Composting and Soil ImprovementsWritten by David Selman, Tracker-Outdoors.com
Composting provides a great natural resource!
Where we live, soil is black clay (north Texas). We have found that by using a compost, we can almost eliminate need for commercial fertilizers to grow most vegetables, herbs and spices.
Our compost is lined with rail-road ties (4 tall) but is open on one side for easy access. We put hay, table scraps, garden scraps, firewood ash, and manure from our cattle and horses in it. The materials in compost are "turned" from time to time. The soil from compost is great for starting new plants of all kinds as well as being tilled into soil of garden. This organically rich soil helps make black clay much easier to work and provides nutrients for vegetables. Neighbors barns and livestock auction houses are great resources for manure. Composting provides an environmentally safe way to transform biodegradable waste products into rich and fertile soil.
For those of you who suffer from a high concentration of clay in your soil, composting is answer. Composting will supply your garden with a continual source of rich humus that will loosen up clay based (heavy) soils, allowing roots of flowers and vegetables to penetrate soil. For folks with sandy soils, compost will perform opposite function: it will bring soil particles together and help retain water for plants to use, while still allowing soil to "breath."
A few of best composting materials include leaves, shredded newspaper, grass clippings, farm manure, garden waste, sawdust and vegetable peelings. Household biodegradable refuse is not recommended because it’s messy and attracts insects & rodents. These are items you deffinately don't want to use; bones, meat scraps, cat or dog manure, grease, diseased plants or walnut leaves.There are several companies that manufacture composting bins. Another option is to use scrap lumber, railroad ties or wood pallets. Make sure whatever you build is well ventilated to allow for free movement of moisture and air, which will aid in breakdown process. I use three wood pallets which I stand at right angles to each other. I tie these together to hold them in place. This makes it easy to access compost, which needs to be periodically turned to aid in breakdown stage.
Lawns, Gophers & MolesWritten by Thomas Leo Ogren
Lawns, Gophers & Moles Thomas Ogren A few gophers can tear up a nice lawn in short order. Even if you’re a complete animal lover, you won’t want gophers in your yard. After they destroy your lawn they’ll start eating roots and killing your roses, fruit trees, any attempt at a vegetable garden, bulbs you plant and so forth. Gophers and gardening don’t go together at all! The gophers got to go. I have had many run ins with gophers in my years of gardening and I’ve always been successful in getting them out of lawn and garden. I don’t like killing them or any animals for that matter, but with gophers, they usually don’t give you much choice. Poisons Resist urge to use gopher or mole poisons. The poisons only work so-so, and poisoned rodents may easily be eaten by an owl, snake, cat, or fox, and then they’ll die too. If predators are killed off rodent population, unchecked, will quickly explode in number. Barn Owls If you’re out in country one of best ways to get rid of both gophers and moles is to put up nesting boxes for barn owls. These big nesting boxes are generally perched on top of 11 to 20-foot tall poles. The boxes and their poles are placed away from house but not too far from lawns and yards. A nesting family of barn owls will eat thousands of rodents each season, and they are very good at catching gophers and moles. If you live in an area where palm trees grow, and you do not trim off dead branches that accumulate below crown, sooner or later a barn owl will move in and set up home. Take advantage of this and leave a palm tree unsheared. The incredible number of rats, mice, moles, ground squirrels, and gophers they’ll kill and eat is quite incredible. I now see in many orchards and vineyards, where they have put up these owl boxes. The owls are saving farmers a lot of money. Nesting boxes for barn owls are usually made from plywood and roofs are slanted so water will run off. Sometimes roofs are shingled too. A nesting box for barn owls should be a minimum of 12 x 12 inches for floor and at least 16 inches deep. The box should have small drain holes placed in floor, in corners. Small holes should be drilled around top of box on each side for air circulation. It is best to build box so that it can be cleaned out easily once a year when owls are gone. The box should have only one opening and this must be at least 3 ½ inches in diameter but not more than 5 inches wide. Too large an entrance hole will let great horned owls in and they’ll eat up barn owls. Horned owls eat rodents too, but are not nearly as tough on rodents as smaller barn owls. *For a place to buy good owl boxes already made (they’ll ship them to you) see Owl Nestbox Resource Page under links section of this book. At this site you can also find more detailed instructions on building your own owl boxes. The bottom line with barn owls is they are most effective rodent killers in existence. The right family cat can also be a pretty good rodent catcher. Gopher snakes! I also know of quite a few people who have caught gopher snakes and then released them on their own property. The best way to catch a gopher snake or two is to drive very slowly in country on a paved road that gets very little traffic. Pin snake’s head down with a stick, pick it up firmly from behind head, and stick him in an old pillow sack. They’re not poisonous but will often bite and bites don’t feel good either. The best time to go looking for gopher snakes is in spring and early summer, just before and just after dark. Evenings that are cold and windy will produce no snakes and nights will full moons are likewise not productive. Gopher snakes are, like barn owls, designed by nature to catch and eat gophers and moles. Gopher traps There are a number of gopher traps on market but by far best is old Maccabee gopher trap made of heavy wire. These are tricky to set if you’ve never done it before, so buy them at a farm supply store and ask someone there to show you exactly how to set one before you leave store. Trapping gophers is very effective if done right. 1.Tie a wire about two feet long on end of gopher trap and secure it to a sturdy metal or wooden stake. 2.Find newest, freshest gopher mound. 3.Dig out opening of mound with a shovel, open up tunnel and place trap as far into hole as possible. 4.Pound stake down near hole but not into tunnel itself. The stake and wire will insure that you don’t lose trap. A trapped gopher may easily draw attention of a cat, dog, hawk, owl, skunk or fox, and they’ll run off with your gopher and your trap. The wire and stake keep that from happening. 5.Leave opening of hole open. The light coming into hole will serve as bait, since gophers intended for that hole to be closed. 6.Set several traps in different holes if possible. 7.Check traps at least once a day and re-set them if you’ve killed a gopher or if gopher has set off trap and gotten away.
Water, smoke bombs, and road flares Sometimes you can get gophers, and moles too, to move out of your territory just by flooding their holes. By all means go ahead and stick garden hose down a few holes and give this a try. Usually though, flooding them doesn’t work very well, if at all. Smoking them out works much better than flooding them. There are special gopher smoker bombs made and sold in all good nurseries and these work pretty well. What works even better than gopher bombs are regular red road flares. You can buy road flares very cheaply too, at an auto parts store. They will usually come in several lengths and longer ones burn longer and are more effective. At any rate road flares of any length work pretty well. Dig out gopher mound and open up tunnel. Light road flare by twisting off cap and then striking tip of flare with end of cap. Point it away from yourself so you don’t get burned. Shove lit end of road flare into gopher tunnel and then shovel some dirt back over top of opening. Stamp it all shut tight with sole of your shoe. You’ll see some of smoke escaping up through dirt. If you spot smoke coming up from another hole in lawn, quickly go over there and plug up that hole. The smoke from road flares is sulfur smoke and it will stink out entire tunnel. On occasion gophers will be asphyxiated from smoke and will die in tunnels. More often though, they will take off for an area not anywhere near that stinky sulfur smoke. The smoke and its smell will persist in tunnel for some time and gophers will often simply abandon tunnel. The gophers may well make several more attacks on your lawn and flower beds and you may need to smoke them several times and in several different tunnels to get rid of them. If smoking doesn’t work for you, buy some gopher traps…. or get a gopher snake. Moles Gophers are much larger than moles and they dig much larger holes and tunnels too. Gopher tunnels are often fairly deep into ground but mole tunnels often run just under surface of lawn. Often you can just look at lawn and see exactly where these mole tunnels are because they are pushed up just under surface of lawn. Gophers come into an area to eat plants but moles are insect eaters and they don’t actually eat any of your lawn at all. Moles seem to be much more common in high rainfall areas and are uncommon in drier, irrigated lawn areas. Moles and grubs There are many different traps made for killing moles but resist urge to buy and use these. Poison baits for moles are not a good idea either. The moles are tunneling through your lawn for a reason. If you have moles in lawn, you can be assured that you also have a lot of grubs in lawn too. The moles are eating these grubs. The grubs can be up to about an inch long and they are usually white or gray and often have brown heads. Areas where grub infestations are especially thick will often show patches of lawn dying from grubs. Grubs or Dogs? If you have a dead patch of lawn where center of patch is totally dead but edges of patch are extra green, this damage isn’t from grubs, it’s from dog urine. The nitrogen in urine fertilizes lawn that it doesn’t outright overdose and kill. This is why edges of patch will be greener than rest of lawn.