Category Archives: products

DC Water’s Bloom: Recycling Biosolids Into Soil Conditioner

DC and Maryland residents are in luck. Using state-of-the-art equipment, DC Water is now producing and selling Bloom, a soil conditioner made from Class A biosolids. According to DC Water, Bloom can increase organic content in the soil, increase drought resistance in plants, and provide essential plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Bloom can be used by gardeners for establishing flower and vegetable gardens, remediating poor soil, planting trees and shrubs, and improving and establishing lawns.

Biosolids are organic matter recycled from sewage, which have been treated and processed in order to be used as a soil conditioner. “Drinking and waste water — everything that goes down the drain – comes to DC Water to be cleaned up,” explained Bill Brower, program manager for Biosolids at DC Water. “Our equipment pulls out the solids, the organic matter, before the water goes to the Chesapeake Bay. The solids are heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit to kill pathogens.” Class B has a reduced number of pathogens and is not used for gardening while Class A has essentially no pathogens; thus safe for homeowners and gardeners. By purchasing new equipment, DC Water has been able to create a Class A product with the intent to further their recycling efforts.

Using biosolids as a soil conditioner is not new in our country. Other cities such as Seattle, Tacoma, Austin, Houston, and Boston also use and sell their high quality biosolid soil amendment products. One of the more well-known brands among gardeners is Milwaukee’s Milorganite, which can be purchased in bags at garden centers.

“Adding Bloom to your garden is like adding compost,” said Bill. “Bloom breaks up clay, helps to build tilth, and helps to increase the community of microbes. Over time, Bloom increases drought-resistant properties in plants.”

Some people are concerned that using a biosolid product will have an offensive odor but Bill reassured me that Bloom does not. “Bloom has an earthy odor,” said Bill. “I was showing it to school children the other day and they said it smelled like burnt wood or like dirt.” Part of Bill’s job is to serve as community ambassador, introducing Bloom to gardening clubs and people who manage school and community gardens.  About 30 school and community gardens in the Washington DC area use Bloom in their soil.

Currently, DC Water produces two “varieties”: Fresh and Cured. Fresh is cheaper than cured at $2.50 per cubic yard but more alkaline than cured (8.47 pH) and contains more moisture. Because it contains more moisture, it is heavier and more difficult for a person to lift with a shovel. Thus the Fresh is ideal for landscapers who can use spreading equipment. Cured is $5.00 per cubic yard with a more neutral pH (6.79 pH) and less moisture. Because it is dryer, it does not stick as much to a shovel and is lighter to lift.

DC and Maryland residents can order by calling or completing the online order form. They can have Bloom delivered for a delivery fee or drive to Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, 5000 Overlook Avenue, SW, Washington DC, to have staff load their truck.

The Bloom website is very informative and lists the lab analysis of samples of both varieties with specific amounts of nutrients, metals, pathogens, etc.  Both have nutrients that plants need such as nitrogen and phosphorus, essentially no pathogens, and low concentrations of heavy metals. The presence of heavy metals is similar to the amount found in typical soils and is far below the level found to pose a risk to human health. Bloom meets all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for use in homes and gardens.

For more information contact Bill Brower, (202) 787-4296, bloom@dcwater.com or visit http://www.bloomsoil.com. To order, visit the website or call (202) 765-3292 Ext. 102.

Can’t garden without my Foxgloves, my favorite gardening gloves

original-foxglovesJust wrote a review of my favorite gardening gloves on Gardening Products Review. I love the original Foxgloves because they are like cotton surgical gloves. They fit well, are comfortable during the hot summer months, and they can be washed in the washing machine!

Free Gardening Handouts from Virginia Cooperative Extension Website

L_HORT-76-JPGAs a garden communicator I am always collecting information for use with my own garden, for other gardeners, and even for future articles. A reliable source of local gardening information is the Virginia State Cooperative Extension office, located at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg. The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) website has scores of handouts on gardening–everything from annuals to vegetables to trees and shrubs. Most are short, black and white, pdf files that one can download quickly but some are small, full color publications such as “Fooling Mother Nature: Forcing Flower Bulbs for Indoor Bloom.” Written by George Graine, a local VCE Master Gardener, reviewed by Holly Scoggins, Associate Professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Horticulture, and produced by Lindsey Nelson, Communication Project Coordinator at VT’s Department of Horticulture, this 10-page handout is very easy to read with several color photos of bulbs and charts that provide additional information. In fact, Publication HORT-76NP is so well written that it won a Silver Award of Achievement from the Garden Writers Association’s Media Awards Program this year.

All of the VCE gardening publications are designed for home gardeners but they are science-based and reviewed by horticulturists or experts in the field. All are available for public use and can be re-printed without further permission, providing the use includes credit to the author/photographer and to the VCE, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University. Simply put, these publications can be copied and distributed at garden clubs and nurseries, for seed/bulb fund raisers, for teachers and children who have school-based gardens, and for people who have community garden plots. They are great resources for writing articles and even stimulating ideas for future articles. Check out https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/ every season for timely information!

Discovering New Plants and Gardening Products at IGC East Trade Show

Last week, I visited IGC East in Baltimore and was impressed with several new gardening products as well as plants. IGC is a trade show where staff from Independent Garden Centers gather to learn and possibly order new plants and products from wholesale vendors to sell at their garden center. They also have the opportunity to attend lectures designed to help them in their nursery business. I attended as press and visited hundreds of vendor booths to see what new items might appear in the garden centers next year.

Medinilla on left and Dolce Vita on the right

Medinilla on left and Dolce Vita on the right

I think the biggest “Wow!” plant was the Medinilla and the double bloom variety called Dolce Vita. Native to the Philippines, these large-leaved plants are grown as houseplants year round or outdoors in the summer here in our Mid-Atlantic area. They have incredibly large pink flowers that last for months. I originally thought “banana” when I first saw them because of their pendulous shape but the spokesperson from Northend Gardens said the two varieties are related to the tibouchina plant, another tropical plant that is commonly sold in the summer here for its purple flowers. A series of Medinilla plants on a rafter with the pink blossoms hanging down would be such an eye catching “Wow!” for customers in a nursery but also in any public area such as restaurant or store.

Succulent Combos

Lil’ Cuties

For me, the second “Wow!” plant was a red-stemmed, green-leaved succulent that I spotted in the Overdevest Nurseries’ booth. This particular plant stood out for me as unique but it was part of their line of “Lil’ Cuties,” arrangements of succulents in small containers. Drought-resistant, these succulent combinations offer a lot of color for minimal effort; perfect for decks and patios.

Overdevest’s new line of “Chick Charms” was cute and would make a nice gift. Chick Charms are hens and chicks in small containers, each with a novelty name. This particular collection of hens and chicks were selected from an evaluation of over 400 varieties of sempervivums; who knew there could be so many!ChickCharms

In the world of edibles, I thought 2 Plant International had an exciting idea: The “Seeds are Easy” line of cleverly designed burlap bags of seeds would entice anyone to start growing herbs or vegetables.

Seeds are Easy

Seeds are Easy

These bags are easy to pick up by the handles, making them a clean, no mess gift–easy to drop into the shopping cart. All one has to do is water and watch the seeds germinate and grow. Perfect for windowsills. Distributed by Bloom Pad North America, there are bags of tea herbs, culinary herbs, and vegetables. They also sell a sprouts glass jar with sprout seeds such as radish, mustard, and alfalfa.

Lake Valley Seed packages of sprouts

Lake Valley Seed packages of sprouts

Speaking of sprouts, Lake Valley Seed has increased their line of sprouts and I love the design of the seed packets. You should be able to find their rack of seed packets in your local garden center – look for alfalfa, broccoli, mung bean, radish, rainbow mix, salad mix, and sandwich mix. My family would be particularly interested in eating the sandwich mix and the salad mix, which I know are easy to grow indoors.

And for the upcoming holidays, gardeners may be interested in the new line of soaps by Garden Voyage Botanicals. These are all natural, shea butter enriched soaps made in the U.S.A. Of particular interest is the Gardener’s soap with cranberry seeds and walnut shell powder and a special Noel holiday line of peppermint, bayberry, and evergreen soaps. I am always looking for a good soap to use after gardening, I hope Santa puts some of these in my stocking this year.

Gardener's, Peppermint, and Lavender soaps

Gardener’s, Peppermint, and Lavender soaps

Flexzilla Garden Hose

Flexzilla Garden Hose

But really Santa, try fitting a Flexzilla garden hose in the stocking this year. I had seen these kink-resistant garden hoses on the P. Allen Smith Facebook page but at IGC East I was able to see a demonstration of the swivel grip connections that make them easy to fit onto the spigot and garden attachment – really ingenious!  Plus these hoses have extreme all weather flexibility making them easy to bend around trees and bushes and are drinking water safe. Flexzilla markets its products in its signature lime green color and its garden hoses come in various lengths. P. Allen Smith introduced the “water colors” collection of blue, green, coral, and brown in 50-feet lengths.  I don’t care if Santa gets me a water colors shade or the lime green — a kink-free hose with swivel grip is a must for every gardener!

Two other new items for veggie gardeners like me: Neptune’s Harvest, a well-known line of organic fertilizers, will introduce a liquid tomato and vegetable fertilizer next year with a 2-4-2 formula. Made with hydrolyzed fish, molasses, seaweed, yucca extract and humic acid, this all natural fertilizer is supposed to repel deer. That’s what I need for those few times I accidentally left the garden gate open only to discover in the morning that my pepper plants have been decapitated.

EarthBox Root & Veg Garden Kit, photo courtesy of EarthBox by Novelty Mfg.

EarthBox Root & Veg Garden Kit, photo courtesy of EarthBox by Novelty Mfg.

The second new item hails from my favorite self-watering system, EarthBox, which will introduce a root and veggie box  in 2016 designed to be deeper for root vegetables. I have several of the original EarthBoxes on my deck that I use specifically for tomatoes and I never have a tomato disease problem so I am most interested in trying the new design for root crops. These boxes are taller than the original EarthBox and square instead of rectangle but with the same tube, screen, fertilizer, and black plastic wrap.

These are just a few highlights from spending a day at IGC East. If you don’t see these items at your independent garden center next year, contact the dealer directly (click on the hyperlink) to locate a local retailer in your area.

Making Composting Easy for Working Mom in Virginia Suburbs

keeping eggshells for the compost bin

keeping eggshells for the compost bin

The trick to composting is to figure out how to make it work for you so it becomes easy. If it is easy, you will compost. This past fall, we set up a Geobin in the backyard. A Geobin is a rectangular heavy piece of plastic with holes that is folded into a cylinder and placed on the ground. Overlap part of the material, insert plastic bolts to keep its cylindrical shape, and voila! you have a compost bin.  The nice thing about the Geobin is that it makes composting in the suburbs polite – the black plastic hides the ugly rotting fruit so the neighbors can’t complain.

After we set up the Geobin, we tore up empty cardboard egg cartons and paper towel rolls and threw them in the bin to create large pockets of air at the bottom for drainage. Because it was autumn, we added lots of dried leaves and as I worked in the garden, I added soil from my own garden, usually what was still attached to plants I pulled, plus any earthworms. This introduced the necessary bacteria and small organisms to the bin to start the decomposition process. Throughout the fall and winter, the bin received plenty of water from rain and snow and there were enough air pockets between the leaves and other materials for the organisms to work.

one geobin set up with stakes to keep open

Geobin set up with stakes to keep open

From then on we added fruit and vegetable scraps as well as plant debris from the garden and even free coffee grounds from Starbucks! We have three separate areas in the kitchen to collect eggs, coffee grounds, and produce. The eggshells go into a plastic-lined small box behind the coffee maker (they don’t smell).  Once a week, we pull the bag out, crush the shells, and dump into the compost bin (plastic bag goes in the trash can). We put our coffee grounds in a plastic shoe container under the kitchen sink and once a week we dump the grounds into the compost pile. Kitchen scraps–melon rinds, banana peels, strawberry leaves, vegetable peelings, and tea bags–go in an empty cereal or cracker cardboard boxes on the kitchen floor. After we dump the produce into the compost pile, we throw away the boxes in the trash (by now, soft and wet) and start again with a new box (the cereal box could go into the compost pile but it would require tearing it up into small pieces, which runs counter to my “keep it easy” theme here).

This past weekend, about six months later, I tried to unscrew the plastic knobs to undo the Geobin so we could shovel the compost out for the garden. I realized that it was so full I couldn’t get my hand in to unscrew the knobs from the inside. It was easier to lift the plastic up which resulted in a cylindrical shape of leaves and refuse. Because I did not stir often, most of the leaves and debris stayed in place (note to self, stir more often and bolt with screw on outside). With the garden fork, we broke up the condensed mass and discovered moist, dark soil (similar in texture to bagged potting soil) in the core, complete with earthworms!  As we broke the mass down to about a foot, it became easier to stir with the fork. We put the core or composted part in the garden beds and left the rest in the corner of the backyard to continue to decompose; making sure it was only a few inches high so it was not an eyesore.

composted material in the inner core after removing bin

compost in the inner core after removing Geobin

The compost added micronutrients and microorganisms including earthworms to the garden beds. Just adding an inch of compost to garden beds in the spring is beneficial for the plants. Compost also is great for breaking up clay and improving soil texture and drainage.

I can now see the need to have two or three Geobins going at the same time. When one is ready, pull it apart and put the compost on the garden beds while at the same time dumping produce into the second or third bin. My method is simple but slow; it takes months for the large pieces to break up into small pieces. To speed up the decomposition, I could make the ingredients smaller (like cutting up the leaves), turn it often to increase the aeration, or strive for the recommended carbon-nitrogen ratio of 3 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen by volume. Although the decomposition process is a natural process, when you do it at home, you are in charge of putting the ingredients together so you have to be aware of the amount of carbon (also called “browns”) in relation to the amount of nitrogen (also called “greens”). Brown is the dead dried plant parts that are high in carbon (in my case the autumn leaves) and green is the fresh living parts like the kitchen vegetable scraps that are high in nitrogen. There should be more carbon or brown than nitrogen or green which I am always aware of but never measure. Water and air (as in air pockets among the plant materials in the bin) are essential too. We never add meat, dairy products, diseased plants, oils/grease, bones, or pet wastes.

Some counties give away composting bins free or sell them at a minimal cost. Contact the local county extension agent or the county division responsible for solid waste services, waste management, recycling, or trash management.  I received my Geobins through a county effort to increase composting, but they can be bought online at http://www.geosystemsonline.com.

Won DeWit Garden Tools Via Fran Sorin’s #CyberBook Party!

IMG_5067I won! A few weeks ago, Fran Sorin celebrated the 10th anniversary of the publication of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots through Gardening by having a weeklong #cyberbook party. A #cyberbook party is where Fran invited eight friends who have gardening blogs. Like a party, together they described Digging Deep and that week’s special price of ninety-nine cents for the Kindle edition on their own blogs. They also hosted drawings for free gifts. By writing a comment on their sites, you entered for a chance to win one of the following: nineteen varieties of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Moo Poo Tea Variety Pack (Authentic Haven Brand Soil Conditioner), four Nature Innovations Planters, and DeWit Garden Tools Variety Pack.  According to Fran, Digging Deep was considered groundbreaking when it was originally published in 2004. It was one of the first books to use gardening as a conduit for experiencing creativity as a rich and dynamic lifetime journey. I was fortunate to win the DeWit Garden Tools — the package arrived directly from the Netherlands! Can’t wait for summer so I can use them in the garden. Thank you Fran!

Dee Nash  Red Dirt Ramblings

Helen Yoest  Gardening with Confidence

Jenny Peterson  J Peterson Garden Design

Rebecca Sweet  Harmony in the Garden

Debra Prinzing  Debra Prinzing web site

Brenda Haas  BG Garden

Jan Johnsen  Serenity in the Garden

Fran Sorin  Gardening Gone Wild and the Fran Sorin web site

Amaryllis: Perfect Holiday Gift and Decor

Growing an amaryllis for holiday blooms is so easy, just plant and water. Unlike the spring blooming bulbs, an amaryllis bulb does not need a chilling period. Once planted, these large bulbs can grow and bloom in 7-10 weeks. The flowers last for a long time and the plant can be coaxed to re bloom again the following year. You can buy amaryllis bulbs now as hostess gifts for Thanksgiving, give the bulbs to friends for Christmas so they can enjoy the blooms during winter, start the bulbs now to give the blooming plants to friends for Christmas, or start the bulbs now to decorate your own home for the holidays.November2014hyacinthamaryllis 123

This past week, I took a quick look at a Virginia independent garden center and the local Home Depot to see what types of amaryllis bulbs and packages they offered. I discovered that amaryllis can be bought as a single, large bulb, for you to pot up; as a gift box of a “pre-planted” bulb (in a plastic container); already planted in a ceramic container as a gift; and as a gift box of a glass container with a bulb and pebbles (without soil). If you buy only the bulb, you can plant it in soil or place it in a glass vase of water with pebbles. If you plant it in soil, make sure the container has drainage holes or put in plastic pots with drainage holes into decorative containers/lined baskets. Pick a pot 2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb. Use a well drained potting soil, not the soil from your garden. The upper half of the bulb should remain above the soil surface. Water and put in a warm place, around 70 to 75 degrees. When growth appears, place in a sunny window and watch the flower stalks. If they lean, give more light or rotate pot to balance or stake so does not topple over.  Once flower buds appear, move the plant out of direct sun and into a slightly cooler location.

If you want to grow the plant in a vase of water, place about 3-4 inches of pebbles, marbles, or glass rocks in the glass and place the bulb on top so that the top third is exposed. Water enough so the water line is below the base of the bulb. You don’t want the bulb to sit in water but the roots need to be in water. Follow the same directions as above concerning light and temperature.

I have seen only one coamaryllisandsnapdragonOctober2014 002mpany that has capitalized on growing amaryllis in water. Home Depot is selling Bloomaker’s amaryllis in glass jars, complete with pebbles, in a very attractive gift box. If you scan the code on the box, you can see a video of how the plant will grow and bloom in the glass vase. I am already asking Santa for one.

For a variety of color selection, though, buy individual bulbs from the largest independent garden center in your area. I visited Merrifield Garden Center and they have an entire area dedicated to bulbs. You can pick your colors and show them off in pots or in glass vases. If you have time, it pays to look around and stock up on amaryllis for gifts as well as for your own home.November2014hyacinthamaryllis 160