Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reader's Questions: Herbs and Composting

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear as young as your hope, as old as your despair. ~Douglas MacArthur

Today I have more readers' questions today.

I have one cilantro plant and by reading your article, once it flowers it becomes bitter and should not use anymore. So, do I just cut everything away? Will it grow back? or do I need to replant another cilantro plant? ~Sue

The article Sue referred to is on OFL here:

You have a couple of choices. You can pull up the plant and sow seeds again or you can let the plant flower and form seeds. The seeds can be used to grow more plants or they can be ground and used as a spice. The seeds are actually known as coriander.

Many people sow cilantro seeds every 2-3 weeks so they have a steady supply. Once cilantro "bolts" or shoots up flower stalks, the plant is done. No matter what you do-- cut it back etc.-- it won't grow more of the foliage needed for cilantro. The herb basically changes. The foliage still has flavor and some people use it though its flavor is different and it has a ferny, thin appearance. Also, the hotter it is, the faster cilantro will bolt.

I have a question for you that I have not been able to resolve myself. My son laughs at me because I won't put rhubarb leaves in the compost pile - but we know rhubarb leaves are poisonous! It may sound silly to you too, but we are so carefully organic, and conservative with everything we use in the house and garden, it just seems wrong to put something poisonous back in to our garden. Can you tell me the real story? I would really be grateful. ~Fran

I don't think it's a silly question at all! I had a gut feeling about this, but did research to be sure, and according to good sources it's okay to put rhubarb in your compost. Remember, when we talk about "poisonous" plants, it's much different than toxic chemicals, which are man made and often don't even break down. The Colorado State University Extension website had this explanation:

"What actually occurs when rhubarb is added to a compost pile is that the oxalic acid is decomposed and pH balanced rather quickly. Thus, rhubarb leaves tend to break down to non-toxic components quickly in the average composting situation."
~Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

I really think you are safe in adding the rhubarb. One thought is that oxalic acid is also in potato plants and a few others, but we add those-- I wouldn't go so far as to put in poison ivy, oak or sumac though:)

Some of our lilac bushes or trees did not bloom this year. This is a new house to us and we discovered the trees behind some very large pine trees so the lilacs do not get any light. We plan to cut the trees down. But is there something else to do for the lilacs to help them for next year? ~Mary

Lilacs need full sun, so cutting down the pine trees would help a lot. Lilacs form next springs blooms soon after they are done flowering. Do not prune during the summer. In early spring you can prune off any dead wood--but leave the other branches alone.If you need to "shape" your bush, just be aware that any branches you prune will not have blooms the next spring. There are a few other things you can do to give your lilacs a little boost.

In the fall and spring sprinkle 1-2 cups of Epsom salt around the bush. Make sure if you are using lawn fertilizers that they don't get on or near the lilacs--it's meant for encouraging grass/foliage not blooms. You can also work wood ashes and/or bone meal into the soil around the lilacs in the spring and fall.

How do you harvest your seeds?


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