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Helping Big-Picture Problems

Compost works for us at construction sites, landfills and wastewater treatment plants

Silt-laden water from construction sites and poorly managed farm fields are notorious for contaminating our streams, rivers, lakes and bays. Silt fences are mandatory at construction sites, but even when properly installed they do not hold back clay. Adding wood chips or straw bales won’t help.
    However, adding a berm of compost a foot tall on the lower side of the silt fence will stop the clay. Filling Filtrex-Sox with compost is an excellent solution. Compost works because of its high exchange capacity. Yet many state and county regulations still specify only silt fences.
    Seeding the berm with vigorous grasses such as tall fescue or rye makes it even more effective. The roots of the grasses not only stabilize the berm but also absorb nutrients both carried by the surface water and released by the mineralization of compost.
    Compost is also an effective filter for covering landfills. Research done in Australia and replicated in the U.S. has demonstrated that compost prevents methane — generated by decomposing organic waste under anaerobic conditions — from escaping into the atmosphere. The microorganisms in the compost convert the escaping methane gas into carbon dioxide.
    In composting biosolids using forced air, finished compost filters the air exhaust and controls odors.
    All of the progress we have made and knowledge gained is due to the Clean Water Act, enacted by President Lyndon Johnson. The Act established the USDA Biological Waste Management Laboratory in Beltsville, where I had the honor of working.
    At the Biological Waste Management Lab, we developed the science of composting, maximizing the rate of composting and assuring that composted biosolids are safe to use. I worked there from 1972 until it was disbanded in 1980 by President Ronald Reagan. My research contributions were developing uses for the compost in nursery, greenhouse crops and landscaping.
    I later became involved in developing composting systems for yard debris, crab waste, paper-mill sludge and garbage. I also established the first commercial composting school, The Better Composting School, which attracted students from across the country and world.


Help with Rot and Blight

Q    I need help with two problems:        
    1. All of my squash, yellow summer and butternut, are developing blossom end rot. I added calcium nitrate upon seeing the first blossoms, but that has not helped.
    2. I have a spot in the Goshen Farm sharing garden. My tomatoes look like they have blight. These tomatoes have been stalked and lower limbs removed about eight inches up. Forty yards away in what they call the slave garden, I planted three tomatoes but had no stakes. These tomatoes are lying on the ground and have no signs of blight. Am I correct in assuming there is blight in my own space? If so, how do I get rid of it for next season?

–Paul Bunting, Annapolis

A    When was the last time you had the soil tested?
    If the squash is having blossom end rot, I suspect the calcium level is low or there is a calcium/magnesium imbalance. Applying calcium nitrate after you see the symptoms may help in reducing the problem for the rest of the summer, but it will not eliminate the rot.
    Have your soil tested by either Waypoint in Richmond or Ag Lab in Delaware.
    With regards to blight, I strip the foliage at least 12 to 14 inches from the bottom stems and also limit the number of stems at the bottom to three to promote good air circulation. The tomato plants that are not staked most likely have better air movement. Are both tomatoes the same variety? Some varieties are more susceptible than others.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Include your name and address.