Home composting
home-study course offered

[OCT. 23, 2000]  Last time I discussed how leaf color is initiated in leaves. This time I’ll start by discussing a study opportunity on an alternative to burning for your leaf disposal. One method of leaf disposal that is available to almost everyone is home composting.

Composting of leaves and other landscape waste not only disposes of leaves but also provides for a useful end product in compost. It is ironic that many people pay to have leaves disposed of and next spring will go and buy bagged compost for use in gardens, flower pots, etc. To provide you with knowledge about composting, Extension has developed an at-home study course on home composting. The six lessons will be mailed to you at your home and will take about 15 to 20 minutes each. Since we are in the heart of leaf season, we’ll double up and mail two lessons per week to you and speed you on your way.


Lessons included in the course include: "Why Compost Yard Trimmings," "The Composting Process," "Materials and Methods for Composting, Locating and Building Your Compost Pile," "Benefits and Uses of Compost," and "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle – Other Options for the Homeowner." Quizzes are built into each lesson to help you review information. Best of all, the series is offered to you at no charge by co-sponsors University of Illinois Extension, the Logan County Joint Solid Waste Agency and the Lincoln Junior Women’s Club.


For those of you wanting the short course on composting, here goes a brief summary. A good mix for compost consists of three parts "browns" (materials such as dead leaves) that are high in carbon and one part "greens" (such as fresh grass clippings, garden prunings or those hanging basket materials you are disposing of now). Composting materials should feel moist but not overly soggy. When you begin the compost process, the temperature of your pile should feel warm to the touch except in the cold winter months. To prevent unpleasant odors that can occur when materials decompose without oxygen, your pile should be turned to make sure air is reaching the center of the pile.


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All you need to compost is the will to do it, yard or food waste (except meat or dairy products) and some space. Piles don’t need to be enclosed, but a bin or similar enclosure is often used. Compost bins can be bought or constructed with common materials such as wire, snow fence, lumber, used pallets or bricks. A four-cubic-foot area out of direct sun is ideal for a compost pile location. You can start any time of the year, but fall is when most piles get started, because of the abundance of leaves. Your materials should be added and water mixed into the compost as needed so that materials feel like a moist, wrung-out sponge. Turn the pile in a few weeks so you exchange the outside areas with the center of the pile. Turn the pile monthly after this except in the December through February period, adding water when needed.


Avoid adding meat and dairy products, weeds such as poison ivy, and extremely diseased plants to your pile. Adding meat or dairy products is an invitation to the four-legged critters to your yard. The addition of tree branches larger than a pencil will also cause possible problems with the compost process. Larger branches should be run through a chipper first if you want to compost them.


An alternative method is to mix materials in a 30- to 40-gallon plastic garbage bag (dark colors will heat faster). Add about one quart of water, about one-fourth cup of nitrogen fertilizer and a cup of lime to your mix and shake well. Since this is anaerobic method (without air) you definitely don’t want to poke a hole in the bag. You should have compost from the bag method in about 6 to 12 months. Compost is finished when it is a dark, crumbly texture that has no visible signs of the original materials added to your pile. It also has a very earthy odor to it.


If you are interested in signing up for the home study course or have further questions, please call the Extension Office at 732-8289.

[John Fulton]

Lincoln Ag Center
1441 State Route 10 East
Lincoln, IL

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4-H’ers observe International Night

[OCT. 19, 2000]  Chester 4-H Club hosted the recent Logan County 4-H International Night program at the Logan County Extension Building on Oct.16 at 6:30 p.m. Approximately 30 youth, parents and club leaders enjoyed a variety of foreign foods and table displays.

[The Canadian display -- made by Wide-A-Wake 4-H Club]

Erin Robinson, an Illinois State University student, was the featured speaker. She visited Australia last summer as part of the 4-H International Foreign Youth Exchange. In Australia, it is the winter season during our summer season. From her experience she explained differences between Australian and American culture and what life is like for Australian citizens.


[The Australian display -- made by Chester 4-H Club]

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[The Nepal display -- from Hartem Clovers 4-H Club]

Chester 4-H Club represented Australia with their displays and foods; Hartem Clovers represented Nepal; Hartem Achievers chose Mexico for their dishes and display; and Wide-A-Wake 4-H Club prepared Canadian dishes and a display.


[The Mexico display -- made by Hartem Achievers 4-H Club]

To learn more about the 4-H International Foreign Youth Exchange or about the 4-H program, please contact the Logan County 4-H office at 732-8289.

[Logan County 4-H news release]

[Erin Robinson, our guest speaker, who talked about her visit to Australia]

Fall color

An explanation of how it happens

[OCT. 11, 2000]  One of the most amazing spectacles of fall is the great color scheme caused by the changing of leaves from the drab green to the many brilliant fall hues that people actively search out. Frost is often credited with causing the great fall colors, but it actually kills leaves producing dull earth tone colors. Bright fall colors are caused by chemical reactions in leaves, and these reactions are triggered by shortening day length and cool temperatures.

To understand the process that creates color, we need to know a little about basic tree growth. A tree has two parts in its vascular system: the xylem and the phloem. A tree’s xylem cells can be thought of as thousands of minute soda straws packed end to end, going from the roots to the leaves. Water and nutrients are taken up by the roots and transported to the leaves through the xylem cells in the tree’s sapwood. In the leaves, water and nutrients are converted into sugar, the energy that feeds the tree’s growth. This conversion process, known as photosynthesis, happens in the presence of chlorophyll and sunlight.


The phloem is a thin layer of cells found in the inner bark of the tree. This is where the sugars move from the leaves to the roots and other storage sites within the tree. The location of the phloem shows how a tree can be severely injured or killed if its bark is damaged. If the phloem is disrupted, food can’t flow through the phloem and the roots starve to death.

Fall coloration starts with the onset of senescence, a natural process that disrupts the tree’s vascular system. This is the orderly process in which the light-gathering and carbon-capturing substances in the leaves, including the pigments that capture sunlight and the proteins that use the captured energy, are disrupted and broken down. The change is started by the tree’s genetic ability to "sense" day length and temperature variations. Fall’s shorter days with less light and different light intensity, along with the cooler and longer nights, affect the production of growth regulators that trigger senescence.

The long and warm days of summer produce high levels of the auxins and gibberellins that stimulate tree growth and low levels of growth inhibitors. These stimulate a variety of changes, including the formation of corklike cells at the base of the leaf petiole, which produces a brittle zone around the vascular tissue so that it is easy for the leaf to break off from the branch. Eventually only the dead xylem cells are left holding the leaf on the tree. Heavy winds or rains can easily break this fragile connection, causing leaves to fall to the ground.


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The shorter days and cooler temperatures get the tree ready for dormancy. Chlorophyll production drops dramatically from the high levels of the growing season to virtually nothing. The tree’s priorities then switch to the production of sugars that will be stored for next season’s growth. This reduction in chlorophyll production starts the visible fall colors. Chlorophyll is the predominant pigment and makes the leaves green during the growing season. Chlorophyll is also very fragile and must be replaced by plants on a continual basis until the days grow short and temperatures fall. The fading of the green color, due to much lower chlorophyll production, causes the other pigments once masked by the green chlorophyll to come through. These other pigments include yellow, orange, and buff colors of the carotenoid, xanthophyll and tannin pigments.


Carotenoids are always present in the leaves, so fall’s yellow to orange colors are usually fairly consistent from year to year. Xanthophyll is a yellow to tan-colored pigment, and tannins are responsible for the brown earth tones found in oak leaves. A fourth pigment called anthocyanin does not naturally occur in the leaves but is a product of senescence and concentrated sugar sap in the leaf cells. Anthocyanins appear red and generate the varying shades of blue, purple, and red that provide some of the most vibrant color displays. The actual color depends on the pH of the cell sap, with acidic saps causing red to orange while neutral to alkaline saps will appear purple to blue. Not all trees produce anthocyanins, with sugar and red maples, dogwoods, sumac, black gum, sweet gum, scarlet oak, sassafras, persimmon, hawthorn, and white oak producing the most brilliant shades of red, maroon, purple and blue.

Hopefully this somewhat scientific explanation of fall colors will cause you to understand a little better what went on within trees to bring about this abundance of fall color.

[John Fulton]


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