Vermicomposting – Let worms do the dirty work!

When it comes to vermicomposting, earthworms will do the ‘dirty’ work for you.

Most people know worms turn waste into beautiful compost outdoors, but this can be done indoors, too. It’s an easy way to compost much of your kitchen waste.

Worm castings, the black gold by-product resulting from vermicomposting, contains 5 times more nitrogen, 7 times more phosphorus, and 11 times more potassium than ordinary soil; some of the main minerals a healthy growing plant requires.

Castings are also rich in humic acids. This soil conditioner offers a perfect pH balance. It contains plant growth factors similar to seaweed. What could be better for your garden?

Here in Canada, snow covers outdoor composters and gardens for several months at a time. It might seem easier to take compostable kitchen scraps to land fill. However, for a small investment, vermicomposting can reap benefits far and above the 40 bucks initially spent, and it can be done year round, right in your kitchen!

Here’s how:

  • Purchase 2 plastic storage tote bins from the hardware store.
  • Drill ¼-inch holes in the bottom, sides and top of the box, not just for drainage but for aeration. You don’t want to smother the worms. The box should be approximately 1 square foot of surface area for each person in the household. – e.g.: A 2′ x 2′ x 2′ box can take the food waste of four people.
  • Bedding materials can include shredded newspaper, corrugated cardboard, peat moss, and partially decomposed leaves.
  • Worm boxes should be filled with bedding to provide the worms with a mixed diet, as well as a damp and aerated place to live.
  • Tear newspaper or cardboard into strips before first. Bedding material should be moistened by in water for several minutes. Squeeze out excess water before adding it to your worm box.
  • Cover food waste with a few inches of bedding so flies won’t become a problem.
  • Make sure the worm box doesn’t get too wet.  Worms will not survive and fruit flies will appear. That’s when it will smell. -> Troubleshooting worm bins
  • Red wigglers are considered the best worm to use for vermicomposting. They thrive on organic material such as yard waste and fruit and vegetable scraps.

Do feed them:

  • Coffee grounds or filters
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Small plant material
  • Tea leaves with bags

Do NOT feed them:

  • Bones
  • Milk and Dairy products
  • Fish
  • Greasy foods
  • Meat
  • Peanut butter
  • Pet/cat litter
  • Vegetable oil/salad dressing

To Harvest castings, feed one end of the box for about a week. The worms will find their way to that side to feed. Remove two-thirds of the worm castings from the opposite end and apply fresh bedding. Start burying food waste in the new bedding, and the worms will move back. The cycle continues!

Tip: Save the casting in a bag to spread on the garden, and top dress some of your indoor plants. They’ll love you for it.

Here are more great links to get you started… Have fun! : )

DIY Seed Balls – Throw and Grow the Love in Your Garden

After reading a LOT of information about genetically modified seeds, and in turn learning about ‘guerrilla gardening’, I was further led to the discovery of ‘seed balls.

Seed balls are sustainable, ecofriendly tools, initially created for ecological urban renewal. On a less serious note, they’re just a whole lot of fun!

Seed balls solve many of the problems loose seeds face before they have the chance to grow.

Wind can blow seeds away, birds or rodents might eat them, the sun can bake out their vitality, and excessive rain can carry them off. Seed balls protect them from all of that.

A seed ball is a little ecosystem that protects the seeds inside before they sprout. Essentially, it’s a ball of soil, clay and seeds, that when thrown, dropped, or placed in the spot where you’d like the seeds to grow, (and after it receives some moisture or rain), the seed ball acts like a micro-garden that slowly starts to break down as the seeds inside begin to emerge.

The seeds are then nurtured in that same pile of clay and nourishing soil. and because of this, seed germination from seed balls is very high!

So enamoured with the concept, I immediately set out to make some. In fact, over the last decade, I’ve made thousands, distributing them across North America, in packages of a dozen to individuals, and bulk quantities to be passed out at all kinds of events.

I also make them just for me.

By customizing the variety of plants every year, depending on what seeds I saved, I make a batch to throw on the steep hill beyond our back yard. It has beautified an underused space with flowers that encourage pollinators!

Anyone can make seedballs! Here’s how:

Before you begin, and I learned this the hard way so you don’t have to, this can be a messy project, especially if kids are involved, so to save time and aggravation, don’t wear your best clothes, and remove your rings! – Now for the recipe!

  1. Mix two parts soil, two parts dry powdered clay, and a whole lot of seeds.
  2. The varieties here include a range of drought tolerant native species harvested from my own garden. However, you can use any flower seed, herbs, fruit or veggie.
  3. Next step is to add water.  Not too much, or too quickly, but enough to make the mixture damp. Stir it in slowly. If the mix is too dry, it won’t hold together so add a bit more. If the soil and clay become overly wet, the seeds will sprout before your finished seedballs get a chance to dry, which means you can’t store them to use at a later date. If the clump holds together, but won’t ooze water if you squeeze it, then that’s the perfect consistency.
  4. Then, roll the small clump in your hands into the size of a meatball and place them on trays to dry. If you’re fortunate enough to have a grow light stand, put them under the lights overnight. They’ll be almost completely dry the next day. If not, it will take a couple of days. Put them next to a heat register if you have room.
  5. Just a note to tie in with step 1 – If you’re using sunflower seeds which are large in size, I’d suggest rolling the balls first, then manually pushing a few seeds inside after.

Once they’re completely dry, they can be packaged and given as gifts to friends and family! This is a great project for kids, too.

If you’re really feeling motivated and want to make more, how about getting creative? Use a candy/soap mold to make different shape seed balls!

I picked up a heart shaped chocolate mold at a local thrift shop and have used it for years to make the heart shaped seed balls. They’ve been a favourite choice for wedding favours and for non-profits to hand out to volunteers at events.

Just to add, they’re really popular this time of year as a Valentine’s Day gift. Enjoy, and grow some love!

 

 

 

Forage for Borage – A historic and useful herb for any garden

Borage flowers – A true blue addition to any garden!

This herb with its star-shaped flowers is not only beautiful, but extremely useful!

I’ve always felt this plant was underrated in our gardens, unlike in the past where its qualities were highly valued.

Admiring them as one would any species with a historical pedigree, this heirloom has been cultivated since (at least) the 1400s, and the folklore they encompass states just how much borage was valued.

It was said to bring courage to one’s heart. “Borage for courage” as the saying goes. Ancient Celtic people believed borage offered courage in the face of enemies on the battle field. How extraordinary!

In our modern times the quote should be renamed “Forage for Borage” 😉  As a courageous companion plant, it’s known to repel hornworms on tomatoes, offering this plant a serious if not fashionable comeback.

Borage may be considered an annual herb where I live, but it self seeds easily and appreciates any extra warmth offered by the raised beds in our yard. They’ve settled in quite happily!

The dainty flowers are edible, offering a slight cucumber-like flavour. Use them in soups, salads, sandwiches, or as a substitute for spinach (stuffed into traditional pasta), or as a pretty garnish on the plate. A friend of mine uses them to flavour her pickles, while another makes teas and assorted iced drinks with them. In addition there’s a recipe for a simple syrup at the end of this post.

Thankfully Borage is not a fussy plant and grows well in most soils. I’m happy to report that deer avoid Borage like the plague, likely due to its fuzzy leaves. A real plus in many a gardener’s mind!

If you like to save and share, Borage seeds are easily harvested, or leave them to self sow.

Every year you can look forward to them gracing the garden once again.

Those showy little blue star-shaped flowers attract bees, butterflies, and all sorts of good pollinators. They’re a wonderful addition to anyone’s garden!

Note:

  1. When planting Borage seeds, the best time to do this is in spring, after any remaining chance of frost. Soak the seeds first in wet paper towel overnight, and then sow them directly into the garden, but not too deep, as half an inch will suffice.
  2. Borage will grow to a height of 2- 3 feet.
  3. The oil from Borage seeds is highly valued and plants are now commercially cultivated for skin care products and other items. It’s one of my favourite go-to ingredients for use in my own products.
  4. If you see some of your flowers are pink, then there is likely a deficiency in your soil. Below is a photo from a couple of years ago. I’ve since discovered this is a common site if Borage is growing in dry, gravelly soil. To fix this, simply add some triple-mix or compost. The pink is actually quite pretty, and Borage may even offer white flowers from time to time.

Recipe: Borage Simple Syrup

This simple syrup offers up a light cucumber flavour.

1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup borage flowers

– Bring the sugar and water to simmer, until all the sugar has dissolved.
– Add the flowers, simmer for 2 -3 minutes and remove from heat
– Let this steep for at least 2 hours before straining.
– Keep this in the refrigerator and use within one month.
– Makes about 1 & 1/4 cups

It’s the perfect addition to a summer cocktail.. Enjoy!

Happy Gardening! 🙂