Question: I'm finding a lot of fly larvae in my compost (ugh!) and want to know what I can do about it?
Answer: The likely problem is that your compost is not hot enough to kill the larvae. Turning the pile every five days or so should keep it hot. If you already turn it, and it still isn't hot, it might not have enough nitrogen to speed along the heating. Mix fresh manure or grass clippings into the heap and it should heat up.
Still no heat? Then the problem is likely to be that your pile is either too wet or too dry. If too wet, turn it every day. When it dries out enough, it'll start heating. Often too much rain is the culprit, but that's easily fixed by covering the pile with plastic. If, on the other hand, it's too dry, add water. A compost pile should be like a wrung-out sponge, so don't waterlog it
Q: I've seen pesticides like carbaryl, diazinon, and malathion referred to as "organic." The names sure don't sound good. What gives?
A: Your suspicions are correct! The word organic has more than one meaning. Organic gardening works with nature, using only organic (from once living) materials, like compost, and animal manures.
The highly toxic pesticides you mentioned are part of a branch of chemistry related to hydrocarbon compounds and are considered "organic" only because they contain carbon compounds. They are man-made in the chemical lab.
If you read the labels on fertilizers and pesticides carefully, you can determine that you're buying the "organic" you want.
Q: Thinking ahead, I want to plant cover crops this fall. I hear that clover is good, but if I plant it as a cover crop in the fall and till it under in the spring, what's to keep the clover from coming up all over my garden.
A: Not to worry. If sown in the fall, the young clover plants will survive the winter. They will begin growing in the spring before the soil can be worked. Still, they will not have time to seed before you turn them over.
Be sure that when you do begin working your soil that it is sufficiently ready to work. A quick test is to grab a handful of soil and squeeze it in your hand. If you can easily break it apart, the soil is ready to work. If, however, the soil is still too clay-like and sticks together, you need to wait a bit longer. Working the soil when it's not ready won't gain you anything, it will only do damage to your soil.
When you turn it under the soil, be sure and cover all the plant.
When thoroughly buried, it rots, roots and all, and helps loosen and provide nutrients for the soil. Two weeks after turning under a cover crop, you can prepare a seed bed. You'll find few traces of the plants, and you can assure that the clover will not regrow.
Q: I love mint and am appalled by the price of it in the store. Though I want to grow it, I've heard that it will take over the garden in short order. How would you suggest growing it?
A: The rapid spread of a mint plant is due to underground stems, called stolons. They generally travel a few inches under the soil, but their tenaciousness is due to the fact that when the roots encounter a barrier, they can dig much deeper to avoid it.
I grow all my mints in containers. I have to redo the pots every few years, as the mint outgrows any size pot quickly, but I consider that infinitely preferable to mint gone wild in my beds. Besides, I love mint tea and use a great deal of it during the year. Mint loves its water but does well somewhat neglected otherwise. No need to fertilize, except maybe to jump start a new plant. Happy sipping!
ABOUT THIS COLUMN
Master Gardener Kathleen Bander is a resident of Bellingham and life-long gardener. For more information on Whatcom County Master Gardeners, go to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html.
Ask a Master Gardener will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through July. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to email@example.com.