Monday, October 20, 2014

How Long Does It Take Roundup to Dissipate from the Soil?

There are lot of home and garden products that a gardener can choose to use in the garden. Not all of them are good to use frequently and should only be used sparingly or not all all. Roundup is one of those types of chemicals. It accomplishes its goal very well but will leave residue in the soil. Here is a question I was asked this weekend about Roundup:

Q. I am a renter, 2-1/4 years at present location. Landlord sprayed roundup before I moved in, so I've done container gardening from day one (and got him to quit spraying). What is your opinion/guess on how long, if any, to let the ground lie fallow before raising food in it?

A. According to Monsanto (the maker of Roundup)in a document they published called Glysophate Half-life in Soil (link to PDF file) the half-life of glysophate is around 32 days. This can vary quite a bit due to soil conditions. Microbial activity can play a big factor. The more activity the faster the glysophate degradation. Soils with very little microbial activity have been found to retain measurable amounts of the chemical for 3 years after application.

A half-life is the amount of time it takes something to break down 50%. If the half-life is 32 days, then half of that amount will reduce in another 32 days. Essentially in 64 days you would be down to a quarter of the chemical. It would continue to break down over time. An example of a possible half-life break down would works as follows:

1 Day   32 Days   64 Days   96 Days   128 Days
100%  50% 25%  12.5%  6.25% 

To rectify a situation where glysophate has been used, I would recommend adding organic matter to the soil in the form of compost, mulch, or even a cover crop tilled into the ground. The more organic matter you add the better the situation is for microbes in the soil and the faster the glysophate will break down. 

Once sprayed in an area it may be a couple months before anything can be planted again in the same location. This depends on environmental factors related to the soil and weather conditions. 

After 2 1/4 years of no more use of glysophate at your current location the amount of glysophate in your soil should be almost completely gone based on the estimated half-life time. As a general guideline I would avoid Roundup products as much as possible and resort to natural or organic methods of weed removal.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How to Save Okra Seeds

It's time to put up the summer harvests and begin preparing for winter and next spring. One way to prepare for spring is to save seeds from plants you grew this year that you enjoyed so that you can grow it again next year. Okra is a southern garden favorite that is very easy to collect and save seeds from. There are only a couple steps to saving seeds from okra.

First A Little About Okra

Okra is botanically known as Hibiscus esculentus or Abelmoschus esculentus but we'll just keep it easy and call it okra. In it's most common culinary form here in the south okra is fried, but it can also be pickled or used in a variety of dishes. I grew two types of okra this year 'Bowling Red' and 'Star of David'. Both germinated great but neither of which grew well due to the grazing deer. Despite the deer I did manage to get a couple seed pods of the 'Bowling Red' variety. 'Bowling Red' grows 6-7 feet tall when not persistently grazed upon by wildlife.

Okra flowers are very similar in appearance to an ornamental hibiscus but are smaller in size. If sited in the right location okra can be a very nice edible ornamental plant!

How to Save Okra Seeds

  • Once pods form on your okra plant harvest a few for drying. 
  • Keep the pods in a dry location and let nature gradually do the work. 
  • When the pod is dry and crisp break it open. 
  • You should see several internal chambers where the seeds are located. Remove the seeds onto a plate or paper towel.
  • I like to save the seeds in a coin envelope, but plastic baggies, jars, and containers can work too.
  • Make sure you write the name of the Okra variety and the date on the outside of the envelope so you can keep track of the seeds. Old seeds will lose viability over of time.

That's all there is to saving okra seed. You can do the same procedure with ornamental hibiscus too. Do you grow okra? What do you like to use it for?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What You Shouldn't Do With Your Fall Leaves

Fall is well underway and we all know that with fall comes mountains of leaves! The beautiful color changes can quickly transition into a thick carpet of smothering leaves on the ground. Many homeowners are smart and use this natural resource in the garden but others do one thing that drives this gardener crazy. What is it that you shouldn't do with fall leaves? Burn them.

Why is burning leaves a bad thing? Two reasons: it releases pollutants into the air and it is extremely wasteful. Smoke and particulates get released into the air and decrease the air quality. Last year a neighbor burned his leaves and the wind brought the smoke right into my house. You don't want to breathe that kind of air.

fall leavesBurning leaves doesn't just cause pollution but it also wastes a valuable resource. Think about it. Have you ever been in a forest and looked at the dark, rich, and loamy soil? That doesn't happen by accident. It happens with years of leaves dropping and decaying on the forest floor. Microbes, insects, worms, and other creatures break the leaves down into forms that the plants in the forest can use. The leaves free up nutrients as they break down and help to replenish the soil. It's compost.

Now think about those leaves working for you in your garden! When used as a mulch the leaves act just as they do in the forest and gradually break down while smothering weeds. What if you put those leaves into your compost bin with all the kitchen scraps and yard waste from fall? You would end up with rich and loamy compost in the spring to spread around your vegetable garden, trees, herbs, or even potted plants.

Gathering leaves can for garden use can be done in several ways. One of my favorite ways is to use the bagging pushmower I have to grind the leaves first. Then I take the bag and empty it out over the compost bin or in a garden bed I want to mulch. Raking the leaves can be fun for the whole family. Who doesn't remember the smell of crushed leaves after jumping into a huge pile of leaves in the backyard? It's a fall tradition! It's also a great workout.


If you don't want to do either of those methods then simply mow the leaves into the yard. Mowing will help the leaves break down faster and will prevent the grass from being smothered.

If you have too many leaves get in touch with some gardener friends and see if they would help you in exchange for some of the leaves. They might jump at the chance! If you need more reasons to use your leaves check out these 10 uses for fall leaves. Whatever you do, just don't burn the leaves!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Light Up the Night with a Backyard Fire Pit and Solar Lights!

In the fall there are several iconic thoughts that spring to mind of most people. Cool crisp days evoke good feelings and memories created around fall festivals, apple cider, holidays, and other fall activities. One way to share the fall experience with your family is to add a backyard fire pit. What could be better than a cool crisp evening around the campfire with friends and family while roasting marshmallows and making smores? A simple backyard fire pit is an easy project that you can put together to add another special memory making activity to your fall events! (All materials for this project were provided by Lowe's through Lowe's Creative Ideas.)

Keep safety in mind while building your fire pit. You need it to be far enough away from your house so that smoke or a large fire won't cause damage. You also need to keep the safety of small children in mind.

To build my firepit I used 28 concrete retaining wall blocks, 16 plain gray concrete paving stones, and 2-3 bags of base sand. This made a fire pit that is approximately 4 feet wide on all sides.

First clear out any grass or plant material that is in the fire pit's location. I chose my location then put together the first layer of outside stones to make sure that the outline of the stones fits in the area. I cleared out a little extra area. Once the area was cleared sufficiently I added a layer of sand. I spread it out evenly then placed the concrete paving stones on it. The paving stones will allow me to clear the firepit from time to time easily with a shovel.

Clear the sod and plant material for your firepit location.

Add a base layer of sand underneath the pit for stonework.

Set the firepit stones around the area

After the paving stones were placed I built the outside edge of the fire pit using the retaining wall blocks. I stacked the second layer of blocks after the first to make a fire pit that was 1 foot deep.

While the firepit was finished I still had a few things I wanted to do. Every fire pit needs seating, so I built a few simple seats by stacking a large retaining wall block on top of two smaller ones. These seats are simple to make and very rustic - perfect for a campfire!

A Simple seat made from stone retaining wall blocks.

I also wanted to light up the area so that the perimeter of the fire pit area was easy to see around obstacles. I used some solar lights, rebar, 1/2" conduit, little paint, and dome shaped pots to create some outdoor lighting. I cut the conduit into 4' and 6' pieces which I then painted a hammered copper color. I also painted the inside of the dome shaped pots a reflective silver color and the outside the same copper color. I even painted a few of the solar lights to match the copper look. 

After the paint was dry I cut holes in the bottom of the pots to allow the larger sized solar lights to poke through.There was a lip on the lights where the pots could hang. The stake ends of the solar lights fit perfectly into the painted conduit. Once all the lights were made I could hammer in the 24" pieces of rebar where I wanted the lights and placed the conduit over them. 

The reflective dome lights direct the light toward the ground and cover a 10-12 foot diameter around each light. This makes the light they provide more functional than it would be if they were just placed at ground level.

The lights create safety around the fire pit area so that we can move around and enjoy those crisp autumn nights!