P80325‘Fertilizer’ is a polite term for ‘recycled vegetation’.

‘Recycled vegetation’ is a polite term for something else.

This is not a synthetic type of fertilizer that gets tossed about or poured on. It gets added to compost and allowed to compost some more before being spread out as a mulch over the surface of the soil, just before chipped vegetation gets dispersed over the top. Alternatively, it sometimes gets mixed into the soil. It is quite useful. You can’t beat the price.

It is recycled differently from the compost or chipped vegetation (from a brush chipper). It is recycled through a horse, or more specifically, two horses. As the picture above suggests, it begins at the front of the horse, and ends at the rear of the horse, which is not pictured.

The horses happen to be quite efficient at recycling vegetation. They do it all the time. They are probably doing it right now. I would describe the process, but I do not know how it works.

Three times weekly, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, some poor sucker must go to where the horses live and work to collect the binned ‘fertilizer’, and deliver it to the compost pile. By the time it gets mixed into the compost, and composted more, it is not recognizable. Otherwise, it might be a problem in the parts of the landscape where it gets dispersed with the compost.

The landscape seems to like it. Only a few plants with special needs get any sort of synthetic fertilizer.

This sort of recycling is not new technology. It has been around as long as horses have been serving humans. In fact, it was not even invented by humans. Horses were doing it long before humans merely discovered, refined and took the credit for it.P80325+




That is what this seemingly disorganized jumble of letters and numbers represents; the chemical formula for the mineral known as trona. It is what a certain small town in the very northwestern corner of San Bernardino County is named for. Trona is one of a few minerals mined and refined there. Apparently, not much else happens there.

Trona the town is about as out of the way as one can get in the contiguous United States of American. Death Valley to the northeast at least gets tourists. Not much flora survives in the hellish summer heat and caustically saline soil. The athletic field at Trona High School is famous for being grassless dirt. Even the now defunct golf course was dirt. Roofs are more important for providing shade than for keeping the four inches of annual rainfall out. A leaky house is more likely to petrify before it rots. The inertly arid air, roasting heat and acrid drifting minerals seems to sterilize and embalm even abandoned houses. The Google Satellite image shows how boringly uniform the factory tract houses are. Many are now abandoned. Some are missing.

Why am I mentioning Trona here? Because horticulture is so limited in Trona. There might not be many better places in America for a horticulturist who lives amongst dense forests of the tallest trees in the world to go on vacation! There are so few distractions! The vast desert extends for miles in every direction, with only a few plants surviving in home gardens in town. The satellite image shows how empty the gardens are. A single lawn can not be found. Even artificial turf is notably absent, perhaps because no one wants to go outside in such horrid weather.

I suppose that I will never know until I go there.

Pots And Pans Need Cleaning

30918thumbThis is getting to be cliché. “While they are dormant through winter”, plants tolerate all sorts of abuse that would offend them at any other time of year. It applies to planting bulbs and bare root plants. It also works for pruning deciduous fruit trees and roses. It is a predictable seasonal pattern. Most winter gardening is contingent on dormancy. Processing potted plants is no exception.

Plants that have gotten too big for their pots should be replanted into larger pots. Any circling roots should be severed, just as if the plants were going into the ground. Unlike planting into the ground, potted plants require artificial media, known simply as ‘potting soil’. If larger pots are not an option, overgrown plants must at least be pruned to stay proportionate to their confined roots.

A plant that has been in a pot long enough for the media to decompose and settle might benefit from being ‘stuffed’. This involves removing the root mass from the pot, adding just enough media to the pot to support the root mass at the desired level, replacing the root mass on top, and then adding more media around the root mass to fill the pot. Exposed surface roots can be buried too.

Many overgrown succulents (not including cacti) can be replanted lower instead of higher. If settled, more media can be added on top. If all the foliage is clustered on top of bare stems, the stems can be cut and ‘plugged’ as new plants into pots of media, while the old roots and basal stems can be left to generate new stems and foliage. Newly plugged stems will generate roots by spring.

In the processes of potting, stuffing and plugging, while pots are empty, it would be a good time to scrub away mineral deposits from the bases and inner rims of pots. These deposits tend to accumulate just above the surface of the potting media, and where pots sit in water that drains from them. The pans or saucers that contain drainage water also accumulate mineral deposits. While plants are being processed, they can be groomed of deteriorating foliage and other debris.

Planting Cool Season Cover Crops

71129thumbTraditional horticultural technology that was so common in the orchards, that were likewise more common, was more practical than so much of what we do in our modern home gardens now. Orchardists got good insects to take out the bad insects. They got mulberry trees to distract hungry birds from maturing apricots and prunes. They even got weedy annuals to control other weeds.

Once it got established, mustard grew wild under many orchards. It self sowed so efficiently that it did not need to be sown. It grew fast, and shaded out other nastier weeds. Anyone who wanted to pick greens could take all they wanted without setting it back. It was sometimes tilled in early, or cut early and left on the surface as mulch, but was probably most often left to die back naturally.

Besides controlling weeds, the mustard improved the soil and kept it friable, both by dispersing roots through it, and also by decomposing into it. Other types of cover crops help limit erosion through winter, or improve soil fertility. All are very easy to plant and grow, and almost all get all the water they need from rain through winter. They only need to be cut and tilled when they are done.

Of course, they are all ‘done’ at different times. Orchard mustard that never gets cut or tilled is never really done. It just perpetuates itself. Cover crops in home gardens are done when we say they are done, before the space is needed for something else. Some should be cut before self sowing and becoming more a weed than a cover crop, whether or not the space is needed right away.

Cover crops get planted by simply broadcasting seed onto freshly tilled soil that will not be used for anything until next year. After seed is broadcast, the soil can be raked lightly to cover the seed. If it is not watered right away, the rain will take care of it. Fava beans, oats, barley, millet, clover and annual rye grass are some of the more familiar cover crops. Sesame and sorghum are rare.

Freeway iceplant and old varieties of common geranium (Pelargonium X hortorum) can function as prettier perennial cover crops. The iceplant can be cut from established colonies and plugged as short cuttings about four inches long. When geraniums get cut back, the pieces can likewise be processed into cuttings. Unlike annuals, these would get removed when their space is needed.