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Workshop prepares gardeners for spring

PENN YAN—It was really too cold to work in the garden March 27, but the crowd in the Yates County Auditorium did the next best thing by hearing techniques for growing better gardens.
Jean Bonhotal, associate director of the Cornell Waste Management Institute, led off with instruction on feeding the garden with at home composting. The technique for making compost is simple and the materials not only save money by shrinking the amount of material that goes into the garbage, but the end result is a bonus for home gardens. As vegetative materials decompose, they produce heat and Bonhotal outlined the importance of making sure the compost is hot enough. Most seeds are killed during the process, but Bonhotal laughed as she mentioned one exception; tomato seeds, drawing chuckles from the audience.
Containers for composting can be very simple, just as long as they are situated so air can circulate, important because the microorganisms that will be working on the material need air. She said, “Aged doesn’t mean anything if it didn’t go through the thermal process.”
The beauty of composting is that so many materials can be composted. Exceptions are meat, fat and grease. Leaves and lawn clippings are excellent additions combined with potato peels, apple cores and other parts of fruits and veggies that are often put in the garbage. Near the end of the presentation Bonhotal outlined three of the more beneficial features of compost which included good water retention, lower disease pressure and higher quality food. Add that to the savings that result from keeping good potential compost materials out of the waste stream and composting becomes a winning situation.
Abby Seaman is Vegetable Integrated Pest Management Extension Area Education with the New York State Agriculture Experiment Station at Geneva. She is currently researching examining the impact of soil quality and ecosystem factors on pest populations. She urged the audience to keep the soil healthy and feed it organic matter. Few knew before her presentation that plants actually have an immune system, and this fact can influence gardeners to keep the soil healthy. Seaman also noted regular addition of organic matter is very important for soil health. Late blight was also discussed during her presentation. This disease destroyed countless tomato and potato crops last year. Seaman urged gardeners to be sure to rotate their plantings each year and if planting potatoes, to purchase only certified seed potatoes.
Laura Erickson is the Science Editor for the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The focus of her presentation was attracting birds to backyards. She said, “We have totally skewed the birds we have around because we have modified the environment.” Using Canada geese as an example, she said they are the only birds that eat and digest grass. Lawns and golf courses and other large grassy areas are very appealing to them. Feeding birds, making windows bird safe, keeping cats indoors are all important as is good sanitation around bird feeders.
Erickson spoke about several species of birds, focusing a good deal of attention on hummingbirds. They arrive in this area in May and the tiny birds are the most aggressive feeders at hummingbird feeders. She said they only feed together when the weather is horrible. Their nests are unique in the bird world because they stretch as the baby birds grow. This is possible because the nests, which are the size of a walnut shell, are made of spider silk and lichens.
As in past years, the annual program sponsored by Yates master gardeners had the entire audience primed for good gardening weather so they could use the information from the day as soon as possible.

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