Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

How To Set Up A Worm Bin

Worm bin vermicomposter in kitchen

The worm bin’s cozy home under the kitchen table.

Under our kitchen table in a black box live worms. Many, possibly thousands, of worms.

In April of this year, I ordered a vermicompost bin and worms from Gardens Alive, an online and mail order garden supply retailer. They offer coupons every so often for $25 off of $100 purchase or $50 off of $150 purchase that made the worms free, so once I made my decision, I waited for another coupon to come out. Three days later, there it was in my inbox.

So for less than $100, I was the proud owner of one vermicompost bin and 1,000 worms. The bin was delivered very quickly. I of course paid no attention the instructions telling me to set up the bin completely now, before my worms arrive. Because I was going camping with two young kids and in the middle of packing hell.

Worm bin and worms arrive in the mail

The bin, worms in their little box, and the directions.

Unfortunately, it was a warm weekend and when we arrived home on Monday afternoon in 92 degree heat, we found this box wedged between our storm and main doors.

Box containing worms

This is the box in which the worms were delivered.

Because it was a holiday weekend, that meant they had been there since Saturday–through two and a half very hot and humid days, and touching a metal and glass door. I was a little concerned they would all be dead. I quickly checked them and it looked like everybody was alive. Yay for thorough packaging!

Step #1: Lay the Foundation

The first thing I needed to do (after assembling the bin) was wet several pieces of newspaper and lay them on the bottom of the tray. This keeps the worms from falling through into the drain tray below.

There are no pictures of the wet newspaper step because Jason, despite his serious aversion to all things that slither and wiggle, ran to get the camera, change its batteries, etc. at about this time in order to document the process (thank you, Jason!)

Step #2: Go To Bed

Next came the bedding layer. I took a cup or so of compost from our outdoor composter and put that in a large bowl. To it I added half of a block of coir that was included with the instructions and several handfuls of shredded newspaper. Then I moved it all into a much larger bowl. And then I stirred and moistened it all slightly.

Worm bin set up

The silver bowl is so huge that we could easily bathe a six month-old in it. Go ahead, ask me how I know.

I then added this mix to the bin, spread out on top of the wet newspaper. It looked a little thin, so I shredded some more newspaper and mixed it in. the picture below shows me throwing it on, before the paper is mixed in.

Worm bin second layer

This is the bedding layer. Exciting, right?

Step #3: Keep It Dry

Then I layered dry, shredded newspaper on top of the bedding layer. I actually moistened this at some point, forgetting that I was supposed to leave it dry. Don’t do what I did.

Worm Bin shredded newspaper

Third layer of shredded newspaper, just barely moistened.

Step #4: Last Layer

Finally I prepared a fairly thick layer of wet newspaper  to lay on top of the shredded newspaper. This helps keep the light out, keeps the humidity up, and encourages the worms to remain in the bin. Not that they’ll try to escape except in extreme circumstances–they don’t like light, so they want to stay in the bin where it’s dark.

Last worm bin layer

Applying the final layer of wet newspaper on top of the bedding.

Step #5: Welcome Home

Finally, I was ready to add the worms. Inside the mailing box was lots of shredded paper packed tightly. Inside of that was a paper bag, slightly moist, and inside of that, this white bag.

Opening the worm bag

They’re in there!

I tried to dump them gently into their new home, hoping that most had survived the heat of the weekend.

Adding worms to the vermicomposter

I’m concentrating super hard.

I realized later that I should have added the worms on top of the bedding layer, then topped with the dry, shredded newspaper layer. Oh well. Again, don’t do what I did.

Adding worms to the worm bin

So exciting!

Jason moved pretty close to the big pile of 1,000 worms for the photo below. At this point, because they were stressed, they were massed together pretty tightly.

Red Wiggler vermicompost worms

Do they look happy to you?

Step #6: Settling In

Not pictured, for some reason. Add a handful of food to one corner of the bin below the bedding layer. Chop it as finely as possible, and even cook it a little to make vegetables softer and more palatable. Did I just say palatable in relation to worm food? Yup, I did.

Pop the lid on and put them somewhere a little dark and a little quiet.

Set up of worm bin

Putting the lid on our new pets.

We completed this project after the kids went to bed, so in the morning, I introduced J and P to their new pets. They both are enjoying the worms.

Our worm bin lives under our kitchen table. In another post, I’ll post a longer update on how the worms are doing, and mostly it’s positive. I can’t forget about them since I see them every day, and they seem to be pretty comfortable most of the time.

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If you compost, do you have your composter outside, inside, or both? 

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2009 Gardening Accomplishments

My photo’s a little fuzzy, but you get the picture (ha!). This was one day’s harvest in late September of 2009. This was the first year for our organic garden at Cinderella’s House, and I’m so glad we did it. Note: that unusual basket is carved wood, and large, a gift from my mother- & father-in-law a couple of years ago. Love it!

Jason cut the sod, not just throwing it away but transplanting the Zoysa grass sod to places in the yard that had become mostly clover and crabgrass. Our neighbor took almost all of the weedy sod and used it to fill in around his pool where he has a hard time getting anything to grow (0 in the garbage–love it!).

Jason tilled the soil, mixing in the organic mushroom compost, and built a wood border around the vegetable garden. Not tall, but enough to discourage little feet. And late in the summer, he built a rain barrel that the garage roof runoff drains into. It’s so cool. All of this except the rain barrel was paid for with gift certificates earned through our rewards credit card and MyPoints. We probably spent about $55 on the rain barrel, including the bypass for the winter months.

Our aunt & uncle gave us several hosta from their garden, which we planted on the shady side of the yard.

We had never liked the way 3 arborvitae bushes cut off the patio from the rest of the yard, so I posted them on freecycle and a sweet woman and her son came and dug them up and took them away. Just like that. It was incredible. The were huge, beautifully shaped, and any landscaper would have charged a few hundred each. I was just glad to have them go away to a good home with minimal effort.

I’m not a rose fan, but our house came with many rosebushes. MANY. and in our tiny 20×50 foot yard, it seemed like we were always getting stuck by a thorn. I also posted these on freecycle and a lovely couple who were thrilled to have them came and dug them up one day. They wouldn’t let me help, and they cleaned up after themselves. AND they sent a thank you note in the mail. Some of those bushes looked to be at least 40 years old, and knowing they went to a good home made me feel better about cursing at them for three years.

In the vegetable garden we planted spinach, bibb lettuce, romaine lettuce, carrots, 5 kinds of heirloom tomatoes, Tiger and asian eggplant, 3 kinds of heirloom peppers, summer squash, zucchini, pumpkin, sunflowers, basil, cilantro, onions, nasturtium, chives, and spinach. More sunflowers were planted in the lilly bed in front of the garage. Many I planted in the garden as seed, or started inside from seed. Peppers and tomatoes and 2 of the eggplants were bought as plants from an organic urban farm nearby.

And my mother-in-law brought me rhubarb from her garden in Maine.

We planted spring bulbs in late October. Daffodils, tulips, crocuses, and allium. Used coupon codes and sales to score tons of bulbs for less than $30.

And a giant green cherry tomato plant grew out one of the vents in our compost barrel. We think it was a tomato that a neighbor gave us the year before, because I couldn’t remember buying any green cherry tomatoes. They were yummy, and woohoo! Free tomatoes!

And someone 5 minutes away was giving away some perennials on freecycle. We took the stroller and got a white daisy, a grape hyacinth, and two different wild lillies.

Lessons learned:

I have squash bugs and they are next to impossible to get rid of. I had a few zucchini and one odd looking pumpkin, and then they killed everything. This bummed me out. I was really looking forward to one big pumpkin, and The Mr. had built a steel trellis just so I could vine it. It did vine well, with help, until it died. I think I’ll skip the zucchini & summer squash in 2010, but I may try a pumpkin again. I can’t resist!

Sunflowers do not mix well with anything else. They turned into 11-foot tall giants in the vegetable garden, probably due to all of the watering. But they sucked the life out of everything growing in close proximity, including the lillies.

For me, there is such a thing as too much hosta. Love ’em, but I’m going to take about 8 of the duplicates and give them to my cousin who needs some pretty around her new home.

Container gardening isn’t my schtick. My plants were puny, and I had plenty in the regular garden to deal with.

I want sweet pea this year. I have a steel trellis that is 6 feet tall that Jason. built for me last year, and I’m going to use that to vine it on.

Square foot gardening is great, but I couldn’t get it to work with tomatoes. My tomatoes were so tightly packed that I actually couldn’t pick some of the ripe ones without breaking off branches. This year they get a little breathing room.

No more eggplant! Turns out we’re not that fond of eggplant. A little is great, a lot is completely overwhelming. I’ll buy it at the farmer’s market. If I want it at all. Not sure we’ll have recovered from the purple onslaught of 2009.

More Strawberries! I forgot to mention we planted 3 strawberry plants in a hanging basket and wish we had more.

More Blueberries! Also forgot that I bought a male & female blueberry plant on clearance at Lowe’s. They did great, and J would pick the blueberries right off the plant and eat them.

Less lettuce, more spinach. It freezes well.

More carrots. They were beautiful while growing and delicious to eat. Also freezable when blanched.

No nasturtium this year. It took over, creeping along and choking off some of the basil and cilantro. I had to keep cutting it back, but a couple of days later it would grow right back. I will find some other flowers to plant among the vegetables that are pretty and attract helpful insects.

Find a ground cover. I had several bare spots through the year, and I’d like to find a ground cover that can grow and then be tilled right into the soil. I know they exist, I just don’t know what to use for zone 6a (or was it 6b?).