If you keep your lawn healthy, it will naturally cut down on your weed population, diseases and pests. Pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides can not only be spendy, but they are toxic and can pose a threat to your pets or children if overused or carelessly applied. The also can kill beneficial insects, earthworms, birds and other useful organisms which then throws off the healthy ecological balance of your lawn and garden. Fertilizers with a fast release of phosphorus and nitrogen can pollute storm drains, streams, rivers and on and on creating a health hazard for fish and amphibians.
There are steps you can take to create a healthier, happier and more carefree lawn and garden.
1. Build healthy soil by adding 1/2 to 2 inches of compost or aged manure every year by tilling it into the soil. Do a soil test, if you need to add fertilizer, use an organic fertilizer. Most will last longer and provide more support for your beneficial soil organisms without adding chemicals.
2. Grasscycling. Leave your grass clippings on the lawn. It releases nutrients back into the lawn and reduces the need for fertilizers. Grass clippings do not cause the dreaded Thatch!
3. Water about an inch a week, that's all you normally will need. Over watering promotes disease and leaches nutrients from your soil.
4. Older lawns may need to be aerated in the late Spring or early Fall.
5. If you do have weeds, pull them out. At the very least, cut off the part that has seeds in it and put them in the yard trash recycling bin. For instance, don't just pull off the head of the opened (or unopened) dandelion and toss it aside... that won't stop the seeds from spreading.
6. If you do pull out the entire weed and leave a bare spot, sprinkle a little grass seed on it and cover with weed-free compost.
7. Grow a diverse garden in your yard.... it will provide beauty as well as decrease the amount of lawn you have to care for. (Note: if you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can obtain a list of "Appropriate Plants for Northwest Landscapes" by calling Metro Recycling Information at 503-234-3000. Planting plants that known to thrive in your area will be much less expensive in the long run than buying plants that would have a low survival rate for this area. It's also a lot less work if you don't have to replant every time something dies.
8. Again, you don't want to use chemical pesticides in your garden. It will likely kill off essential insects and harm birds and other wildlife. Once your essential insects are gone then you will need more and more pesticides to keep the bad bugs out... let the good bugs do their thing. If you really need a pesticide, use the least toxic product like an insecticidal soap. (NOTE: You can call Metro Recycling, 503-234-3000, and ask for a copy of "Natural Gardening: a guide to alternatives to pesticides").
9. Rotate crops and annual plants year to year to keep potential pests and soil diseases from getting established in your garden.
If you want to find out if a bug is beneficial or a pest, there are several books on the subject, Master Gardeners can tell you, take a sample to the a garden center or nursery and ask them.
I thought these websites are very good about good and bad bugs:
Attracting Beneficial Insects
Top 10 Beneficial Garden Insects
Recipes for Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden
Why buy compost when you can make it in your own backyard, using stuff you're going to pay someone to haul away anyhow, just following a few easy steps? First and foremost.... you cannot put every bit of your waste into a compost pile. Compost is used as a soil amendment (which, if you live in the Portland area, you have clay for soil and an amendment is very beneficial), mulch, potting mixture,
Absolutely no human, dog, or cat wastes can be composted. No dairy products, meats, fats, oils, grease, diseased plants, or weeds with seed heads should be composted. Dispose of those things in other ways.
What you can compost is (Green stuff, used as 1 part of the total) fresh grass clippings, green leaves, plants stalks, hedge trimmings, vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds (including filters), tea bags, and egg shells. Manure from horse, cow and poultry is good. (Brown stuff, is one or two parts of the total) such as woody prunings, leaves, twigs, straw, wood chips, old potting soil, shredded newspaper.
Composting is accomplished when a variety of organisms found naturally in organic matter work together to break down materials. Bacteria are the first microorganisms. Fungi and protozoa soon join the bacteria. Later on, centipedes, millipedes, beetles and worms arrive to finish the job.
To make things easier for them to feed and break down the materials, chop garden debris into 6" or smaller pieces or use a lawnmower, when possible, to shred the material.
Compost piles trap heat generated by the activity of the millions of microorganisms. A 3 x 3 x 3 foot pile is considered an ideal size for hot, fast composting.
The compost pile needs to be damp, like a wrung out sponge, in order for the microorganisms to work at their best. Extremes of sun and rain can adversely affect the balance. The most efficient temperature for the decomposing is between 110 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
One thing you should be aware of and think about is that rodents will be attracted to your pile if you put fruit and vegetable trimmings in the mix. If you are going to add those things, get yourself a rodent-resistant composting bin. If rodents aren't a concern for you, you can just plop it all on the ground in a space of about 3 x 3 feet. Or put it in a simple holding bin made of wire mesh or salvaged lumber. Just add your chopped browns and greens to the area as you generate them. Be sure to mix moist green materials, like grass clippings, to the pile as to not attract pests. In 4 to 12 months, you should have soil-like compost to harvest at the bottom of the pile.
Hot composting requires more effort and space but it is the fastest method for composting yard trimmings. A two or three bin system that allows access to the compost for turning is ideal.
Mix your brown and green materials and dampen the pile as you go along. About a week later, turn and mix the materials into the next bin. Do that a few times and then let the compost cure for several weeks. If it seems dry, add water. If it didn't heat up initially, add more high nitrogen material or nitrogen fertilizer. Commonly, it takes about one to three months to complete. It is finished when it is cool and looks nice and brown.
If you live in the Portland Metro area, you could benefit from visiting one of the sites that holds composting demonstrations. There are 4 in the area. 1. Metro Natural Techniques Demo Garden, 6700 SE 57th Ave, Portland (call Metro Recycling for hours), 2. Clackamas Community College site, 19600 S Mollala Ave, Oregon City, 3. Fulton Community Gardens site, SW Barbur Blvd and SW Miles St, Portland, in the Burlingame neighborhood, 4. Leach Botanical Garden site, 6704 SE 122nd Ave, Portland - there is more than a 1/4 mile walk to look at this one. Compost bins can be purchased at a deep discount from the Metro Paint store at 4825 N Basin Ave, Portland.
Using worms to compost turns fruit and vegetable waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Red worms or "red wigglers" are the best to use because they live in the top layer of soil under the organic debris that is their food. They process large amounts of organic matter, reproduce quickly, and tolerate fluctuations in temperature, moisture, and acidity that other species cannot. Oregon metro can tell you where there are outlets for that particular worm.
If you recall, I had made a post a while back about Worm Poop... you might want to go back and read that again too.
As with the regular composting... no dairy products, meats, oily/greasy foods, or grains go into the compost bin. No human or animal waste goes in the compost bin. Fruit scraps, veggie scraps, coffee and filters, tea bags, eggshells, shredded newspaper, leaves and straw DO go in the bin. A pound of worms is usually enough for a small household.
The worms get fed at least once a week, mostly because the scraps will get smelly and attract flies if you wait longer than that to feed it. As with the other compost, the smaller you chop the scraps, the faster it gets composted. Each time you add food, put it in a different part of the bin. Always keep the worms and food covered with 2 - 3 inches of damp bedding.
There will be other creatures in the bin. Most are good bugs who help the worms to decompose the materials. If you have centipedes, that is bad because they eat worms. Millipedes have two pairs of legs per section.. they are good bugs... centipedes have only one pair per section and need to be removed.
The size of bin you need depends on the amount of waste, weekly, there is to be composted. The bin should provide a surface area of 1 square foot for each pound of waste per week. For instance, if you produce 4 lbs of waste weekly, you will need a worm bin with 4 feet of surface area. This could be a bin whose floor is 2' x 2' or two bins, each with floors that are 1' x 2'. The bins should be no more than 1.5' deep.
Your bins should be placed in the shade in the Summers and insulated in the Winters. The best temperature range for your worms is between 55 and 80 degrees.
Worms need a loose, moisture retaining environment with lots of air pockets to allow for drainage. Bedding should shredded newspaper in thin long strips, fluffed up and dampened with water. Mix with leaves or straw to prevent compacting. The bin should be 3/4 full of damped bedding with a few handfuls of soil to provide bacteria and grit that the worms need.
You can start harvesting three to six months after the initial setup. Make sure you harvest at least once per year to ensure your worms have a healthy environment. To harvest, just scoop out the compost, worms and all.
A few websites for you about worm composting:
Composting with Red Wigglers
Worm Composting Guide
Red Worm Composting
How to Make Your Own Worm Compost System
That's about it! Since you have to pick up and dispose of your various wastes anyway, why not put it to work for you instead of paying someone to haul it away? Have fun!