESTION: How did WW Nursery Landscaping start?

ANSWER: I started mowing lawns at 13 just to make money. If I could push the mower to it, I could mow it. My first summer out of college, I bid a job for Hadco Corporation. They gave me a shot by hiring me and I turned around and invested back into the business. I just kept working. I had worked for another nursery for five years learning the trade.

I had done the landscaping for the previous owner of this farm. One day, I decided to plant a seed. I said, “If you ever want to sell, let me know.” The ground here is river-rich soil. It’s perfect for growing and it has a highway exposure. He accepted, and I moved from my old location on Gaskill Road (in Owego) to this facility in 2002 and opened to the public in 2005.

We’re family here. My nephew, Jeremy, is my operations manager. My wife works with the books. My son works part-time, he’s a nursery hand and does networking. My daughter is here full-time helping on the maintenance side. I never thought I’d see the day I had both of my kids on a job site with me.

We currently have 57 acres, 38 in production. We have 16 employees regularly; at our peak, we have 20. WW Nursery and Landscaping is a full service nursery and garden center. We have hard goods, plants, mulches, tree shrubs, and we deliver. What sets us apart from the box stores is education and experience. This is all we do, and we grow it. Our product is acclimated; our trees are growing in the ground. That makes a big difference if it’s grown in the Southern Tier. We’re not always force-feeding consumers like the box stores. We grow a variety of trees, not just a few to pick from. We know our business and we can compete. Not to mention, our quality is better at WW.

Q: How has your business evolved?

A: It all started with landscaping and maintenance. We didn’t like what was coming in from suppliers so we decided to start our own nursery because we wanted to control our own quality. I always knew I wanted to have my own nursery where I could grow my own to make me more competitive for larger projects. Also, I wanted to supply the do-it-yourself market because there’s a demand for good quality. That’s how it evolved.

We’ve had to diversify and be smart. We have to be innovative in order to keep things fresh. It’s not just setting plants out on the gravel or blacktop anymore. We have design build and we’ve established a u-pick produce area. We grow trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, vegetables and fruit trees, and we have our crews out doing work. It all fits together. After all, gardening is a lifestyle.

Q: What are some of the challenges of doing business here?

A: I started my company in 1988 with just ambition, mowing lawns. I built it. I had some gifts from God along the way, and I knew how to run with it, so I feel I’ve paid my dues. The cost of doing business and the challenges in New York State have so far exceeded when we started. As we’re coming into our 28th year, I’m thankful to be established. If I were a new business, just starting, I wouldn’t do it in this state. Between taxes, utilities, and regulations, costs are getting out of hand. We feel we’re working twice as hard for the same outcome.

In order to overcome some of our challenges, we capitalize on selling to retail and wholesale customers. We’re supplying up the East Coast: municipalities, golf courses, universities, garden centers, and even landscapers. In fact, we have over 300 landscapers on our mailing list. That’s really what’s starting to grow for us.

Q: Do you think the proposed minimum wage hike for employees of the fast-food industry will have an impact on business?

A: Absolutely and for us to a point. People that work for us enjoy this trade. I feel business will either close, move or create self-checkout to eliminate people, which will in turn create more sterile environments. So I ask — is this the state doing this to fix our broken welfare system? The people that work part-time and get assistance now will be at a higher income so they lose assistance? Time will tell.

We’re facing a lot of challenges like all businesses. We’ve diversified. It’s important to count your blessings and keep moving forward.

Q: What steps have you taken to help your business overcome those challenges?

A: I started with a video series in 2010 (Street Smart Gardener TM). It’s one of those ideas that just snowballed. We did it because we wanted the do-it-yourself individuals to feel comfortable about gardening. I’m trying to get younger generations to come in and garden too. We want to show that they can grow a vegetable garden just like anybody else, and we’re here to help. We had to adapt and diversify to bring those people in.

Five years ago is when I decided to start pushing gardening as a lifestyle. We want people to get back outside with nature a little bit so they can slow down and appreciate things more.

We’re willing to invest in ourselves and for our customers to make things easier. We have a full-time social media employee for Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and our blogs. Social Media is fun because it enables us to more easily connect with customers. We’re also launching our new website sometime in the next few weeks, which will be mobile-friendly and make it easier for our customers to keep up with us.

We also offer virtual imaging for landscape design through our in-house landscape design department. It assists us with estimating so when we know the exact square footage of a property, we know how much of everything you’ll need. If you don’t know plant life, it’s hard to visualize. We’ve always done computer imaging, but we always try to stay fresh and at the forefront of the software that’s available. Now we’re able to let our clients see our vision for their property up close.

Q: What changes are ahead for your business?

A: We’ve really increased our vegetables and fruits. We’re going to line up 1,000 apple trees for a u-pick orchard. We’re doing 10 varieties of tomatoes: half the price of the grocery store, and you can pick it when you want it. This is a new endeavor for us in an effort to diversify what we offer. Staying fresh and moving forward is key. We refuse to get stale and in doing so, we’ve created a destination here.

Yes, we’re “that place along the highway.” I’m thankful to be by the highway. We have 57,000 cars a day that go by. People from all over find us.

Beyond the u-pick produce, we’re going to do hops for the microbreweries. In an effort to keep our employees on the books longer throughout the year, I created an Animated Holiday lighting service to keep them working through the late fall. And we’ve got something new in store for next year, but I think I’ll just let our competitors keep guessing as to what that might be.

Q: What trends do you see in this line of work?

A: Definitely vegetable gardening has become popular. Homes and apartments with raised beds are getting more popular, because it’s simple, anybody can do it and produce good crops in the comfort of their own property.

For what it’s worth, I’d recommend any new gardener to keep it simple. As a society, we’re always racing against the clock, so only take on what you can manage.

The outdoor living room concept has really been good for us. We’ve been doing a lot of fire pits and built-in grills; it’s basically like an extension of the house. People can go out and enjoy it, cook, get some herbs from their garden, pick their own produce and use them immediately.

Q: What’s difficult about your job?

A: This life is physically demanding, and it’s not for everyone. I’m very thankful, and I thank God for everything. I count my blessings for what we have. We’re dealing with more regulations. We worry about ticks, it’s hot, it rains … a lot, and it’s humid. But we’re outside, we get to work in nature and we get to meet a lot of great people. We get 10,000 people coming through here in the spring.

We’re all plant geeks here. We love seeing what’s new, especially all the different plant types, seeing how they’re going to work up here. I love traveling to other nurseries and going to trade shows out west. I’ve learned a lot from my peers. This industry has introduced me to a bunch of great friends and colleagues.

Nobody can predict the future, only the man upstairs. You just work at it. I’m thankful for what we have and where we are. We’re the only place like ours locally. We’re unique.

Q: Why is gardening important?

A: Gardening is an art — The art of expressing a thought with plants. Design is key. You have to be creative. There are a lot of advantages to thoughtful landscaping: storm water runoff, shading for energy, wind blocks for winter winds. Landscaping and gardening is really a necessity, not a luxury. We have a responsibility to protect the planet. It’s important that when you do building that you remember what was there before, so that you can put the proper amount of green space back in to protect the planet. That’s why I really like what I do. I know I am making a difference.

Follow Katie Sullivan on Twitter @ByKatieSullivan.

Kenny Williams

Business and title: The Street Smart Gardener, President W W Nursery

Age: 45

Home: Apalachin

Hometown: Owego

Education: environmental design, Broome Community College

Hobbies: golf, musician and gardening

Family: wife, Sandy; son, Ryan; daughter, Aleah

Where to find, on Facebook and YouTube

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Kiwanis Club of Elgin members installing swing set at namesake park

The Kiwanis Club of Elgin was looking for ideas about what to do next at the club’s namesake park, the former Observatory Park.

Neighbors were asked what they would like to see at the park.

“The leading request was to have some swings put in there,” said Rick Poulton, a club member who has helped spearhead improvements at Kiwanis Park, at National and Villa streets.

Poulton liked the idea.

“How can you have a park without swings?” he said.

Elgin NewsSee all related

Kiwanis Club members took action and began their latest project. Construction for the swing set, valued about $40,000, is underway by Elgin-based Lamp Construction and volunteers. The park already has a playground and the swing set will be located next to it.

Kiwanis Club members have been working at the park helping excavate the site, Poulton said. Volunteers have used two and a half tons of concrete for the base of the swing set and must next do landscaping, like putting mulch on the ground, he said.

Lamp Construction Vice President Greg Bohlin, a Kiwanis member, is hoping the swing set is ready to use by mid-August.

Bohlin joined the club in 2000, drawn by its mission to help children.

“It’s always gratifying to help people out,” Bohlin said, adding the park is a good project because it is a place for kids to play and get exercise.

The Kiwanis Club of Elgin has done projects that benefit children and charities in the city since its inception 95 years ago.

Ron Razowsky joined the club in 1978 and is the unofficial historian. Kiwanis International was formed in 1915 and Elgin’s club was chartered in 1920, he said.

“Elgin was a huge trade town. This is where all the retail business took place in the area,” Razowsky said. The Elgin Watch Company employed 5,000 people and Elgin was the epicenter of industry, shopping and other businesses, he said.

Razowsky, who served as club president in the 1990s, recalls membership was as high as 144 back then. Volunteer or service clubs are struggling everywhere with membership, he said. Today, there are 55 members, he said.

Regardless of how many members it has, the Kiwanis Club mission has always remained the same: helping children and young people, he said.

Over the years, the club built a swimming pool for a local Girl Scout camp, built a lodge for the Boy Scouts camp off Big Timber Road and partnered with Gail Borden Public Library to establish the Readership Van — which still runs today, he said.

“We’ve been here and there and done all kinds of things,” Razowsky said.

Now, Kiwanis Club is leaving its mark on the neighborhood park.

Poulton has worked on the park project since 2010 when the club was looking for a project focusing on children. He said Elgin Parks and Recreation Director Randy Ropelle suggested the club do projects at the park.

The club worked with Lamp Construction, the Elgin Housing Authority, the Kane County Health Department and the Golden K Club to construct a $62,000 gazebo in 2013. The gazebo enabled the park district to designate the park as a place to offer free summer lunches, Poulton said. Elgin’s free summer lunch program is sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department, Northern Illinois Food Bank, local nonprofits and several area churches.

Elgin’s city council officially changed the park’s name to Kiwanis Park in 2013.

Poulton stops by Kiwanis Park a couple of times every summer and talks to the kids at the drop-in summer camp.

“The kids love having a place to go and hang out and be kids,” he said. “It’s certainly rewarding. It is Kiwanis mission to serve the children of the world one at a time.”

Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.

Copyright © 2015, Elgin Courier-News

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Water use at Santa Monica City sites slashed in half

Investing in new water conservation practices and technologies has resulted in significant water savings while maintaining public spaces in the City of Santa Monica. City Hall, parks, and other municipal facilities collectively recorded a 52 percent reduction in water usage in June, compared to the same month in 2013.

To achieve outdoor savings, City staff removed 3,000 square feet of turf from park and landscape sites where there was very little public use; reduced watering cycles in landscapes and grass areas, and stopped watering grassy street medians altogether.

To save even more water, City staff plan to install more efficient irrigation systems and drip systems, remove unnecessary grass around trees, install sustainable landscaping in street medians, and spread a thick layer of organic mulch over planted areas.

“We all love Santa Monica and just as we are asking residents to save water, the City itself is doing its part to conserve at every opportunity,” said Devin Starns, facilities maintenance manager of the City of Santa Monica.

The landscaping surrounding City Hall uses a smart irrigation system with recycled water from the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF), saving precious potable water. SMURRF water is also piped to irrigate Tongva Park, Palisades Park and the Cemetery, and to pressure-wash sidewalks downtown.

Trees are an important asset to Santa Monica and the entire region. To keep trees healthy and conserve water, the City is watering trees by hand and through the use of slow-release watering bags. Grass is removed from around trees and organic mulch is installed where appropriate.

Indoors, the City has installed high-efficiency fixtures in 60 percent of its buildings. Remaining buildings will be refitted with high-efficiency fixtures by the end of the year. Staff also conduct monthly water audits at all sites to identify and fix water wasting issues and system repairs. To further reduce water use in City buildings, staff is required to immediately report leaks and use water efficiently.

The City is asking for residents to continue to use water-wisely at home and at public facilities such as the showers at the beach and the Santa Monica Swim Center. “Santa Monica is a leader in water conservation. I am proud to see all of the new, beautiful sustainable landscapes in homes and city facilities being put in across Santa Monica,” said Dean Kubani, Santa Monica’s Sustainability Manager, “The savings achieved show the commitment of this community to save water.”

Residents are invited to visit the sustainable landscape event on Aug. 22, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Airport Demonstration Garden, located at 3200 Airport Avenue. City staff and landscape consultants will be on-hand to showcase sustainable landscaping ideas, explain how to apply for rebates and provide specific water-saving tips. If you have questions about plants, then don’t miss this free event.

For more information about these rebates and other practical water-saving measures and programs, please visit, call (310) 458-8972 or email


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On the market: Tuscan accents showcased in Stratfield

Drive down Churchill Road in the Stratfield section of town and one Tuscan-inspired property stands out amid the row of mostly traditional Colonials. The 2,701-square-foot house at 125 Stoneleigh Road on a corner lot along Churchill is also a Colonial, but there is nothing traditional or standard about it.

Turn into this property and get the feeling that someone plucked a Tuscan villa and a 0.4-acre parcel from central Italy and dropped them onto this corner. “We love the Italian look,” one of the owners said.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped. With a street name like Stoneleigh it’s appropriate that the owners have invested $300,000 in stone walls as well as other landscaping elements including flower gardens, specimen trees and other plantings, and wrought iron fencing. That figure represents almost half the value of the house.

It was built in 1950 as a split-level and when the current owners bought it renovation was the first order of business. It evolved a little over time and the finished product includes new hardwood floors and new windows throughout the house. The replacement windows are larger than the existing ones to enhance the views of the exterior grounds, which includes terraced stone retention walls, rock gardens, numerous flower beds, statuary, a flagstone patio and several sitting areas.

The owners had the retention walls dismantled and completely rebuilt using the same stones and without the use of mortar. “We wanted to keep the same look,” one owner said.

Some of the gardens are encircled in Belgium block and they contain rose of Sharon, azaleas, lilacs, rhododendrons, hostas and many red maples. There is a Tuscany-inspired screened pergola and a glass-enclosed porch with slate flooring for three-season dining and entertaining.

“We did so much stone work outside. We did the whole property. It’s such a transformation … It stands out here because it’s not the norm,” an owner said. They also lined the driveway with knee-high stone walls. The exterior of the house is made of wood and stone.

Inside, the walls are painted in warm colors that resemble the countryside of Tuscany and there are wrought iron railings inside as well as out. The sunken formal living room and den have built-in bookshelves. The den also provides access to the enclosed porch. The house as a newer eat-in kitchen with a center island and granite counters.

Upstairs there are three bedrooms and from that vantage point it feels like you are in the trees. On the lower level there is a large au-pair or in-law suite with a separate entrance.

The homeowners have beautiful designer furniture and are willing to include it in the sale of the house for an additional fee.

There will be an open house on Sunday, Aug. 2, from 2 to 4 pm.

For more information or to set up an appointment to see the house, contact Charlotte Cotton of William Raveis Real Estate at 203-247-4944 or email her at

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The no-get-away get-away garden

For years, Dave Houseal and his wife, Bonnie Housel, thought they’d like to buy a get-away cabin in the woods.

They even looked at land in Clinton County but never pulled the trigger.

Then when Dave retired as a Harrisburg firefighter in 2003, he came up with an alternate idea: Why not turn their own back yard into a cabin in the woods?

That might not sound so far-fetched if you already live on a big wooded lot in the country. But Dave and Bonnie live on two-thirds of an acre in a typical suburban development in East Hanover Twp. (Dauphin County) that at the time had a mostly open and sloped grass yard leading into the neighbor’s back yard.

You’d never recognize that lot now because this one-time typical yard really is a cabin in the woods, complete with a fish pond, a newly constructed shady stream and a quaint “writer’s cottage” that Dave built out of recycled barn wood.

This is just one of the interesting features in this creative layout of garden rooms.

One section near the house feels like Colonial Williamsburg with a tree-covered brick patio, wooden out-building and wisteria-covered trellis.

Another is a formal Colonial-style garden of boxwoods, brick paths and raised beds with an arbor leading into it.

Another is a garden-surrounded patio with a gazebo overlooking a stream that cascades down a hill into a pond.

And the lower yard features a grassy path that leads past a blueberry patch, a trellised vegetable area, and a more traditional vegetable garden along the sunny side of a barn.

This is all in their back yard, which makes the lot seem a whole lot bigger than the two-thirds of an acre that it is.

Their landscape is also a classic lesson in what’s possible instead of our lawn-dominated norm.

The difference here is that Dave and Bonnie have uncommon vision and creativity.

Few people are blessed with the imagination it takes to see beyond what’s there and into what could be there.

Fewer still have the ability and motivation to then make it all happen.

It helps that Dave happens to be very handy. Besides building the writer’s cottage, he lays his own brick paths and builds his own trellises and arbors.

Bonnie also built one of the stone retaining walls and has a good eye for placement of plants and ornaments.

Together, they’ve managed to turn the back yard into a series of garden rooms, each with its own character.

Trees, tall shrubs and vine-covered trellises separate most of the rooms and function like the walls of a house.

Brick and grassed paths lead from one garden room to the next, functioning like hallways to create a traffic network through the yard.

And arbors, gates and flanking upright plants mark entrances to new rooms, functioning like doorways.

Those features are what makes this yard so intimate and interesting to walk instead of the previous wide-open feel.

When you’re in the cozy writer’s cottage, for example, you feel as if you could be miles from humanity, even though homes are nearby on all sides.

It’s so peaceful with the sound of trickling water outside and the view of the lily-filled pond, backdropped by a barn and shrub-lined sitting area.

“I’m back here all the time, even in winter,” says Dave.

Most days, he’s headed to the cottage at 4 a.m. with coffee in hand.

The cottage is heated and air-conditioned and has an antique butcher-block table as a writing desk.

It’s the perfect place for writing and is where Dave – the new president of the Pennsylvania National Fire Museum in Harrisburg – penned his three books on firefighting, “We Can See It from the Bridge,” “We Got ‘Em On Point” and “They Come in Threes.”

The newest of many outdoor sitting areas is one that Dave just finished at the top of the new shady stream recently installed by Cory Raponi of Make a Scene Landscaping and Water Features of Myerstown.

Tucked under a pair of limbed-up hemlocks, two Adirondack chairs look over the stream-top waterfall and down the rocky cascade to the pond and cottage below.

You’re like lord of the woods from that vantage point.

This kind of feature doesn’t just happen. Someone has to imagine it, plan it and then carry it out.

Dave says the cabin-in-the-woods landscape wasn’t something he planned as a whole from the beginning, though.

It evolved over time as one change led to another, which led to another idea, which in turn led to another change.

The landscape-design books tell you that’s not the ideal way to craft a landscape. But it’s often more realistic.

For one thing, more people are better at getting ideas one by one as they go along as opposed to envisioning one master plan from the beginning.

For another, goals and tastes change over time. By building a landscape gradually, it’s easier to adapt than to start down a road and then realize a few years later you really didn’t want that swimming pool after all.

Third, it’s less overwhelming to bite off one project at a time than to see one imposing whole-yard layout.

And fourth, it’s less expensive to pay as you go and do what you can afford as you can afford it – something that also can change over time.

The down side is that it’s possible to end up with a bunch of random parts that don’t fit together very well – in other words, a haphazard landscape.

A good eye can overcome that, however, and guide new parts that fit into existing ones – making it look like everything was planned as a whole.

Dave and Bonnie’s yard shows that approach can work.

“We don’t really like to leave the house and gardens now because it’s like living a permanent vacation at home,” says Dave.

In other words, their yard has become their no-get-away get-away.

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Avon Lake Community Garden a blooming citywide success (photos)

AVON LAKE, Ohio – Gardens are wonders to behold and nothing tastes better than a juicy tomato plucked right off the vine.

But does everyone have the time and energy to create a backyard garden? And how do you keep deer and rabbit from treating it like their personal buffet?

The answer is safety in numbers, through a community garden.

About 120 city residents tend their own plots among the 162 garden beds at Troy Intermediate School, 237 Belmar Road. They rent for $25 per season. Some residents have more than one. In fact, there is a waiting list every year.

Bruce Peepers, 77, got the idea while vacationing with his wife several years ago in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

“We saw a community garden that was fenced in and protected and was beautiful,” he said. “We thought it would be something we could really use in Avon Lake. When we came home, we started talking to a few people and we figured out a way to make it work.”

Peepers worked with Dale Cracas, 75, and Bill Fitzgerald, 74, to get the idea off the ground. It ended up involving a lot more than they expected.

“It’s hard to have a garden in the city,” Cracas said. “You go through all the effort and plant nice tomatoes and take care of them, then one morning you go out there and they are gone. We have so many deer and rabbits out here that you can’t really have a backyard garden unless you have a nice fence. Plus, a lot of yards don’t get enough sun. Those are the things we had to consider.”

The men started asking around the city for appropriate, available land. They found an ally in Robert Scott, the superintendent of the Avon Lake School District.

“He offered us this wonderful half-acre plot at the Troy school, which has lots of sunlight, but it needed work,” Cracas said. “The first thing we had to do was get rid of the standing water. Bruce and I dug a channel to drain the water. It worked.”

Once the area dried out, they were ready to turn it into a garden. They got a lot of help from the local business community, making it truly a citywide volunteer effort.

“Buddy Kopf, of Kopf Builders, donated 850 yards of topsoil,” Cracas said. “The city gave us 500 yards of leaf mulch, Kendera Builders graded it all for us. Hubert Landscaping disked the soil. Dalgeish Landscaping took rototillers to the whole works and local resident Albert Hobar put in the fence.”

But they were not done yet. They determined that each bed would be four feet wide and 12 feet long, and, ideally, raised for ease and maintenance. Even better, they installed several beds about three feet high so handicapped and elderly people could tend them without having to bend over.

They included wide walkways for easy access. The Lescher Tree Co. kicked in wood chips for the paths.

“That worked fine for a while, but weeds grew through the wood chips,” Cracas said. “We finally decided to buy stone and lay down gravel walkways, which really keeps it neat.”

And since every garden needs a source of water, the city installed several watering stations in the garden.

From there, the gardeners are on their own.

“They have to build their own raised beds,” said Peepers. “They are responsible for planting, watering, weeding and upkeep of their own gardens. Everyone is pretty responsible and the garden is very productive. People are in here all the time, at least two or three times a week, to take care of their plot. And they can plant whatever they want.”

The Community Garden is a tribute to variety. It includes plenty of traditional plants like tomato, pepper, broccoli, beans, cucumbers and squash. It also hosts some unusual ones, like blueberries, kale, carrots, and Brussel sprouts. Other growers planted flowers instead of vegetables, which helps attract honeybees to the site.

Some plants are just one big question.

“We have no idea what this is,” said Cracas, pointing to a huge plant with wide leaves that were crinkled like kale. “We’ll have to ask her when we see her.”

Peepers proudly points to his prized strawberry rhubarb patch, taken from plants have have been in his family for 65 years.

Adam Burgess picks some heirloom “Carl Knight” string beans that came from his family in Tennessee.

“You can’t buy these around here,” he said. “These are wonderful beans that up to 10 inches long. Let them soak overnight and cook them for 45 minutes and they are a real treat.”

One remarkable thing about the harvest is that it hasn’t been stolen.

Burgess said he tried a small garden at his home, but seldom enjoyed the fruits of his labor. “As soon as it gets going, deer will eat every bit of it,” he said.

At the garden, a seven foot high fence and a locked gate guard the crop. There’s a combination lock, which so far the deer have not cracked.

“We’ll see deer come up here and just look through the fence,” Cracas said. “They’d love to get in, but the fence keeps them out.”

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5 tips to avoid gardening injuries

RELATED KEYWORDS: tips|organic-pesticide|injuries|Gardening|Accidental-Poisoning

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1) During monsoons and winters, do a bit of warm-up before gardening. Because gardening requires stretching and other exercise motions, its best to approach it like a workout.

2) Don’t attempt a single task for more than 20 minutes. Make sure you bend your knees and use your leg muscles to dig, rather than bending and using the muscles in your back.

3) For people with back problem, it is essential to have the right tools. Use long-handled equipment to reduce the need to bend.

4) Use gloves to avoid injuries, including insect bites or those caused by gardening equipment

5) Use organic pesticide to avoid accidental poisoning. You can make compost by using wet waste from your kitchen.

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How to Make Compost Tea

It’s warm, frothy and chocolate brown. You wouldn’t want to drink it, but for your plants, it’s a special treat.

Compost tea is simply compost in a liquid form. Just like a fine oolong, you take a pinch—or in this case a shovelful—and steep it in water. The nutrients leach out and you shower your plants with them. The roots drink them up and even the leaves can absorb them through their stomata, the tiny pores in leaf tissue.

But the real excitement around compost tea has less to do with nutrients (which occur in very low concentrations in the liquid) and everything to do with the microorganisms it contains, especially beneficial bacteria and fungi. It’s a bit like the concept behind the probiotics you would take for intestinal health, but applied to plants. By coating the roots or leaves of a plant with beneficial bacteria, the theory is that the bad guys—diseases like root rot or powdery mildew—can’t gain a foothold.

Enthusiasts say it is the secret to organic gardening success and can even wipe out serious diseases that have already gained a foothold. Skeptics say the claims about compost tea are based on anecdotal evidence and that scientific studies fail to show such positive results. For the final verdict, you’ll have to try it for yourself and see.

How to Brew Your Own

Brewing up a batch of compost tea is a fun weekend project that can only do good in the garden, even if it’s not a miracle cure. According to the experts, the key is to create an aerobic environment that will cause the best types of microbes to multiply in your tea (it’s also less stinky). The easiest way to oxygenate the brew is with a basic aquarium aerator (the type that connects to air stones with poly tubing) that can be found at any pet supply store.

Step 1: Place three or four air stones in the bottom of a five-gallon bucket and connect the tubing to the aerator. You may need to pick up a splitter valve (also called a gang valve) along with the aerator that allows several stones to run off of one device.

Step 2: Fill a five-gallon bucket one-third of the way with finished compost. Use the best quality compost possible—there should be no identifiable chunks of kitchen scraps, manure or other organic waste in it, just the crumbly brown stuff. The bottom of a compost pile is often the best place to find fully ‘finished’ compost.

Step 3: Add water to the bucket to within 2 or 3 inches of the top. It’s important not to use chlorinated municipal water, as the chlorine will kill the microbes. Rain water or well water are good options, but you can also dechlorinate city water by leaving it out in the sun for 24 hours. If you run the air stones in the water with the aerator, the chlorine will dissipate within an hour.

Step 4: Run the aerator in the compost slurry for two to three days, stirring the mix occasionally with a stick to encourage the substances in the compost to leach into the water.

Step 5: Filter the solids from the tea before using. If you’re applying the compost tea only on the ground, a filter with large holes is sufficient (a burlap bag will do). If you want to spray it on the leaves (if, for instance, you want to treat or prevent foliar diseases), you’ll need a finer filter, such as panty hose or an old pillow case. Simply hold the filter over another five gallon bucket and pour the mixture through it.

Step 6: Dilute the tea before applying at a ratio of one part tea to five or 10 parts dechlorinated water.

Step 7: Apply within several hours of turning off the aerator to prevent the mixture from becoming anaerobic and losing its potency. A spray bottle is sufficient for applying the tea to individual plants, but you’ll need a backpack sprayer (sold in garden centers for applying pesticides) if you’re going to apply it to the entire garden.

Compost Tea Tips

    • The best time to apply compost tea is in the early morning since the plants’ stomata close up once temperatures rise above 80 degrees. Stomata are concentrated on the undersides of the leaves, so make sure to spray from above and below.
    • Compost tea connoisseurs actually brew the tea differently depending on whether it will be used for annual and perennial plants versus woody shrubs and trees. The former prefer a bacteria-dominated tea, while the later prefer fungal tea. To encourage high concentrations of bacteria, add an ounce of unsulphured molasses to the bucket when you start the brew. For fungi-dominated tea, add a quarter cup of flour instead.
    • Kelp powder, rock dust, fish emulsion and other specialty amendments may be blended into the final product for an extra punch of nutrients. Serious compost tea makers may want to invest in a brewing kit, which automates the entire process with single prefabricated device. These range from five gallons in size for backyard gardeners to 500 gallons farm-scale units; costs range $75 to $10,000.
    • Or, for the convenience-minded gardener, many nurseries and garden centers now offer compost tea by the gallon. They do the brewing for you—just bring your own jug and take it straight home to your plants.

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Going green: Some simple tips for a lush garden

Whether it’s a just a vibrant pop of pretty petals you want added to the front of the home or a raised bed full of delicious fruits and vegetables, the return of warmer weather has many homeowners reaching for their gardening gloves.

If you’re ready to try out your green thumb or dust off the gardening skills you long ago acquired, there are plenty of ways to achieve the lush vegetation you desire. Check out these tips and tricks for cultivating a thriving and productive garden of any variety. 

Start with a plan. 

Different flowers and plants require different sun, soil and water needs. Keep these factors in mind and consult the seed packets to plan out where each should be placed. Many apps are available to take the guesswork out of gardening, helping you create a perfectly organized plant or flower bed. Some even offer reminders for watering, fertilizing and more.

Keep water in mind. 

Make sure your plan includes a close proximity from plant bed to the water supply. 

Be smart with soil.

Whether it’s a flower or vegetable garden bed or containers, the secret’s in the soil, where roots develop and sustain life. Invest in the proper tools to keep this foundation strong, such as Professional Soil Modifier from Profile Products, which improves water and nutrient retention, keeping vital elements in the root zone longer. For more information, visit

Plant close to home. 

If you have room, try to grow your plants as close to the home as possible. This makes watering less of a task, and also makes it easier to get to your precious vegetables when it’s time to harvest. 

A permanent solution. 

There’s no doubt that gardens require seasonal upkeep, but you can find some ways to ease the tasks. 

One such solution is Professional Soil Modifier from Profile Products, which permanently improves the root zone by adding air- and water-holding capacity in all types of soil (unlike peat that needs to be tilled into gardens each year.) The result is better drainage when it’s wet, better water-holding capacity when it’s dry, deeper root growth and healthier plants.

Label away.

Know exactly where you planted each seed with cute, natural labels. Simply use a permanent marker to mark each plant name on stones in front of each plant row. 

Be a green gardener. 

Always opt for eco-friendly, pesticide-free products to use in your garden, when possible. Products filled with chemicals can be harmful to animals when carried through the air with wind.

So, dust off that shovel, tighten up the hose and get to growing. Once you have the right plan in mind, you’ll be on your way to achieving the flower or fruit and vegetable garden of your dreams.

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Gardening column: Some nifty gardening tips This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of The News-Sentinel.

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