How To: Compost an Excess of Leaves

Molly & grandkids playing in leavesDo not burn those leaves! They are a very necessary part of building soil. Their composition adds rich humus as they break down and the nutrients they contain are released back into the soil to feed plants.

Leaves are composted naturally in all wild and neglected environments. Just look at what happens in a forest.

And we can do the same in our own gardens…even speed up the process a little by shredding the leaves first with a leaf shredder, a mulching lawn mower, or a rotary push mower.

Step 1: Prepare an area to compost your leaves. Lay a tarp or piece of heavy plastic on the ground or in the bottom of one of your compost bins.

Step 2: Add nitrogen. This can be lawn clippings, manure, seaweed, or a nitrogen supplement. (See list below.)

  • If using lawn clippings: lay down roughly three inches of leaves first, then sprinkle the clippings evenly over top until this layer measures an inch.
  • If using manure: lay down roughly four inches of leaves first, then sprinkle the manure evenly over top until this layer measures an inch.
  • If using seaweed: lay down roughly three inches of leaves first, then sprinkle the seaweed evenly over top until this layer measures an inch.
  • If using a nitrogen supplement: add a dusting to one wheelbarrow load of leaves. Lay down wheelbarrow load of leaves first, then sprinkle the nitrogen supplement sparingly over top.

Step 3: Build up your heap of leaves in increments following the amounts noted in Step 2. Cover the heap with plastic to keep warmth in and the moisture constant.

Step 4: Remove the plastic and turn the heap every now and then. This will re-generate heat within the pile which aids in composting. How frequently you turn the pile will determine how fast your heap of leaves will compost down into rich humus material.

 

Nitrogen supplements: use any one of these if you do not have enough grass clippings on hand or easy access to a manure or seaweed source. Follow directions in Step 2.

Plant-based:

  • Alfalfa meal
  • Coffee grounds
  • Cottonseed meal
  • Soybean meal

Araneus trifolium (pumpkin spider)

Araneus trifolium - pumpkin spider

Araneus trifolium          Family: Araneidae
(uh-RAY-nee-us  tri-fohl-EE-um)
Common name: pumpkin orb weaver spider; shamrock orb weaver spider
Adult size: 
excluding legs: 0.8 inches (2 cm)
including legs: 1.5 – 1.75 inches (3.8 – 4.5 cm)
Life cycle: one generation per year
Type: beneficial   

 

pumpkin spider - frontal close up

Description: Abdomen colour of the pumpkin spider is variable…white, yellow, orange or brown. No matter the colour, there is a smattering of small white dots marking their back and several dark round indentations. Another distinct identifying feature are the white and brown bands on their legs. They also have bristles running the length of each leg, as well as a third claw on their “foot” which helps them manipulate their silk as they are weaving and to walk across their web. These spiders have the trademark number of eight eyes…two rows of four…but their vision is surprisingly poor.

pumpkin spider building bowerFemales are quite a bit larger than males, as is typical in other spider species. The abdomen of the female is spherical growing larger as she nears time to lay her eggs. Come mid-September, the female lays anywhere from several hundred to a thousand eggs in one or more egg sacs or cocoons, roughly 3 cm (1.2 inches) wide. These cocoons are often called a bower, or a retreat, and can be found roughly one metre (39 inches) off the ground…typically made up of seed heads or grass strands woven together with the spider’s silk. The female will guard her eggs until the winter temperatures eventually drop low enough to kill her. The eggs over-winter in their bower and tiny spiderlings emerge in spring. Each spiderling is capable of spinning a tiny replica of its parents’ web.

Pumpkin spiders prey on insects, usually paralysing whatever gets caught in their web with a toxic bite and then wrapping it for eating it later. If the insect is itself venomous, the pumpkin spider will wrap it first and then paralyse it with its bite.

 

Special Notes: Native throughout much of North America. They are not often seen in spring due to their small size upon hatching. However, as they grow, particularly the larger females, they are spotted more frequently in late summer and autumn. Beneficial insect for pest control.

While the pumpkin spider’s bite is toxic to insects, it is rarely of consequence to humans. The exception is those people who have more sensitive immune systems or sensitive skin.

 

In our Zone 7a garden: The cross orb weaver spider, Araneus diadematus, is much more common in our garden but every now and again a pumpkin spider appears sometime in August. Most recently, a female appeared at our compost bins mid-August 2017. She, or another female pumpkin spider built a bower in a few strands of our silver maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis var. canadensis ‘Cosmopolitan’ in the second week of September. The female remained on guard of her eggs until the first week of October when the temperatures dipped to 0.5 °C (32.9 °F) and -1.0 °C (30.2 °F) two nights in a row.

pumpkin spider gathering grass strands for her bower

 

 

pregnant pumpkin spider guarding her bower

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: The camera lens cap next to the female pumpkin spider gives some representation to her size. The lens cap is 2 inches (5.2 cm) across.

pumpkin spider size comparison

 

Posted on October 11, 2018

Malus domestica ‘Akane’

'Akane' apple

Malus domestica ‘Akane’         Family: Rosaceae
(ah-KAH-nay)
Common name: ‘Akane’ apple; ‘Tokyo Rose’; ‘Prime Red’
Zone: 4
Origin: Japan, 1937
Parents: ‘Jonathan’ x ‘Worcester Pearmain’
Introduced: 1970
Harvest: late August – September

cluster of 'Akane' applesDescription: Fruit is on the small to medium size with a slight flattening to its conical shape. Colour is a greenish-yellow with wonderful red blushing spreading over top. Flesh is white; taste is a mix of tart with an overture of sweet. It is self-sterile; needs another apple species for pollination. Decent resistance to scab, mildew, fireblight, and cedar apple rust. Codling moth and aphids can be problematic.

 

Special Notes: Developed at the Morika Experimental Station in Japan in 1937 but was not introduced globally until 1970. This apple typically ripens early in the mid-season range of the harvest period…usually in September. Good eating and cooking apple with a firm texture, keeping its shape throughout cooking. Good keeper if kept in cold storage at 4 °C (39 °F). Outside of cold storage, ‘Akane’ will only keep for 2-3 weeks.

 

branch of 'Akane' applesIn our Zone 7a garden: ‘Akane’ is just one of six branches on our three-tiered espalier apple tree. The tree was planted in spring of 2013 and this year’s harvest was the best one yet at 41 apples weighing 4 kg (8 lb 13 oz). Not bad for just an 8 ft (2.4 m) long branch and definitely enough for just the two of us.

 

'Akane' apple harvest 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on October 3, 2018

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