Archive for February, 2012

Yikes! There are worms in my kitchen! Sounds gross, right? Well, no, not really. You would never know I keep composting worms unless you look under my kitchen sink. There in a closed bin (with no odor, mind you), are squiggly red wigglers, quietly and happily dining on my garbage, making lovely “black gold”, nutrient-dense compost for the garden.

Vermicomposting can work well indoors

Compost is great for the garden because it contains nutrients like boron, manganese, iron, copper, and zinc that plants need to grow. And since I throw away so many vegetable scraps, it seemed like a waste for them to end up just rotting in a landfill. I had been thinking about composting for a while, and was trying to figure out a way to do it that would work for my small space. My postage-stamp size courtyard was way too small for outdoor composting, so I looked into other methods.

I found a good book, Composting Inside & Out, which talks about the benefits and rewards of composting, then walks you through all the different methods. I settled on vermicomposting because it seemed manageable, economical, and held great reward. That reward, worm castings, also known as worm poop, are the finished product, extremely high in nutrients needed by soil and plant life. Castings can go directly into the garden or made into a liquid “worm tea”.

This author of this book calls herself "The Urban Worm Girl"

All you need to start a worm bin is a 14-gallon plastic storage container with a tight-fitting lid (approx. $7), a drill, a few inches of soil, 1 pound of red wigglers, fruit and vegetable scraps, bedding material such as leaves, newspaper, paper or cardboard.

First, I drilled about twenty 1/4″ holes around the top sides of the bin, bottom, and lid. Then I added about 4 inches of organic soil.

A 14-gallon plastic storage bin with holes drilled into the sides, bottom, and lid

I got the worms from a local kid, a very enterprising 12-year-old boy who earns money selling red wigglers. These are not your common earthworm. They are Eisenia Fetida, and should never be released into the wild.

My cat, Oliver, says hello to the worms

I added the worms to the bin. They don’t like light, so they quickly disappeared into the soil.

The red wigglers are introduced into their new home

A red wiggler up close. I named this one Squirmy.

After adding the worms, moist bedding goes on top. Suitable bedding includes shredded newspaper or copy paper, torn cardboard or egg cartons, leaves, paper towels, dryer lint (no dryer sheet). It’s important that the bedding is moist. It should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge, not dripping wet. I added dried leaves to my bin and sprayed them down with a water bottle.

Suitable bedding material

Finally, food. What do worms eat? They like a vegetarian diet, mostly fruit and vegetable scraps like apple cores, carrot peels, bananas, lettuce, broccoli. But in limited amounts, they also like coffee grounds, breads, crushed egg shells, tea bags (remove the staple). Do not feed worms meat, butter, dairy, garlic, glossy paper, leeks, hot peppers, onions, oils, spicy foods, green grass or too much citrus. If you have a large rind, like cantaloupe or pineapple, you will want to chop it into small pieces first.

Fine dining for my new wormy friends

It’s important to bury the food scraps! This keeps away fruit flies. If you notice fruit flies, you’re not burying the food scraps deeply enough. But you can also freeze the fruit peels first before adding them to the bin to really help keep those fruit flies away. This is a good idea in the warm weather months. You shouldn’t notice an odor with your bin, but if you do, you may be feeding the worms more than they can eat. Back off a bit and see if that doesn’t solve the problem.

I’ll do a later post and let you know how things are going with the worms, how to harvest the compost, and make worm tea. In the meantime, I found this resource helpful: urbanwormgirl.com. Also, another good book on vermicomposting is Worms Eat My Garbage.

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Seed catalogs and websites are good resources for basic gardening information

I’ve been pouring over seed catalogs and websites lately, busy on a plan for the spring garden. So far my list includes swiss chard, tomatoes, red peppers, lettuce, kale, basil, radishes, bush beans, okra, onions and beets. While gathering information, I’ve found some pretty cool interactive online tools and resources for the gardener that make it easy and fun.

If you’ve got a list of things you’d like to plant, but are not sure how much will fit, this tool from Gardeners.com helps you plan and arrange your garden. You input the length and width of your plot, and they divide it into a square foot grid. You fill your plot, square by square, using a menu of vegetable pictures which you drag and drop into the layout of your garden. When you place the picture, the number of seedlings to plant appears in that square. Then, below the layout, useful planting information pops up about each vegetable.

gardeners.com has a fun picture planner

Before thinking about planting though, it’s important to know what zone you’re in (I’m in zone 6), and then you’ll need to know the last frost date in your zone. That’s because planting (whether starting seeds indoors or planting outdoors) is relative to the last frost date. This Burpee Seed resource helps you figure out both easily by just entering your zip code.

Some seeds are direct-sow… that is, directly planted into the garden. Others need to be started ahead and are transplanted in warmer weather. Some you can do either way. To know which vegetables to start indoors, and when, I’ve found some useful seed-starting charts such as these from OrganicGardening.com, and Burpee.com. There is also a very comprehensive PDF chart you can download at HighMowingSeeds.com. (click “vegetable planting guide” in the upper right corner.) Or, this one is nice from TheVegetableGarden.info once you’ve determined your zone.

I found these resources useful. Let me know what you’re planting and if you have any favorite resources to share.

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