Q As in other years, I moved plants from outdoors into our walk-out basement windows as soon as cold weather came along. Very soon, some plants started losing leaves. Others started browning around the edges of leaves. Stems still are green. Although we can smell no gas, could a minute amount of fumes from our furnace cause leaves to drop? D.M., Methuen, Mass.
There are three possible causes. Gas fumes, even in amounts not detectable to the nose, could make leaves drop, or brown on the edges, or look twisted. We suggest you call your gas company and have someone check for any leak. Another factor might be lack of humidity.
If plants are subjected to sudden humidity and temperature changes, as often occurs when they are moved indoors, leaves will drop.
There is a third possibility, which is not likely in your case. If it were a closed basement and you used it to store fruit or vegetables, ethylene given off could cause leaf drop. Once you have solved the problem, your plants will likely leaf out again.
Q As new gardeners, we especially benefit from the garden pages of the Monitor.
We took your advice and have been putting organic matter on our garden, such as leaves, garden trimmings, and for the past several weeks, table scraps. It has now become a large pile in the center of our small garden.
A friend tells us it will not break down during winter because of the freezing weather. He says we should have put it into a pit or in black plastic bags, which could have been moved to a warm sheltered area. Is there anything we can do to get the huge pile changed into compost by spring? It is on top of the only garden spot available. C.D., Madison, Wis.
If we knew it would be a mild winter, you could simply cover the pile with black plastic and it would absorb enough of the sun's heat to help it break down. Some fresh cow or horse manure, added in fall, would generate heat.
A friend of ours just built a ``pit'' around his compost by stacking some bales or straw on all sides. This will help insulate it. Then he has covered it with two layers of translucent polyethylene to let sun shine in, leaving space between for ``dead air'' insulation.
To do this, he made a frame of discarded 2-by-4-inch lumber he found at the recycling center. Any lumber will do as long as plastic can be stapled to it.
Be sure the compost pile is moistened thoroughly before covering. This will assist microorganisms in breaking down the raw material into mellow compost. Fresh manure should never be applied in spring.