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Monday, August 24, 2015

Red Leaves on Rhubarb - Disaster or Not?

Well, the MSU Extention folks have come to the rescue again! So it's myth busting time! 

I had noticed that some of the leaves on the rhubarb plants that I planted this spring were turning red in spots and around the edges.

Of course, my first response to this problem was to Google it.  Unfortunately, the answers that I found online varied greatly from "pull the affected leaves off and clean up around the plant" to "It's a virus! Pull it out now before all your other plants are affected!!!!!" The sources of information also seemed unclear.  None cited research.  None cited their own credentials as an expert.  So, I decided not to spaz out and rip up my plants.  Instead I called my local extension hotline... because I KNOW they are experts.

I actually spoke to one of my Master Gardener class instructors.  I told her what I found on the internet.  To which she responded with the fabulous quote:

"Most of the advice on the internet is crap. Any idiot who can type in English can post information on the internet -- and they do!"

The truth of this made me laugh.  It may seem ironic that I am mentioning this, being a blogger and all... but it really is true!  Please be careful with ANY advice/information that you find on the internet.  When in doubt, consult a known expert in the field!

Feel free to even doubt me! If I ever post any information that you believe to be dubious, please consult an expert.  Then, if you have time, please comment on the post and let me know what you learned - and who/what your informational source was!

I also want to call on my readers, fellow bloggers, and folks who like to respond to posts on the internet to respond to others questions accurately.  Please do not post information that you are not certain of!  Your grandma is not necessarily a good source of information, neither is your momma, your friend Martha, or the last post you read on the topic in Facebook. Please make sure that your information comes from either A. scientific research, B. formal education in the topic, C. advice from someone else who has had formal education in the topic, or D. years of your own expert experience.  If you want to post an opinion, that is ok.  But please consider stating clearly that what you are saying is opinion rather than fact. 

Please also cite your source!  If there is no credit given, or explanation of how you know what you know, then this is a BIG RED FLAG that you may be talking out of your @$$.

But back to the point about the rhubarb:  The red leaves are not a problem this time of year (August) in Michigan.  It is NOT a virus.  It is just a color change in response to weather changes.  I was advised to keep the plant well watered, well mulched and in full sun (all of which I am doing.) 

Rhubarb can have problems.  There can be mold, root rot and other issues. If you happen to see these changes in addition to red leaves, please call your local extension office for advice.  But if you see red leaves on an otherwise healthy looking plant - you just have a healthy plant! Don't sweat it!

I hope this helps someone out there!  Happy planting! :)


Use Your Surplus Harvest To Help Others

Spread the word to help the hungry! If you have extra fruits or veg you can drop them off at these carts:

One is at 220 S. Howell Rd Pinckney, MI.

Another is in Howell at Gleaners Food Bank 5924 Sterling Dr. Howell, MI off of Dorr Rd.

Others may be scattered throughout Livingston County. 

For more information, please contact Livinston Hunger Council:

Don't live in Livingston County, MI?
Do a google search for soup kitchens, food distribution centers, charities or churches in your area.  These organizations may accept your donations. Or start your own free food cart!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Make Compost Tea (as easy as 1,2,3!)

2016 Addendum:  As Oprah says, "When you know better, you do better..."  

Since posting this, I have learned that research has shown that compost tea may not be as useful as advertised.  There is some question as to how many and what type of bacteria it adds to the soil, and whether the nutrient content is as effective as just mulching with compost.  There is also a risk with spraying the tea onto leaves that you are going to eat - it may spread bacteria over the plants that could cause disease in humans.

On the other hand, there is some evidence that spraying plants with compost tea may have an effect on whether a plant can stand up to certain diseases.  Compost tea may also help to improve plant growth if the plants are set in very poor soil.

With these pro's & con's in mind, I would suggest the following: 

1. Always work to improve the soil first by adding organic material (compost, manure etc.) directly to the soil first.   This is likely all you need to do.

2. If you choose to use compost tea anyway, please avoid spraying it over plants that you eat.  It would be awful to contract an e. coli infection (or other infection) from eating a plant covered in bacteria from compost tea! Perhaps consider only using it on inedible perennials that could use a health boost... and then only with caution. Wash your hands well after use, and avoid spraying at a time when children and pets may be around the sprayed plants.

For more information about this please see:

 Alberta Urban Garden:
Does Compost Tea Work?
Does Compost Tea Work? - 2 

Linda Chalker-Scott Wisconsin State University:
The Myth of Compost Tea part 1  
The Myth of Compost Tea part 2
The Myth of Compost Tea part 3


Compost tea makes a great nutrient enhancer for your garden.  It is a "liquid feed" that adds nitrogen, micronutrients and beneficial bacteria to the soil.  To apply it, you just water your plants with it.

Making it is also simple.


1 bucket

2 cups of compost and/or manure. (See my previous bog post for sources of free compost.)

1 6"x6" (give or take) piece of permeable cloth (cheese cloth or burlap work well)

1/4 cup molasses (ok to substitute sugar, corn syrup or honey)


Water -- Note: If you have city water, do
 NOT use water straight from the tap because it contains chlorine that may kill off the composting bacteria. Use either rain water, or water that has sat overnight in a bucket so that the chlorine can evaporate.

Fish tank bubbler (optional)


First, collect about 2 cups of compost and place it in a square of cloth.

Next, tie the cloth shut with string to form a giant compost "tea bag" and tie it so it is dangling into a bucket.

Then, add about 1/4 cup of molasses to the bucket and fill it to the top with water. (The molasses provides sugar to feed the bacteria as well as some micronutrients.) 

Let the mixture steep for at least 48 hours.  

OPTIONAL: If you have a fish tank bubbler, you can use it to add oxygen to the mixture. This will help the bacteria proliferate more quickly.

Once the mixture has finished steeping, you can either apply it directly to the garden, or store it in jugs for later use.

Happy gardening!

MI Free Compost

 Need an idea about how to amend your soil cheaply?  Here are the 4 ways that I obtain compost, as well as some additional suggestions:

My 4 Free Compost Sources:

1. I make my own compost in bins from a mix of waste kitchen scraps, egg shells, weeds and fall leaves. I punched holes in the sides of 2 old trash cans and add my scraps to these. This is a slow composting method, because the piles are not large and do not get turned often, but it works!

2. I also compost in a worm bin. The "300 Hermans" munch on shredded paper and food scraps to produce nutrient rich worm castings. Check out my post to learn how to start your own worm bin:

3. The staff at Brighton Rec Stables have been kind enough to let me recycle their horse/goat/alpaca manure. I shovel it into garbage bags and bring it back to my garden. Gregarious animals are the ultimate compost factories if you think about it.  Plant matter goes in one end and compost comes out the other!  It is best to let manure rot for a while to avoid "burning" plants with excess nitrogen.  A few weeks in the hot sun is usually long enough to wait.  The manure should be crumbly and dry before use as the urine moisture is the main source of nitrogen -- nitrogen is what may "burn" the plants.  This "burning" is not as big a concern as some people think, however.  Manure has a nitrogen level around 10 to 12 when fresh. Farmers use fertilizers with nitrogen levels up to 15. People often buy 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 fertilizers for their lawn.  So, unless you have a very nitrogen sensitive plant, or you bury your plant in an overly- large pile of manure, you should not have a problem.  Simply let the manure dry, and add an inch or so to the soil surface, an inch or two distance from the plant stem ( to avoid stem rot). Or, work a couple inches of the manure into the soil before planting.

4. Starbucks gives away free coffee grounds to anyone who asks for them. Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK: 2.1-0.3-0.3) as well as magnesium, copper, calcium, zinc and iron.   For pracitical applications, I recommend adding about 1/4 inch or so to the soil surface as top dressing, or working up to an inch or so into the soil before planting. Contrary to popular belief, coffee grounds will NOT acidify your soil. They actually have the same pH as ordinary bagged garden soil from your local big box store (approximate pH of 6.8 -- remember pH 7 is neutral).  If you want to acidify your soil, I suggest adding sulfur and/or peat moss. If your soil is too acidic, I suggest adding lime or a limited/careful amount of wood ash. Fertilizing with coffee will not make much difference unless you bury your garden in the stuff.

Other Free Compost Suggestions:

1. Live near or work in a restaurant? I bet they have a ton of waste food scraps and/or coffee grounds that you could ask for.

2. Live near or work in a hair salon? Hair makes great compost! Just make sure to avoid dyes or processed hair scraps - those contain chemicals.

3. Got chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs or other veggie-eating pets? Their pellets and waste bedding make great compost. 

WARNING: Do NOT use dog or cat poop. Their stool carries diseases such as toxoplasmosis and others that can be a risk to humans. Unsure if your pet's stool is safe to compost? Ask your veterinarian for advice.

4. Live near a lake or ocean? Washed up seaweed makes good compost. But please, only take what is already dead. Do not harm plants living in the environment.

5. Is your neighbor throwing out fall leaves? Take them home with you! Leaf mold makes great mulch and compost.

6. Generally, grass clippings should be left on your lawn to fertilize the lawn. But if you are knocking down a thick, over-grown field, save the grass clippings! They make a nitrogen-rich compost.

7. Some cities, counties and trash dumps make free or cheap compost as part of their recycling program. Google your local municipality to see if this is available to you.

8. Are you a fishmonger, or do you live near one?  Fish skeletons and left over bits make good compost once they rot. Just be sure to compost these in a bin that you can secure against raccoons and other vermin that may enjoy fish.  Also place your bin downwind, as it may stink!

9. Human urine is also high in Nitrogen.  It can be diluted and poured on the soil.  This is generally safe as long as the person producing the urine does not have a urinary tract infection. 

DO NOT use human stool! Human stool contains e-coli, cholera and other nasties that spread disease.  It takes over 10 years for human stool to break down enough to be safe as a manure - so just skip it, okay!?!

Remember: Compost is best to apply in late fall to help protect over-wintering plants (like mulch) or early spring.  It can also be added to any new garden bed as part of preparation for planting.

I hope that these ideas are helpful. Now get out there and dig!

Make hay while the sun shines!