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Posts Tagged ‘castings’

SideDressing your veggie garden with Ewe Poo and Pea Straw in Australia!

It’s mid season now, so this weekend I’m giving the garden a boost by side dressing everything with some ewe poo and topping it off with fresh pea straw… [I think this is in Australia. It took a moment before I got it that it is sheep poo!]
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First let’s go over some thoughts about some general considerations and methods of sidedressing, then go through the summer favorites Feeding Schedule plant by plant

Local Conditions 
Super soil, short summer, no feeding necessary. But if you have a long growing season of heat tolerant varieties like here in SoCal, plants making big leaves and lots of fruits, or plants that are harvested for their leaves, like summer lettuces, they need food! And that all depends on your micro niche where you are growing at home – some spots are hotter than others, maybe get more sun. Your plant produces more or less, needing more or less feeding.

Varieties make a difference too! Long season indeterminate tomatoes,  will likely do better with late season feeding. Early varieties, determinate tomatoes or bush beans, may not need feeding at all. Heavily and continuously producing pole beans make their own Nitrogen, but that may not be quite enough near their end of season or in very poor soil. If they start to slow down, try a feed and see if they perk up.

Seasonal Timing Classic times to feed are at transplanting, blooming and just after fruit sets. Baby plants need more Nitrogen. They need to grow big, have a strong body to support all that fruit and make leaves! When it comes to blooming and fruiting your plant is beginning to work hard. We don’t need a lot of leaves now. Lay back on N and give your plants a good feed of more PK, Phosphorus for blooms and Potassium for disease resistance. NPK needs to be highest in P now.

Later in the season, if/when your plants are looking tired, slowing down, a feed can perk them up, extending their production time. Be sure other factors are well tended. Keep plants weeded so weeds don’t siphon off your plants’ food, especially when they are babies. Separate or thin young plants so they aren’t struggling for the same food. Early on use light absorbing dark mulch to warm your soil, keep the soil moist, prevent light germinating weed seeds from starting. Weed the rest. Later in the season lay reflective mulch, like straw, on top of the dark mulch so your plants’ roots stay cool.

Your plants need adequate soil moisture so their roots can take up nutrients. Water after you feed and keep your soil as moist as that plant needs.

Feeding Methods aka Sidedressing

There are a couple ways to feed. Feeding yoFoliar Feeding - rose upturnedur soil feeds your plants. Here are some equivalents: One handful of good compost per plant. That is equal to about one tablespoon of 5-10-10 fertilizer. Liquid fertilizer in your watering can is an easy way to side dress. Compost tea is redundant, since you already put compost in your soil, but a cupful of a MIXED TEA adds all sorts of things your compost doesn’t have!

Foliar feeding garden tea blends is a super enrichment that offers more options of trace factors. Even if proper nutrients are present in the soil, some nutrients cannot be absorbed by plants if the soil pH is too high or too low. Compost corrects soil pH issues and is one of the best ways to maintain the 6.5 ideal. Foliar feeding saves your plants while compost is doing its job. Foliar feeding is an immediate way to revive and stimulate stressed, tired, or diseased plants. If you have an ailing plant, repeated treatments can get your plant up to par soonest! See Teas! Compost, Manure, Worm Castings Brews!

Per Planet Natural:

Foliar Feeding Facts:
• Tests have shown that foliar feeding can be 8 to 10 times more effective than soil feeding.
• Up to 90% of a foliar-fed solution can be found in the roots of a plant within 1-hour of application.
• Foliar supplements are an effective way to compensate for soil deficiencies and poor soil’s inability to transfer nutrients to the plant.

If you are container gardening, have houseplants or seedlings, use a spray bottle. If you are growing in the ground, get a watering can with a nozzle that rotates to spray UP under your plants’ leaves. What goes up between the leaves will fall down and do the tops of the leaves at the same time! In other words, foliar feed your whole plant!

Applying granular fertilizers:  Scatter 8 inches away from the base of the plant on the side of the row or around the plant to just beyond the plant’s drip line to encourage root growth. Apply evenly. Raking the fertilizer into the ground is better than just applying on top of the soil.
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Plant by Plant Summer Feeding Schedule Details for Your Favorites!

Beans   Cucumbers   Eggplant   Lettuces   Melons   Peppers
Squash – Summer/Winter   Strawberries   Tomatoes

Vegetable Gardening Gone Vertical - Trellis of beans and cucumbers!

Beans

Beans make their own Nitrogen, though sometimes not enough when they are in heavy production and it is toward the end of summer. They don’t make their own Phosphorous or Potassium.

Yellowing, mildew, white flies, ants and aphids? Pests may set in when a plant is stressed or weakened, but pests also like plants in peak condition! So do Aspirin and powdered milk sprays to up their immune system. Add baking soda to alkalize their leaves for mildew prevention + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) as a surfactant. Best to do these treatments every couple of weeks to treat again and treat new growth. Treat after significant rains and before trouble arrives! See more!

Tea mixes are good for improving their general health. Just imagine, with all those leaves, what foliar feeding can do! Same for those cucumbers below the beans in the image!


Fabulous Array of Cucumber VarietiesCucumbers

Some gardeners prepare their cukes, melons, squash, peppers and tomato soil well in advance, in fall for spring! Compost in place – pile on manure, chopped leaves and grass, sprinkle on coffee grounds and kitchen scraps, wood ashes from winter fires, etc. In spring dig a foot square hole, fill with your luscious compost, plant your seed right in that compost! Lasts all season if you live in a short season area, and no compost is wasted where no plant is planted! As long as you get that compost out to just beyond the feeder root area your mature plant will have, it’s good.

Some say most granular fertilizers leach from the soil rather quickly due to watering. That is why the instructions say you should reapply periodically through the season. Time release pellets do better. But adding organic material, composts, to your soil not only adds nutrients, it loosens the soil, attracts worms and other soil building critters and helps your soil retain moisture and nutrients.

Feed your cukes when they first begin to run (form vines and sprawl); again when blossoms set. A big vined short rooted, long fruited variety of cucumber, in a long summer is a heavy feeder, so some gardeners recommend to fertilize once a week! Since they have short roots, they need the food right at their feet. A small fruited, small leaved patio type container cucumber may need little to no feeding.

Since Cucumbers are short rooted, be very careful if you dig in fertilizer or compost. Dig only on one side so as not to break off all the tiny surface feeder roots. Better to top your soil with a 1″ layer of compost, some worm castings if you have them, in the planting basin, re cover with straw and water well.

Foliar feeding mixed teas feeds the whole plant with no harm to the roots at all! Cucumbers are quite susceptible to mildews so do the Mildew Mix as well – Powdered Milk, Baking Soda, Aspirin, Soap – add liquid fertilizer if you like, maybe fish/kelp emulsion. Do both the compost and foliar feeding – alternate the Tea with the Mildew Mix every other week or so!
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Exotic Eggplant

Those eggplant beauties need extra compost and a bit of well-rotted manure at planting time. Dig it in!
AppEggplant Purple Long Shiny Harvest Basketly a general purpose fertilizer in the spring when you till the soil. Add additional applications every three to four weeks. Side dress frequently, especially when the plant begins to bloom. Or sidedress with a Nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are half grown and again immediately after harvest of the first fruits. Given sufficient moisture and good food, eggplant thrives in the heat of summer!

Epsom Salts, sulfur, is a cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. You could apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is more effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition.

Sulfur, a key element in plant growth, is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes.  Sulfur is probably the oldest known pesticide in current use. It can be used for disease control (e.g., powdery mildews, rusts, leaf blights, and fruit rots), and pests like mites, psyllids and thrips. Sulfur is nontoxic to mammals, but may irritate skin or especially eyes. CAUTIONS! Sulfur has the potential to damage plants in hot (90°F and above), dry weather. It is also incompatible with other pesticides. Do not use sulfur within 20 to 30 days on plants where spray oils have been applied; it reacts with the oils to make a more phytotoxic combination.

This mix is super for eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and roses!

Feed your eggplants 3 weeks after planting and at blossom set.
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Cut & Come Again Lettuce is a hard working plant!

Lettuces Tasty Varieties, Edible Flowers

It likes water and manure! Regularly. Water just about every day, even twice a day on the hottest or hot windy summer days. Hand scratch in some 1/2″ deep grooves, with one of those little 3 prong scratcher tools, drizzle chicken manure into the grooves, cover back up and water gently. If your lettuce is planted densely that’s going to be a little challenge. A Tea Mix might work better for you. Use the spout of your watering can and get it under the leaves so the soil is moistened. DO NOT do a foliar application of any tea mix that has animal poo in it on any plant you eat the leaves of! If you have space between your plants, and no fish loving predators like racoons, a fish emulsion/kelp feed is good – just keep it off the leaves.

Feed three weeks after germination, or transplant.
Loose-leaf after second and third cuttings for cut-and-come again crops.
If head lettuce, when the head starts forming.
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Luscious Melons

May is for planting Melons for eating all SUMMER! Goldfarb & Page-Mann Regional Fruition Seeds - Juicy Watermelon!Melons are a big plant, big leaves, big fruits, on a long vine! Or you may be doing mini container varieties.

Before planting large melon varieties, add in a little extra compost, and leaf mold, some well rotted manure, cow manure if you can get it.

Fertilize big melons every two to three weeks before blooming starts, using an all-purpose 5-5-5 fertilizer. If you are using mulch, pull it back, sprinkle on some worm castings and add several inches of compost to root areas monthly. Put the mulch back and water it in. It’s like giving your plant compost/worm tea as the water and compost/worm juice drizzle down into your soil! Better yet is 2 to 3 days before you sidedress, make a mixed tea sans compost! When the tea is ready, put some spade fork holes in the root zone around your plant. Fill the holes with compost/castings. Foliar feed the tea to your plant and pour tea into the spade fork holes! Of course, the very best is to do both – layers of compost and castings plus the tea and spade fork holes!! Especially sidedress melons when blooming starts and every 6 weeks after.

Another method is to feed when they begin to run; again a week after blossom set; again three weeks later. This probably works well for mini melons.

Once the first fruit ripens, stop all watering. Too much water at ripening time dilutes the fruit’s sugars and ruins the sweet flavor. The melons don’t need the water because they develop a deep root system soon after they start to flower. This means you stop fertilizing just before then. Your plants need soil moisture so their roots can take up nutrients, so there is no point in fertilizing after you stop watering.

Melons are also quite susceptible to mildew, so do the Mildew Mix  for them as well – Powdered Milk, Baking Soda, Aspirin, Soap – add liquid fertilizer if you like, maybe fish/kelp emulsion. Alternate the Tea with the Mildew Mix every other week or so!

See also Cucumbers above!
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Peppers Varieties - Burgundy Bell, Yellow Monsters, Fish, HOT Chile Numex TwilightFabulous Peppers!

Peppers need VERY RICH SOIL, are heavy feeders! Place compost for water holding capacity, worm castings, rotted manure under them when transplanting. Mix in Maxi Crop and Island Seed & Feed Landscape Mix. Sandy soils are preferred for the earliest plantings because they warm more rapidly in the spring. Heavier soils can be quite productive, provided they are well drained and irrigated with care.

Epsom Salts! Rather than in the soil, do foliar Epsom Salts! A cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. You could apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is quite effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition. See Eggplant above

Sidedressing  Peppers need fertilizer in small doses, a rich organic fertilizer when blooms appear. If you scratch in some compost, be careful not to damage their shallow roots. Liquid chicken manure is high in nitrogen and potassium for heavy feeders like peppers. Big, sweet peppers require a continual source of nutrition. The easiest way to fertilize them is to incorporate gradual-release fertilizer in the ground at planting. Fish-meal pellets, alfalfa pellets or cottonseed meal are all good organic choices. You also can foliar feed plants every week or two with a fish/seaweed soluble fertilizer, spraying the tops and bottoms of leaves, or water the ground with the same mixture.

At least, feed at three weeks after transplant; again after first fruit set.
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Squash

Zucchini Costata Romanesco Kelly Armful Harvest Annie's AnnualsAnother vining plant, like melons, huge leaves and vine, or patio minis! Big squash plants have the biggest leaves in the garden. They aren’t shy about taking 30′ or more!

Summer – Soft, Zucchini types, Chilacayote

We all know how prolific Zucchini is! That is a hard working plant! Some varieties make more fruit than others. Costata Romanesco, in the image, makes a zuke at every leaf join! Chilacayote doesn’t quit! Even patio container varieties work their little hearts out!

Feed them when plants are about 6 inches tall; again when they bloom. That’s standard, but later in the season, if you still want more fruit, feed them again. If you are so tired of summer squash, nevermind.

Like Cucumbers and Melons, summer and winter squash are also  susceptible to mildew, so do the Mildew Mix  for them too – Powdered Milk, Baking Soda, Aspirin, Soap – add liquid fertilizer if you like, maybe fish/kelp emulsion. Alternate the Tea with the Mildew Mix every other week or so!

See also Cucumbers and Melons above

Winter – Hard, Butternut, Acorn, Pumpkins

Give them a fat start with soil amended with well-rotted manure and compost prior to planting. These babies run all summer long, first making the dense fruits, then hardening the fruits. A healthy plant will make a lot of fruits, an ample supply for all winter long!

Feed them when the vine starts to run; again at blossom set.

See also Cucumbers and Melons above
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Strawberries

Sidedressing Strawberries Tricia Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

Perfectly adorable image by Tricia at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

And that’s true! At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we had a first time gardener that fed exactly that mix to his strawberries every 2 weeks and he was so proud to tell us he was harvesting strawberries by the shoebox full! His patch was not so big, but it was prolific with good sized berries! He later went on to sell his fine strawberries at Farmers’ Markets!


Juicy Luscious TOMATO!
Tomatoes

Another heavy feeder, making zillions of tomatoes! If your plant is indeterminant, it will make fruit all summer long!

Before planting add plenty of well rotted manure/compost.

AFTER planting, add a weak solution of complete fertilizer or fish emulsion to the soil around them. Continue to feed them two to three weeks after transplant; blossom time, again before first picking; again two weeks after first picking. Blossom time and after, go light on nitrogen or you will have a lot of leaf, no fruit!

Lengthwise curled spotted leaves? Wilts or blights? Foliar feed with Tea Mix!!! When plant surfaces are occupied by beneficial microbes, there simply is no room for pathogens! The plant will suffer little or no blight, mold, fungus or wilt! That’s a huge claim! But even if it doesn’t entirely work, your plant will likely have a much improved existence for a longer period of time. Beneficial microbes compete with disease causing microbes. Go tigers! The live microbes enhance your soil and in turn, up the immune system of your plants.

If your plant is diseased or pest infested, you may need to apply your mixed tea every five to seven days. Otherwise, Make your tea applications every two weeks until your plants start to flower. We want our plants to make fruit then, not foliage!

This Table will help you save time! See at a glance which plants to feed at the same time with the same food. Copy and print, cover with clear waterproof tape, put it on your bucket for quick reference! See timing details above, plant by plant!

Summer Veggies Feeding.jpg

With any foliar feeds remember to add that 1/2 teaspoon of dish soap, surfactant, so the feed will ‘stick’ to your plant!

Stand back and take a look at your garden. See who’s the slowest, behind in production, lacks perk, and who looks vibrant, reaching for the sky! Grab a barrow of compost, make a super tea mix, go for the gusto! You could even note your feed date, then mark down about when to do it again!

Here’s to a super plentiful and most joyful summer ever!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

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Compost Tea Brew for Seedlings

Some of you are pros, literally, at making teas, others of us have never done it before, but interested.

Why? Why make teas at all? Isn’t good soil enough? If you are just making compost tea, with compost you are already using in your garden, you may not notice much results. Every time you water, aren’t you making compost tea in place anyway?! But if you make a more diverse tea, with a lot of different ingredients, and it is made just right producing a lot of microbes, you are likely to get superb results! Research shows foliar feeding is more effective than soil drenching.

A lot of summer plants are what are called ‘heavy feeders.’ They are doing business 24/7 for several months using that soil right where they are at. They can’t go walkabout seeking new soil. Plants that produce leaf crops, lettuces, chard, kale, are using up soil nutrients just as fast as they can! Plants that produce a lot of crop, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, are feeding a big plant, foliage and fruits! Teas are a microbial inoculant that gives them a boost from leaf to root!

Teas offer increased nutrient availability!

Teas are a high grade fertilizer full of nutrients and minerals! The tea’s chelated micronutrients are easy for plants to absorb. The teas will never burn your plants. You can easily make them yourself from your own materials. You know exactly what’s in it. No chemicals, and they don’t add salt that commercial fertilizers can add to your soil. DIY! Save money!

Marvelously, tea microbes degrade toxic pesticides and other chemicals! Much better for beneficial insects, wildlife, plants, soil and humans. Your soil will come alive again as the organisms start thriving. Your soil will have greater water holding capacity, a resiliency, the aeration it needs from burrowing soil creatures.

Nutrients! Black liquid gold can feed your plants through their roots and their leaves. The beneficial microbes are fast acting and quickly absorbed. This whole plant treatment increases plant growth – more and bigger blooms, bigger size fruits and yields. The microbes produce plant growth hormones; mineralize a plant’s available nutrients, and fix nitrogen in the plant for optimal use.

Suppress diseases! When plant surfaces are occupied by beneficial microbes, there simply is no room for pathogens! The plant will suffer little or no blight, mold, fungus or wilt! That’s a huge claim! But even if it doesn’t entirely work, your plant will likely have a much improved existence for a longer period of time. Beneficial microbes compete with disease causing microbes. Go tigers! The live microbes enhance your soil and in turn, up the immune system of your plants. Your plants are healthier, more stress-tolerant.

Communi-Tea Make your own Compost Tea!

Making teas is fairly new, but is here to stay! Nowadays we know more about microbe power, soil and plant structures and processes. Researchers have determined exacting and scientific ways to brew teas, brewing equipment is available at garden centers or on the internet. Some garden centers are brewing in large batches so customers can conveniently draw-off what they need by the gallon!

There are many tea making methods, from the simplest home bucket method to technical and elaborate brewers with plenty of debate over different ways. Aerobic brewed teas have much higher microbe population densities than extracted teas and for this reason are the teas of choice. A good head of foam and scum on top signifies healthy microbe action! Try out different methods for yourself if you have the time and the gear, and love researching. Whichever you choose, your plants will benefit!

TEA MAKING TIPS

Clean 5 Gallon container or a size that suits your needs

The right water! Rain water is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate, or bubble water through an aerator for a minimum of 20 minutes. The chlorine will be released as a gas. Or, add a small amount of powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or humic acids. If you start with chlorinated water it will kill some of your microbes before you get started.

Temp matters. The microbes we want are the most happy at about 75 F, a comfy room temp for us too. Put your brew out of direct sunlight.

Compost Tea Bucket Straining Painter's Mesh BagStraining your Tea! There’s various thinking on how to strain your tea.

The easiest and simplest is to use a sock, cheesecloth bag, but let the sock be big enough to allow the ingredients you put in it room to move around as it is swished through the water. Clearly those will not accommodate a third of a 5 gallon bucket’s worth of compost plus whatever else you put in. If you will be foliar spraying your tea, sock or pillowcase fibers are too tight to allow the good fungi and nematodes to flow through.

So! Super easy but has a small price, is a painter’s bag, 400 microns, 5 gallon size (they come in different sizes). Perfect! You put it in the container you will use, the elastic top fits over the top of the bucket. When the tea is done you simply lift it out. It has a durable nylon mesh and can be used several times. Add your leftover solids to your compost pile or as a soil topper mulch. Rinse out and dry your bag ASAP.

Or if you already started your brew, just get a 400 micron mesh strainer that fits your bucket, put it over a second bucket, and pour your mix through.

INGREDIENTS! Microbial diversity!

Add Compost

CAUTIONS Unfinished compost or uncomposted manures may contain harmful pathogens and compost that is too old may be nutritionally deficient. COMPOST TEA and MANURE TEA ARE NOT THE SAME THING! Manure teas may be made the same way but are not generally recommended as foliar sprays for veggies and are not as nutritionally well-balanced.

Use well-aged, finished compost The best is good smelling, very dark, broken-down into minute particles like course cornmeal. Dig deep down inside your bin, near the bottom. This is where organic material will be most decomposed and fresh, teeming with life. All you need is a good shovelful or two, maybe a third of the bucket, for a 5-gallon bucket of compost tea.

Add Manure

Cow manure is better than steer manure if you can get it. Chicken manure is good. Less of it does more. Be careful of free horse manure. It can be salty, and if the horses ate pesticide sprayed hay, or the stalls have been sprayed to repel flies, you’ve got toxins. All manures need to be very well composted, except bunny poo, which you can sometimes get free at shelters. Bird guanos do different things. See more soil tips and about quanos. 1 cup of manure may be quite enough.

Add Worm Castings! 

In nature, worms are a natural part of soil. In addition to soil nutrients, it’s smart to add worm castings. They speed germination of your seeds, seedlings grow faster. Worm castings help your plant’s immune system, and you have measurably more produce! Plants like strawberries, that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew! Growing your own worms and harvesting vibrant fresh castings is ideal, but if you don’t have time, simply buy the best organic castings you can get, fresh and local if possible! More about growing worms! Add 2 cups to your 5 gal bucket.

Compost Tea Seaweed & Herbs - Borage Nettle Comfrey Brew

Seaweed and herbs – Nettles, Comfrey and Borage Tea at Milkwood Permaculture Blog

You can add all kinds of supplements at the same time! Put compost, manure/fish emulsion, worm castings, pond muck, powdered seaweed – 2 tablespoons kelp powder, 2-3 crushed Aspirin, rock dust, chopped nutritious comfrey/borage/tansy leaves all in a bucket together – adding one volume of compost to 4-10 volumes of water. Let them sit overnight, a couple of days, stir a couple times, when you think of it. This turns the tea into a balanced organic fertilizer.

Compost Tea Bottle ComfreyComfrey, a dynamic accumulator, is especially nutritious! Having as much as a 20-30 feet deep root system, it bring minerals and trace nutrients up into its leaves that are unavailable to other plants. It is also the only plant that contains a form of vitamin B12. Mash it in a mortar & pestle, or use a big stone to break it down. That makes it easier to stuff into a stocking or 400 micron mesh bag, and speeds decomposition. Put comfrey in loosely, not too firmly, so the water can circulate around it. Even add a bit of healthy soil! You can make just a comfrey tea alone if that suits your needs. More about comfrey at Nantahala Farm & Garden

How long does it take? Add Sugar or Molasses! Aeration!

It has been shown that adding a simple aquarium pump to the bucket and letting it run to percolate the mixture will increase the potency of the finished mixture, and can be completed in as little as 12 hours to 2 days. If you want a super concentrate, let it brew a week, or more!

Recent research indicates that using some kind of aeration and adding a sugar source (unsulphured molasses works well) results in an excellent product that extracts the maximum number of beneficial organisms. 2 Tablespoons of unsulphured Molasses is good. An aerobic environment favors the aerobic microbes, physically pulls them off the compost and supplies air they need to multiply. This aeration is crucial to the formation of beneficial bacteria and the required fermentation process. It increases the absorption of the water and organisms. For the bucket-brewing method, you must stir the tea a few times during those hours or days it is brewing to aerate it. If you go over the time needed, you need to add more food for the microbes (sugar/molasses), and probably a little more compost.

Caution! Commenter Suburban Hobby Farmer on a compost tea post says: I’ve also read a study from a university extension service that says you shouldn’t use compost tea on indoor seedlings –especially if it has molasses —  because of increased damping off. According to the study, this is true even when watering from the bottom. A 2004 study says a more successful brew intended for seedlings has sufficient aeration, cuts back on the molasses, uses humic acid and kelp additives.

Keep watch that your tea hasn’t gone anaerobic. Your tea should always have an “earthy” odor. If it smells bad, throw away the tea and don’t put it on your garden soil or compost pile.

Wash Your Gear Immediately! Bio-slimes build up inside your brewer or in your 5 gallon bucket. In a brewer this means walls, tubes, small crevices at the bottom. The pressure of hose water isn’t enough to remove it. It may take elbow grease, 3% hydrogen peroxide or a solution of 5% baking soda.

Here I’ve added a few notes to Shelle’s Quickie Recipe and instructions:

  1. 2 cups worm castings [or your choice of ingredients]
  2. 2 tablespoons corn syrup or unsulphured molasses. Molasses feeds the bacterial growth in the brew and also contributes trace elements of iron, manganese, copper and potassium.
  3. 5 gallon bucket
  4. Old pantyhose (no holes), a bag if you are doing soil drenching. Manure tea not recommended for foliar application.
  5. Water (rainwater is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate)
  • Put the castings (etc) in the sock and tie it closed
  • Submerge the stocking in water
  • Add the corn syrup and soak for 24 hours, stirring every few hours. Your mix should never be stinky. Like good compost, it should smell earthy.
  • Dilute to a 3 to 1 ratio, use within 48 hours

How long will my tea last? It is best to apply your compost tea immediately; however, it can still produce benefits if applied within 4-6 hours of removing the oxygen source if you are aerating. Remember we are talking about living organisms, trying to keep them in optimum health!

Applying your finished tea!

Will you use it as a soil drench or a foliar application? BOTH!

If using it as a soil drench, dilute or apply it full strength. If your tea is good, you really can’t overdo it! And you don’t need to strain it. But for young, delicate or houseplants try it diluted first. Amazingly, only 5 gallons of compost tea can be diluted to cover approximately one acre of land, and still produce benefits!

Tea to be used as a foliar application you must strain. Use a 400 micrometer mesh or screen. The mesh is big enough to allow the fungi and nematodes to flow through it, while trapping larger particulate matter that will eventually clog your sprayer.

Make sure that the sprayer you are using is designed for compost tea. Many sprayers apply with too much pressure, kill the microbes before they even make it to the plant surface. You need 70 pounds psi or less. Use a smooth, slightly-curved nozzle. With 90 degree bends in the nozzle, the microbes can be damaged. Try to arc or parachute, your application onto the leaves so the microbes land more gently, not head on.

Foliar Feeding - Rose Upturned to Moisten Undersides of LeavesApply with a watering can or a simple garden sprayer. Soak the soil to the dripline. When foliar feeding, be sure to add 1/8 to 1/2 tsp vegetable oil or mild dish-washing liquid per gallon to help it adhere to leaves. Use a watering can with a head that rotates so you can spray both on and under leaves. Minerals and nutrients are absorbed through the leaves and the roots – the WHOLE plant! Apply early in the day, avoid applying in direct sunlight. Ultraviolet (UV) rays kill microbes. If you must apply during sunlight time, do it before 10 am or after 3 pm, when UV rays are weakest.

If you do soil drenching, once you apply it, keep it moist for a few days to a week so the microorganisms have time to settle in, strengthen and multiply! Space out your applications a bit to give them time to get results. If you need a little more mojo deeper in your soil, down where the roots are, use your spade fork, the kind with the short wide tines that are spaced about two inches apart. Push your fork all the way into the soil, wiggle it back and forth to make holes, lift it straight up back out. Pour in your tea. Close the holes. Water a bit the next few days so your soil stays moist below and the organisms can thrive. Your plants will thrive as the root zone is so kindly treated!

When, How often?

Why wait until your plants are in the ground to add teas?! Start feeding your soil soonest! If you have your plant placements in mind, be sure to invest your teas out to the anticipated dripline so feeder roots will get some.

Make your tea applications every two weeks until your plants start to bud. We want our plants to make fruit, not foliage then! Some suggest to apply your tea at least four times per year, 1x spring, 2x summer, 1x fall. If you are trying to overcome disease, you may need to apply compost tea every five to seven days. If your soils have ever been sprayed with pesticides or otherwise compromised, apply more often.

Teas are perfect for container gardens, right?! You can buy ready made tea bags. You can buy Tea! No digging, just feeding.

Some tea making techniques are purposely biased toward bacterial, fungal or neutral predominance. It is speculated that one day we can selectively make teas focused to prevent/heal certain plant diseases or upset pest cycles, preventing infestations, and we are already making super teas to inoculate specific crops for super health and production. Eric in Denver says: ‘Now is our chance to get in on the ground floor of this exciting new science. Get a microscope (400x), learn to identify the main types of soil organisms, refine your brewing techniques, and set aside a place in your garden for experiments. It sounds much harder than it actually is, and there is plenty of work to be done.’

As of early 2011, there was very little evidence that proved the benefits of aerated compost teas; non-aerated teas seemed to fare a little better. That’s similar results as whether to turn compost or not. Turned compost processes faster, but unturned compost is higher in nitrogen! In the Journal of Plant Pathology 2015, Effect of Aerated Compost Tea on the Growth Promotion of Lettuce, Soybean, and Sweet Corn in Organic Cultivation, four types of compost were brewed and then the available nitrogen was determined, as well as the density of microbial communities, along with their effect on plant growth characteristics. Across the board it was shown that aerating compost tea released more nutrients, increased microbial counts, and helped plants grow!

Some practical points: When your tea hits the dirt, the water near the surface remains aerobic sustaining the aerobic species in the tea, and the water that soaks deeper becomes anaerobic sustaining those species. In other words, the soil microbe stratification remains the same as nature makes it. If you apply tea to your soil, made with the same compost you grow with, you are making extra work for yourself! But if you add biodiverse amendments to your tea, it supplies an array of tasty ingredients your compost likely doesn’t have. Compost supplies the organic matter that tea doesn’t supply, so it is critical in and of itself, plus it has many times more nutrients than a diluted tea. But teas are great for potted plants and lawns! And if you foliar feed your veggie plants, the uptake is greater and works within an hour!!! So think through why and how you will use teas and make them accordingly!

Here’s to a blessed summer of happy plants and abundant harvests!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

Read Full Post »

Soil No Till Lasagna Compost in Place, Sheet Mulching,

No Till Gardening aka Lasagna Gardening… Beds are finished. Push aside grass clippings to plant seeds or seedlings. Read the story, get the details! Start making living soil asap! 

Grow Green Manure – legumes for Nitrogen, oats to loosen the soil down deep. It takes two to three months. When it starts to bloom, chop it down and chop it up, turn it under. If you have heavy clay soil, add Sphagnum Peat Moss to both loosen your soil and increase water holding capacity if you are in a drought or dry, windy area. Let it sit until you no longer see the green ingredients. Keep it moist so the soil organisms will work all the way to the top.

Make Compost!

No time for Green Manure? First week of January might be the latest time you want to start growing your green manure so you can plant earliest late March, first two weeks of April. So if you won’t be planting by then, add your home grown organic compost or the best you can buy that has worm castings, mycorrhizal fungi for spring planting, some peat to help make humus to keep your soil loose.

Some nurseries, especially locals that depend on your business, are quite trustworthy about what they stock for you. Box stores, nurseries that sell for volume, may just want you and it out the door. Really take a good look at that ingredients list. If there is no list, you likely aren’t getting a very whole food for your veggies. Look at what is in that compost bag when you open it. If there are chunks of recognizable materials, you need to find out if the compost has been nitrogen stabilized – they’ve added enough nitrogen to balance the carbon. Otherwise, Nitrogen required for decomposition is robbed from your plants. No ammonia smell that indicates immature compost that might damage your plants. The only smell you want coming from that bag is for it to be like the forest floor, sweet and earthy.

In these SoCal drought times, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Sphagnum Peat Moss can be added, but not too much because it can make your soil slightly acidic.

Compost is totally easy to make. There are many methods, but the simplest, is making layers, 1″ green/wet to 2″ brown/dry. You can turn it or not. Research shows not turning it has more Nitrogen. There are many different compost devices. You can use one or just make a pile wherever it makes sense, but do put it in the sun and keep it slightly moist so it stays active and you actually get some compost! Compost making methods!

Tasty soil is loaded with nutrients! What you put in your compost makes a difference. High quality organic kitchen scraps sure beats cardboard. Same thing with your worms. Newspaper isn’t exactly food, doesn’t occur in nature. As is said, ‘You are what your food eats.’ Give your compost the best you have or can get. Prevail on your neighbors or family to save their waste for your compost or to feed your worms. Make it easy for them to do the process. Some will deliver it to you because they believe in it and want to help. You may have to make a pickup from others.

No till, no dig, gardening a.k.a. Lasagna Gardening ~ Another way to Compost!

You can do this on top of your lawn, or do a raised bed in the garden you already have! A word to the wise! First, install gopher protection.

If you have the time and materials, composting in place, sheet mulching, has the single most advantage of not having to haul anything anywhere once done! It’s already right where you want it! Lay down your compost materials. Put the ones that would act like tea at the top so when the pile is watered that good stuff drizzles down. The smaller the bits, the faster the decomposition.

Depending on your materials you may choose to turn the pile a couple times to blend and mix the materials in the layers. Rather than using a shovel, a spade fork or pitchfork might work, better. If you have them, put in some worms that will add their castings for you! If you decide to turn the pile, add worms afterwards so they won’t be injured. Possibly, ‘inoculate’ your pile with a wee bit of already processing compost or top rate soil that has working soil organisms in it. Know that an 18″ pile will soon become a 9″ pile, so don’t be afraid to build high!

If you want it sooner, cover and ‘cook’ it with black plastic for 6 weeks results when temps are high enough. Worms will be ok. They will go to the bottom of the pile. Depending on availability and preferences, what you layer on may vary from someone else’s project, but your garden bed is made! Now you wait. Let it sit. The hard work is at the front, the rest is ‘low maintenance!’ Done ‘right’ you have less weeds and it needs less water! Read the story that goes with the image above – get more ideas and all the details!

Another terrific way to make a sustainable pile is to do it Hugelkultur style! Your pile starts with logs! The logs and branches soak up water and hold it, so less water to none is needed after the first year. The right hardwood logs will give your plants steady nutrition for 20 or more years! You can do this with many variables depending on materials available and your needs – from containers to the hill method! See more and see how!

Add Manure

Cow manure is better than steer manure if you can get it. Chicken manure is good. Less of it does more. Be careful of free horse manure. It can be salty, and if the stalls have been sprayed to repel flies, you’ve got toxins. All manures need to be very well composted, except bunny poo, which you can sometimes get free at shelters. Bird guanos do different things. See more soil tips and about quanos.

Worm Castings! 

In nature, worms are a natural part of soil. In addition to soil nutrients, it’s smart to add worm castings. They speed germination of your seeds, seedlings grow faster. Worm castings help your plant’s immune system, and you have measurably more produce! Plants like strawberries, that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew! Growing your own worms and harvesting vibrant fresh castings is ideal, but if you don’t have time, simply buy the best organic castings you can get, local if possible! More about growing worms!

The ideal ratio, depending on your soil, is 25% castings. You can see that is a lot of castings if you have a 10X20 foot area. Use your precious castings wisely. Use them in seed beds, planting holes, around ailing plants, or heavy producers.

The worms used for making castings are surface feeders, red wigglers. If you trench your compost, add some worms. If you do sheet composting – composting in place, set up a no-dig Lasagna Garden, install some worms! Add a handful of worms to your compost pile and keep the pile moist. In dry times cover composting ground areas with mulch so the compost will be dark and moist, safe from birds.

Compost Tea Bu's Brew Biodynamic Malibu BagTeas offer increased nutrient availability!

Why wait until your plants are in the ground to add teas?! Start feeding your soil soonest! Mix ’em up. Put compost, manure/fish emulsion, castings, chopped nutritious comfrey/borage/tansy leaves all in a bucket together – adding one volume of compost to 4-10 volumes of water. Let them sit overnight, a couple of days, stir a couple times, when you think of it. Get a spade fork, the kind with the short wide tines. Push it all the way into the soil, wiggle it back and forth to make holes, lift it straight up back out. Pour in your tea. Push soil in the holes. Your plants will thrive!

If you are foliar feeding, put your ingredients in a stocking, sock, or bag. Let the ingredients settle or strain it so it won’t clog up your gear. Use a watering can with a head that rotates so you can spray both on and under leaves, wetting the whole plant.

About that comfrey. It is especially nutritious! Mash it in a mortar & pestle. That makes it easier to stuff into a stocking, sock or bag, and speeds decomposition. Put the comfrey in loosely, not too firmly, so the water can circulate around it.

Here’s another recipe and instructions from Shelle

  1. 2 cups worm castings [or your choice of ingredients]
  2. 2 tablespoons corn syrup or molasses. Molasses feeds the bacterial growth in the brew and also contributes trace elements of iron, manganese, copper and potassium.
  3. 5 gallon bucket
  4. Old sock or pantyhose (no holes), a bag
  5. Water (rainwater is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate)
  • Put the castings (etc) in the sock and tie it closed
  • Submerge the stocking in water
  • Add the corn syrup and soak for 24 hours, stirring every few hours. Your mix should never be stinky. Like good compost, it should smell earthy.
  • Dilute to a 3 to 1 ratio, use within 48 hours

There are many tea making methods, from the simplest like above, to technical and elaborate with plenty of debate over different ways. Aerobic brewed teas have much higher microbe population densities than extracted teas and for this reason are the teas of choice. A good head of foam and scum on top signifies healthy microbe action! Try out different methods for youself if you have the time and the gear, and love researching. Whichever you choose, your soil will come alive again as the organisms start thriving. Your soil will have greater water holding capacity, a resiliency, the aeration it needs from the burrowing of soil creatures.

If you have your plant placements in mind, be sure to invest your teas out to the anticipated dripline so feeder roots will get some.

Teas are perfect for container gardens, right?! You can buy ready made tea bags. No digging, just feeding.

Soil pH

Most veggies do best with slightly alkaline soil. Acidic soil lovers are strawberries, blueberries, cranberries. Composts for camellias, azaleas, are perfect!

Do or Buy!

Three of the main components of top grade soil are ones you can grow/make on your own – green manure, compost, worm castings. Teas you can make from compost and castings. For most urban gardeners it is a trip to the nursery for manures, but you can certainly make your own tea with it! Compost and castings are totally available, some from organic local venders. I emphasize doing your own when possible. You will know what’s in it and it’s 100% fresh and alive!

There is some good ready made stuff you can get. There’s heroic satisfaction in toting those bags on your shoulder or filling the wheelbarrow and rolling it in, almost spilling the load on the way… Digging in your valuable ingredients gives you a feeling of worthiness, contributing. And oh how your garden grows!!!

At the same time, lay on your compost, manure, and Sphagnum, any other favorite amendments, and turn it in all at once, blending it with your soil. Castings are usually added separately unless you have enough for the whole area. Reserve some of your castings, compost and manure to make teas. Where you run out of materials, use the tea to help that soil.

A few more tips!

If you have had rain, wait until your soil is not so wet that it sticks to your shovel. If you are digging your amendments in, do minimal digging; leave clumps when you can to maintain soil structure. Disturb soil organisms, worms, the least possible. We want to leave their air and water channels intact so your soil stays aerated and moist. Make beds in your garden that are comfortably reachable without stepping on your soil. Make pathways, either with boards that distribute your weight or lay down straw or other organic material to make a pathway that will decompose and become rich soil for next year’s plantings when you move the path! In other words, don’t compact and crush your fluffy healthy soil!

Soil Building and Care is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden.

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

Read Full Post »

Vermicomposting Workshop Vancouver

Since 1990, City Farmer and the City of Vancouver have held worm composting workshops for City of Vancouver residents who live in apartments. For $25 participants get a worm bin, 500 worms (1 lb), Mary Appelhof’s book “Worms Eat My Garbage”, a trowel, bedding and a one-hour class. Now that’s a deal!

Worm Castings are true BLACK GOLD to your garden soil, and high quality store-bought castings are just about as expensive! For good reasons. Worm castings are literally living!  Worm castings host ten to twenty times as much microbial activity than plain soil! They cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits and vegetables are produced. Castings contain 5 times the available nitrogen, 7 times the available potash and 1 1/2 times more calcium than that found in 12″ of topsoil. These nutrients are also water-soluble and immediately available to the plant. Most potting soils have a nutrient life for 2 to 5 days, where worm castings will last up to 6 times as long.

Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

The right kind of worms are RED WIGGLERS! They forage on debris at the surface. They are smaller than earthworms that live IN the earth. Fishermen use them for bait. Ask your fellow gardeners to give you a handful to get started, go to the bait shack, ask at the farmers market, or support your local organic worm dealer! The little guys live 1 to 2 years. My clew (colony) has been going strong for 15 years now.

Worms are easy to raise or you can use a complex system. You can start them anytime, indoors or out depending on temps. Here in SoCal Santa Barbara mine live outside all year in full sun, brief freezes. They are more active when they are warmer. Soy inked newspaper is often used for bedding to start a clew. Worms are 90% water, so keep the bedding moist. My worms get all the moisture they need from the juicy kitchen bits I feed them and I cover them with their black plastic blankie inside the container to keep them moist! If your bin is stinky, you may be overfeeding or watering too much. Maybe increase the size of the air openings or put your bin where there is more circulation, or out of the shade into a sunny area.

Though you can start your worms anytime, two good times to start them are January and July. January will give you a well established clew and supply of castings for spring plantings starting in SoCal March. July gives a good supply for September, October fall plantings.

Vermicomposting Easy Bin Children Worms

Housing! This bin is great for at home gardeners or children’s school projects! The worms are safe from predators, access is easy, any liquid, leachate, worm tea, drains into the lid below. I use a longer bin about the same height.

Since Red Wigglers, Eisenia Foetida, are surface foragers, these worms need width, not depth. Mine live in a low 4′ by 2′ opaque dark grey storage container. I put holes in the bottom to allow the leachate to drain out and from time to time I move the bin to another location to enrich the soil there, each area getting some of that good stuff! I put holes about 6 to 8″ apart along the sides near the top. The wormies get air flow and on hot days hot air vents out. Inside the container I cover them with a large black plastic bag to keep it moist and dark for them. They feed all the way to the top because they feel safe in the dark where no birds can see them!

I do have a shaped-to-the-base piece of 1/4″ hardware cloth, a wire mesh, around the bottom of my box to prevent predator pests like mice or rats from gnawing into the holes in the bottom of the box. Worms are gourmet for them! Sprinkle cinnamon about if you have ants.

How to Start! Select your container or system.

  • If you choose a container, get one made of opaque material, a dark color if it is available. Worms like dark, just like under the leaves, in the topsoil, in nature. Make 1/4″ or less diameter holes in the bottom and near the top of the sides or as needed. If you put holes in the container lid, rainwater will go in, perhaps flooding your worms. A hot stove flame heated very large screwdriver blade is quick and perfect for making holes in plastic containers. Push the screwdriver in and twist. If your container will be indoors, you will need a tray underneath to collect drippings.
  • Put in 4 to 6″ of moist shredded soy ink newspaper bedding, no bleached office papers. Soak the paper overnight, then wring it out so it is moist like a wrung out sponge, fluff it up. Add some leaves if you have them, and what kitchen trim you might have been saving. If the kitchen stuff is a little funky that’s best because your worms feed on bacteria!
  • Add your worms!
  • Feed your worms slowly at first. As your worms multiply, give them more chow. Bury food scraps to keep fruit flies away.
  • Your worms want dark and moist. Cover them with cardboard or another material so they will feed to the top. I tuck them in with a large black plastic garbage bag to keep them moist.
  • Mist the paper as needed to keep it from drying out.

They like decomposing kitchen waste with the exceptions of spicy, salty, acidic citrus, sulfuric onion, dairy makes the bin smell, oils and meats (too tough). No junk food. Coffee filters, grounds in moderation, lightly ripped teabags are good – the nylon kind don’t decompose, but not too many of those because they are acidic, and veggies like things a tad alkaline. Things cut into smaller pieces decompose faster. Harder or tougher items take a long time. No grape stems, corn cobs, avocado or mango pits. They do love the avo shells though and nest in them. Crushed egg shells keep the pH neutral. Cooked rice, bread, pastas and pizzas. Go wild with potato and carrot peelings, carrot tops, funky lettuce, squash, and, a favorite, melon rinds for dessert. Fridge clean outs are perfect for your worms! If you have doubt about an item, don’t. Moderation is a good word.

Rather than laying new food on top of the worms, I use a pitchfork, small tines, little damage to worms, to gently lift my worms from one side of the bin to the other. I lay in half their new food, then move the worms back, covering the new food. Then I do the other half. The new food will decompose faster when covered.

You can easily see when they have run out of food. Feed them sooner than that, or they might be hungry a few days, even die. They eat the bacteria on what you give them. They can’t eat raw food until it decomposes a bit, so feeding them sooner is crucial. If you find yourself wondering about how they are doing, check them!

Once your bin is started, there is absolutely no reason to continue to feed them newspaper or cardboard. The quality of what you feed your worms is the health of your worms and the quality of your castings. Real nutrients – kitchen scraps, plant trimmings – like the organic wastes of nature, give you excellent castings in return. Worms will eat non nutritious cardboard and lots of other things, but why? Better to recycle that in other ways.

If you are an indoor gardener, keep your clew small. If you are an outdoor gardener, you may be hard pressed to produce enough castings! Hit up your friends that juice and make smoothies for a steady supply of high quality fresh organic veg and fruit trims and bits. I have dedicated recycle friends who bring plastic bags and wide mouth containers of veggie trim. They tie bags loosely so it’s easy for me to open and feed to the kids. I, in turn, share veggies when I have extra, sometimes planting a little more, or one of their favorites for them.

Worm Red Wiggler Eisenia Foetida Castings

Harvest the bumpy like little castings – they look like fluffy coffee grounds. You’ve seen them, often after a rain…earthworms push them up in little piles. I use an old coffee container with a handle. Take the ‘blanket’ off your worms. Give them about 5 minutes to dive out of the light. Gather the castings at the top. Wait a few more minutes for them to dive again, then gather some more. Only the castings are taken; the worms are the workers!

Oh, are you spooked because worms are ‘slimy?’ Get some thin rubber gloves. No problem.

At times you will see little yellow eggs, cocoons among the castings. Each holds 4-6  1/2″ long teensy baby worms and hatches in about 23 days. It’s crazy to try to separate them all out. Nevermind. Some of them will hatch in your garden and you will have a small population of red wigglers there too! Do they mate? Yep, they have to so they can make eggs. Lucky for us, they are hermaphroditic and can mate with any other worm they meet!

Worm Castings after a rain

Feeding Your Plants ~ Optimum growth is in a soil ratio of 1:4, that’s 25% castings, 75% soil. However it has been shown that even 10% of wormcast shows significant difference in plant growth. Using over 40% castings, plant growth performance is stunted and may even appear worse off than having no wormcast at all. A wise gardener knows more is not always better. And, your precious castings will go further.

I walk about my garden to see who might need some castings, or where I plan to plant next. Scratch out a shallow area on one side of your plant, leaving as many tiny surface feeder roots intact as possible. Most veggie annuals do all their root growing in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Spread some castings in, cover them with the soil you dug out. After you have used all the castings, water the areas lightly so the castings stay covered and moist. It’s like making and giving them worm tea in place! Remember, 25% is the ideal ratio.

How Castings Work! Castings are not exactly a fertilizer, ie their available N, Nitrogen, content is only 1.80 – 2.05 %, yet their NPK value is much higher than soil! NPK are the main minerals your plants need. The NPK in castings is locked in the cast, and slowly released as micro-organisms break it down. This is much better for plants, because it takes time for them to uptake nutrients. They can’t do it all at once. What they do uptake, they can do easily and immediately.

Vermicompost nutrients and minerals are significantly higher (with Nitrates up to 9 times higher) than garden soil. This creates electro-conductivity, in turn creating more salts in vermicompost. When there is too much salt in soil, it sucks water from plant roots resulting in the ‘burning’ of plants. Although there aren’t enough salts in vermicompost to do that (it is much more common in chemical fertilizers), using too much wormcast can stunt plant growth.

Worm castings have much higher percentages of humus than either soil or compost, which helps the castings hold more water and stay aerated, while also providing binding sites for micronutrients that would otherwise wash out of soil during heavy rains. Mineral clusters that castings form combine in such a way that they can withstand water erosion and compaction, and, increase water retention! Castings hold 2 to 3 times their weight in water! If you are in a drought area, especially add them when you add compost or Sphagnum peat moss. All three increase water holding capacity. In summer, mulching keeps your soil moist also!

A clever gardener will make a drain at one end of the worm box and collect the worm tea! Check out Bentley’s post for some of the finer details to consider and how to process your leachate for maximum results. If you aren’t doing worm tea, move your worm box from time to time so that juice can drip into your soil, making it rich and nutritious at each location. Plants will grow like crazy in those spots!

Here’s another way ~ Per Rodale, ‘One excellent use of castings is in a liquid plant tonic. Put 1 pint/2 cups of castings in a bucket. Add a gallon of warm water and a spoonful of molasses. Stir this well, and stir it frequently over the course of 24 to 48 hours. Dilute the resulting liquid at the ratio of 1 part tea to 4 parts water and use it to water container plants and fruit trees. You can use it in your vegetable beds, but they should already be well nourished by compost and thus don’t need it as much. It’s best to use all of your worm tea in a week or so.’ Another simple way is 1 cup Worm Castings for every gallon of water and wait 1 week.

Broad Fork Garden Baby Blue! Compost, Worm Castings, fish/kelp tea mixes!

A good tip! If you enjoy making worm castings, compost, fish/kelp tea mixes, and want to feed your plants but minimize damage to their roots and soil structure, get yourself a spade fork, or if you have a lot of territory, a broad fork like in the image! Push it down into the soil, rock it back and forth slightly to make holes, pour in your soup! You will hear the soil organisms dancing!

Plant recovery testimonial! L.A. Times, 5/27/00, Julie Bawden Davis: “Convinced that nothing could help a whitefly infested hibiscus in my garden that had been struggling for two years, I spread a one inch layer of worm castings around the plant. A month later I noticed that the whitefly population had dwindled. Three weeks later there were absolutely no whiteflies on the plant. It’s now back to its healthy self and producing lots of blooms.”

To my delight, visitors often wonder if I have named my worms! We all laugh and I show them more worms! Oh, and how do you get more worms?! Worms are hermaphrodites, meaning each worm has both male and female reproductive parts. The worm does have to mate in order to reproduce, but, every worm they meet is a potential mate. When a worm gets to be about six weeks old it forms a white band around its head, called a clitellum, this is where their reproductive organs are located.

Under ideal circumstances, worm populations can double in  a month. They begin breeding at 2 months old, are capable of producing 96 babies each month. Worms have a brain and five hearts. Worms breathe through their skin. They have neither eyes nor ears but are extremely aware of vibrations such as thumps or banging on the composter. Please try not to disturb them unnecessarily. Worms are odorless and free from disease.

Keep the depth of your clew between 6 and 8 inches. If you reach capacity, give some to friends starting vermicomposting, feed some to the chickens, or just turn ’em loose in nature. But, another way to put your worms to work is to add handfuls to areas where you are composting in place or right into your composter! I keep my compost pile covered with thick opaque plastic amendments bags so the worms will work at the top of the pile too! Them and compost speeding herbs like comfrey and yarrow will perk your compost right up. Just keep the pile or area moist.

Those little yellow lemon-shaped beads are worm cocoons. Your worms are happy and breeding. Decomposers – mites, pot worms and tiny black beetles – may join the family. That’s good. They’re all doing the same work, and the worms don’t mind the company.

Vacation?! Feed them well, and add fresh bedding if they need it. That will hold them for a couple weeks.

Worm Economics and Education! Vermiculture has become common practice. Private Worm Farms abound! Universities and schools have educational programs, cities have programs, zoos, private organizations proudly tell their story. Websites assist you about raising your own or starting your own business.

Buying Castings! No time for one more thing to do?! Get your castings from a reputable organic seller, support local worm cast sellers. There are many great companies with high quality castings today. Don’t confuse an amendment with castings in the ingredient list, with a bag or bucket of pure castings. Remember, a little bit of the right stuff goes a long way. Give them to your indoor plants too.

Whether for prevention, abundant growth, recovery or economics, worm castings are fabulous. Worms work for free, and are permaculture sustainable! They can consume about 1/2 of their weight each day, turning our food waste into a high quality powerful garden amendment!

The Urban Worm Anna de la Vega

I love Anna de la Vega’s site name, The Urban Worm! The name reminds us everyone can raise worms, whether at your garden or in a special system in your kitchen! Castings can be used outdoors or in your favorite indoor container plantings! Your plants will be healthier, blooms prolific!

I was more than surprised to find myself raising worms! But the rewards are wonderful and I have come to cherish the amazing little creatures! If you have hovered over the thought of becoming a worm steward, perhaps now is a good time to start!

Names or not, love your worms!

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2.23.16 Revised and expanded from 5.17.14 post


The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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Feed Your Veggie Garden!

Purposes for Feeding, Sidedressing

General well being – Compost is the best general feed. It is rich with nutrition, has great water holding capacity, especially needed in summer and drought areas. Here are some possibilities. Pull back your mulch, scatter and lightly dig in a little chicken manure. If you prefer organic granulated fertilizer sprinkle it around evenly. At the same time, and/or lay on a ½” of tasty compost, topped with some worm castings. Or you can water on some fish emulsion. Water well and gently so things stay in place. Pull your mulch back in place. See more

Up production, extend harvests – Again, compost is a great pick-me-up. It’s gentle, balanced, and free if you make your own. Plants you have from saving seed are adapted to your special blend and just keep getting better! Some gardeners dig it in a bit, no deeper than the top 6″ for most summer veggies. Others simply pull back the mulch, lay on an inch of compost, water, then recover with the mulch. No need to cover an entire area if you are short on compost. Do only out to the dripline.

Less leaf/more blossoms – Studies show the ideal ratio of nutrients for flowering plants, tomatoes, squash, beans, peppers, melons, eggplant, is an NPK of 3-1-2. (That’s 3% Nitrogen, 1% phosphorus & 2% potassium.) So look for that ratio on the label of packaged fertilizers; anything close to a 3-1-2, a 6-2-4 or a 9-3-6 does the job. If you are getting way too much leaf, few to no blooms, no fruit, water like a fiend to wash away the too much N (Nitrogen) your soil has. Plus, though N makes for beautiful leaves, too much inhibits flowering and fruiting. You can add fertilizers high in Phosphorous for blooms, but at this point it needs to be super easy for quick uptake by your plant.

More foliage – Lettuce, chard, kale can use more N. They are doing nothing but make leaves and for those plants we don’t want flowers! They are good with higher ratios of N. Liquid fish and seaweed mix is good if you don’t have predator animals frequenting your garden! Fish and kelp have a nice balance of the basic nutrients and lots of essential trace elements. Pour some into your watering can, dilute it as directed and water it into the soil around the root zone to the dripline. If you prefer granulated stuff, pull back your mulch, sprinkle the granules around evenly, about 6″ from the plant stem. Lettuce thrives on chicken manure scratched into the top 2″, does wonders, especially in summer when your plants are working hard. Cover your mix or scratched in manure with compost or soil for faster uptake, and water in. Put your mulch back in place.

Green up the leaves – a super quick fix is to give your plants a tad of blood meal. It is easy for your plant to take up, and leaves get back to their beautiful Nitrogen rich dark green asap! Blood meal is an expensive high nitrogen fertilizer, 12-2-0, a very high number for a natural product, as are fish meal (and fish emulsion), horse and poultry manure ie chicken manure. Use it sparingly because it can burn flowers and foliage due to the ammonia content. And, remember, too much N inhibits flowering and fruiting. Blood meal is also toxic to animals.

Disease and Pest Resistance! Worm castings are tops! Raise your own worms or buy castings in a bag or fresh and potent at a local organic nursery!

Foliar Feeding - rose upturned

Foliar Feeding – Leaves

Not everyone can always get down on their hands and knees and dig about under their veggie plants. Maybe making compost, worm casting and/or manure teas will work for you! There are various methods, some simple, others time consuming and complex. Either way, they work! If you take the easy route, all you do is mix a handful of castings, a handful to a cup of compost, handful of manure, stir and let them soak overnight in a bucket. In the morning, swoosh it around in the bucket one more time, let it settle, then strain the top liquid into your long neck watering can, the one with the up turning rose. If you don’t have predators like skunks, stir in liquid Fish Emulsion, 6 tablespoons per gallon of water/Kelp, ¼ to ½ teaspoon per gallon of water, mix, and drench your plants! That’s a mix they won’t forget! Get a watering can that has a rose (spray end) that will swivel upward so you can apply that tasty mix to both the undersides and tops of the leaves, the whole plant. Since it has been found foliar feeding is in some cases more efficient that soil feeding, it makes good sense!

Teas have no drawbacks. They can be applied to good avail every couple of weeks if you wish.

Peppers, Toms, Eggplant & ROSES respond really well to Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salts) foliar feeding. Apply it when they are seedlings, when you transplant.

  • Magnesium is critical for seed germination and the production of chlorophyll, fruit, and nuts. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improves plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.  Magnesium deficiency in the soil may be one reason your tomato leaves yellow between the leaf veins late in the season and fruit production slows down.
  • Sulfur, a key element in plant growth, is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes. Sulfur is probably the oldest known pesticide in current use. It can be used for disease control (e.g., powdery mildews, rusts, leaf blights, and fruit rots), and pests like mites, psyllids and thrips. Sulfur is nontoxic to mammals, but may irritate skin or especially eyes.
    x
    CAUTION Sulfur has the potential to damage plants in hot (90°F and above), dry weather. It is also incompatible with other pesticides. Do not use sulfur within 20 to 30 days on plants where spray oils have been applied; it reacts with the oils to make a more phytotoxic combination.
  • Epsom Salts are easy to do!  Buy some Epsom Salts, what you soak your feet in, at the grocery store, mix a tablespoon per gallon, foliar feed! Foliar feeding is simply sprinkling leaves with your solutions, and works better than applying to the soil! Get a long snouted watering can that has a turnable sprinkler head. That long spout comes in handy, reaching well into your plant! Turn the head so the water shoots up under the leaves then falls back on the tops! The long arc of the handle gives lots of maneuvering ability and saves your back! Feed your plants once when they bloom, and again ten days later. The results, attributed to magnesium in the salts, are larger plants, more flowers, more fruit, thicker walled peppers! I use this mix on all my Solanaceaes: eggplant, pepper, tomato, tomatillo. Roses love it too!

Broad Fork Garden Baby Blue!Soil Feeding – Roots

Plants have lots of little feeder roots near the surface of the soil, at least out to their dripline. When you cultivate or scratch up the soil, those little roots are broken and they can no longer feed your plant. Scratch up the soil on two sides only at most. Leave plenty of undisturbed soil so the feeder roots can continue to feed your plant. Your plant may even slow down after a feeding until it grows more feeder roots back. Give it a little time for recovery.

Seedlings need to be fed close to the plant because they don’t have an array of feeder roots yet.

Lettuces love a bit of chicken manure, but ixnay for strawberries. They don’t like the salts.

If you enjoy making those tea/fish/kelp mixes, and want to feed your plants but minimize damage to their roots and soil structure, get yourself a spade fork, or if you have a lot of territory, a broad fork like in the image! Push it down into the soil, rock it back and forth slightly to make holes, pour in your soup! You will hear the soil organisms dancing!

Know your guanos! Besides being expensive, bat and Seabird Guanos are not a quick fix; they take awhile to break down. Some say they are better applied as foliar teas, but still, the release time per Colorado University Extension is FOUR MONTHS even for powdered guano! Guanos vary hugely in NPK percents! Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom late in the season! Jamaican bat is high P phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2. But Mexican bat is high N (leaf growth, plant vigor) 10-2-1. Peruvian seabird is high in N and P (leaf and bloom) 10-10-2.

Worm castings?! OH, YES! Though they are not nutrients they do cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced! Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, APHIDS, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

Up production, extend your growing time, enjoy seeing your plants’ radiant health, and be blessed with scrumptious meals!

See also Soil Building!

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Transplants' roots need to be healthy, no girdling, white, not tan! Choosing healthy Transplants!  When at the nursery, check if a plant is root bound.  Carefully pop the plant right out of the container!  You want white lively roots with plenty of space between them; no girdling, no tan color like the ones at the left in the image.  A girdled plant will never be quite as healthy as one that has had normal growth.  If they are tan they are old and may have disease.

If your soil is poor, or you have only asphalt or concrete, consider raised beds or straw bale gardening!

Nowhere in nature will you find row furrows.  Plant for biodiversity!  In fact, California entomologists compared plantings of all one variety of broccoli to mixed plantings of four cultivars. They found that the combination crops had fewer cabbage aphids. So merely mixing varieties in a monocultural planting may help reduce pest problems.

Lettuces can be kept from bolting, producing a stalk, by regularly picking the outer leaves, keeping them from maturing properly.  This ‘cut and come again’ approach to harvesting can extend the time they produce for up to 10 weeks!

Vermicompost, Worm Castings, causes seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, and more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40 percent of the total volume of the plant growth medium in which it is incorporated.

Intercrop, Interplant for better space usage!

  • fast and slow growing plants in the same space, like radishes and carrots or spinach and peas
  • small plants next to large like cantaloupe and corn or spinach and Brussels sprouts
  • deep and shallow plants like potatoes and cabbage or turnips and lettuce
  • heavy and light feeders like broccoli and carrots or corn and beans

To avoid mildew, space your plantings enough for air circulation and, especially if your area is shady and/or if you water evenings.  Better to water at ground level, not overhead, in the AMs if possible.  It’s good to rinse off leaves from time to time, so your plant can fully photosynthesize for fat harvests!  Too much dust and dirt can hinder that process.

If your soil is crusty or hard and ‘heavy,’ it’s hungry.  It needs humus, more compost.  Compost keeps your soil soft and friable, increases its water holding capacity, adds nutrients.  Yes!

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Red Russian Kale leaves and raindrops at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara Ca Jan 6, 2016

Raindrops on Red Russian Kale leaves Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden – Cerena

Skillful Preparation

When you build your garden, make raised beds, mounds, berms for water capture. Install channels to help with drainage issues.

Mulch sloped areas to hold water in place to soak in, and keep soil from eroding. Keep every drop on your property for trees and to improve our water table. Remember, slow, spread, sink

Make ‘permanent’ pathways with boards, stepping stones, straw bedding, so you won’t be compacting your planting area soil when it is wet or dry! Best is to lay down straw then put a board or two side by side on top. This holds the straw in place, in case of winds, and the straw will feed your soil for good spring planting.

Set up to harvest rainwater for later use, even if it is just putting out containers and buckets here and there!

Way ahead of time, plant for air circulation so foliage dries quickly. Plants too closely spaced, make a warmer micro environment, mildew easier. Choose mildew resistant varieties!

Keep a Weather Watch! 

  • Mulch! Lay down some straw to avoid mud splatter  on lettuce leaves, fruits clean, up off soggy ground, above the insect soil level zone. Insects stay safe below the mulch, don’t venture above where predators and birds can get them.
  • Lay down fertilizer before a rain so the fertilizer will soak in.
  • Dig in compost and castings in the top few inches of your soil.  When the rain comes, it’s like making compost and worm tea all at once in place.  They improve your soil’s water holding capacity.
  • Take the cover off your compost to let it get wet.  Or cover it to keep it dry and warm and in steady decomposition.
  • Tie or stake plants that may topple from wind or water weight.
  • Planting! For planting seeds, it depends on whether it matters where they will end up. For example, a green manure cover crop needs no formal rows or placements. If you want a plant where you put it, might be good to wait until after the rain. Near-the-surface seeds, or small seeds, ones not so hard and heavy as buckwheat, can be uncovered or buried, washed away or likely rot if they get in a puddle. Bean seeds can rot, virtually dissolve, in a couple days. Plant delicate transplants ASAP just after rain. If it’s a heavy rain, wait, so your plants don’t literally drown. Plant just after the rain. The sun will warm up the soil and off they will go! 

During a rainy period….

  • If you didn’t before, if it’s a light rain, get out there in your rain gear and add some manure or fertilizer! Great excuse to play in the rain! Otherwise, no digging in saturated soil. It destroys soil structure that soil organisms make and need, stops oxygen flow the soil needs.
  • Check frequently to see how your plants are doing. Secure any tall plants, trellises that need it.
  • If a plant is too low and in standing water, raise it. Put your shovel deep under it, so not to harm the roots, push some filler soil underneath the shovel!
  • Add more mulch to sloped areas if it has shifted or isn’t quite deep enough.
  • Be sure your wormbox worms are not doing the backstroke! I cover mine with plastic INSIDE the worm box.  Any water either runs down the sides and out the bottom or puddles on the plastic. Easy to remove.
  • If the compost heap is wet enough now, cover it.
  • Rebuild any drainage channel that has weakened, clear if clogged. Rebuild water capture berms that have slumped. Level out areas that puddle.
  • Make sure all your rain harvest system is working well. Kudos to you for harvesting!
  • Practice arm-chair gardening! Read garden books, magazines, browse web sites, buy some seeds from mail-order catalogs, design your new garden layout!
  • Get some seeds, soilless potting mix, gather containers with, or make, drainage holes. Start some seeds!
  • If the rain is prolonged, uh, do an aphid, snail and slug check as frequently as you can. Sluggo works on snails and slugs even when it is wet. Hard to believe, but, yes, it does.
  • If the rain is prolonged, do harvest your fresh and crunchy produce! Lettuces will flourish!
  • Check on fast maturing broccoli and cauliflower heads to cut at peak maturity! Gather your luscious strawberries. Keep your peas/beans picked to keep them coming!

After the rain! YES!

  • Be ready to weed! Do some dust mulching. It is simply soil cultivation to about 2 or 3 inches deep. Cultivation disturbs the soil surface and interrupts the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation.  Do it after rains or irrigating. It’s commonly done by dry farmers, especially now in California’s drought.
  • Do some thinning for air circulation as makes sense. Often there is a growth spurt, and you can see where thinning is needed.
  • Repair areas where soil has washed away exposing roots, carrot or beet tops.
  • Repair any berms or terracing, level out high/low spots. Clear clogged drains.
  • Do what you do about snails and slugs. Keep checking for aphids – blast them away with water or remove infested leaves.
  • There is often more gopher activity after rain has softened the soil, so be ready! Here’s all about gophers and how to set Macabee traps! OR, now that the soil is softened, install a 1/2″ hardware cloth wire barrier! Tips on Installing your Barrier!
  • Harvest first, water second! That’s the rule to keep from spreading diseases spread by moisture.
  • It’s often warmer after a rain, and it is the warmth that mildew loves! Drench mildew susceptible plants with your mildew mix immediately, early in the day so your plants can dry. If you prune mildewed areas off, remove those prunings, wash your hands and pruners before you go on to other plants. Water less frequently and at ground level, not overhead.

Easy homemade MIX for mildew prevention and abatement. It works for certain other diseases too! Be sure to spray up under leaves as well.

  • Heaping tablespoon of baking soda
  • 1/4 cup of nonfat (so it won’t rot and stink) powdered milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon dish soap 
  • In a large watering can of water, preferably with a long spout so you can get into the plant

Remember, here in SoCal, a light rain may not begin to wet your soil, not even a 1/4″ deep! Always do the old finger test to see what’s what. Sometimes you need to water after a rain!

Somehow, rainwater seems different than hose water! Plants just jump right out of the ground! Enjoy!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Read Full Post »

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