Friday, January 30, 2009

All about Aloe

A little while ago Ali asked about growing aloe. Aloe is one of the more useful plants, used to sooth burns as well as itches from stings of either insects or plants such as poison ivy. The gel inside the leaves has also been used to treat rashes, as well as in some cosmetic applications. Some natural healing enthusiasts also claim using aloe internally can have medicinal benefits, though there are studies on both sides of the issue. According to Wikipedia, however, there is some preliminary evidence that extracts may have some positive influence on diabetes and may lower lipids in the blood, though that is still under study.

Despite the claims of many that aloe is nontoxic, ingesting excess amounts has been associated with diarrhea, hepatitus, kidney misfunction, and more. Internal use should be closely monitored. There have been some claims that it is antiseptic, speeds the healing of wounds, and many other problems, but most of these have been proven both true and false depending on the study. And while it has been shown to help reduce symptoms and inflammation in certain types of cancer, it has never been tested on humans, and some animals actually died as a result of injections.

There has been documentation about the use of aloe for centuries from many cultures--including mention in the Bible, but there is a significant lack of natural populations of the species. Because of this, it is thought that aloe vera is probably a hybrid. Most populations of this plant occuring throughout Africa, South America and the Orient are said to have been cultivated by humans, rather than nature.

Aloe is a semi-tropic succulent, which means it grows beautifully in zones 10 and 11 where there is no chance of frost, and is also ideal for areas that receive infrequent water, such as in xeriscaping. The plants range in size from a few inches tall to massive colonies of plants in some areas with individual plants reaching a couple of feet around. Most varieties have some medicinal value, but aloe vera is the most common variety in use. I've had one of these plants since shortly after marrying my husband.

A sun lover, aloe can tolerate light shade, but does best in a bright area. Pots can be placed out on a patio during the summer if you like, but in most of the country, the plants should come in before winter. Because the plants are succulents, and are made up of 95% water, they don't handle frost. Since aloe has a shallow root system it is more important to give the plant room to stretch out, than a deep pot.

Pots should be lined with an inch or two of gravel or other course substance that will encourage good drainage. The plant's system slows down in the winter, so it should be allowed to dry out completely between watering, with only a cup or two of water to dampen the soil. In the summer the soil should be watered until nearly soggy, then allowed to dry before being watered again.

Plants can be started from seed, as some varieties will bloom when mature, but most of the time it is propagated by offsets that grow around the base of mature plants. These offsets should be not be removed and repotted until they are at least a couple of inches tall. Plants should be started in a good potting soil with perlite or course sand mixed in, or in a cacti mix. Fertilizer should be applied only once a year at half strength, and it's best to use the type for blooming plants.



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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Editing is the Pits

Yeah, I've heard some people say how much they hate drafting their books, but they love editing. I'm precisely the opposite. Yeah, I love my book so much more after doing a big edit, but in while the edit is underway I can't help but hate it.

I recently received back most of the critiques for my next submission--one more is still on it's way through snail mail. So I've taken time to incorporate suggestions, decide what to keep (most of their suggestions) and what to ignore (hardly anything).

My biggest problem mentioned by several of my readers? Huge lack of background history for the readers. You see, the first book (that is coming out in June) is all about the story of how this convoluted family tree comes to be, so apparently I got it into my head that the background was well explained in this one--but I was so wrong!

*Sigh* So once I finish making the rest of my notes on this version, I get to read through from the beginning and see where I can add bits and pieces without having maid and butler conversations like this:

"Well, as you know, Lily," Denise said as they walked out to the car, "Kaylee is my half sister who was raised by the aunt and uncle I never met."

"Why, yes, Denise, I remember when that happened. You made a trip to Ogden to meet them. "

Yeah, usually you can have one character tell another things they don't already know, and it's fine, but since all my major characters are well aware of the complex history, I can't do that.

The next option is exposition...lots, and lots of exposition. Yuck! I don't know about you all, but when I'm reading I tend to skip right over big blocks of history or descriptions when I want to get on with the story. Okay, so I haven't always written this way, the first few books I wrote had lengthy blocks of exposition, often telling background information I needed, but that the reader didn't.

Now I've moved the other direction, I guess.

Apparently I also need frequent breaks during editing because I haven't edited for more than five or ten minutes at a time before having to check Facebook, read a blog, get up and check on my hatching quail, or something similar.

Which is funny, if you think about it. I'm using my editing as an excuse to procrastinate reading the 225 pages of text for this week's EMT-I class. Then I used this blog as an excuse to avoid my editing. Excuses, inside excuses...

I really better get back to my document!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tagged again

Tristi Pinkston tagged me on her blog. Apparently you're suppose to post the 6th photo in your 6th folder. Since my laptop was recently resurrected, I don't have many pictures on here yet, but this is what I came up with.
He's one of my frizzled Cochin roosters. I took this pic because I have a bunch of assorted roosters I'm trying to sell or fob off on someone else, otherwise I'm going to have to build bachelor quarters soon for the extra boys. Yes, all of the pictures on my laptop right now are of my birds. The rest of my pictures are of other chickens, my quail, or the baby chicks I'm selling.

Can you tell I have a boring life if that's all I have taken pictures of this past month?

Since Tristi didn't say how many I have to tag, I'm choosing Nichole and Kim.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bamboo, Plant Identification, and More

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had several readers ask questions so I’m going to take today to answer them. First, Cindy asked where to get lucky bamboo, and Kim asked about training these plants into fun shapes. I know I’ve seen Lucky Bamboo at Walmart, along with several other of the big box stores that carry plants. You may find it at Home Depot or Lowes, it might be available at your local nursery, even, though that is less likely since they generally focus most on outdoor plants.


When it comes to training the bamboo, I understand it takes quite a while to accomplish. Once the stalk is grown, the shape is permanent, so you can only train shapes into new growth. Shaping the bamboo is caused by directional lighting. In China, it is often laid on its side so it’ll grow up toward the sun. At home the easiest way is to use a three sided box. This ensures that the light comes from only one direction, then you rotate the pot or dish the bamboo is in over time so it can develop curls or bends. You may have something decorative to place the bamboo in front of that will cut off the light from the back and two sides, or perhaps you have a set of dark shelving you can place the pot into, thus the bamboo will grow toward the light in the front.


Cheri asked about how to find out what kind of plant she has. My best suggestion for that is to go to Gardenweb.com. They had scads of information about every possible type of plant or landscaping technique. If you think your plant is in the pineapple family, there is a forum called Tropicals. Get a username and password--it's all free and I've never gotten emails from there, so you don't need to worry about spam--and post your picture in the forum asking what kind of plant you have. Danyelle could also try this out, though I really think she probably has a ficus, now I’ve seen the pictures. Take a full shot of the plant, then a close up of any leaves or blooms and see what others say. I have a plant I need to ask about as well.


When I was plotting out my landscaping the winter we moved into this house, I spent hundreds of hours on Gardenweb.com, since they had great discussions on nearly every possible subject, every plant ever grown, and the people there are so friendly and helpful. There are forums for different types of gardening whether fruit, vegetables, flowers, and other types. There are techniques for propagating, composting, accessible gardening for those with disabilities, and much more. I also got great ideas for making my own garden decorations (I promise, I’m going to post on those in the not-too-distant future).


Another great site where you can ask questions is Davesgarden.com. Unfortunately, they charge a small fee to become a member, and membership is required to post or ask questions, but if you want to know about a certain type of plant, their plantfiles can be searched by anyone and usually provide great information about a species preferred habititats, size and watering preferences.


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Monday, January 19, 2009

Elephant Ear Plants Dress up House or Yard

Another of my favorite indoor plants is the elephant ear, which is also known as taro. This plant is a perennial in zones 8 or warmer with the use of mulch to protect it from the cold, but is often planted in colder areas in the spring to provide great green spots in the yard. In warmer areas like Florida, be aware this plant can turn invasive, so take measures to keep it in its place.

This member of the caladium family is also often used as a house plant. I have a large pot of this in my living room, in fact. This plant prefers partial shade, and thrives in wet areas, making it ideal for marshy areas in the yard or near ponds--but mine gets watered on the same schedule as my other house plants and has survived when it has gone a couple of weeks in between waterings.

When grown in warmer, wetland areas where it doens't die back in the winter, this plant will grow up to eight foot tall, and the large, heart-shaped leaves have been known to span three foot long and two foot wide. In northern areas, the maximum growth is usually more like two to three feet tall with smaller leaves. Still mine are often at least a foot long.

These plants need a lot of nutrients and should be given a high nitrogen fertilizer monthly. If you wish to overwhinter these plants in colder areas, you can wait for the vegetation to die back, then dig up the corms and store them in saw dust or similarmaterial in a cool garage or basement as you would a canna or calla lily bulb. Make sure the corms don't dry out or mold from too much damp.

Before planting out the corms in your yard, it is best to dig the hole three to four times the size of the bulb and mix in plenty of organic matter. Every year after that, if you are leaving it in the ground, add a layer of organic matter as mulch around the base.

Used often to add texture to the garden beds, the most common cultivar of this plant, "Black Magic" has a solid green leaf. Other varieties are available however, including "Jet Black Wonder" which has a white veining pattern, and "Yellow Splash" which has a variagated leaf.

Another point in this plant's favor is the fact that the corm is edible. In fact, it is an important food source in much of the world. The Hawaiians have been eating it for centuries in the form of 'poi'. All parts of the plant can produce stomach irritation if it is not cooked properly, however, so take care when preparing it.

yourLDSneighborhood has added exciting new things to its website. Please drop me and take a look, browse around, check out our vendors, our radio station, our authors, our musicians and more. Check out the Neighborhood.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Writing update and guilty secrets

Well, the month is half over and my writing goals are coming along nicely enough. I got my manuscript out to all my readers (which they promptly told me they loved except that I need to do a major rewrite--and no, Danyelle, it wasn't just you). I still have some feed back coming in, so I'm not even thinking about it right now, but I have the funniest feeling I'm not going to get it to my publisher before Valentine's Day. Thankfully that was a self-imposed deadline, so no one cares if I make it except me. I'll try and accept that my writing schedule doesn't always work out the way I want it to.

My next book, which I've been taking to critique for the past four or five months is in it's last two chapters. Considering the way I feel about what I've written this week, I may end up scrapping the end and trying again. then again, maybe I'll get lucky and the writing fairy will strike when my back is turned tomorrow. I had planned on 20,000 or more words to be added before the book would be finished, but I'm currently just shy of 14,000 words written this month, and I'm pretty much there. I have one more loose end to tie in, but that's not going to take 6000 words.

Next up on the docket? Who knows. I could rewrite any of five or so that range from half finished to completely done (but have major structure problems), or work on the companion story to the one I'm just finishing up. We'll see where the mood strikes next week. (I know what I ought to be working on, but the idea of revising the story to make it work is a bit overwhelming. I guess I should read it and see if it's fixable or if I should scrap it and do something else entirely. My other option is to ignore it for another seven years and see if the writing fairy turns it into a masterpiece.)

Meanwhile, I'm compulsively checking my in box for any news from my publisher about my first book (a title would be nice) (requested edits would be nice too, just so I can stop wondering what they'll look like). I know, I know, it's not even being published for like five more months, and they have four months of books to worry about before mine.

Patience is not my strongest virtue, I guess.

In other news, I have baby quail scheduled to hatch this weekend, and sometime in the next week I'm hoping to take down my Christmas tree. I know, I usually get Christmas cleaned up New Year's Day, or the day after at the latest, but it seems my inner child refuses to comply with my outer adult. And if my writing deadlines aren't enough reason to stay away from boxing up Christmas, I'm sure I can find another dozen excuses.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Caring for a Ficus

My friend Danyelle and I were talking the other day and she mentioned that she inherited an indoor tree from a neighbor and wasn't sure what it was, or how to care for it. Though she was thrilled that it had survived for an entire year without dying, it wasn't thriving either. She hasn't sent a picture yet, but it sounds like a ficus--the most common indoor tree.

The ficus is a member of the fig family, which has hundreds of cultivars, ranging from bonsai size to some growing well over thirty feet. The indoor varieties don't bear fruit. They like bright, filtered light, but don't like drafts or big temperature fluctuations, so keep them away from large windows, heat vents, and the like.

The most common complaints with the ficus is that the leaves turn yellow and drop off, though sometimes even young green leaves can fall off. The first complaint is usually caused by not enough water, the second can have several causes, but too much water is often the culprit. These plants don't handle change well. If you move them to a new room with a different amount of light, or even repot them, you can stress the tree out, which can cause the leaves to fall off. When this happens, it is important to keep dead leaves cleaned off of the tree, and trim back any dead branches. Doing so will ensure the inner branches receive sufficient light. The change of seasons, including the air conditioner or heater starting to kick on can cause leaf loss as well.

You need to make sure the top inch or two of soil dries out between waterings and fertilize monthly with a half strength or slow release fertilizer during the growing season. If the plant is droppin leaves, don't fertilize until it stops, and the growth slows during the winter, so do not fertilize during this period.

Anothe thing to watch out for is humidity,in most cases you'll need to provide extra humidity for the tree. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first is to mist the tree twice a day with a spray bottle. The second--and the method I would use because I know I would forget the first--is to put your pot in a large tray filled with gravel. When you water, the extra water will flow into the gravel both keeping the roots from sitting in it--which your tree will appreciate--and creating a higher humidity zone for your tree. You could add water periodically to the tray itself if it dries out between waterings.

If youa re concerned about over or under watering, you can purchase a device that will indicate if the soil is too wet, damp, or needs watering.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Spider Plants Love to Hang Out

Another of my favorite house plants is the spider plant. I actually have two of these: one is a variegated leaf-variety, and one is a solid green color. Like the philodendron, this popular house plant is extremely hardy, prefers to be out of direct sunlight, and is very simple to propagate.

These grow quickly to 2-2 1/2 foot wide and 2-3 foot long if in a hanging basket. I have mine on top of a display cabinet in my living room and the stems flow over the corner, softening the edges. These do best with a thorough watering every week, but I have gone at least three weeks at a stretch at my house when I've been especially distracted. They bounce back quickly. They really need to dry out for a day or so between watering, so a weekly regime in all but the hottest indoor locations is ideal.

The Chlorophytum comosum or "airplane plant" puts out long stems from the main plant. These produce tiny white flowers which turn into little plantlets. If you let these plantlets touch dirt, they will root and can be easily detached from the main stem. If you have a bit of rooting hormone and can be diligent about keeping the dirt damp, you can remove them from the mother plant first, but I perfer to keep them attached until roots are developing. Once this is accomplished, simply cut the long stem away as close to the plant as possible with a sharp knife.

Spiders rarely have problems when kept indoors (they can be planted outdoors ina shady area during wrmer months if you like) but over or under watering, spider mites and whiteflies, scale and aphids can cause problems, so it's best to keep an eye out.

Two problems can be caused by watering habits. One is root rot, caused by insufficient drainage, or too frequent watering. In many cases this is shown by the plant dying from the center out. If your leaf tips begin to brown you should check to see if you are fertilizing with too high of a concentration, if there are excess salts in the water you are using, or even if you aren't watering often enough.

Spider plants have thick tuberous roots and can be separated at any time of the year. These roots are actually capable of breaking the pot the plant is in, so it doesn't hurt to check them periodically. Do not fertilize for up to four months after repotting. The offshoots with plantlets usually are formed during the fall when the hours of sunlight begin to decline. these plantlets can be potted up any time of years.

This native of Africa is often grown in rocks instead of dirt. When the roots begin to appear above the soil surface it is weasy to split and repot the plant.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Philodendron is more diverse than you think

Continuing with discussions about house plants: my first plant as a new high school graduate was a start off of my grandmother's philodendron. I remember telling my mom that I needed something nearly indestructible, something I could forget to water once in a while. This was all that and more.
My philodendron has been knocked off of the refrigerator, left for weeks without watering (and in reverse, way over watered by one of my 'helpful' roommates) and been stuck in the back of my parents' van in 100+ degree weather for a week and still lives. I'm sure most people recognize the photo above, and the majority of them will even know what it is, but did you realize the photo below is also a philodendron?
It is estimated there are over 400 varieties of this family, and one organization estimates that number to be more in the 900 range. In the continental U.S. most plants must be kept indoors, but in the warmest areas of the country, and central America, as well as the Indies, these plants are grown outside.

Usually grown for it's lovely foliage, in the right conditions, many varieties will also put out calla lily-type flowers as well in pink, red, purple or pale green. Leaves should be washed periodically wit a light soap solution or with a gentle insecticide to clean pores and discourage insects. These plants thrive in room temperatures of 60-75 degrees and need very little light. In fact, they should be kept from direct light for most of the year, wit the coldest parts of winter as the exception. I had mine on the floor of my car when I was moving once and the leaves exposed to direct, hot sunlight of mid summer took less than 15 minutes to die back.

This member of the Araceae family likes high humidity when kept in green houses, with humidity slightly less important in the cooler winter temperatures. Also, plants will benefit from a diluted fertilizer every couple of weeks.

To propagate, stems with at least two joints can be planted in a loose potting soil and kept in a warm spot (either with bottom heat, or under an inverted bell jar), starting with a three inch pot. Another option, especially with trailing varieties, is to place the freshly cut stem in a jar of water and kept out of direct sunlight for four to eight weeks while it grows roots. Cuttings started in water should also have a couple of small chunks of charcoal added to the water.

If you happen to come across a variety that sets seed, the best way to start them in in damp sphagnum moss, then transplant them into a pot when they are large enough to handle easily. Seeds should be removed from the fleshy covering they grow in and planted immediately without allowing them to dry out first.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Lucky Bamboo one of the easier house plants

Do you have a black thumb? I know several people who claim they do, but even they can handle a plant as simple as Lucky Bamboo.

Actually, this plant isn't even bamboo, it's Dracaena Sanderia, a member of the lily family that grows naturally in the tropic rain forests of Southeast Asia and Africa.

The beauty of this plant is that it thrives in water--an inch in the bottom of the pot is plenty--and only needs occasional mild fertilizing. Of course, it's best if you add to or change the water weekly, but if the plant begins to yellow, it's possible there's too much floride or salt in your water. Another possibility is that you have it in direct sunlight, which it doesn't like. It also doesn't do well in extreme heat or cold, so room temperature is really perfect for it.

The plant got its name because it is used in the art of Feng Shui and is figured to be an ideal example of the mix of water, and wood, and occasionally people tie it with a red ribbon, which is supposed to fire the chi in the room. In many parts of Asia, Lucky Bamboois refered to as "tree from heaven." It is also seen as a symbol of luck because of it's rapid growth, fortitude and strength.

Different numbers of stalks also have meaning: two for love, three for happiness, five for wealth, six for health, nince for general good luck, and twenyt-one for blessings. Four, on the other hand, are to be avoided, since the word for four is so close to the word for death in Chinese.

You can take cuttings from the plants to create new plants by cutting the stalks with a sharp knife just below a joint and place is fresh water. Commercially, they cut the canes just above the leave brachts, apply wax to one end and set the other in a growth hormone solution. The waxy end will eventually sprout leaves. Once the canes have been trained to a shape, they will keep that shape forever, as long as te plant is not deprived of water.

You can also pot these plants in a loose soil and sand mixture, but make sure the top of the soil dries out between watering to prevent root rot.

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Gorgeous David Bowman Prints

My friend Ali introduced me to this gorgeous art by David Bowman, who has a children's book series out called "Who's Your Hero? Book of Mormon Stories Applied to Children," which is available off his web site or at Deseretbook.com.

David Bowman: has had a passion for art ever since he could pick up a pencil. He loves creating images of the Savior that inspire and uplift. Along with his Christian fine art, David has also written and illustrated a series of scripture storybooks for children titled "Who's Your Hero". Check out his website at www.bowman-art.com to see more of his precious art.



"Innocence"
The Savior tells us we need to become as little children to inherit the kingdom of God. I've often wondered what it is about little children Jesus loves most, and I think its their innocence. They are clean slates, seeing the world and others through untarnished eyes. Their hearts are pure, without the baggage of cynicism and self-doubt. In this piece, I've tried to imagine how a child would act upon meeting the Master for the first time. Without reservation or inhibition, I think he would simply want to play with Him. He would be at complete ease, allowing his pure little heart to soak in the love and laughter of His pure, infinite heart. Its no wonder Christ delights in these little ones and sets them up to be our examples.


"Security"
One of the greatest human needs is a sense of security. In all aspects of life, we naturally gravitate towards anything that makes us feel safe. In this piece, I wanted to convey a sense of complete peace and calm like only the Savior can provide. It's a security that allows us to rest assured, without fear or worry, when we put ourselves trustingly in His arms. Little children have that inherent kind of trust in their parents, so it's fitting that the man and girl who modeled for "Security" are actually father and daughter. They generated
the exact feel I was looking for.



"My Child"
This piece conveys an intimate, up-close-and-personal feeling of the Savior's love. Notice how all the lines draw your attention and point towards Jesus' face in the center. I chose the name "My Child" because the only thing that could compare (even remotely) to Christ's compassion for us is the love of a parent for his/her child. This image is also intended to put things in perspective. Above all, we are God's children first. He allows us the privelege of experiencing parenthood for ourselves and we are entrusted to be the mothers and fathers of His children here on earth.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Composting with worms:2


Last time I talked about the basics of setting up a vermicompost bin. Today I'll discuss ways to harvest your compost and worms, other kinds of bins you can use, and things to watch out for in your bin.

There are several suggested methods for harvesting your compost from a simple bin. The first is to move all of your finished compost to one half of the bin, and add new bedding and food to the other side. Wait a few weeks, and then pull out the finished compost. The worms will naturally migrate to the side that has food available for them.

Second, just remove a third to a half of your bin contents, including the worms, and apply to your garden beds, then refill your bin with new bedding. I know my parents blame the worms for their bumpy grass, but earthworms are a gardeners best friend. Unless you're going to create a second bin, or use the extra worms for fishing or feeding to a pet (if you have one that likes worms like my chickens do), you'll probably want to reduce the worm population in your bin eventually, so this method might be great for you.

Third, dump the contents into various piles on a sheet of plastic or tarp under a bright light or the sun. The worms will migrate away from the light into the middle of the pile, Every few minutes, move more of the dirt away from the circle and eventually you'll end up with small piles of worms and a little dirt with donut-like circles of dirt around them.

Most people will have a simple or non-continuous bin like I msntioned in my previous post. Another option is a verticle continuous bin. This consists of a verticle set of stacking trays. The bottom tray is filled first, and when it is full, a second one is stacked on top of it, and filled. There are holes between the trays so when the worms finish with the bottom tray, they naturally migrate to the top bin. Several bins in a row can be filled this way, and when most of the worms have left the bottom bin, it is ready for using to amend your soil.

A continuous horizontal system is much like the non-continuous system, only it usually happens in a larger container. Usually pieces of chicken wire are run between "bins" to separate them. First one is filled, then the other. This is a little easier to harvest than a verticle bin, or a non-continuous system, but can still be small enough for the average person to manage.

On a larger scale, businesses or farms often use a windrow system, which is piles of organic matter for the worms that overlap each other. Often this is places on cement to prevent predators from burrowing up to the compost.

Just a few tips for maintaining a healthy bin. First, the worms and composting requires oxygen, so the bedding needs to be stirred up, or holes need to be added over time (like when you add pockets of food to the bin). Also, the moisture content of the bedding needs to be kept at the right level so it doesn't dry out, and to siphon off extra liquid, especially with non-continuous systems. This extra liquid will make a great fertilizer for your plants, and is often referred to as compost tea. If the bedding gets too wet, it will start to smell. Citrus peels can also cause problems in vermicompost bins if too many are used, though a few will not hurt.

If your bin does get too wet, you can also add more 'carbon's to the mix, or shredded newspaper, straw, or other similar materials, and cut back on the number of 'nitrogen' items you add to the bedding, like food scraps. Having a higher carbon to nitrogen ratio can slow decomposition, but cuts down on many other problems.

Vermicompost is richer in nutrients than most of other compost methods, and the worm mucus is said to help retain nutrients better from being washed out of the compost. It also contains more microorganisms that help break down things in the soil into usable nutrients for plants. This is a great medium for starting new seeds, but be aware if your bin had a lot of tomato, pepper, or other smalls seeds, they may sprout when you use the compost.

Other benefits include: improving plant growth, germination, and crop yeild.
Improving soil structure
Encouraging root growth,
Improving the soil's ability to hold water
Attracting other deep-burrowing worms to the soil to help your plants.

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