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Curious Questions

beeI do a lot of thinking in my garden – a garden is a thinking kind of place. I also do a lot of wondering, especially about garden matters, but by the time I’ve hauled myself back inside at the end of the day, weary to the bone, I don’t have the energy to find the answers. If you’re the same, here are some interesting snippets which might just answer the questions you always ask yourself when you have a hoe in your hand!

Is citrus OK for my compost?
I’ve always thought so, and now it seems the experts agree (which makes me feel rather smug!). Citrus won’t harm your compost and although it may not be their favourite, some (but not all) worms, will eventually munch on it but not until it begins to decay. This means the peel may be slower to be ‘processed’ than other scraps in the pile, a fact which could well have given rise to the myth that it shouldn’t be composted at all.

Can bumble bees hurt me (or are they just harmless, fuzzy, buzzers)?
As I can’t tell the difference between a queen bumble and a worker, I’m going to steer clear of bumble bees in general now that I know the queens have the ability to sting. But the good news (for the bumble, anyway) is that, unlike the honey bee which dies after stinging because it can’t withdraw its barbed weapon, HRH Bumble can withdraw her sting and carry on to pollinate another day!

To pee or not to pee?
Your urine (or anyone else’s for that matter!) is similar in nutrient levels to commercial fertilizers. Its NPK ratio is around 11,1,2.5 (blood meal is around 12,2,1). But compared to animal manure (some of which you might apply directly to your garden), the nitrogen levels are high so it would pay to dilute urine by 10:1 before watering it onto the soil. As for the age-old question of whether the male members of your family are slowly causing the demise of your lemon tree, any on-going concentration of nitrogen-high fertilizer onto a plant is going to cause problems, especially in dry weather when dilution isn’t happening care of rain. My advice would be to encourage the blokes to ‘share what they can spare’ between a range of plants. Either that, or leave the watering can beside the citrus!

Is it safe to use printed paper and cardboard in my compost?
The answer is, generally speaking, ‘yes’. Even shiny paper can be added to the compost pile. The shininess is usually achieved through the addition of clay to the paper pulp mixture, and clay is certainly fit for the compost pile. The bright inks are almost sure to be soy based. The glues and chemicals used in paper and cardboard manufacture are said to be practically benign by the time the finished product reaches you.

If all the ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ leave you feeling worried (as they do me from time to time) I say this to myself: there will no doubt be exceptions to the purported ‘okayness’ of adding cardboard and printed paper to the compost but there will also be exceptions to the purity of anything else I add. The seemingly harmless straw I use in my chook house (and later compost) may actually have been contaminated with weed spray. The trailer load of sheep manure dumped at my gate by a friendly farmer may contain anti-biotics used to treat her sheep. The dye from the old cotton jeans I shredded and biffed into the compost bin may have toxic residues. Unless I’m going to be a total purist (and good on you if you head down that path), I go with the philosophy that my otherwise 100% organic practices will mitigate any small slip-ups I might encounter on the way. And what I produce in the garden is going to be a whole lot healthier than the non organic produce I’d otherwise have to purchase from the super market.