Howdy from Texas

soilguy(9A)January 14, 2009

Hello, all -

Name is Robert and I'm a certified Texas (Aransas County AgriLife) MG, having moved from Florida where I managed a peat (bog) 'farm', made/bagged/sold various types of soils, composted commercially and operated a plant nursery.

Retired now and moved from Austin to the Texas Coastal Bend (near Corpus Christi). DW and I are living in our 30' 5th wheel RV while building a new home, setting up 'shop' as a commercial composter, establishing a wholesale nursery for native plants and getting a garden going (doing container gardening in the meanwhile).

Our 2-county MG organization has about a hundred active members. I'm leading the demonstration gardens composting operation this year, and pretty much the 'go-to' guy for soil issues.

Been 'kicking around' the Soil/Composting forum for awhile, and just today found this forum.

Thought I'd say 'howdy' and find out if anybody's interested in promoting more MG activity on this forum?


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Hi, Robert. Glad to see you over here. I've seen some of your posts on the soil forum. You have quite an operation going. Very impressive! I'm very into making the best soil possible with my homemade compost and "stealing" humus from the woods we live in. I'll tell you more about the humus story sometime.

I've wondered why this forum is so slow but I know from experience that most MGs are busy people. In our area, most are retired folks that love gardening and volunteering, and may not be so in love with their computers. In my case, I'm still employed full time (work for my husband in our construction business, so it may not actually be full time now!) so I'm at the computer most of the day.

I've been a MG since 2000 and have loved every minute of it. I started out as a child on a truck farm in VA and never got the dirt out of my shoes or from under my fingernails.

I guess you could say my specialties are vegetable gardening and urban trees. Our MG coordinator organized a group of us last year to become Urban Tree Specialists. It's been very interesting but with a steep learning curve! LOL We're still taking classes on tree care (refresher courses this month) and there's just so much more to learn that sometimes it's overwhelming. She tells us to remember that we know much more than the average homeowner that we serve and we always know how to say, "I don't know the answer to that. Let me do some research."

What sort of programs does your MG group promote most? Our group of about 100 volunteers works with the 4H, does a lot with lawn care and now urban trees, participates with local "green" businesses for clinics and such, puts on numerous lectures for the public through our local library system, along with our Help Line phones and many other smaller projects. Unlike a lot of MG groups, we don't maintain demonstration gardens except for a Water Wise planting at the extension office so the vast majority of our work is educational, not labor intensive.

I look forward to hearing more from you, Robert. Maybe we can get some activity going. I love to hear from other MGs about their programs and what they're doing that's new.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 11:02AM
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Thanks for the welcome, Sandy.

Woods humus - you're blessed, for sure. Would like to hear that story.

Have a lot of live oak trees and a few conifers in our area - and 'scrub' trees - but oak is SO slow to decompose.
I use some oak leaves in my compost, but they must be shredded through a 1/4 screen first, and since my compost finishes quite quickly, their best use is to help aerate/moisturize the pile (should be soaked overnight before thin-layering them in a pile).
One MG Intern I'm training in the Frame Technique is using ONLY shredded oak leaves and horse manure in 4'W x 8'L piles - will be interesting to see how those piles finish...

I'm fairly new to our Texas MG program here, but MG ltcollins frequents GW and has been an MG in Aransas for many years - maybe she will 'chime in' to tell you more about the program here?

We do have a 'Tree Team' that makes visits to property owners on request - haven't met with them yet, but will in the near future.

Our MG demonstration Veggie Gardens are doing quite well this year, and our Propagation Committee Plant sales do very well.
I've just begun recruiting for our Compost Team, which I expect to be functional by early spring.

Would like to see more MG involvement in this forum, to invest in mutual education.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 8:00PM
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If you look over at the "Pet Peeves" entry on this forum, you'll see one of the reasons this forum is not any busier than it is. Frequently when we start talking about something, it seems that somebody wants to stop by and make some comments about how bad the program is in their area, seemingly painting all MGs with the same brush. Maybe I'll start a topic "Tell us just how awful the Master Gardener program is." Let them vent there.


    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 1:28PM
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Nah - better be on the 'upbeat' side - and everybody has 'pet peeves' - it's good to rant/vent sometimes, as you well know...

Anyway, I ditto your 'pp' - and Cheryl has a really good point regarding the MG Program. I was not able to become a Texas MG earlier, for the same reason. After retiring, my DW and I were finally able to attend the 'once-a-year' 5-month course.

I was surprised and encouraged to see the post about some MG organizations offering certification ONLINE. That's a move in the right direction IMO.

In my case, I was hosting composting workshops for MG's at my facility (sponsored by two county Extension Agents), before I enrolled in the MG course. So what Cheryl said about other opportunities to impact public education is certainly true.

More involvement by MG's on this site is simply a matter of promoting involvement by you and me, for starters...

I would like to find out more about other county MG organization programs for composting demonstration and education.
I'm a long-time composter and something of a soil specialist, and have recently become the leader of our 2-county composting program - which is in its 'infancy'.
The more I can learn from others, the less 'trial-and-error' I have to go through, the better - for public education, which is the main mission for the AgriLife service.

When I left Florida (for Texas), our Team was supporting over 150 'backyard' compost piles, and several commercial operations. I hope to establish the same kind of support 'mechanism' here in the Texas Coastal Bend area.

I'm on this forum to learn - and would like to hear from MG's about suggestions, comments and guidance with regard to how their existing composting and organic recycling program works, or what they are doing to develop one.


    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 4:02PM
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tommie_jo(z8b TX)


The gal using horse manure...I used to rake up the stall wood shavings mixed with horse manure and pile it up at the corner of my veggie garden - after 3 years that area was as soft as a feather pillow! However I'm concerned about persistent herbicides used to keep hay fields weed free. The only hay I can trust is from growers that don't use those herbicides try finding that out - or alfalfa hay which is getting way too expensive for me to use as garden mulch. What words do you have on manure/persistent herbicides?

PS  The horse is gone but chickens are on the way  can anyone spell "chicken tractor"!


    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 12:24PM
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Hi Tommie,

Depends on the herbicide - but for the most part, I don't worry much about herbicides in compost piles since the microbes are not harmed by such, and those 'critters' have the ability to break down/change those chemicals to some degree, and any degree seems to change the herbicide into a form that is not harmful to plants no matter what the chemical 'shelf-life' is.

There are two basic 'types' of herbicides: systemic and non-systemic. I do not have experience with the full range of herbicides, but your County Agricultural Extension Agent and local landscape companies should be able to tell you what herbicide use can be expected on various plants in your 'neck-o-the-woods', and the herbicide companies can tell you whether the product would/could still have any effect on plants after composting.

One of the most popular (and powerful) herbicides is a brand of Glysophate (N-phosphonomethyl) glycine, in the form of its isopropylamine salt...Called ROUNDUP, which is sold in a ready-to-use form of 2% concentration per gallon.

The strongest form of this Glysophate acidic chemical that I know of is sold as Catt Plex brand (Sanco Industries), used for control of cattails. It is a 53.8% Glysophate concentrate. Incredibly strong, because cattails are REALLY hard to kill.

OK - now to partially answer your question:
I compost grasses/weeds treated with glysophate and other strong herbicides, because I compost materials obtained free from landscape and lawn care companies that use herbicides regularly.

I had concerns too - so accumulated plant refuse that I knew had been treated - composted that material, then set up several trials with vegetables grown in 100% of that compost - and did NOT seen ANY indication of new plant damage/stunting in compost in which herbicides were used on plant materials.
The tomatoes and bell pepper plants grew better in the compost that had herbicide-treated material than the compost that didn't.
My compost takes about 3 months start-to-finish, and I harvest about a ton of compost a month, so that kind of trial is easy for me to do.

Systemic herbicides kill plants by being absorbed through leaves, and transported internally to roots, whereby the chemical interferes with enzyme activity - so basically the plant 'starves/dehydrates' to death.
You could pour a solution of 2% RoundUp on plant roots and it will not kill the plant. According to RoundUp tech support, the product has limited viability after spraying.

Catt Plex on the other hand, is SO strong (depending on the rate of dilution used), that the product literature states that the chemical could harm the plant if sprayed on green stems, exposed non-woody roots or plant fruit. Normal CYA verbage for a concentrate product with which they have no control over application methods.

As long as any/all systemic herbicide-treated plant materials are fully composted through 2 or more screened turns, I personally do not have any concerns about it, no matter what the systemic herbicide chemical is.

I'm sure there's some folks who think such chemicals "live forever", but they don't. Not even DDT and Sevin.


    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 2:34PM
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Robert, this is an interesting discussion. If I remember correctly, my first contact many years ago with a Master Gardener was regarding the safety of using chipped material from roadside trees (utility trimmer) in my vegetable garden as mulch. The answer came back (after he did some research) that it was fine to use if left sitting (piled) for a year or so. (The fact that I actually got an answer impressed me and pricked my interest in becoming a MG!)

Of course, chemicals used by utility departments change over time and it's nice to know somebody has actually done the kind of trials you did. I've never had a problem with material that has been sprayed but I always let it compost for about a year. (I do mostly cold piles that get turned a couple of times in that year period.)

Personally, I worry more about insecticides than herbicides. I try to avoid using them myself and really prefer not to put OM in my compost that has been sprayed to kill insects or fungus/virus/disease. I don't have any proof that they are harmful but in their case figure safe is way better than sorry.


    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 5:06PM
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Insecticides are not a big concern in a compost pile, since the bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes are not affected much by them. However, fungicides and bacteriacides (such as chlorine in city water) can be very harmful.

Some of the material I get from lawn care and landscape folks has been treated with insecticides as well as herbicides, and neither appeared to be damaging. Probably due to the amount of water applied to a pile - which leaches out/dilutes most of those soluable chemicals.

For the most part, chemical insecticide products have a limited effective span - some last longer - but even the strongest are not a significant factor after 90 days. You see a lot of labels that say "...Effective for up to 2 weeks..." Most are no longer effective for even that long.

And remember that soil microbes are some of the very best "cleaner-uppers" and can actually 'heal' bad soils.
Although microbes in soils are not nearly as 'sensitive' as those in compost environments.

Most insects are beneficial in a compost pile to aerate and mix - but there is one insect that I cannot tolerate.
Fire ants are the only insects that I will intentionally kill in a compost pile.
Mainly because they are a health hazard. My wife is quite allergic to their stings (and bees/wasps, etc.), so my situation may be a bit different from some folks.

If you go to the Compost Forum and post a question about safe insecticidal chemicals for a compost pile, you'll get a variety of answers, and I'll "chime in" with my thoughts and experience too.

Wood chips are great as a top-dressing mulch for walkways, but I rarely recommend wood chips or sawdust for incorporation directly into soil as an amendment since the microbes that consume cellulose and lignin are not the same critters that decompose leafy material - resulting in possible nitrogen depletion of the soil. Lots of good info on that subject in the Composting forum as well.

If you haven't visited the Composting forum in awhile, recommend that you do - it's quite a 'vibrant' community now.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2009 at 11:09AM
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Thanks, Robert. Yes, I drop over to the soil/compost forum fairly often but not often enough. I had seen the pictures of your operation and was very impressed (and jealous!) I'll go post something about the pesticides and see what I get started. Sometimes I feel like ducking when a few very opinionated people get to "discussing" things over there! LOL But I respect their right to their opinions. It's when they get to stating "facts" without verification that I tend to wander away. As a Master Gardener, I know how often things are touted as being factual when they are anything but!


    Bookmark   February 1, 2009 at 11:23AM
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Oh, yes - there are some VERY opinionated people on the soil/compost forum - and must admit to also being 'set in my ways' to some degree. Comes from finding what works for me, and fall into the 'mindset' that it 'should' work (as well) for other folks too. Because I sometimes forget all the 'tweaking' effort that went into a given process.

Respecting opinions is easy - just have to remember that each person is the ONLY expert at what they do - the way that they do it. The hard part sometimes is 'getting past' the way they express...

Some of the things I do are considered 'unconventional', and many folks simply have a hard time 'stretching' into new possibilities - trying new things. I still think the best two words in the English language is "why not"?

Most times an idea doesn't work - sometimes it works, but is too much trouble or cost - and every once in awhile...Eureka!!
Then have to do it over and over to make sure the same results are obtained. Takes a lot of time, but for me that's the "fun" part of gaining new experience.
But then, if I can't describe it in 50 words or less, most folks won't read about it anyway...Oh well.

So how to go about getting more MG's active on this forum? Surely there's a lot of MG's on gardenweb...?

I'd like to find out if there is a National MG Association - couldn't find it on Google. Do you know?


    Bookmark   February 1, 2009 at 5:18PM
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Hmmm... Don't know about a national association. Truthfully, I don't know much about our state association. I'll do a little research/asking and let you know what I find.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2009 at 9:38PM
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