Composting Branches and Flower Stalks

I have discovered a new way for composting branches and flower stalks. You know those thick, rigid flower stalks that you have at the end of the summer.  And all the branches that fall out of the trees in wind storms!  I used to cut them up and put them in my wire bin compost piles. Then when my compost was finished I would have to pick them out, one by one, when I wanted to use my compost. The branches and flower stalks needed more time to break down so they became a pain in the neck when separating compost.

The plus side to them being in the compost was that the stalks created oxygen spaces for the bacteria and other creatures in the compost pile. What I came to learn through experience was that the compost breaks down fine without branches and flower stalks.

Method for Composting Branches and Flower Stalks

Last winter I started piling branches and flower stalks and leaves in a pile, spread out in a long row.  I’m talking about sunflower, zinnia, rudbeckia triloba and milkweed stalks.  Also I put in the pepper, tomato and squash stalks and all the branches that had fallen out of the trees in storms.  When I trimmed the raspberry canes I added them too.  I am basing this loosely on the hugelkultur theory which I write about at this link the Hugelkultur Composting Method.  Of course I layered leaves, soil and compost to cover all this garden debris.

The Results of Composting Branches and Flower Stalks

Squash Growing From Hugelkultur Composting RowI wanted to keep you posted on how this composting method worked.  I have some pictures of the Tahitian Melon Squash that I planted in this hugelkultur space.  At the left you can see how lush this squash grew.  It is beautiful and still growing great!  The main thing that I learned from this experiment is that in the beginning the plants need a lot of water!  Plants in a hugelkultur mound need a lot of water in the beginning before they get established.  It only makes sense.  There roots are growing down into a mixture of branches, stalks, leaves, soil and compost.  Whenever they are watered or it rains the water goes through this mixture very quickly.  Once the plants were established they didn’t need to be watered as much.

A Great Way to Get Rid of Branches and Old Flower Stalks

Composting Branches and Flower StalksHere is another picture of the squash growing.  You can see how prolific it is.  It grew up trellises that were 6 feet high!  The great thing about this method is that you don’t have to deal with all the branches and dead flower stalks again.  You don’t have to sort them out of your regular compost pile because they take longer to break down.  You don’t have to bag them up and send them to the landfill because you don’t know what else to do with them!  They will stay in the hugelkultur row, under the ground and eventually decompose into compost.

As you can see from the pictures, the squash had no problem growing in a row where there where branches and flower stalks buried.  I am very excited about this discovery and am planning my next hugelkultur row for next year!  If some of the branches and stalks become exposed you might have to put more soil or compost on top of them.

My experiment is a modified version of hugelkultur.  To learn more click on The Many Benefits of Hugelkultur.  I have written a lot about growing these type squash–Tahitian Melon Squash.

Monarch Caterpillar Eggs

The last few days I have been searching for Monarch caterpillar eggs.  Monarch butterflies have been visiting my garden for the last week or two so I am assuming that they have been laying eggs on the milkweed.  This will be my third year raising Monarch caterpillars.

Monarch Caterpillar Eggs Ready to Hatch

Because this is my third year, I now know what Monarch caterpillar eggs look like.  Here is a picture of one that is quite new.  So as I search, I recognize them much more quickly.  I had been watching two eggs for the last two days.  Today the top of the egg became much darker.  So I knew that the caterpillar was about to emerge.  These are a great series of pictures of the monarch caterpillar egg hatching.  You can clearly see the black head of the caterpillar at the top of the egg which is what I saw today.

Growing Monarch Caterpillars in the House

The first year I had lots of caterpillars and then slowly they started disappearing until I could hardly find any.  They were being eaten in my garden.  See my post about Saving the Monarch Caterpillar.

Baby Monarch CaterpillarWhen I saw that the caterpillars were about to emerge today I cut the leaves off to bring into the house.  I like raising the caterpillars in the house.  The last two years I have raised between 20-24 Monarch butterflies successfully.  It’s quite easy to raise them if you have lots of milkweed leaves to feed them, which I have. Here is a picture of the monarch caterpillar a few hours after it had emerged.  You can see it compared to a dime.  They are very small when they first emerge, almost like you can’t see them.   They eat voraciously and grow very fast.

Bad News About the Monarch Caterpillar Eggs

Unfortunately my two baby caterpillars died.  I think that the milkweed leaf that I had in with them got too dried up.  I am heartbroken and devastated.  They had actually crawled off the leaf.  I found them and put them back on.  Now, in retrospect, I think they were looking for more moisture. After doing some research on the internet I found this great article on raising baby monarch caterpillars.  THE LEAVES THAT THEY FEED ON SHOULD BE LEFT IN WATER OR SPRAYED WITH WATER TO KEEP THEM MOIST!

As a Beginner Collect Larger Caterpillars

This was a hard lesson for me.  All the caterpillars that I raised in the past were larger than these newly hatched babies.  They were stronger and seemed fine with the milkweed leaves that I put in for them to eat.  I replaced the milkweed leaves every day when they started looking old.  So if you are a beginner I would recommend raising larger caterpillars at first until you become an expert at that.  Then if you want to raise them from eggs keep the leaf stems in water so the leaves stay hydrated.  The link above has very good information about raising Monarchs from eggs.


Repairing Broken Plant Stalk

Repairing Broken Plant Stalk–Sunflower Repair Operation

Repairing Broken Plant StalkI decided to take on the task of repairing broken plant stalk after a small injury occurred to one of my largest sunflower plants. If you check my last post you will find out how my beautiful sunflower stalk was broken by squirrels eating sunflower plant! I had some long wooden stakes that I had bought.   Thinking I would try to put up some kind of deer fence, but I never managed to do that.  So I pounded that into the ground right next to the almost broken sunflower stalk.

I used this really cool velcro plant tie to tie the stalk to the wooden stake.  I just bought this velcro plant tie this year.  There have been several opportunities to use it and I find it very quick and effective at holding the plants to their stakes.  If you would like to order some see the picture link at the end of this post.  Clear packing tape was next in my repair operation.  I wrapped the stalk where it had cracked starting above the crack and going below the crack.

Sunflower Repair Operation Successful

After a few days I could see that my operation had been successful.  The leaves and flowers looked normal, not wilted or drooping.  My first solution to squirrels eating sunflower plants has worked!  So far, I haven’t seen the squirrel cavorting in the sunflowers.  Though I am sure he will be back.  I am putting out some bird food suet which the squirrels like.  Maybe that will keep the squirrels away from the sunflowers.  One solution on the internet for keeping squirrels away, is to put out other food for them.

Other Sunflowers Damaged by Wind in Rain Storm

We had a bad, windy rainstorm the other night.  I found some more damage to a younger sunflower plant.  Two side branches were almost completely ripped off.  They were barely hanging by much stalk so I decided to just cut them off.  I don’t think there was enough plant material there for water and nutrients to travel up the stalk to nourish those flowers.  So if you decide to work on repairing broken plant stalk, make a personal judgement.  Try to determine if there is enough plant material there for a successful operation.  And if it doesn’t work, you will probably learn something from the experience.  That is why I don’t mind trying these things because I always learn something new!