Compost Tea, A Healthy Beverage For Your Plants

Compost is the wonderful “black gold” that’s created when organic matter like leaves and other garden refuse decomposes. It’s full of nutrients that feed your plant.  It improves soil structure too.

“Ok, I understand what compost is,” you say, “but what the heck is compost tea?”

Compost tea is quite literally an organic liquid fertilizer that’s brewed from compost.


How is Compost Tea made?

It’s easy to make compost tea.  Simply place a good shovel full of fresh compost in a 5 gallon bucket or other waterproof container.  Then fill the container with water.  Allow this mixture to steep for about a week, stirring it daily to get a good brew.

*Hint: I use a ratio of approximately one part compost to three parts water but many gardeners use a 50/50 ratio.  So do your own experimenting and find what works best for you.  The fun in gardening is that it’s a lot of experimentation.

How to use compost tea.

To use the compost tea, simply strain the mixture to separate the liquid from the solid compost. Make sure the liquid is cool to the touch (it may be warm if it’s been brewing in the sunlight). Put the cool compost tea in a watering can and water your plants as normal.  It’s that simple.

compost tea
compost tea

You can use it to water the soil around the plant’s roots but  you can also use the compost tea as a foliar fertilizer by allowing the compost tea to wet the plant’s leaves. This allows the plant to take in nutrients through the leaves and not just the root system. However, if your plant has a fungus on the leaves, don’t use the foliar feeding method. It could make the fungus worse or spread it to plants nearby.

How often should compost tea be applied?

Once a week is a great schedule to water with compost tea.  If you put fresh compost on the soil around your plants either in the fall or in the spring and then supplement with compost tea once a week, your plants should grow lush and healthy. And once you use the compost tea you just brewed, refill the bucket with new compost and water and make some more.  This is a great way to get kids excited about gardening too!  What child doesn’t like to play in dirt and water?

Making your own fertilizer is cost effective and it also feels good to know exactly what you’re using on your plants, especially edibles like fruits and vegetables because what they eat, you eat.   And, the lush flowers and abundant produce you’ll get from the process will put a big smile on your face!

Happy gardening my friends!

Quote of the Day

“When I am quiet in the garden, I can hear my own song.”

-Author unknown




INTERVIEWS WITH EXPERTS: Renita Kainz, Master Gardener

Renita Kainz has been a been a serious gardener since her early 20’s.  She has worked in the commercial garden industry for most of her adult life.  In 2008, Renita furthered her experience as a gardener by gaining formal horticultural training in the Master Gardener program.

Tip:  If you would like more information about becoming a master gardener, contact your local extension service for details.

I met with Renita for an enjoyable morning interview, after which she took me on a guided tour to view her large collection of potted plants, landscaped gardens, and amazing backyard greenhouse.  We talked about how she became interested in gardening and how gardening has played a central role in her life.  I asked her a few questions to learn more about her long-term dedication to the hobby she loves so much.


How did the interest in gardening begin?

Renita said grew up on a farm in a rural area watching both parents work the ground,  her mother through vegetable gardening and her father through farming.   Then, when Renita was in her teens, her mother brought home a collection of houseplants that tickled Renita’s passion for plants.  Renita said it was in her college days that she dove head-first into gardening herself when she came into ownership of her own large collection of houseplants.

How did that interest become a lifelong activity?

Renita said that in her 30’s, she began work as a seasonal greenhouse worker and once she began working at a greenhouse full-time, she was content and happy.  At that point, her passion for gardening stuck.

“Remember, every gardening year has successes and failures, just like people.”          – Renita Kainz          

Renita’s garden organization participation.

The Garden Plotters

Renita explained that in 2006, she, along with greenhouse co-workers, started a garden club known as the Garden Plotters. The club has evolved into a fun social group that allows members to share their passion for gardening.  The club meets monthly to share ideas, view local gardens, and listen to speakers among other things. The club members also volunteer time, energy, and money to Kuhnert Arboretum.  To date, the Garden Plotters have raised nearly $17,000 for Kuhnert Arboretum with their club’s annual plant sale.

Aberdeen Garden Plotters Photo from Kuhnert Arboretum Facebook Page
Photo courtesy of Kuhnert Arboretum Facebook page.

The 2018 Garden Plotter’s Plant Sale is celebrating its 10th Anniversary.  For more information about the annual plant sale, please check out the club’s Facebook page at Aberdeen Garden Plotters.

Master Gardener Program

Renita started her master gardener training in 2008 and became certified in 2010.  Since then she has been involved with the Prairie Partners Master Gardener Club,  holding office for six years, including serving as president for three.

Hardy Rosarians of South Dakota

Most recently, Renita joined the Hardy Rosarians of South Dakota. This club also volunteers time and resources to Kuhnert Arboretum, having designed and installed the recent rose garden addition which includes 100 roses of 51 varieties that are hardy in South Dakota’s Zone 4 climate zone.

Kuhnert Arboretum rose garden
Kuhnert Arboretum rose gardens. Photo courtesy of Kuhnert Arboretum Facebook page.

Any areas of specialty or favorite type of plants?

Renita said she doesn’t really have a favorite plant or area of gardening which she prefers.  She said that in general she loves landscape plants which include a variety of trees, shrubs, and perennials.  But, Renita said, as a hobby, she has a fondness for airplants, orchids, succulents, and exotic geraniums.

Gardening books Renita recommends:  Silent Spring by Rachel Carson,  The Truth About Garden Remedies by Jeff Gillman, and The Truth About Organic Gardening, also by Jeff Gillman.

Why is gardening organically important?

Renita said she has always loved nature.  She said she prefers organic gardening, as opposed to using synthetic chemicals, because not only do chemicals “smell bad” but as she has learned more and more about synthetic chemicals, she realized just how dangerous they are to people and the environment. Renita pointed out that synthetic chemicals sometimes kill off the beneficial microbes in the soil which help keep plants healthy and strong.

“If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your plants.” –Renita Kainz

What are three frequently asked gardening questions?

Renita said the most frequently asked question is, “How often should I water?” followed by, “What’s wrong with this plant?” and “What can I plant that I don’t have to do anything with?”  These are all very common garden questions that most gardeners face at some point.  The answers to these questions of course, rely on the details of the garden, the plant, or the gardener involved.

Column evergreen with metal flower

What are three gardening tips or hints every gardener should know?

  1.  “Tough love is better than too much kindness.”  Renita and I laughed about this hint because we agree that more plants are killed from too much attention than not enough.
  2. “Don’t be afraid to try anything.”  Renita said that she has killed far more plants than she has ever successfully grown, which I think most gardeners could agree with!
  3. “Do your own research, either through books, magazines, the internet, or by asking experts.”  Renita recommends educating yourself on your topic of interest prior to planting.  She cautioned that in regard to internet searches, it is best to use sites that end in .edu or .org as these sites can usually be trusted for accuracy. Use caution with information from other sites as the information may not be reliable.

What are the benefits of becoming a master gardener?

Renita said that master gardeners are trained in horticulture by experts in the field.  The “job” of the Master Gardener is to pass along this information to educate the public.  She said the experience allowed her to meet like-minded people and the training  satisfied her deep desire to keep learning about gardening, a subject she is very passionate about.


It was great fun to interview Renita about her passion and expansive knowledge of gardening.  And, I was very honored to have a tour of her beautifully landscaped yard and awesome backyard greenhouse.  I hope this interview stoked your passion for gardening and all the joys that come with it.

The next interview in the Interviews with Experts series is with expert commercial grower and retail operations manager, Dana Althoff.  Until then,

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”

-Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturalist



What Do The Numbers On Fertilizer Mean?

There are a few basic things that every gardener should know and one of those basics is what the numbers on a container of fertilizer mean. You may have seen the numbers on fertilizer2seemingly random numbers, usually in larger print, on a container of fertilizer that look something like this:  “5-10-5” or “10-6-4” or “24-8-16”.  It’s very important that gardeners know what those numbers mean, BUT DON’T WORRY it’s not hard, so keep reading.

What do the numbers on fertilizer mean?

The numbers on a fertilizer container are simply the ratios of the nutrients the fertilizer contains, specifically nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium.  These nutrients are similar to a well-balanced diet for a human.  The right balance of nutrients for your plant will make it thrive in your landscape and garden.

numbers on fertilizer


The first number refers to the amount of nitrogen in the fertilizer.  Nitrogen is important because:

  • It promotes top growth on plants and grass
  • It is essential for lush green foliage growth and grass blades
  • A lack of  nitrogen causes plants to have yellow-green foliage and little to no top growth
  • Too much nitrogen reduces the production of flowers and fruits

Nitrogen that is found naturally in the soil comes from the decomposition of plant matter so adding compost to the soil is a natural source of nitrogen for your landscape and garden.

Autumn Joy Sedum: Photo by Wanette Lenling


The second number refers to the amount of phosphorous the fertilizer contains.  Phosphorous is essential for:

  • stimulating root growth and development
  • promoting the development of flowers and fruits
  • promoting plant vigor with deficiencies resulting in slow or stunted plant growth

Phosphorous is retained in the soil well as it binds itself tightly to soil particles so it’s important not to add too much phosphorous as it may lead to leaf burn and unhealthy growth.

Mock orange : Photo by Wanette Lenling

Potassium (Also known as Potash)

The third number is the amount of potassium in the fertilizer.  Potassium is necessary for:

  • Overall plant health as it allows the plant to regulate its physiological processes  (This simply means that potassium helps a plant’s internal mechanisms function better, like when you take a vitamin everyday.)
  • Inadequate potassium leads to lowered disease resistance  and a reduced tolerance to environmental stresses, like drought

Potassium also tends to be retained in the soil well so don’t add too much.  On the other hand, a deficiency is easy to spot as the lower leaves of the plant will be yellow in color between the greener veins.

Cabbage: Photo by Wanette Lenling

There you have it.  That’s what the those funny numbers mean on a container of fertilizer. But,  this is just the basic information. If you would like more in-depth information on fertilizer, click on the links below from three great educational sources of horticultural information including South Dakota State University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Illinois.

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

-Albert Einstein, physicist


Fertilizing Gardens (University of South Dakota, pdf)

Garden Issues: Nutrient Deficiencies (University of Minnesota)

Characteristics Of Natural and Manufactured Fertilizers For Lawns (University of Minnesota)

Choosing Fertilizers for Home Lawns (University of Illinois Extension)







Garden Tips and Helpful Hints

Sometimes as a gardener you have small questions that don’t require an extended answer.  Today I’m going to give you five helpful hints and garden tips for everyday garden questions.

 1. How do I know when to water my potted plants?

For most potted annual plants a good rule of thumb is to stick your finger into the soil up to your first knuckle.  If you feel moisture, hold off watering.  If you don’t feel any moisture, go ahead and water.  This is just a general guideline.  It works well for most potted annuals (that have good drainage) but doesn’t work well for plants like succulents which need much less water and plants like ferns which need more. Be sure to educate yourself on the water requirements of your specific potted plants.

Annuals in a tree stump flower bed

2. Should I dead-head my garden plants?

Unless you want to save seeds, dead-heading garden plants keep them looking tidy and also encourages plants to produce more blossoms.  If you want to save seeds, don’t dead-head your plants.  Leave the expired blossoms on the plant.  Most plants, especially annuals and biennials (that are in their second year of growth) will produce seed heads or seed pods where the spent blossoms are located.  Simply collect the seeds, allow them to dry fully, and put them in containers until you’re ready to use them. (Don’t forget to label your seeds!)


3.  Should I mulch my garden and landscape?

You should use mulch in your landscape and garden to not only keep moisture in the ground but to keep the roots of your plants cool. Summer sun will heat up black dirt very very quickly and can damage sensitive roots.  You can use landscape rock or bark mulch in your landscape for a neat appearance and anything from straw to leaves in your vegetable garden which not only keeps moisture in but breaks down into compost to add nutrients to the soil as well.


4. When should I fertilize?

The general rule is to apply fertilizer in spring and fall but it depends on the kind of fertilizer you use.  Compost can be added at any time but adding it in the spring when you plant is best.  Slow release fertilizers are usually applied in spring and early fall.  This helps plants get going in the spring and build up nutrients for a winter’s rest.  Liquid fertilizers are generally applied weekly because they act fast and wash away quickly. Always read the label on manufactured fertilizers and follow the directions for proper application.


5. And finally, a question I am asked all the time is should you have a gardening buddy?

Yes.  I highly recommend a gardening buddy to cuddle with, oops I mean to visit with, while you enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

Happy gardening!

Quote of the Day

“I take care of my flowers and my cats. And enjoy food.  And that’s living.”

-Ursula Andress, Swiss actress

What Does Heirloom Mean In Gardening?

When you think of the word “heirloom” you may be thinking of your grandma’s china dishes that her mother received as a wedding gift or great-grandpa’s bamboo fishing pole that he used as a child to catch the perch in the lake in back of the cabin where he grew up. These items would be passed down from generation to generation to be cherished.  In gardening the term is actually used quite similarly.  Plants or cultivars of plants used to be passed down from generation to generation in families. They were considered heirlooms.  However, a more modern interpretation of the word “heirloom” in gardening is a plant that is openly pollinated by insects or the wind without mechanical means and the cultivar of the plant is at least 50 years to 100 years old.



Normally plant tags at the nursery or the plant description in a plant catalog or online will state whether the plant is considered an heirloom. This is a great selling point in gardening today.   Plants listed as GMO’s  or genetically modified organisms are never considered heirlooms so any plant that is listed as a GMO is disqualified from heirloom status no matter the age. Most plants are not labeled as GMO’s because in gardening today, this is not a selling point.  It’s probably safe to say that if a plant is not listed as an heirloom it is probably a GMO or it’s disqualified from heirloom status for another reason.

Any type of plant can be an heirloom.  Vegetables, decorative garden plants, trees, and shrubs can all be described as heirloom plants if they fall under the heirloom status.  There are some great companies, like Harvesting History , that sell heirloom plants and seeds.  I like heirloom plants because the fruits and vegetables tend to taste better than those that have been modified. And, I have found that heirloom flowers tend to have more fragrance than their modified counterparts.

There is a drawback to some heirloom plants, however.  Many times plant breeders breed new plants to make them resistant against disease that the heirloom plants are susceptible to.  For instance, garden phlox is extremely prone to a fungal disease called powdery mildew.  Breeders have created new cultivars of garden phlox to be more resistant to that particular disease.

Vegetables have also been modified to be more resistant to disease but they have also been modified for their looks and uses. For example, Beefsteak tomatoes were created specifically to use on sandwiches because one slice is big enough for the whole sandwich.  And, Roma tomatoes were created to use in tomato dishes because they are more meaty and less juicy so tomato sauces come out richer and thicker.

Trees and shrubs have also been modified by breeders for many reasons. For example, in my garden I have two mock-orange shrubs, one is an heirloom and one is modified.  The heirloom shrub has a single flower which means that there is one row of pedals around the outside of each flower similar to a daisy. The heirloom shrub is much taller than the modified version and it’s rather unsightly but the fragrance from the flowers is incredible.  The modified mock-orange, on the other hand, has beautiful double flowers which makes the flowers look more full and elegant but they lack the gorgeous fragrance of the heirloom flowers.  The modified mock-orange shrub is also rather dainty and quite compact making it an excellent foundation plant for the landscaping around the house.

So basically whether or not to plant heirloom plants comes down to the preference of the gardener.  There are pros and cons to both heirloom plants and modified cultivars.  Do your research and have fun choosing the new plants that are right for you and your garden.  The great fun in gardening is that you get to choose the plants and the design to create the garden of your dreams!

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat.”

-Beverley Nichols, English author






Saving Garden Seeds

Saving garden seeds is easy and inexpensive. I began saving seeds in law school as a way to save money.  I bought an organic acorn squash at the local grocery.  I ate the squash and dried the seeds.  Over the summer, I planted the seeds and I harvested 75 squash to take back to school with me.  My supply of squash lasted me the entire school year!

And, saving seeds from plants you love allows you to reproduce your favorite plants over and over again without spending a dime. (Hint* If your plant is a hybrid, plants produced by their seed may look or taste completely different. Look at the plant tag or the seed packet to determine whether your plant is a hybrid.  To reproduce identical plants from seed, use heirloom seeds or plants. )

Flowering Plants

In order to save seeds from a flowering plant you must stop deadheading to allow the flowers to mature into seed heads.   When the flowers shrivel up,  seed heads or seed pods will become evident.  Allow the seed heads or seed pods to mature and dry on the plant. If the seed heads or seed pods are on a plant that will drop its seeds, like petunias, or blow away, like garden thistle, simple place a piece of nylon stocking over the seed pod or seed head and secure it with garden twine  to catch the seeds.

Collecting seeds from a seed head is as simple as snipping the seed head off the flower and shaking or pulling the seeds off .  To collect the seeds from a seed pod, however, you remove the pod from the flower stem, open it, and shake the seeds into a   container. Or, snip the seed pod off the plant and allow it to fall directly into a paper bag. Seal the top of the paper bag and shake it vigorously. This will shake the seeds lose from the seed pod.  Then gather the seeds from the bottom of the bag and place them in a container or envelope. Store in a cool dry area.

If there is moisture remaining on the seeds, such as from dew or  precipitation, allow the seeds to dry completely for a few days to a week in a brown paper bag prior to putting them in a sealed container or envelope.  Or, lay a paper towel or clean cloth on a cookie sheet and place the seeds in a single layer on cookie tray.  Let the seeds dry in a dim, dry, cool area for a week or more before placing the seeds into a container or an envelope.  Finally, label the envelope or container and store in a cool dry place.



squash seeds

Seeds from vegetables are generally harvested from the fruit itself, however there are exceptions.   Some of the easiest plants to harvest seeds from is the squash or the pumpkin. Simply cut open the pumpkin or squash and remove the seeds and the pulp.  Next place the seeds and pulp in a kitchen strainer and wash them with cool water.  Continue to rinse under cool water until all the pulp is removed and the seeds are clean. Spread a paper towel or clean cloth on a cookie pan and spread the seeds out in a single layer on the pan careful to remove any small, damaged, or immature seeds. Leave the seeds to dry in a dim, dry, cool place for a week or two.  Then transfer the seeds into a clean jar or envelope. Don’t forget to label your container.

Tomato seeds can be saved using the same process as pumpkin or squash. Simply cut open a tomato and squeeze the seeds and pulp out into a strainer.  Tomato seeds are much tinier than pumpkin seeds so use a strainer with a fine grid.  Rinse them under cool water until the seeds are clean and all the pulp is removed.  Lay the cleaned seeds out on a clean cloth or paper towel and allow to dry for a week or two.  Periodically during the drying process, run your hands over the seeds to separate the seeds into a single layer to dry completely as the seeds tend to stick together when wet. You can also follow a more rigorous process called fermentation for tomato seeds that I found on Permaculture Research Institute website.  I have never tried this method of saving seeds but  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this process if you try it.

Carrots and celery, both of which are Biennials , are among a group of vegetables whose seeds are harvested like those of flowering plants, but are harvested after the second year’s growth.  The tops of these plants flower and set seed after the second year.  To thoroughly dry the seed heads, cut the seed heads from the plant and place the whole seed head in a brown paper bag up to a week to finish drying. When the seed heads are thoroughly dry, shake the bag to release the seeds from the seed heads.  Gather the seeds from the bottom of the bag and place them in an envelope or jar to be kept for planting the following year.

These are just a few suggestions on saving seeds for a few different flowers and vegetables.  If you have questions about saving seeds from specific plants, don’t hesitate to do a quick online search on trusted sites. Saving seeds is easy, it saves money,  and it allows you to reproduce your favorite plants.  But remember, hybrid plants don’t reproduce by seed to create an identical plant, but heirloom seeds do, so try ordering seeds from heirloom seed suppliers like Harvesting History

Good luck and Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”

-Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturalist and writer









Harvesting History: A New Plant Catalog With So Much More Than Bulbs!

I opened my mailbox a few days ago and was pleasantly surprised to find that it contained a plant catalog from a new company called Harvesting History. The company specializes in heirloom seeds and bulbs. The tasteful beauty of the catalog itself sent me on a mission to learn more about this wonderful new company dedicated to the plants of old.

For those of you that are new to gardening, the term “heirloom” simply means the plant has been openly pollinated by insects or the wind without mechanical means and that the cultivar is somewhere between at least 50 to 100 years old.  GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) are not considered heirloom cultivars no matter the age. Traditionally, heirloom cultivars were considered to be handed down from one generation to the next for many generations.

According to the website, Harvesting History  was created in 2016 by a group of horticultural professionals with the combined experience in excess of 500 years! The company is dedicated to the preservation of heirloom varieties and their history.  The company carries a wide variety of heirloom cultivars including flowers, vegetables, and herbs along with a variety of other classic gardening products. About Harvesting History

Harvesting History’s stunning full color catalog contains a brilliant collection of detailed photographs of the many varieties of bulbs the company has for purchase along with a beautifully crafted narrative describing the history of each plant. A short description of each plant, its hardiness, and growing zones help the gardener choose from the large selection Harvesting History has available for purchase.

The Harvesting History company has piqued my interest.  Their stunning full color catalog and beautifully designed website make it fun and interesting to browse through the many varieties of bulbs, tubers, seeds, and other products they have available for sale. Check it out!  You may find your new favorite!

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

” I continue to be interested in new things that seem old and old things that seem new.”

– Jaquelin T. Robertson, American architect and urban designer