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Re: Vegetable Garden Compost

  • Subject: Re: [cg] Vegetable Garden Compost
  • From: "Deborah Mills" deborah@greencure.org
  • Date: Thu, 24 Oct 2002 15:49:59 -0700

Dear Walter,

Below is an article that I wrote about Oleander in general and it is a
little of your topic but it should be interesting at least. Long ago I also
wrote a piece about Oleander in the compost which is evidently not saved on
my hard drive presently. If I find it on disc, I'll forward it to you.

In a nutshell, the problem with using Oleander in the compost is if the
leaves are not completely decomposed and a piece of it happens to get mixed
in with the produce, for example, loose leaf lettuce, and that piece of
Oleander leaf gets injested. Once the leaves are completely decomposed they
don't pose a hazard. Usually I recommend that Oleander compost is great for
landscapes and use with caution in vegetable gardens for the reason above.
It is my "disclaimer" so if someone makes Oleander compost and they happen
to injest a leaf that wasn't completely composted, I won't be sued!

As to using Eucalyptus leaves/stems in compost or chipped as a mulch, they
do not pose a hazard either. I am lucky enough to know the Farm Advisor, Jim
Downer, who ran the trials on using Eucalyptus as an organic mulch. His
findings are it does not prevent plant growth (that is everyone's fear) and
it is an excellent material to use as a mulch.

Enjoy the article below,

Deborah Mills
Green Cure, Inc.

Oleander, Beautiful but dangerous
By Deborah Mills

When we say a thing is poisonous, we usually mean that it is poisonous to
us. Some things that are poisonous to us are poisonous to all living
creatures, but most things poisonous only to some creatures and not to
others. It may even be a very fine food for some, just as when we say, "One
man's meat is another man's poison". One plant that seems to be on the top
of everyone's concern list is the highly deadly oleander (nèrium oleander)
plant but amazingly enough, it doesn't seem to affect the glassy-winged
sharpshooter, the same vector insect that is wreaking havoc in our grape

Nèrium oleander is the ancient name for oleander and is derived from the
Greek word neros, "moist," alluding to the places in which it grows wild.
The oleander is an old-fashioned evergreen shrub with showy, long-lasting
blooms that grow in large clusters at the ends of the branches. Flowers come
in white, crimson or dark red. The leaves are lance-shaped, thick, and
leathery and grow opposite each other from 8 to 10 inches long, although
smaller specimens will have shorter leaves. Sometimes, leaves may grow in
whorls. Oleander is well known and is cultivated everywhere. It is quite
recognizable because it is used to adorn the center dividers of many of our

Although pretty, oleanders harbor a hidden danger: The entire plant,
including dried leaves, contains deadly glycosides (oleandrin) that
stimulate the heart. These chemicals affect the conductivity and
contractility of the heart and, at toxic doses, causes heart failure. Nectar
collected by bees yields a poisonous honey. Smoke from burning oleander
affects sensitive people. Individuals have been poisoned by meat roasted
over oleander branches or with oleander branches used as skewers. Although
the plant's fresh foliage is very bitter, curious children can become
gravely ill from eating a single oleander leaf or from sucking nectar from
oleander flowers. Oleander has killed humans and livestock who accidentally
ingest the leaves, flowers or fruit of the plant.

Apparently the plant is not palatable to animals but they will eat it if
hungry enough. Dried or wilted leaves may be slightly more palatable than
fresh leaves but they are still toxic. One report on toxicity of the plant
in horses indicated that about one-quarter pound of leaves (about 30 or 40
leaves) could deliver a lethal dose to an adult horse.

To prevent poisoning, be able to identify oleander and exercise extreme
caution when humans (and pets) are around these plants. The plants should
never be placed where animals can have contact with them. Take extra care if
plants are growing where leaves can fall into animal feed or in the vicinity
of a confined or hungry animal. Oleander yard wastes should not be used as
bedding for horses or other animals. To avoid getting dermatitis, be sure to
wear an old long sleeved shirt and gardening gloves when pruning back your
oleander. The sticky sap from the plant can cause skin rashes on some
people. I emphasize wearing an "old shirt" because I have ruined a shirt (or
two) from the sap, which has left permanent stains on them.

Even though the plant is highly lethal, if you compare the number of
Oleander plants we see in our landscapes to the cases of poisonings, they
are extremely rare. Many other common plants we use in our landscapes like:
azaleas, flax, hydrangeas, yellow jessamine, lantanas, and plants from the
nightshade family are poisonous. In many plants the poison is confined to
one part or another, for example, the tomato plant itself (leaves and stems)
is poisonous but not the fruit.

Most of these toxic plants taste very bitter, which reduces the risk of
poisoning, Even so, the best precaution against plant poisoning is to teach
your children not to touch or to put into their mouths any of the plant
parts: seeds, leaves, sap, stems, flowers. If you can, limit their access to
these plants.

It is predicted that in the near future you will probably see less and less
oleanders planted in large masses because of oleander leaf scorch, which is
a lethal disease to oleanders. This is a relatively new disease found mainly
in southern California and it is caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa,
which is the same species (although a different strain) that causes Pierce's
disease of grapevines and almond leaf scorch. Vector insects, primarily
sharpshooters, feed on the water-conducting tissue (xylem) of the oleander
plant, transmitting the deadly bacterium.

This disease was first noticed on oleanders in the Palm Springs area
(Riverside county) and in Tustin (Orange county) in the early 1990's and has
spread as far North as Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and it is believed
it will continue to spread north along the coast. Oleanders affected by this
disease decline and then die, usually within three to five years of the
first symptoms. Eradication of oleander leaf scorch or the glassy-winged
sharpshooter is not feasible and presently, the only measures to take
control are to destroy plants that have definite symptoms.

> I have been told that it's not really a good idea to
> compost Oleander for use in the vegetable garden
> because the phytotoxins may not fully be broken-down.
> A fellow community gardener also suggested I not use
> Eucalyptus leaves/stems in this compost.  Is the
> Eucalyptus really bad, and are there other
> plants/trees that I should not chip/shred for use in
> the vegetable garden compost?
> ______________________________________________________
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find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org
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