Happy Soil

Happy Soil
by Denny Morelli
(Notes from a recent talk at Medford Garden Club)

You can’t have good results in your garden if you don’t start with good soil. Top soils are made up of different components including plant and animal residue, moisture, air space and live soil dwelling organisms.

The best thing you can do for your garden is compost, compost and more compost.

Organic content provides food for growing plants, food for bacteria, fungi, earthworms and other beneficial organisms. A total organic content should be at least 6% of the top 4” – 6 “of top soil. It also provides a reservoir for moisture. Organic content also provides temperature stability and weed control.

This water reservoir prevents the tendency of over watering in the summer and the leaching out nutrients in rainy weather. Over watering can be a serious problem as it flushes out nutrients and increases pollution levels in our streams.

The timing and rate of releasing nutrients is important. Organic material helps to control the amount of fertilizer available at any given time. Air space created by the channels made by various organisms provides space for oxygen, moisture and plant roots. Do not rototill. Tilling the soil collapses this delicate structure. It is better to put a layer of 2” – 4” of compost on top early in the spring to let the nutrients sink in.

One problem in planting is that plants are usually planted too deep. Dig the hole, add some compost and plant the plant so it is higher than ground level, creating a small rounded berm. In time it will sink to the level of the ground.

Be careful where you buy compost. Most box store compost may be over a year old and have little nutrients left. Denny’s commercial formula is 40% forest material, including rotted wood, leave, moss and humus; 50% pasture material, including shredded alfalfa, grass and cover crops; 10% dairy goat & chicken manure; and nutrient supplements e.g. seed meal, kelp meal, high protein livestock feed, goat mils and trace elements. Do not use walnut leaves for mulch.

Fertilizers for home gardeners include fish emulsion, which works very fast but needs to be applied often; and Dr Earth, which takes a month to do any good. Be sure to look at the label; a lot of compost has too much magnesium. In the heat of the summer a layer of alfalfa, purchased at a feed store, protects the ground. Denny sells his compost from his farm. Read more here: http://www.ccountry.net/~compost/

Other good sources of compost are Hilton Landscape Central Point and the Grange Coop, who has an excellent compost called Green Planet Compost.

by Emilie Vest

How to Make Leaf Mold

Leaf mold is a connoisseur’s choice for soil conditioning. Its attributes significantly improve the quality of your soil by:

  • Retaining moisture in the soil ( it holds 50% of its own weight in water)
  • Improving soil structure by making rich humus soil
  • Reducing evaporation
  • Cooling roots and foliage during hot weather
  • Increasing beneficial soil life, such as earthworms and beneficial bacteria
  • Absorbing rainwater, reducing runoff

It’s simple to make, easy to use, effective…..and it’s free!

You can incorporate leaf mold directly into your garden soil or use it as mulch around your plants. You can mix it with potting soil for use in your container gardens.

So, if you have a tree, or several trees, on your property then you have what you need to make great garden soil.

Step-by-Step Guide to Making Leaf Mold : http://making-mulch-from-leaves

Do not use the following leaves for making leaf mold :

Walnut, plant growth inhibitor

Eucalyptus,plant growth inhibitor

Oak, takes longer to break down

Camphor laurel, plant growth inhibitor

Carlotta Lucas
AGC Blog Editor

Re-Think: Food Scraps

An Information Source for Reducing/Reusing/
Recycling and Beyond
November 2011

In the developed Western world 30% of all trash collected from households is food waste. When this biodegradable waste is placed in landfills it can not decompose, due to the lack of oxygen. So this food waste turns into methane gas, which in turn releases into our atmosphere and contributes to global warming. We can help reduce this problem by composting our food scraps.

Composting food in a “regular” yard waste compost bin can be tricky. If done incorrectly pest like rats, mice, raccoons, opossums and other critters will be attracted to your compost. But, if you use a food digester to compost food scraps, vermin will not be attracted to your yard while worms are diligently turning your scraps into an nutrient- rich fertilizer.

Food-waste Digester
You can buy a pre-made digester, like the Green-cone by Solarcone, or you can make an easy do-it-yourself food digester following the steps below.

How to build a homemade digester:

  • Purchase a 20-gal or 30-gal galvanized metal garage can with a tight fitting lid. Note: If the lid is not tight, use a bungee cord (or two) to secure the lid to the base, this helps keep raccoons and dogs out of your newly added food scraps. (Do Not Use a plastic can!)
  • In the bottom of the can drill 20-30 drain holes ¼ -inch diameter.
  • In the lower third of the can drill 20 more holes around the outside of the can. This “lower-third” will be covered by soil.
  • Dig a hole about 15 inches deep in a well-drained hole, about half the depth of the container. Drainage is important to assure your digester works properly. Gravel can be added to the bottom of the hole if you need better drainage.
  • Place the can in the hole and push the soil back in around the sides. Tamp it down with your foot, or a shovel.

Now your new digester is ready to use!

Using Your Digester

  • Collect food scraps and store them in a container in your kitchen, then once or twice a week, throw your food scraps into the food scrap digester.
  • Add a little soil after the scraps, this adds more microbes and helps composting. You can also cover scraps with leaves, course sawdust, straw or shredded newspaper, all these help eliminate smells and fruit flies. Grass clipping can be used too but they need to dry out first (brown) before adding to the digester.
  • A digester will fill in 6-12 months, depending on your food habits. It’s helpful to install two digesters, this way when the first one is full it can be composting while you’re using the second one. The first one will be ready to harvest by the time the second one is full.
  • A tip: Place masking tape on the outside of the can at the level of the compost mixture, using a permanent marker, write the date digester was full on the masking tape. Check inside the can occasionally to see how much the level has dropped, and how well the worms are doing their job.

Compost Uses
The compost can be used as mulch on established plants, as a soil amendment at planting time, and in potting mixes. Food scrap compost contains more nutrients than yard waste compost, so it should be used sparingly. Applied one-inch of compost as a mulch around plants. Two inches can be dug into garden soil and for a potting mix, add up to 20% food scrap compost to potting soil.

Composting food scraps is a great way to reduce and recycle. By keeping food scraps out of the landfills we not only reduce the production of methane gas, we also reduce the amount of plastic bags going into landfills. Composting food scraps also provide an insight into how much food we waste.

Do Compost

Don’t Compost!!

Vegetable scraps


Grains and pasta

Fish and poultry

Fruit rinds and peels



Oily foods

Coffee grounds, filters


Tea bags

Dairy products

Paper napkins & towels

Other animal products


Pet waste

Carlotta Lucas
AGC Blog Editor


Re-Think: WORMS! WOW!

An Information Source for Reducing/Reusing/
Recycling and Beyond

March 2011

Have you ever thought of worms in your laundry room?Wigglers in your office? Or heaven forbid- critters in your kitchen?!Pretty scary thought-right?Maybe not-listen to what I have to say and you might change your mind.

Let me introduce you to vermiculture.Vermiculture is a term used to describe worm composting.Worms eat organic waste and produce some of the best compost around, known as worm castings or vermicompost.During this process worms do an excellent job digesting food wastes, breaking them down into simple plant nutrients. These nutrients are immediately available to plants; something that every gardener (and plant)will love.Worm composting has other great advantages.It can be done indoors or outdoors and even provides apartment or condo dwellers a way of composting when outdoor space is limited.Basically, all you need is a container filled with moistened bedding and of course, worms.Add food waste to the mix and the worms and micro-organisms will convert the entire contents into wonderful compost.Pretty simple- huh?!

Ready to get started?Select a container.It can be either wood or plastic and should be between 8”-12” deep.Simply drill 8-112 holes (1/4”-1/2”) in the bottom of the container for aeration and ventilation (worms need air to survive).The bin also needsa cover to provide darkness for the wigglers and to conserve moisture.If the worm container will be kept indoors a sheet of dark plastic or cloth draped over the top will suffice.If the bin is placed outdoors a solid lid is preferable to discourage unwanted critters and to keep out the rain.Place the worm bin on wooden blocks or bricks and place a tray underneath to catch excess liquid which can then be used as a compost tea for plants.Worm bins can be placed indoors all year round with temperature between 40-80 degrees- ideal to keep worms happy.Any location will work; make it convenient for you.If you will be placing your bin outdoors it can be placed in shed and garages or on patios etc.Don’t place it in direct sunlight and keep in mind that it might need to be moved if temperatures drop below 40 degrees.

Now that you have prepared your bin and have selected a spot to put it, the next step is to provide bedding.Bedding can be shredded newspaper, chopped up straw, shredded fall leaves etc.Toss in a couple handfuls of sand or soil.This will provide grit to aid the worm’s digestive process.The next step is to moisten the bedding.Add water until the bedding feels like a wrung-out sponge and then fluff it up to create air spaces.Fill the bin about ¾ full with the moistened bedding.

Now you are ready for the worms!Don’t be tempted to add earthworms or night crawlers; these are very beneficial in other areas but not as vermiculture candidates.One of the best types of worms for vermiculture are red wigglers.I’ll include a local source for these at the end of this article.

Worms eat many of the foods that we eat.Some ideas on preferable foods for worms are vegetable scraps, fruit peels, tea bags, coffee grounds etc.Avoid meats, oily foods, dairy products or grains.

I have only provided basic vermiculture information here but hopefully it has been enough to peak your interest in starting a worm bin of your own.

Rhianna Simes, OSU Extension Land Steward Coordinator for Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation District, is a source of additional information on vermicultureSchedule an appointment with her and she will share her knowledge on maintenance, harvesting, answer all questions and even give you a tour of her worm bins!She also has red wigglers available for purchase so you can get started!You might also consider reading Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.It is an informative book that offers useful and practical ideas about worm composting and vermiculture.

Now- red wigglers in a bin in the corner of your laundry room eating your kitchen scraps and producingthe best compost EVER, doesn’t sound like such a bad idea after all- does it?!Just think of them as “pets” that your plants will love!

Carla DiFabion,
Master Recycler

Additional information:
Rhianna Simes
Land Steward Program Coordinator
OSU Extension Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation District rhianna.simes@oregonstate.edu

Worms Eat My Garbage
by: Mary Appelhof

Re-Think: Composting Leaves

Hello ACG members! Now that fall is upon us, many of those gorgeous leaves are falling in our yards. If you compost them- Great! But, if you are not set up with a compost area, here are some alternatives within our county. I didn’t list all of the cities, as most of our members live in Ashland and Phoenix. If you have questions about other cities within the county, please feel free to contact me.

Leaf Exchange Program – Jackson County Air Quality:
This program gives residents an alternative to burning leaves, which contributes to particulate matter in the air.

The organization compiles a contact list of people who have leaves to dispose of, and another list of those who are looking for leaves to compost. Leaf donors and leaf recipients can then contact each other and arrange for pick up and delivery of leaves.

To add your name to the list, contact Jackson County Air Quality 541-774-8207

Recology Ashland Sanitary Service:
Free Leaf Drop-off Days: Sundays Nov. 7th & 21st & Dec. 5th only. 9AM-5PM

RASS will accept leaves for free drop-off at the Recycling Center, corner of Water & VanNess Streets in Ashland.

Bags will need to be empitied and taken away. Branches and other yard debris are not accepted.

Cities of Ashland & Talent Leaf Collection:
Purchase 5 pre-paid bags for $14.50 at the Recology Ashland Sanitary Service office , 170 Oak St.

On trash collection day, during a green debris week, place bags at curb. Leftover bags can be used next year.

35# weight limit on bags. Leaves only. No branches or other yard debris. 541-482-1471

City of Phoenix Leaf Collection Day:
Monday Dec. 13th only; collection by Rogue Disposal

Bagged leaves only. Bags should be placed at the curb by 7AM

Leaves only; no other yard debris; weight limit 40# and should be tied.

More info: call Theresa at Phoenix Public Works 541-535-2226

Compost in your own backyard:
Year-round. Composting is easy inexpensive and fun.

Watch your leaves, grass clippings and other yard debris become a useful soil amendment.

Lots of instructions are available on the internet or contact OSU Extension Service

Jackson County Master Recycler Program 541-776-7371

Enjoy the beautiful colors of fall and also help divert leaves from storm drains, burn piles or the landfills.