August 12, 2012

Gardening, composting workshop offered

Richard Gast, Cornell Ag Connection

---- — This is a busy time of year at Cooperative Extension. As many of you know, from mid-July to mid-August, time not spent answering backyard gardening, landscape and field-crop questions is dedicated to the county fair and to the success of our devoted 4-H youth. It’s the time when Extension offices across the region receive frequent inquiries from individuals with little or no gardening experience. We also hear from seasoned gardeners encountering problems that they have not seen before.

During my 12 years at Extension, I have gardened with schoolchildren, at-risk youth, the elderly and people with limited mobility. I have seen the potential that all people have for learning, for transformation, for shaping their environment and for success. I have also had the good fortune of knowing several devoted gardeners who have crafted remarkable home gardens for years. They remain a constant source of inspiration.

One such gardener is among our new group of first-year Master Gardener volunteers. He is graciously preparing to open his impressive gardens to the public, but only for a couple of hours at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25. On that day, he will be offering a lively, informative tour of the exceptional gardens that he tends at his home in Rainbow Lake. This includes a 400-foot-long landscaped border of succulent-covered rocks and his “Funny Farm” garden, a one-acre circular garden located within the shelter of a pine forest and comprised of all sorts of unusual flowers, ornamental grasses and garden vegetables (giving the term crop circle a whole new meaning). Everyone is welcome.

Like many gardeners, this Master Gardener is also an avid composter. He uses low-cost, money-saving, easy-to-make composting bins that anyone should be able to recreate at home. He’d like to show you how to make them or other types of simple composting bins. He’d also like to show you just how easy and rewarding it can be to compost successfully.

People sometimes ask, “Why should I compost?” The simple answer is environmental stewardship. Yard waste (grass, leaves, tree and brush trimmings) accounts for 13.2 percent of the municipal solid waste in this country, slightly more than food, which accounts for 12.7 percent. In fact, according to EPA, organic materials — yard trimmings, food waste, wood waste and paper and paperboard products — encompass the largest component of our trash and make up more than two-thirds of this nation’s solid-waste stream.

All gardeners recognize the nearly miraculous value of composting. Amending soils with good-quality compost can improve the structure and texture of almost any soil enabling it to better retain nutrients, moisture and air. When compost is added to clay soils, it binds to the extremely fine clay particles, forming larger particles and creating larger air spaces, which promotes better surface water drainage and air penetration. In loose, sandy soil, compost helps to bind particles together, thereby increasing the soil’s ability to retain moisture and nutrients. Adding healthy compost to any soil encourages beneficial microorganisms that help plants stay stronger and healthier. And as it breaks down, the compost feeds plants organically.

In my years of working at Extension, I have come to respect and admire Master Gardeners. Perhaps the only thing they enjoy more than gardening is talking about gardening with fellow enthusiasts and helping novice gardeners succeed. I’ve found that their knowledge comes from both books and experience, but their love of gardening and teaching comes straight from the heart.

Being invited into a noteworthy, private garden is more than an opportunity. After all, a lot of time and hard work goes into preparing and maintaining large gardens, especially those that create a strikingly unique environment. In my mind, just being allowed in is a privilege. And I’m sure those attending will be eager to express their appreciation for his having opened the gardens for public viewing.

I also want to thank the team of Master Gardener volunteers who will join him to offer a short introductory workshop on home composting. Those Master Gardener volunteers will also be available to answer any garden, lawn and landscape questions that you may have.

There is no charge, but registration is limited and you must register in advance by calling 561-7450 or 483-7403; or by email at Directions will be provided when you register.

Master Gardeners will be available to answer questions about garden planning, choosing varieties, pH and soil testing, planting, caring for or harvesting your garden. They can also address questions about lawns, garden soils, insects, possible disease problems, gardening in raised beds, late-season vegetable crops and extending the garden season with cold frames, row covers and mulches.

Through this type of education, community outreach and participation, Extension is living up to its mission of building strong and sustainable New York communities.

Richard L. Gast, Extension program educator II, horticulture, natural resources, energy, agriculture programs assistant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Call 483-7403, fax 483-6214 or email