gardening

Sampling the Garden Soil

by Cliff Villa

It began with a concerned mom in Eugene, Oregon, raising a seemingly simple question: is the soil in my garden safe for growing food?

Joanne Gross, the stay-at-home mom posing the question, had reason to be concerned. The neighborhood of West Eugene, where she and her family were living, was ringed with air pollution from a variety of sources: energy production, chemical processing and manufacturing, wood products, traffic, and idling trains. The chemicals emitted from these sources are associated with a variety of health risks including asthma, headaches, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. And indeed, more than 60% of residents who participated in a local survey reported significant concerns about asthma and cardiovascular diseases, as well as increased incidences of headaches, fatigue, and other ailments potentially connected to air pollution.

The 97402 zip code that makes up West Eugene is home to 99 percent of the City of Eugene’s air toxics emissions. Of the 31 facilities reporting to the city’s Toxics Right-to-Know Program, all but one is located in this zip code. One facility, a wood treatment plant that uses creosote in its industrial process, operates 100 feet from the nearest home and just over half a mile from Fairfield Elementary School, which has the highest asthma rate for an elementary school in the Bethel School District. Reflecting local demographics, 35 percent of Fairfield’s students are Latino and 71 percent receive free or reduced school lunches.

To help gather information about environmental justice concerns in this community, EPA Region 10 awarded two Environmental Justice Small Grants to Beyond Toxics, a local community-based organization working in partnership with other community organizations. The grants supported statistical analysis, door-to-door surveys, community presentations, and other initiatives including a local “EJ Toxics Tour.” Beyond Toxics and its partners, including Centro Latino Americano, conducted community interviews and meetings in Spanish, and recorded the concerns of community members who might have been overlooked in the past.

These discussions engaged the attention of many government organizations, including the City of Eugene, the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, the Oregon Health Authority, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. While some agencies worked on air permitting issues local health studies, brownfields assessments, and land use planning, we here in EPA Region 10 wondered how else we might contribute to enhancing the environmental well-being of this over-burdened community.

The simple question posed by concerned mom Joanne Gross and other community members prompted EPA’s response: find out whether it is safe for local residents to grow food in their gardens.

The My Garden – West Eugene project was designed to answer this question. We knew that we possessed the technical capacity to conduct soil sampling and analysis, and through the use of mobile laboratories, field equipment, and EPA and contractor personnel, it seemed possible that soil sampling and analysis could be conducted in the field, with results provided to community members almost instantaneously. We discovered that the concept already had been tested and proven a success in EPA Region 3, where staff had held “Soil Kitchen” events in diverse neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia. Their Soil Kitchen events pioneered an innovative process involving community members collecting their own soil samples from their backyards and gardens and bringing their samples to the “Soil Kitchen” for real-time analysis by EPA.

Partnering with local organizations, including Beyond Toxics and the Active Bethel Citizens neighborhood association, as well as state and local agencies, we planned the My Garden event for Sunday, October, 19, 2014, to coincide with the neighborhood Bethel Harvest Festival. In the weeks leading up to the event, community partners helped assemble and distribute throughout the community 250 citizen sampling kits. Each kit included a metal spoon, the illustrated instructions, and a zip-lock bag for collecting and the delivering the soil sample to the mobile lab. Over the course of a lovely fall afternoon, community members, including concerned mom Joanne Gross, brought 38 soil samples to the EPA mobile lab and received both the analytical data and an explanation of what the data meant. The operation was overseen by EPA On-Scene Coordinator Dan Heister, assisted by many other technical and program staff and contractors. Importantly, the EPA team included a native Spanish speaker who could explain the sampling process and results to the more than one-third of Spanish-speaking community members who brought their samples in for testing.

In addition to establishing connections with community members and local agencies and organizations, the My Garden – West Eugene project provided reassuring news to Joanne Gross and all her neighbors participating in the event: of all samples analyzed, none indicated contamination at levels of concern for growing food in gardens.

About the author: Cliff Villa is an Assistant Regional Counsel for EPA Region 10 and an adjunct professor at Seattle University School of Law. At EPA, Cliff provides legal counsel to the Emergency Management Program and represents the Office of Regional Counsel on the Region 10 Environmental Justice Integration Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Upcycling for Life

By Mark Seltzer

With Americans creating literally millions of pounds of trash each year, and 135 million tons ending up in landfills and incinerators in 2012, I’m always looking to upcycle. I enjoy giving unwanted objects new life. Here are some of the interesting items I’ve made over the years out of objects that otherwise would have gone in a landfill.   Macquarium

Back in the day, my high school was discarding Macintosh Plus all-in one computers.  Determined to find a creative use for out-of–date computers, I built a Macquarium – a Macintosh computer aquarium. I took everything in the monitor out and replaced it with an aquarium tank and a filter.  See photos and specific details on how to make one.

Gardening and Composting

Composting is one way to upcycle your food waste, but you can build a composter with recycled materials too. I designed two composters out of reused materials – a tumbling composter with a recycled 35 gallon barrel, and a worm (vermacomposting) bin out of a reused plastic tote.

Reclaimed Wine Bottles

I’ve reclaimed wine bottles by building several prototype lights and pencil cups. These items can be found on my desk at EPA and can make great gifts.

winecup

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ski bench

I work part time as a National Ski Patroller at a local ski mountain, and I decided something must be done with discarded skis. Now skiiers can rest at the top on the bench I designed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planters

I turned a tiny recycling bin into a mini “Zen Garden.”  I wanted a low profile planter and found that a cast-off recycling bin serves as a narrow planter in a high traffic walkway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lights! Bike Light

For a coworker and good friend who is an avid biker, I designed a bike floor lamp.  Certainly one way to recycle!

 

 

 

 

Repurposed Jelly Jars Lights

Jelly jars make great candles. Here are a couple with recycled (filtered) vegetable oil and a wick.   Currently, I’m renovating my house and donating things to a local building material thrift shop. I intend to reuse as much as possible for creative upcycling.  Here’s one gem from my house, a funky shower fixture.  Ideas for reuse? Coat Rack? Bookshelf? Stay tuned … I hope to write a blog post on my reuse ventures from house renovations.

 

 

 

 

About the author: Mark Seltzer works as an attorney advisor for EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention. During the winter months, he can be found on the ski slopes as a ski patroller at a local Pennsylvania ski mountain. During the summer, he can be found running, hiking, biking or canoeing along the Potomac.  

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Celebrating Mushrooms, Farmers, and Watersheds in Kennett Square

By Christina Catanese

“What’s that smell?” I asked, as we got out of the car in front of my friend’s house in Kennett Square, PA.

“Oh, the mushroom compost?” Jaclyn said. “I don’t even smell that anymore.”

It wasn’t an unpleasant smell, but an earthy aroma that permeated the air the same way the culture of mushroom farming pervades this small Pennsylvania town.

Mushrooms are a way of life in Kennett Square.  Often called the Mushroom Capital of the World, mushroom farms in this area of Southeastern Pennsylvania produce the vast majority of mushrooms produced in the United States, outdone only by China in mushroom farming worldwide.  I heard some figures that mushroom farms in Chester County produce over a million pounds of mushrooms a week!

Enjoying a beautiful day in the Kennett Square community

Enjoying a beautiful day in the Kennett Square community

Every year, this proud tradition of mushroom farming is celebrated at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival.  I attended this year’s festival a few weeks ago, where I expected to and did eat many types and forms of mushrooms (including but not limited to the classic deep fried mushroom balls, the higher brow mushroom gorgonzola hummus, and even cream of mushroom ice cream).

What I didn’t expect was to learn so much about mushroom farming itself, and its role in the health of the watershed of the Delaware River, Red and White Clay Creek, and other local streams.  Part of the festival was an exhibition that walked through the process of growing mushrooms.  It really gave me an appreciation of the amount of work these farmers have to do to grow their crops.

A mushroom farmer harvests white button mushrooms from his exhibition at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival

A mushroom farmer harvests white button mushrooms from his exhibition at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival

It all starts with the substrate (the material the mushrooms are grown in), which generally consists of the waste products from other agriculture industries.  This mix of manure, hay, straw, wood chips, cottonseed meal, cocoa shells, and gypsum has to be kept at just the right temperature, pH, and light conditions in indoor mushroom farms, so the right fungi thrive and the wrong ones that could spoil the crop do not.  Once the mushrooms sprouted, I couldn’t believe how fast they grew, sometimes doubling in size in a single day!

After mushrooms are harvested, the substrate material can’t be used for mushroom farming anymore.  As at any farm, this compost can be a source of runoff and enter streams if not managed properly.  Source water protection efforts in the Delaware River Basin identified mushroom farms in the watershed as a partnership opportunity to help reduce nutrient pollution and potential sources of Cryptosporidium, a pathogen often found in manure that may cause disease.  These efforts work with farmers and conservation districts to set up ways to manage this runoff and protect sources of drinking water.

Phase 2 Compost: what the spent mushroom substrate looks like after mushrooms have been harvested and before it comes to your lawn or garden

Phase 2 Compost: what the spent mushroom substrate looks like after mushrooms have been harvested and before it comes to your lawn or garden

With its high capacity to hold water and nutrients, mushroom compost can be used as compost in many applications, like crop and garden fertilization, erosion control, and stormwater management.  Fall is the best time to seed new lawns and fertilize, so if you’re embarking on this process, consider mushroom or other organic soil amendments for your plants.  Like any fertilizer, mushroom compost must be applied appropriately to avoid nutrient pollution.

 

By the end of the day at the festival, I didn’t notice the smell of the mushroom compost much anymore, either.  When I did catch a whiff, it reminded me that this compost (like the mushroom ice cream I ate) was just one stage of a much larger process of mushroom farming.  It wasn’t the beginning or end, but part of a continuing cycle of growing, harvesting, consuming, and composting…all while boosting local economies and protecting local waters along the way.

 

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Greenscaping for a Beautiful Lawn and Garden

By John Butler

If you are like me, you want a beautiful lawn and garden that are inexpensive and easy to maintain. Greenscaping allows you to do just that while reducing harmful effects on the environment. Greenscaping uses simple measures that help you practice responsible lawn and garden care.

First, get to know your lawn and garden. Different grasses and other plants grow well in different environments. Research native plants that will flourish where you live. Your local nursery or County Extension Service likely can help.

Don’t water your lawn or garden in the evening. Dampness overnight can encourage disease. Whenever possible, water in the early morning before 10 a.m. This will help prevent the grass and plants from drying out during the day.

Long, deep watering is better than short, frequent watering because it encourages strong, deep roots. An easy test is to walk on your lawn. If you see footprints, it needs watering. One inch of water per week is sufficient. And remember, during drought conditions, letting the lawn go dormant is okay – it will recover.

Weeds in the lawn raise your dander? Here is a quick trick: simply raise your mower height. Three inches is ideal and leads to stronger roots and a more lush lawn. As a true greenscaper, I leave the grass clippings on the lawn after mowing. This can save water and money, and reduce the need for fertilizers and weed killers.

As for pesticides, don’t assume that you need them just because you see a bug. Some bugs are not harmful. Here again, your local nursery or County Extension Service can likely provide guidance. Always consider natural products for pest problems before choosing a chemical solution. If you do need to use pesticides, absolutely make sure you read the label and apply accordingly.

Incorporating these simple practices into your lawn and garden care can make a big difference for the environment and can save you money.

To get the rest of the dirt on Greenscaping go to: http://www.epa.gov/wastes/conserve/tools/greenscapes. You can also listen to our podcast at: http://www.epa.gov/region03/multimedia/playercontents/audio/Greenscaping2.html. And, to learn more about integrated pest management go to: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/ipm.htm.

About the author: John Butler is the Regional Pesticide Expert for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Tomatoes and Timing

By Michael Rohwer

For the past few years, I’ve been growing vegetables in an open plot behind my house, much like my family did as I grew up. It was easy to know when to begin planting in Michigan. Once the snow was gone it was time to plant.

Now that I live in a warmer part of the country, I’ve discovered something: I’m not a very good gardener. Without the telltale snow to tell me winter is or is not here, I needed to seek advice from native gardeners to know when to plant my tomatoes or how long the growing season is expected to last. Both of these questions depend on when the last spring frost occurred and when the first fall frost comes. I asked my local garden store’s experts and turns out it’s all changing!

EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the U.S. Report also shows that the final spring frost is now occurring earlier than at any point since 1895, and the first fall frosts are arriving later. So the length of the growing season in the U.S. is increasing at both ends. The average length of the growing season in the lower 48 states has increased by about two weeks since the beginning of the 20th century (see image 1) and the first fall frost has arrived about two days later (see image 2). Since my tomatoes need to be planted after the last spring frost, it looks like I’ll need to start planting them earlier and earlier.

 

This may seem like great news for tomato-lovers like me, but changes in the length of the growing season can actually have both positive and negative effects. Moderate warming can benefit crop and pasture yields in mid- to high-latitude locations, yet even slight warming decreases yields in seasonally dry and low-latitude regions. A longer growing season could allow farmers to diversify crops or have multiple harvests from the same plot. However, it could also limit the types of crops grown, encourage invasive species or weed growth, or increase demand for irrigation. It sounds like I need to keep a close eye on my garden to adapt to these changes!

About the author: Michael Rohwer is an ORISE Fellow supporting the communications team in the Climate Change Division within the Office of Air and Radiation. When he’s not pursuing a career in protecting human health and the environment, you can find him enjoying gardening and sports.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Make Your Child’s Summer A Learning Experience!

By Lina Younes

As the school year comes to an end, children are eagerly making plans to do “fun things” during the summer. In other words, their idea of “fun” is basically anything that doesn’t have to do with getting up early to go to school. So, as parents how do we address this issue? How do we allow them to take a break from school and have fun while ensuring they are doing something constructive?

Well, I saw a Benjamin Franklin quote that inspired me to write this blog: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. I truly think that he was on to something. Studies show that if you engage children in hands-on activities they improve academically and can even develop an interest in the sciences and math! Engaging children through hands-on “real-life activities” makes their learning experience more relevant and meaningful. So, how can we engage children this summer?

How about taking up a hobby that both you and your child enjoy? Have you thought about a cooking class? Your child will learn about math and chemistry in the process while also learning about a new cuisine and good eating habits. How about learning a new instrument? Music helps open the mind and you even have to learn math to have the right rhythm. How about enjoying the great outdoors by taking up hiking or bird-watching?  Have you considered gardening together?

Have you considered engaging in environmental education activities?  How about volunteering with a community organization to clean a local watershed? How about promoting the 3Rs in your community by organizing a recycling program? Actively engaging your child to protect the environment has numerous benefits. Instilling your child with values like the love of nature and environmental awareness will last a lifetime!

As the saying goes, “a mind is a terrible thing to go to waste.” Don’t let the summer months be a wasteful period. Make this summer a fruitful experience for your child, your family and the environment!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Drop It While It’s Hot!

By Christina Catanese

We had to break out the little inflatable pool this weekend – the multiple days of temperatures over 90 degrees just demanded it.  The cool water from the hose was refreshing, but when it came time to empty the pool, I couldn’t believe how much water it held and how long it took to drain it.  I captured some of it to water my droopy plants, but there was still more water than I could use.

Filling up the pool on a hot summer day

Filling up the pool on a hot summer day

During the summer, you might use four times as much water as you do during other months.  Your water bill likely reflects the extra water you need for your lawn and garden, and to keep yourself cool!  Your local waterways and systems are feeling the heat, too – the more water we use, the more has to be withdrawn and treated before it goes back to rivers and streams.

So what are some ways we can use less water in the summer?  Part of it is using the water effectively.

While up to 90 percent of the water used outdoors is for irrigation, having a beautiful landscape doesn’t have to mean using a lot of water.  Watering by hand is most efficient, but lots of us have automatically timed irrigation systems for convenience.  It turns out that homes with automatically timed irrigation systems use about 50 percent more water outdoors than those without. Your system can waste even more if it’s programmed incorrectly, a sprinkler head is pointed in the wrong direction, or you have a leak.  Lots of water can be lost through evaporation if you water at the wrong time of the day, and leaky hoses, dripping faucets, and improper landscaping can keep your garden from looking its best.  Here are some tips from WaterSense for watering wisely this summer.

Another way to use less water outside is to capture it yourself.  By using a rain barrel, you can capture free rainwater to use when you need it most to water your lawn and garden (but not for drinking or your kiddie pool).  Rain barrels can be purchased at your local hardware or garden supply store.  Better yet, many local government programs offer them at reduced prices.  Check out our short video and this longer video from GreenTreks for more on installing your own rain barrel.

You can even design your landscape to be water efficient.  Some plants are thirstier than others, so choose plants that are defined as low water use or drought tolerant for your area. These plant species will be able to survive in your climate with minimal, if any, need for supplemental watering.  See these simple tips for water-efficient landscaping for more ideas on lowering water use in your yard.  Visit this link to explore lists of native plants available for by state, and this one to see some Mid Atlantic resources.

So tell us: how are you dropping your water use this summer?

 

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Things My Mother Taught Me

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Lina Younes

As I look back at my relationship with my Mom over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve become an environmentalist largely due to the values that she instilled in me as a child. The love of nature, the interest in protecting wildlife, especially birds, the appreciation for flowering plants are some of the things that my mother taught me, not only in words, but through her actions. Lina's-Robin#

As far as I can remember, we always had flowering plants in the garden and indoor house plants as well. For many years, my mother had birdfeeders in our back yard. Given the fact that we lived in Puerto Rico where we enjoy summer-like weather all year round, our home definitely felt like a tropical oasis.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, my parents, both my grandmothers, and even great grandmother, were fortunate to have a green thumb. It seemed that anything they planted bloomed easily and flourished. I’ve tried to replicate their gardening skills at home as best as possible. I like to joke that our family’s green thumb seems to have skipped a generation in my case.

Nonetheless, I still try to create a welcoming natural environment around my home and a green environment indoors as well.

Lina's-Maple#So as we get ready to celebrate Mother’s Day,  I would like to thank my Mother for what she has taught me. I hope that I will transmit those teachings to my children so they will also appreciate nature and protect the environment. This Mother’s Day, as we have done during similar celebrations, we’ll probably go to Brookside Gardens. I promise I’ll take pictures.

Do you have any special plans for Mother’s Day? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Gift That Keeps On Giving

By Lina Younes

I’ve always been fascinated with the change of seasons. I marvel at how the bare branches of seemingly lifeless trees and bushes come to life overnight. It’s part of the beauty of nature that never ceases to amaze me.


Just recently I was looking at my garden’s revival. While the garden itself will definitely need some attention in the coming weeks, there is still a natural beauty even in its current status. That’s how I focused on the tree that my father, youngest daughter and I planted on Earth Day six years ago. The ornamental pear tree that was barely four feet high has grown to more than fifteen feet tall. It stands tall, healthy, and proud in my garden.

I believe that tree-planting is a great way to instill in children the value of protecting our environment. The process of selecting the tree, preparing the soil, planting the tree, watering it regularly and watching it grow and thrive is a unique experience that benefits all involved. Furthermore, as the tree begins to grow, it also provides shade and improves air quality. Basically, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Even today, as I look at my tree I relive those memories. I still have the vivid images in my mind of the intergenerational experience of seeing my father, my youngest daughter and I working in the garden. I look at my garden and see many of the flowering plants that he helped me plant. He has always loved gardening. Even as he no longer has the agility to do some gardening in the same manner he did many years ago, he still enjoys it. Together, we still can share the experience.

Are you planning to do some gardening around your home this weekend? I’m including some tips that may help you keep your garden waste-free.  Do you have any tips you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Spring Time to Prep the Garden!

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Gina Snyder

The crocuses and birds have been greeting me in the mornings this month. That must mean spring is here, although the wind can still seem like the beginning of March! But the warmth of the sun and the flowers springing up remind us all that it’s time to spruce up for spring.

Even though it’s not quite warm enough to plant outside yet, there are some timely tasks you can do now to get your yard ready and help satisfy your gardening urges. The first thing to do is give your garden organics by visiting your local compost center.

Many towns have a compost center, and in my town, the compost center is open again as of the first weekend in April. There you can fill some buckets with finished compost to bring back home and enrich your gardens.
If you don’t compost in your own yard, you can also take advantage of the compost center by bringing any leftover leaves from last year and any windfalls from the winter – broken branches, downed sticks – and drop these off to be composted and mulched.

For vegetable gardens, add the new compost to the top of the existing soil without tilling it in. Annual tilling is not recommended as it disturbs the natural and beneficial work of organisms in your soil. When it is warm enough, plant your seeds and seedlings in the new topsoil and as they grow, their roots will extend into the naturally aerated existing soil.

Gina collects wood chip mulch at her local compost center

Chipped wood is also available at my compost center for mulching. When I mulch, a couple of layers of newspapers between my soil and mulch provide an added barrier to weeds while still allowing the rain to penetrate to the soil.

I have found wood chips decompose more slowly than some other mulches, and they can be quite effective in helping establish trees and native plants, especially in areas that are hot and sunny.

Good, rich organic compost and mulch make for a great combination to keep your yard and garden healthy, and help your soil retain moisture when conditions get hot and dry. Now is the time to get the garden ready and give it extra hardiness as we head into summer.

About the author: Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental and Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and has been a volunteer river monitor on the Ipswich River, where she also picks up trash every time she monitors the water quality.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.