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Annual fundraiser offers early start on finding berries

Q. Do you know of a good place to obtain blackberries

and blueberries? - Sheldon in Gwinnett

A. The Gwinnett County Extension Service has an annual blueberry and blackberry sale as a fundraiser. Order forms can be obtained by e-mailing me at steve.pettis@gwinnettcounty.

com. We will take orders until March 1, and the plants can be picked up March 9.

Q. I have found three snakeskins in my yard this summer - the third one just this morning! They are about 1.5 to 2 feet long. All have been around a railroad-tie retaining wall (the third one was actually on the wall going in between one of the ties).

How often do they shed their skins? I live in a residential area in Lawrenceville. What is the likelihood of them getting into my garage or house? How do I get rid of them? - Phyllis in Gwinnett

A. Snakes shed several times per year. They tend not to be gregarious, so it is probably the same snake that is responsible for all of the shed skins you have found. My guess is that you need not worry about the snake entering your garage if you keep the door closed. Getting rid of snakes is difficult because they are nearly everywhere - they are just so well hidden you never see them. My suggestion is to just be wary when outdoors, clean up any brush piles and mow any untended areas. A great guide to snakes is at this Web site: www.uga.edu/srel/snake-1.htm.

Q. I am in need of a compost bin for the fall season. I would like to get it in before the drop. I have searched high and low and was advised to contact your department. Do you know where in the Snellville/Lilburn area (or any area, for that matter) I can purchase a composting bin? Any advise is appreciated. Thank you in advance. - Jessica in Snellville

A. Compost bins can be bought most easily over the Internet. I prefer home-built composters myself.

The following excerpt comes from the University of Georgia composting publication available at this link: http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/c816-w.html. Our organization is hosting a class on composting in the fall as well. Visit www.gwinnettextension.org for more details.

Composting structures

To save space, hasten decomposition and keep the yard looking neat, contain the compost pile in some sort of structure. Structures can consist of a variety of materials and can be made as simple or complex as desired.

Types of structures

Use of plastic garbage bags is perhaps the simplest way to make compost. The bags are easy to handle and require minimal maintenance.

To make compost using this method, fill plastic bags (30 to 40 gallon size and at least 3 millimeters thick) alternately with plant wastes, fertilizer and lime. Add to each bag of composting material about one tablespoon of a garden fertilizer with a high nitrogen content.

Hydrated lime (one cup per bag) helps counteract the extra acidity caused by anaerobic composting. After filling the bag, add about a quart of water. Close the bag tightly. Set aside for six months to a year.

Set the bags in a basement or heated garage for better decomposition during winter months. You will not have to turn the mixture or add water after closing the bag. The main advantage of composting in garbage bags is that it requires little maintenance; however, because oxygen is limited, the process is slow.

A barrel or drum composter generates compost in a relatively short period of time and provides easy turning. It requires at least a 55-gallon barrel with a secure lid.

Be sure that the barrel was not used to store toxic chemicals. Drill six to nine rows of one-half-inch holes over the length of the barrel to allow air circulation and drainage of excess moisture.

Place the barrel upright on blocks to allow bottom air circulation and drainage of excess moisture; fill it two-thirds full with organic waste material and about one-fourth cup of a high nitrogen fertilizer.

If needed, apply water until the mixture is moist. Every few days, turn the drum on its side and roll it around the yard to mix and aerate the compost. The lid can be removed after turning to allow for air penetration. Ideally, the compost should be ready in two to four months. The barrel composter is an excellent choice for the city dweller with a relatively small yard.

For larger quantities or organic waste, bin-type structures are the most practical. A circular bin can be made by using a length of small spaced woven wire fencing held together with chain snaps.

The bin should be about 3 to 5 feet in diameter and at least four feet high. To maintain the shape of the pile and facilitate adding water, a stake may be driven in the middle of the bin before adding material.

With this design, it is easy to turn the composting material by simply unsnapping the wire, moving the wire cylinder a few feet and turning the compost back into it.

A very efficient and durable structure for fast composting is a three-chambered bin. It holds a considerable amount of compost and allows good air circulation. The three-chambered bin works on an assembly line idea, having three batches of compost in varying stages of decomposition.

A balanced mixture of compost material is started in the first bin and allowed to heat up for three to five days. Next, it is turned into the middle bin for another four to seven days, while a new batch of material is started in the first bin.

Finally, the material in the middle bin is turned into the last bin as finished or nearly finished compost.

To make this structure, it is best to use rot-resistant wood such as redwood, wood treated with a preservative such as "copper green" or a combination of wood and metal posts. Unless the wood is treated or is rot resistant, it will decompose within a few years.

Each bin should be about five feet by three feet and about three to four feet high. Removable slats in the front offer complete access for turning.

There are many other structures for composting, and no one structure is best.

Invent your own or consult one of the several new books on composting. If you don't want to build a structure, there are several commercial composting units available through local garden stores or mail order catalogs.

Most of these are similar to the barrel composter described previously and are for the

city dweller wanting an easy

way to make small amounts

quickly.