Dig in for compost workshop

September 06, 2008|By BOB KESSLER

Wilson College, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Penn State Cooperative Extension will offer a composting workshop.

Participants who are Franklin County residents and register in advance will receive a free back yard composting bin, as long as supplies last. Only one bin will be given per household. Seating is limited to 25.

The workshop is from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 13, in the Owens Barn at the Richard Alsina Fulton Center for Sustainable Living at Wilson College, 1015 Philadelphia Avenue, Chambersburg, Pa. A campus map is available online at

Register by calling Chris Mayer at Wilson College at 717/264-4141, ext. 3247, or by e-mail at:

Riding program for autistic children

The Franklin County 4-H Therapeutic Riding Center has hired Leah Good as the riding instructor for our new riding program for children with autism.


She attended Wilson College and graduated in May 2006, with a Bachelor of Science in equine facilitated therapeutics and has experience working with at-risk youth. For the past five years, she has been involved with the riding center as a volunteer and has helped with lessons as instructor and as a riding assistant.

Summit Endowment established the program to measure the impact riding has on children with autism. The program will be started with a limited number of youths and will grow as space is available.

Fall cover crops

One way to protect your garden from erosion from wind and rain and to be able to add organic matter to your soil is to plant a cover crop. Cover crops can help break up heavy soil, improve soil fertility, capture unused fertilizer applied in 2008, improve soil structure and prevent weed growth.

Some cover crops can grow in the fall. Some will survive over winter. The following year the crops should be tilled into the garden.

Some cover crops, such as hairy vetch, will fix nitrogen in the soil and make it available to your plants the following year.

Some will produce a lot of top growth this fall and early next spring and can add a lot of organic matter. And having a well-rooted crop on your garden will hold your soil in place, especially in areas where you get a lot of wind. Winter rye is an excellent choice for these areas.

If you are going to use a cover crop, you have to prepare the soil. If you have done a soil test and lime was called for, you can add it before you work up the soil. Large open areas where you had sweet corn or potatoes can be rototilled. If you have things still planted, you can use a rake to loosen the soil between the rows. The important point is you want good seed-to-soil contact.

You have several choices of crops you can use for a cover crop. Hairy vetch should be planted very soon so it can establish and produce a good root system. It will overwinter and start growing again in the spring. You need one to two pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet.

Barley is another choice. It will establish this fall and then grow next spring. It can get two to three feet tall. Use two to three pounds of seed per acre.

Winter rye is another choice that produces a lot of growth in the spring and can get four to five feet tall. You need two to three pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet.

If you want a plant that doesn't overwinter, you can use spring oats. You'll get some growth yet this fall and then it will be killed by the frost. This will not provide a lot of organic matter, but it will protect the soil and add a modest amount of organic matter.

All grassy cover crops should be seeded by Sept. 15 for the best results. Seed for these crops is available at several farm stores in our area.

All of the cover crops except the oats will need to be killed in the spring. Some folks will mow it off to control the top growth and then plow it under. If you can wait until it goes to seed (not the hairy vetch; do not let it go to seed), then simply mowing it off will kill it. Wait two to three weeks after you till a cover crop under before you plant your vegetables.

Fall lawn fertilizing

Generally, grass should be fertilized around Memorial Day, Labor Day and after Halloween.

Apply one to one and one-half pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn. This should be a turf-type fertilizer that has at least 30 percent of the nitrogen in slow-release form. Since most of these fertilizers are in the 30-percent nitrogen range, you would be applying three to five pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet.

If the lawn is dormant from dry weather, you should wait until you see the grass greening up. However, some areas have had ample rain recently and their lawns are growing well. If that describes your area, you can apply the fertilizer now.

This is an important fertilizer application, because it helps the grass recover from the damage caused by dry weather and diseases. It also helps the grass plant produce food for improving its root system.

This fall fertilization should be followed up with a late fall fertilizer application when you stop mowing but your lawn is still green. A winterizing fertilizer is a good choice at this time.

Bob Kessler specializes in consumer horticulture and energy for Penn State University. He can be reached weekdays at 717-263-9226 or by e-mail at .

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