Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Vermicomposting, Ch4: The Lazy Harvest

It's been almost a year since I've posted about my Vermicomposting experience, so I think it's time for an update. My little bin has been chugging along nicely and doing quite well. It's simple, and has been almost fool proof. Over the last year, I've made several small harvests and two large harvests of vermicompost from my kitchen bin. The small harvests were because I needed to make some compost tea to fertilize plants, and the large ones were because the worms had converted 90% of their bedding and food into castings. The most recent harvest I made didn't go as well because I had less fresh bedding available than I realized when I began harvesting. You see, when I set up the bin about a year and a half ago, I had been saving shredded paper for months knowing I'd be setting up a worm bin. I was also able to collect a bag full of crunchy fall leaves and had a starter supply of food ready to go. All that took up about two thirds of the bin and was for only about 10 worms and some cocoons.

When I made the first big harvest six months later, I had a bucket of dried grass clippings and more shredded paper and such ready to go and mixed that with their old unfinished bedding/compost. The worm population had really grown from just those ten worms and I had about two handfuls of worms in the bin.

Well I have learned that few good things on the planet breed like worms. My population of worms is now huge. It's now so big that the last small harvests I've made, I didn't give too much care to separate all the worms from the finished compost and just mixed them right on in with the peat moss and soil I was adding the compost to for new plantings. Unfortunately, I didn't have near the amount of bedding my colony now requires. My little bin was only about a quarter full with the new bedding of mostly shredded paper and cardboard mixed in. I soon learned this was a mistake.

You see over the next month, the worms began a massive exodus from their bin in search of a better home. I thought at first they were fleeing from something in the new bedding, but then I realized that the bedding was jam packed full of worms and some of the largest worms were simply looking for more space.

It galled me to think of buying bedding for them, but, eventually, that's what I ended up doing. Lucky for them, I needed a bale of peat moss for my blueberry bushes and to amend my garden, so I came up with a plan to move worms from old bedding to new with the least amount of effort. I used a small garden hand rake to quickly sort the unfinished bedding from the finished, but didn't give too much concern at separating the worms from the bedding. Most ran down into the finished castings and away from the light as I sorted and that was good enough for me. I then scooched all the finished compost to one side of the bin and folded a piece of 1/2" hardware cloth around that part of the bin to keep the castings separate from the new bedding. I mixed up the new peat moss with old water from my fish tank till it was a nice consistency for the worms and put it and some favorite foods (namely banana peels) in the other side of the bin along with a small gob of worms that I'd sorted off from the unfinished old bedding.

New peat moss bedding

Then I put the lid on and waited for the worms to migrate from their finished side of the bin to the new side of the bin. I put a light on over the bin for a couple days to encourage them to stay in their home and not go galavanting. I've read worms can become a tad disoriented from a big overhaul like this one and their aversion to light can be used to contain them until they acclimate.

The divided bin

It's been two weeks at least since I did all that. I've been monitoring the water content of the peat moss which is very dry stuff and I did have to add more water to several times to get it to optimal level. I've also been poking around both sides of the bin to see where the majority of the worms seem to be.

Ready to harvest

Today I had the easy pleasure of harvesting the rest of the finished vermicompost. All I did was scoop the finished stuff out with my shovel and hand picked a dozen stragglers out of it. Easy as pie. I then pulled out the hardware cloth and filled up the bin the rest of the way with more wetted peat moss.

Finished vermicompost

Letting the worms do the traveling from one side of the bin to the other was by far the easiest way to harvest vermicompost. In the future, all I will do is scooch the fished stuff worms and all to one side, insert hardware cloth, add new bedding, harvest two weeks later. It's fast and easy and saves the worms and owner from the irritation of dumping and sorting.



Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Garden Update: January and February 2016

We are having an El Niño winter this year. For us that means warm weather in the low 80's, lots of rain, a cold snap in the 50's to 60's lasting a few days then more warm weather. This has confused our plants greatly and made it difficult to commit to cool or warm weather crops.

Thankfully, some plants like my poblano ancho pepper and these carrots haven't minded a bit. The pepper has given us over a dozen nice delicious long peppers so far. Diced up, they are one of our favorite salad toppings, and sautéed in a bit of bacon grease they are sweet and savory and exploding with flavor. And I still love the deep green foliage and shiny peppers. The peppers are a bit tricky to spot though. How many do you see?

My two Celebrity tomato plants are fruiting heavily and finally turning red. See what I see?

Unfortunately the texture leaves something to be desired. Because of the fluctuations in the weather, they have a bit of a mealy texture and are cracking badly across the top. If I pull them when they are just blushing and let them turn on the windowsill the cracks aren't as bad. Thankfully, I've had 10 big half pound tomatoes that are perfectly fine if you just slice the top cracked part off. I've used two in salads and these were turned into a chunky purée that went in the freezer for soups or chili.

I am beginning to dedicate a large percentage of my gardening space to perennial fruit crops like these blueberries. They are the Sunshine Blue variety and are supposed to have good yields on compact, self fertile plants and require few chill hours. Two were bought in flower and one was a sick little clearance plant and hasn't flowered yet. We'll see how they do. I planted a row of Cosmos flowers seed behind them and a row of magenta lettuce seed in front to capitalize on the space. I am also rooting this little Black Krim tomato cutting in front, and it is flourishing. I planted a couple hybrid salad cucumber seeds on either side of the blueberries and if they take off, I plan on trellising them on either side of the bed somehow. And my daffodil bulbs that were my flowers last Mother's Day are beginning to pop up. These are the first flower bulbs I've grown.

We haven't had many chill hours yet this year. The last time I looked, not long ago, I'm pretty sure we were still below 100 hours. This caused me some concern for the possibility of getting fruit from my peach tree this year, thankfully, it also relies on day length to go dormant then set flower. And setting flowers it is! Spring is coming!

And the kids are loving the perfect weather the last couple days. Bear is learning to go down the slide by himself. And the older boys love the swing!



Monday, February 8, 2016

Book Review: Create your own Florida Food Forest by David the Good

David the Good generously offered a free copy of the Audible version of his book read by him in exchange for an honest review of his work and I'm happy to share my review.



Create your own Florida Food Forest by David the Good

Book review by Erin Cross in Central Florida zone 9b

David the Good's guide to creating a Florida food forest is an optimistic and energetic approach to gardening in an area that most gardeners find daunting. His conversation style writing and reading of the book make the information easily understood and applied. After listening to just a few chapters I was ready to head outside with a shovel and start planting my own food forest, and you will be too. I was encouraged by the good news that in spite of the sand, sun, nematodes and hoards of bugs ready to feast on your prized traditional gardens, there are plants that will not only thrive, but outcompete the bugs and woes of traditional veggie gardens (and with much less input from the gardener too!)

Even if you aren't ready to kiss your lawn goodbye and let your intentional food forest take over, you will still find good gardening advice and principles to plant by. This is also true if you live in a deed restricted neighborhood and aren't allowed to have a wild looking landscape. I don't have a food forest in my backyard, but I did learn how to apply food forest principles to densely and diversely plant my 10th of an acre lot with a variety of plants that grow with minimal care.

Florida is a wild state that would gladly revert back to a natural forests without the constant interference of man. David the Good teaches how to use this tendency to our advantage rather than trying to fight it.

I have read Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening and I recommend buying a print copy of that book to go along with the audio version of Create Your Own Florida Food Forest because it will give you much of the information contained in the appendices of this book (which you will want to reference) in addition to even more practical tips of gardening in Florida. If you also want to garden as organically as possible, Food Forest will teach you how to rely on other plants to do the work of insect control, fertilizing and conserving water. This is an excellent book and I strongly recommend it!

I have applied his principle of dense and diversely planting this 10ft x 2ft area of my garden with two Ischia Figs (on either end), four Dwarf Black Everbearing Mulberries (center), some Sweet Alyssum as ground cover (left), a yellow Mum as some smaller bush and insect plant (right), and Passionflower Vine aka Maypop (barely visible center front) that I collected from the empty lot next to Lowes where they were selling it inside (Ha!) that will become the vining layer along my picket fence (not yet built) that separates the garden from the yard.

If I had listened the Ag Extension office or Lowes, I would only plant one of the figs in this entire 8ft x 10ft mulched area you see. But I have a little yard and big plans, so I'm going with David the Good's approach and planting food forest style. I also waited until the plants were the twigs you see from being dormant before buying them. I got them for 1/3 the original price. I'm starting papaya from seed in the background and the the Passionflower Vine was free, I just had to suffer the gawking stares from passersby as my 8mo pregnant self parked the minivan in and walked around the vacant lot to collect my plants. It was good fun.