Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Garden tips

Just got back from the monthly meeting of the Sunset Hill Community Association. The SHCA is possibly Seattle's oldest continuously active neighborhood group. It was founded in 1922 by 10 residents organizing around the installation of a waterline in the area. ("Sunset Hill" is bounded by 24th Ave. NW on the east, Shilshole Bay on the west, the Ballard Locks on the south, and NW 85th St. on the North.)

Founded to urbanize the area (and quite successful at it), the association is now headed in the other direction, attempting to hold off the inexorable onslaught of wall-to-wall condominiums headed our way from downtown Ballard.

We met tonight in the original clubhouse at 30th NW and NW 66th, built in 1927 and currently undergoing interior renovation. After endorsing a slate for next year's officers and trustees (one of whom turns out to be a neighbor from our old place in Wallingford, who also moved west), we heard a panel of master gardeners.

Here are a couple of hot gardening tips from them, plus a tip from me:
1. Kelp
Use kelp, available in mixable powder or pre-mixed liquid form, on plants before or after planting. You can't use too much kelp!
2. Corn Gluten
Prevent weed seeds from sprouting by sprinkling corn gluten on gravel paths and lawns walkways every six weeks. (Don't sprinkle it where you want plant or grass seeds to sprout, but it's OK to sprinkle on plants and lawns that are already past the seed stage to prevent weeds.)
3. Chicken Grit
My tip: To improve garden drainage and prevent water from pooling on top of new compost, apply plenty of chicken grit along with your compost or potting soil when planting. (Chicken grit is sharp shale, and will make soil nice and loose. Avoid using fine-grain sand, which is round, rather than sharp, and can turn your soil into a form of concrete.)

One master garden had a tip for sprouting sweet peas, which I'm not going to include because sweet peas are mildly poisonous for cats and I don't want to encourage people to plant them. You can find numorous sites on the web with lengthy and hair-raising lists of plants "poisonous" to cats. I believe it was Cat Watch, Cornell Veterinary college's feline health newsletter (subscription only, contents not available online), that had an article a while back on the issue and pointed out that only a few plants are actually deadly. (Leading the deadly list are the Easter lily, Tiger lily, and Asiatic lily, and the very common day lily. Apparently just getting pollen from these plants on the nose is enough to kill a small kitten, and many kittens die from kidney damage within a couple days of contact with Easter bouquets.) Other plants, like the potato, are merely irritating. Sheba, our deaf white cat, is a "chewer," and she went around drooling for a couple days after nibbling on a potato leaf in our neighbor's garden—more annoying for us than for her, apparently.

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