Apr 28, 2011

Composting with worms

It's time to talk about worms!!!  Great, right?  Even better, making compost requires little effort when worms do all the dirty work.  One of the problems with composting in Kansas is that in the winter, you can't get your outdoor pile warm enough to actually break anything down.  So, after a little research, I decided worm farming was clearly the way to go.  Let me just reiterate, as I will many times this is SO EASY!  Anyone with a little tiny bit of space and a few purchased items can do it. 

First step is buying a place to keep your worms.  Ours is called the worm factory, but you can make your own worm house if you are so inclined.  Just Google it.  =)  It doesn't take up much space, and has many advantages I will talk about later. 

You can also order worms from Amazon.  It is a little weird, to think they come in the mail, but they do.  Right alongside your Pottery Barn catalog and the water bill. 
We keep our worm factory in the unfinished part of our basement.  The main reason for this is that worms can't get too hot or too cold, so it will be perfect in the summer and the winter.  The optimal temperature is between 40 and 80 degrees. 

If you are like me, you will also want a compost container to keep so that you don't have to run down to the bin every time you have something to compost.  I also got this container on Amazon's website.
It has a filter to keep out smells, and I think it looks nice enough to keep out on the counter. That's it.  Everything else you probably already have.  The other things that I use a lot are a small spray bottle and a garden fork. The fork is just to move things around if I want to take a look at the worms without touching any decomposing food.

Now for the work...  Remember, this is EASY!  The worm factory comes with everything you need, except for the worms.  I set up the factory according to the directions.  Then, you just save all of your fruit and vegetable scraps, old bread, plant cuttings, and eggshells in your container.  When my container is full, and admittedly pretty stinky, I empty the container out into the bins.  Here is a picture of my container full with asparagus ends.  

Then you cover your kitchen scraps with paper.  Hey, worms need fiber too!  I use the paper from our shredder, but you can also use junk mail, newspaper, toilet paper rolls, etc.
You can't see the worms here, because they are very light sensitive.  As soon as you open the bin, they run for cover.  Or squirm, whatever. 

Does anyone else know that song... The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out?  It is kind of dark and twisted.  Anyone?  Okay, I digress again. 

Finally, spritz with a little water, so that the paper is moist.  You never have to turn this or touch the worms.  The beauty of this system is that the worms crawl upward to the next bin once they are finished breaking down all the food in one bin.  It does take a while, but I have found that the amount of worms we have is perfect for the food scraps we compost. Here is the amazing thing.  The container stinks when I empty it in and cover it with paper.  The next day... NO SMELL!  The worms are, quite frankly, amazing. 

The advantages:
     1. EASY!
     2. Fruit and veggies never go to waste. 
     3. Low maintenance: Worms just like to be fed and left alone.
     4. You make your own compost and compost tea without doing a thing, which is great natural food for all of your plants. 
Just look at all of that dark, rich compost.  My garden will love it!  =)  If anyone has any questions, you are always welcome to leave a comment here and I will be happy to try and answer them!  Did I mention it's easy?  =) 

Apr 27, 2011


Did you know there is a facebook page for people who love broccoli?  No, I'm not a member of that group. Are you?  I LIKE broccoli, and simply wanted to grow some to see what it was like in plant form.  Lately, my broccoli has grown up.  Wanna see?
Whoa there, broccoli.  Doesn't it look kinda weird? In case you were wondering... And I know all of you 6 (okay 3!!) readers want to know...  The broccoli that you eat is a bud that hasn't flowered yet.  If you let the broccoli mature too long, it will actually bloom tiny yellow flowers.  (Which are also supposed to be edible.) Well, my broccoli has continued to spread and I was starting to see blooming signs, so I decided to harvest some broccoli!
The variety that I have is supposed to be heat tolerant, and will continue to produce small side shoots.  Now, my friends, a word about fresh broccoli.  It looks so unreal and kinda fluorescent GREEN!  It doesn't look perfect like the stuff you buy in the store.  And I'm okay with that.  =)
I should really think about my pictures before I take them.  If I was a different kind of person, I would probably have put this on a plate and tried to make it look very beautiful.  BUT I'M NOT!!!  I'm me, and that is practical and nerdy.  So, I put the broccoli straight into the strainer, and gave it a quick wash. I'll ask you to use your imaginations and pretend that it is staged properly.  =)

Now let me talk about my favorite part... The TASTE of fresh broccoli!!!  It was a little more earthy and flavorful than grocery store broccoli.  Also, the stalks!!  The stalks are normally a little tough and flavorless, but my broccoli reminded me a little of celery in texture.  Don't get me wrong, it didn't TASTE like celery, but it was cool and crisp, and well... wonderful. 

Fresh broccoli, my friends,  is a revelation.  =)  To close today, here is a recent picture of my garden.  My lettuce is loving this cool, rainy weather. 

Apr 21, 2011

Confessions of a plant-o-holic

Hello, my name is Angela, and I'm a plant-o-holic. 

Hi Angela!

Today I stopped by my local nursery to get potting soil, refused to pay the price for the organic mix, and then came home with two more plants, and NO POTTING SOIL.  (Italian oregano and a grape tomato plant)  I can't seem to stop my gardening addiction.  Can anyone help?

My seedlings are really growing well.  Sometime this weekend I need to get more potting soil, make more newspaper pots, and transplant.  I wish the weather would cooperate so that I could plant some of these things outdoors, but again, I live in Kansas!  Here are a couple of close-ups of my seedlings, and their progress.
The ones that look a little furry are tomatoes, the straight-skinny leaves are garlic, and there are a lot of carrots in this picture too.
More carrots, basil, cucumber, and melon here.
Mostly marigolds in this picture.

I had removed all of the seed starting pellets that didn't sprout and put them in another lidded container, meaning to plant something else in those eventually.  However, to my surprise, some plants were just late bloomers, and now I have no idea what those plants are.  I guess time will tell.  =)

I found out that I passed the last test that I needed to get my full Kansas teaching credential... Yippee!!  My husband, knowing by now that all I think about is gardening and plants, bought me new gardening shoes! 
Super cute, very comfy, easy to rinse off if I get stuff on them... Although I swore I would NEVER own crocs, I am loving my gardening shoes!

Apr 19, 2011

Just call me Elmer...

One day last week I walked out to the garden.  The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, it was a perfect day, and I couldn't wait to look at my gardens progress.
Wow!  Everything is looking so great.  Check out the broccoli!
Looks great!  I had also planted a marigold recently.  They are supposed to repel some bugs, so I thought I would give it a try.  However, my poor marigold looked so sad!
It's hard to tell from this picture, but there are some clearly eaten off stalks.  Someone had been eating at my garden buffet.  Without my permission.  Note to all you readers out there: DON'T DO THAT!!!  Suddenly, Angry Angela made an appearance.  I am not a violent person by nature, but I envisioned taking shooting lessons, getting a gun, camping out overnight with my gun, and getting my revenge.  Yes, people, that's correct.  I turned into Elmer Fudd.

I checked around online, and it seems rabbits are a problem for a lot of gardeners.  One gardener said he believed on eating what was in your garden.  "If you have tomatoes, eat tomatoes.  If you can grow corn, eat corn.  If you have rabbits, eat rabbits!!"  Had I crossed the crazy line for agreeing with this man?  Perhaps.  Did I follow through with my vision?  Well, of course not.  That would take too much time, and my veggies would be gone by then.  A quick fence needed to be put up, though.   

Just a few supplies were needed. 1.) Fence posts
2.) Fencing material.  This one is called rabbit guard, but I got it because it was the best height and easiest to work with.
3.) Finally, you will need some wire to twist things together.  The fencing comes with some, and if you have wire cutters, you can use that.  I don't want this fence to be permanent, because I have to work around all the garden beds, and be able to access things.
Ignore the twine, you don't need that.  =)  Hammer the posts into the ground. Then, wind the fencing around, making sure that it is touching the ground.  Finally, close the fence with a few wire twists.  Voila!  Rabbit proof!  (I hope.)

Perhaps as a back up, I should start taking those shooting lessons.  =) 

Apr 14, 2011

Newspaper Pots

As you may or may not know, I had to kick the green beans out of my seed starting shelf.  They were a bad influence on the other veggies, and frankly grew out of control.  However, I wasn't quite ready to just throw them out into the garden.  They needed time to acclimate to outside conditions.  So, I needed a bigger (small) pot, at least temporarily.  Instead of running out and buying seed pots, I decided to make some.  Here is a step-by-step instructional guide.   

First, gather your supplies.  You will need some newspaper, preferably black and white with few pictures.  Although colored pages, like the funnies are cute, they aren't very environmentally safe for your new plants or garden.  The Wall Street Journal middle sections work perfectly, because they use soy based ink to print.
You will also need a can, any kind will do as long as it has straight sides.
Yes, any kind.  Even Japanese sweetened azuki beans.  No one will know.  =)  Finally, you will need a plant that needs a bigger home.  If you look closely, you can see the green bean roots growing out of the seed starter.  You can also start seeds in these pots, if you are so inclined.    
That's it.  No tape, glue, scissors, or black belt in origami necessary.  I swear. 

Now for the good stuff.  Double up your newspaper sheets if you have a single, but if you have a 2-sheet attached middle section, just lay it out on the table.  Here is what I mean by 2-sheet attached middle section.

Two sheets make your newspaper pot a little more sturdy.  Now, fold it lengthwise in half.
Then, line up your can about halfway down the newspaper.  It should look like this:

Next, tightly roll the newspaper around the can.  Don't worry too much about keeping it straight, it should work out naturally.
Taking pictures with one hand is hard.  Try it.  =)  Keep rolling the paper around the can until you reach the end.
Now, this part is very important.  Keep holding onto that seam, and press the open end of the newspaper down at the seam, using the bottom of the can as a guide.
This will help "lock" in your seed pot so that it stays together.  Next, fold down another side.
Again, push against the can to get a flat bottom.  Finally, fold down the third and last side.
At this point, I usually flip the whole thing over and smash the newspaper down with the can inside of it, to help make sure that my folds will stay.  Finally, wiggle the can out of the paper.  It may seem a little fragile, but when you add the soil in, it will hold!  Also, because the bottom overlaps, there is no room for any soil to leak out of the bottom. 
Add soil and plants/seeds, and place in your desired location.
This project is very easy and inexpensive.  I think I took 15 minutes (max) to make these 9 pots.  Also, when it comes time to plant, you can just water and unfold the bottom of the pot, so that the roots can grow down. The newspaper should decompose naturally in your garden. =)  

Apr 11, 2011

Veggie Talks

I heard talking to your plants helps them grow.  So, don't mind me as I continue to try any and every thing I can to get some edible produce.

Hello, broccoli?  I have been waiting for you to show your beautiful face. 
There you are, just starting to peek out.  I can't wait to mix you with some tomatoes and chickpeas for a yummy salad.  You will like it!  So keep growing, broccoli.

Oh lettuce, I haven't forgotten about you!  My, how you have grown.
Dear, sweet, tender lettuce.  I am going to pick some of your tasty leaves to put on our burgers. First, though, I have to take a picture of my garden to document the slow changes.

This is a happy milestone in my garden adventures.  Instead of buying (and eventually wasting) lettuce for burgers, I was able to pick just enough for our two-person weekend meal.  Please note, that tomato is not out of my garden.  =)  But someday, it will be! 

Apr 9, 2011

Holy growth spurt, Batman!

Last weekend my friend Annie came to visit our house for the first time, and brought me a great housewarming gift.  She made this beautiful arrangement herself.
Pansies!  Now, I have to admit that every time I see pansies, I say, "You bunch of pansies!"

Every time.

Even in public.

In spite of my silliness, I love this arrangement of dogwood and pansies that is now cheering up my front stoop.  Thanks, Annie!  Also, my daffodils are putting on quite a show.  I am so glad I planted them.
They wave at me every morning when I leave for work and every evening when I come home.  I swear. They DO!  =)  I digress again. 

On Sunday, while Annie was here, we looked at my seed starting shelf.  There was nothing but dirt to show, nothing exciting.  I didn't really know how long it would take for some of the plants to start growing.  I'm pretty new to this gardening stuff, in case you hadn't noticed.  On Monday, I looked and saw tiny little green shoots starting to push up.  I thought to myself... I should really take a picture of those tiny plants.

Imagine that is what actually happened, and here is where the picture would be.  =)  I didn't take a picture, and thought, I'll just snap one tomorrow.  So, here is Tuesday's picture of my plants.
The plants are still tiny, but making more of an appearance than they did the day before.  Here are a couple of close ups.
Wednesday I went to check on my tiny plants and was in for quite a shock. 
 Who are you, and what did you do with my tiny plants?  I hate to say it, but I told you I didn't trust those beans.  It seems once they got started, they were off and running.  Here is Thursday's picture... Remember, this is 1 week after I planted!
When I asked my husband to come look, he said, "Uh, I think your thumb is too green."  (And all this time, you all thought I was brown!)  =)  Today I removed those green bean plants from the seed starter.  We raised the lights and they just kept shooting up.  I am in the process of hardening them off, and will soon be planting them in the garden. 

In the meantime, I will lower the lights again, to give the other plants a chance at some light.  I also set up a fan on my seed starting shelf, to mimic the wind conditions my plants will soon be subjected to, and help make them stronger.  Finally, I thinned out plants that had more than one growing per cell by cutting them at ground level with some scissors.  This way the strongest plant has the best chance.  Currently growing at a slower pace: carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes (roma and beefsteak), cauliflower, garlic, basil, and marigolds.    Currently no-shows: eggplant, jalapenos, and bell peppers.  I may have to try and re-plant those.
But that's another project, for another day.  Finally, a pic of my tulips.  Have a great weekend!

Apr 7, 2011

Progress Report

Woo hoo!!  My first daffodil bloomed.  The tulips, not to be shown up by the daffodils, will soon make an appearance.  (In my imaginary flower world, tulips are very high class, and the daffodils are... Well, they are like me.  They blunder in, wave happily, and are goofy.  Wait... You don't have an imaginary flower world?  Oh.  Please disregard the offending sentences.)  =)  Meanwhile, I thought you all might like to see how my garden is growing.  Just don't call me Mary, Mary quite contrary. 
Here is the older picture of my plants, without the sun box, from a previous post. 
Here is the newest picture of my plants.  They aren't growing as quickly as I thought they would, but they ARE growing.  Some of the lettuce is already bigger, and I have to admit that I cut off two leaves to taste.  Guess what?  They taste like lettuce.  =)  To help my plants and give them a little boost, I decided to water with a little diluted compost tea from my worm farm.
 If you are curious, here is what compost tea looks like, before I diluted it with water.  It requires no work from me, my worms do all the dirty work.  (Pun intended.)  So, I mixed this with water, and we will see what effect it has on my plants!  I am definitely trying to keep this garden organic, so I will try to avoid commercial fertilizer.  

In other plant related news, my broccoli experiment is still inconclusive.  The plant that was left out of the sun box is still alive, but seems to be a little more stressed than the other broccoli plants.
If you will notice above, the leaves are pretty small, and one of them still looks a little purple. 
Above is a plant that was covered.  There is not a huge difference, but this plant seems to be a bit bigger and has more leaves.  I will keep watering the plants with the diluted compost tea for a while, and hope to give them a boost.  

For those of you that are curious, I will have an entire post on my worm farm/composting someday soon.  You will be shocked and amazed, and I hope some of you might even consider having one too!