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WSU Extension Q&A: Oak, walnut, sycamore leaves, pine needles can be composted

Chopping oak, walnut, sycamore leaves and pine needles in a shredder or mover before adding them to a compost will make them break down quicker.
Chopping oak, walnut, sycamore leaves and pine needles in a shredder or mover before adding them to a compost will make them break down quicker. Tribune News Service

Q. I am planning on starting a compost pile this fall. I have heard you should not compost oak, walnut or sycamore leaves, nor pine needles. Why?

A. Actually, this is a fallacy, and you can compost them. Oak leaves and pine needles take longer to decay because of the plant compounds they contain, like lignins and waxes. Sycamore leaves are simply a problem because of their size and volume of leaves a mature tree produces. If you want to compost any of these three, the more you can chop them up using a shredder or mower before composting, the quicker they will decompose.

Black walnuts contain a plant chemical called juglone that is toxic to some plants, but the chemical breaks down during the decomposition process. It is safe to compost all these leaves and needles. To learn more about composting, there is a fall composting workshop planned from 9:30 a.m. to noon Oct. 31 at the Kennewick Library on Union Street. The workshop is free, plus you will receive a free composting bin, but you must register ahead of time by calling 509-735-3551.

Q. I found an insect in my garden that looks like a tiny alligator. What is it?

A. The insect is the larvae of a lacewing. The lacewing larvae feed on aphids and other small soft-bodied insects, making it beneficial in the garden.

Q. Should the calves from my first-calf-heifers be managed differently from those of older cows?

A. First-calf-heifers and their offspring should be managed separately from the rest of the cow herd for a number of reasons. First, the nutritional requirements for these young cows are higher than mature cows because they are still growing. The young heifers are usually lower in the social hierarchy of the herd, so if they remain with the more mature cows, they receive the left overs rather than the best of feed. These heifers experience more calving difficulties, so they should be in an area where they can be observed closely.

Calves that have experienced a difficult birth require special attention because they are less able to produce body heat, take longer to stand and nurse, and may have a compromised immune system. Therefore, it is especially important that these calves are closely observed to make sure they receive colostrum in the first few hours of life. Less than two percent of calving difficulties occur in mature cows.

Questions should be called in to the WSU Extension offices in Kennewick at 735-3551 or Pasco at 545-3511.

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