Question: With all the dog owners who are gardeners, would it be a good idea to use it as manure in the garden?
Answer: As a dog owner and gardener, all I can say is "eek ... ugh." No. DO NOT use dog feces in the garden. While pathogens and parasites transmittable to humans could be killed if it were composted thoroughly at very high temperatures, there's too large a chance it won't be in home composts.
In addition, dog manure is dense and won't break down as readily as cow or horse manure.
Just in case you're wondering what lovely parasites dogs can pass onto humans, hold onto your hat: tapeworms, roundworms and hookworms. So keep Fido's droppings out of the compost!
Q: I want to mulch my garden paths with straw, as I love the look of it. However, someone mentioned that I had better use hay. Which do you think is better?
A: Straw is the dry stems and leaves of a grain crop like oats or wheat. Hay is cut green from fields, and typically a mix of grasses, legumes (alfalfa, clover) and weeds. Imagine, using hay on all your paths, only to soon discover hundreds (or thousands) of weeds springing up. To kill the millions of weed seeds in hay, you need to compost it with high heat.
Straw is your better choice. It isn't nearly as weedy. Hay has 1 to 2 percent nitrogen, while straw is less, about 1 percent. However, I don't know any gardener who would trade 1 percent nitrogen for thousands of weeds!
Q: I would like to grow some food over the winter. Can you give me pointers?
A: We are so lucky to live in such a temperate climate. It is possible to garden even when most have their gardens put to bed from October until May.
Crops that mature between October and May are called cool-season or cool-weather crops. They are not sown in the winter but are harvested then. If you plant the right varieties, observe the proper sowing dates, and understand the basics of cool-season production, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much you can grow even in inclement weather.
Timing for cool-weather crops is complex. Almost every winter variety has its own requirements. Parsnips and leeks are slow-growing, and must be sown early in the spring to have time to sufficiently mature; spinach and Chinese cabbage need to be sown late in the summer to avoid bolting, or going to seed. Kale, carrots and beets are fast-growing, and sown in June and July.
Unfortunately, the sowing dates for cool-weather crops coincides with the busiest time for us humans. We're all busy harvesting and preserving, and free time is spent on vacations or outdoors in our stunning weather.
I suggest you choose only a couple of things to plant in the beginning. Ease into it. Next year, if you find it suits you, any amount of increase is possible.
Pay attention to where you plant your winter garden. Plant where there's protection from wind, and where there is good light.
Here's a list of crops, and their planting dates, that can be planted now for winter or earliest spring harvest:
Beets - July, February.
Bok choi - February, March.
Carrots - January, February.
Kale - January.
Lettuce, mustard, spinach - January, February, March.
Cauliflower, Chinese cabbage - July.
Garlic - October.
Fall lettuce - July, August.
Winter radish - August.
When you plant for crops year-round, you are basically planting eight months out of the year. Keeping the right seeds and keeping to a schedule with the right dates to plant can be tedious and downright confusing. It helps to be organized. Make a list of sowing dates and put it on your refrigerator. Put a schedule into your computer or tablet and have it remind you.
I keep a small box with the seeds to be planted that month. The visual reminder works for me. Keep tags and pens with it, and you'll make your life easier.
I would urge anyone who likes to garden and likes to eat good, fresh, healthy food from the garden to give cool-weather gardening a try. It's great to get outdoors almost any time of year here in the Northwest. I'm looking forward to gardening in cooler weather myself.
Master Gardener Kathleen Bander is a resident of Bellingham and life-long gardener. For more information on Whatcom County Master Gardeners, go online to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html.
Ask a Master Gardener will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through July, then monthly. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.