Why You Should Use Old Mushroom Compost in Your Garden

There are many kinds of compost. But the easiest to use has got to be kinds which are already composted! There is no need to wait, churn the pile, or any of that if the soil amendment is already ready for use.

Spent mushroom substrate, aka mushroom soil or mushroom substrate, is a great organic soil additive. This is special soil in which edible mushrooms have been grown. Fortunately, after the mushrooms are done growing, there is still a lot of good in this compost, so it’s great to just turn it into the soil in the main garden. Mushroom-growing soil is generally made of things like ground coconut hulls, hay, ground-up corn cobs, poultry manure, straw, and cottonseed meal. By the time it’s sold as mushroom compost, it’s already been composted and is dark and scent-free.

Benefits of using old mushroom-growing soil include:

Recycling. Since mushrooms can only be grown in it once, it’s usually just thrown out by mushroom growers once their crops are done with it. But a vegetable garden will still get plenty of good from it. Since it’s renewable, it’s a good alternative to peat moss, which doesn’t always come from “farmed” bogs.

It adds organic material to the soil. Like all good compost, it becomes humus as it decomposes. It helps with drainage and with breaking up clay soil. If you put a lot into your garden, you can get nice loamy soil. A 3 to 6-inch thick application should last between 2 and 5 years in a vegetable garden. But for container plants, you may need to add a top layer in just a few months, due to the fact that organic matter breaks down, and the layer added to containers probably won’t be as thick as it would be if you applied it outdoors.

Mushroom compost adds drought resistance. The soil’s capacity to hold water is increased by compost. Yet at the same time, it allows proper aeration and drainage. Mushroom compost is especially good for this, because the fungal activity left over from growing the mushrooms creates an extra barrier against drought and heat. This saves water costs, especially in arid regions.

Mushroom compost helps control garden pests. It has a lot of microbial activity, which helps encourage beneficial insects and earthworms. It also helps discourage disease. This will help you reduce your use of potentially dangerous chemicals.

Some fungi can make your plants grow faster. Beneficial fungus, specifically mycorrhizae, live synergistically with plants and can result in rapid growth. Since “spent” mushroom compost was used to grow fungi (the mushrooms), it is full of good fungi. It’s only considered “spent” because the edible parts of the mushrooms have been harvested. There are a lot of microscopic fungi left behind. Mushroom compost is naturally low in nitrogen, so it doesn’t encourage overly leafy growth. This makes it ideal for non-leaf vegetables and for flowers, as well.

There are no weeds in it. Mushrooms need to be grown in sterile compost. So, the leftover compost is free of both weeds and pathogens. This makes it perfect mulch for pretty much everything, as well as a good soil amendment. You can be sure you aren’t unwittingly importing weeds when you use this.

It smells good. If made right, it doesn’t stink. It actually smells a bit sweet. And once it’s put into the ground, all odor soon disappears. This can be quite refreshing to those who are used to smelling the stink of horse, cow, or chicken manure!

February 5, 2012
Posted in Landscaping — Knowledge Buff @ 7:46 PM

How to Grow Grapes for Wine

The taste of wine is directly dependent on the quality of the grapes. Therefore, the planting and growing of the grapes is the primary factor in producing good wine.

The biggest factor for the planting part is the location. Grapes need the right kind of soil and a spot which gets plenty of light. The sunlight must also be even, rather than there being a shady side. This is what allows the grapes to fill with the sugar which will later be fermented into alcohol.

Grape vines don’t like to be too wet. Therefore, avoid planting them near drainage systems, areas where puddles form, or other sources of too much water. You won’t need to worry much about nutrition, because smaller grapes are better for making wine. If the soil is very poor, supplement it with compost rather than other fertilizer. Dig a large hole for the vines, so they have a good amount of loosened soil around them for proper drainage. Plant them next to a trellis, because they will need one to climb on as they grow.

For a large crop, vines should be in rows about 8 feet apart. For smaller vines, you can go with 6 feet. Birds and insects like grapes and have a good chance of causing you to have a smaller-than-expected crop. Even though one vine is ideally good for a gallon of wine, it is wise to plant a few spare vines just in case something else decides to eat the grapes before you get to them.

For the first year, vines should be tied to the trellis with string rather than wire. Wire can damage your vines. Clip off extra shoots which may sprout up from the roots of the grape vines. It is important to prune the grapes again once they go dormant. In the spring, choose the most rigid shoots and tie them up. Only tie these shoots loosely to the trellis as they grow. These shoots will become the “arms” of the vines. The fruits will grow from these shoots in the coming years.

For harvesting, you will need a hydrometer. This instrument tells you the gravity of the liquids in the grapes. This, in turn, will let you know their sugar content. The best gravity reading is between 1.095 and 1.105, with the higher figure being preferred. When you have an acceptable gravity, it’s time to harvest. You can get a hydrometer from a winemaking shop either online or locally.

Growing grapes and processing them into wine takes a lot of time, as well as effort. Planting the grapes is just the start. But with a good attitude and dedicated attention, it can be quite rewarding.

Posted in Landscaping — Knowledge Buff @ 7:43 PM

An Organic Garden Starts with Organic Seeds

You’ve had your soil tested, and know it’s “clean”—uncontaminated in any way. But the picture isn’t complete unless you plant organic seeds which haven’t been treated with pesticides or other unnatural chemicals. You also probably want to be sure the seeds haven’t been genetically modified.

You may be wondering how you can be sure your seeds have been organically grown. It’s highly unlikely that you would find any specially-(un)treated seeds at your local discount store or even the average garden center. Instead, you’ll probably have to order them via specialty seed catalogs. These catalogs may be dedicated to organic seeds, or have a section of certified-organic offerings. Look for a company which labels the seeds they grow or that can legitimately say they are certified-organic growers. Some even have certified non-GMO seeds.

There are specific labels which seed suppliers, especially those who cater to serious gardeners or commercial farmers, will use to designate the types of seeds they have. There are U (untreated), OP (open-pollinated), O (organic) and H (heritage) designations, among others.

Untreated seeds are simply regular seeds which have not been treated with harmful chemicals. Whatever immunities normally come with the plant are all that the seeds have. This can be fine in the case of hardy, robust varieties. With other varieties, it may be better to start them off inside, in sterile soil.

These seeds may or may not be organic. They make no warranties as to what kind of soil the parent plants were grown in, or anything of that nature. It just means that the seeds themselves weren’t treated.

Organic seeds, on the other hand, are from plants which were grown using organic techniques.

Open-pollinated seeds have good and bad aspects. Non-hybrid, open-pollinated types are good because you can save the seeds from the plants they become, and you will get plants of the same quality the next year. On the other hand, hybrid seeds are usually more vigorous and disease-resistant. But hybrids often do not stay true to type from one generation to the next. Sometimes they will be substantially the same for a few generations, so it is not like they are worthless for saving by any means. But eventually, the descendents of hybrid seeds will usually return to field quality.

Heritage seeds are harder to find, and usually are not available in the big seed catalogs. The varieties denoted as “heritage” are very old types of plants. Often, the seeds have been passed down through generations, and are made available by those who don’t want their favorite varieties to go extinct. Some heritage-seed lovers are also interested in preserving the genetic diversity of plants.

Many times, people who like heritage plants and seeds will be willing to exchange seeds so they can enlarge their collection.

If you want to help conserve and enhance the diversity of open-pollinated plants by exchanging seeds, there are a couple of organizations you may want to contact. In the United States, try the Seed Savers’ Exchange, at 3026 N. Winn Rd., Decorah, Iowa, 52101.

In Canada, go to Seeds of Diversity Canada, Box 36, Stn. Q, Toronto, Ontario, M4T 2L7.

There are many options for organic gardening, and these ideas can help you with a quest to be “totally organic” right down to the tiniest little seed.

Posted in Landscaping — Knowledge Buff @ 7:41 PM

How to Install Modular Concrete Retaining Walls

Landscape retaining walls which appear to be made of custom-poured brick have become very popular in some areas, including mine. This was surprising, since many contractors advertised prices in the thousands of dollars for installation of setups which looked the same. I doubted that so many people were suddenly able to spend that kind of money on landscaping! The blocks come in various natural shades like brown and terra-cotta, give many textures to choose from, and are offered in various shapes so your wall can follow pretty much any outline. Today I found out the secret: They are really do-it-yourself modular concrete retaining walls.

Modular concrete retaining walls are far easier to install than regular brick ones. They do not need professional-level masonry skills to get a good result, thereby allowing people to install them themselves without. This is because the “bricks” of modular concrete are specially made to stack up neatly, without mortar. Therefore, if you can get the first row in properly, the rest will be right, too. Modular concrete retaining wall blocks are made to lean slightly, to help hold up the soil they are there to retain. The very first layer, however, should be straight. The blocks are made so they will automatically take the proper angle as more rows are installed.

For this reason, the preparation of the base is the most important part of installing a modular concrete retaining wall. Starting inside a trench of undisturbed soil, you will need to add a layer of compacted base material from 4 to 6 inches deep, and then top it with a 1-inch layer of dry sand. The base material can be bought pre-mixed from a local sand and gravel company. It should have varying sizes of crushed rock, mixed with what is called “fines”—sand and rock dust which allows the mix to pack densely.

Before continuing to install the modular concrete retaining wall, make sure the base material is level and evenly compacted. First put some stakes around the edges of the bed to show where the finished height should be. Then, for a small project, such as a wall to surround a tree, you can use a hand tamper to compact the base material. If the project is large, you can rent a gas-powered vibrating plate compactor. Once it’s compacted, use a screen board to level the sand layer to the height of the stakes.

The second main segment of the project is to install the actual modular concrete retaining wall blocks. First, run a level string line between two end stakes. Now, start setting the all-important first course of blocks. As you work, use a 4-foot carpenter’s level and a torpedo level to ensure that you keep the blocks properly aligned. Once you have the first course in, pack soil up to the top of the blocks to keep them from being able to shift.

As you add more courses of blocks, backfill the trench with crushed rock. Make sure not to use smooth or rounded stones. This will allow rapid water drainage, prevent shifting, and reduce the pressure of the soil against your modular concrete retaining wall.

Some modular concrete retaining wall systems have “cap” blocks you can install on completed walls, while others do not. If you have caps to put on, you can use two beads of masonry adhesive to hold them in place. These blocks can be installed flush with the course below, or offset.

Once you are all done, stand back and admire your new modular concrete retaining wall. Now you, too, have a wall which looks like it cost you a boatload of money! But instead of big bills, you have the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself, and still got professional-looking results.

November 10, 2010
Posted in Landscaping — Knowledge Buff @ 4:37 PM