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Posts Tagged ‘NPK’

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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Right NOW, June, starts feeding time! First let’s go over some general considerations and methods of sidedressing, then we’ll 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, yellow a bit, try a feed and see if they perk up. Near the end of the season feeding may not help.

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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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 raccoons, 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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Super 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 growing 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, never mind.

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 indeterminate, 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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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 heavy mil 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…

YES! Things cut into smaller pieces decompose faster. My worms do love avo shells and nest in them. Crushed egg shells keep the pH neutral – you don’t need very many. Go wild with potato and carrot peelings, carrot tops, funky lettuce, squash, and, a favorite, melon rinds for dessert. The pulp from fruit/veg drinks. Fridge clean outs are perfect for your worms! If you have doubt about an item, don’t. Moderation is a good word.

NO to harder or tougher items that take a long time. No grape stems, corn cobs, avocado, cherry or mango pits. Avoid harmful spicy, salty, acidic citrus, sulfuric onion. Dairy makes the bin smell, oils and meats are too tough – bring predators if your worms are outdoors. Cooked rice, bread, pastas and pizzas bring mice to outdoor worm bins. 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.

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?’ They aren’t really, but 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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Choose the right manure for your Veggie Garden!

Manure is an organic amendment. Organic matter improves soil aeration, water infiltration, and both water- and nutrient-holding capacity. Well aged organic matter is an important energy source for bacteria, fungi and earthworms that live in the soil. All your soil needs is 3% organic matter! You can see how adding too much manure can upset your soil balance really quickly. Sometimes soils are ‘poor’ because they are over amped!

Fresh manure is a no, no! Ammonia is not good for your plants. A minimum of 6 months to a year of aging is recommended. Composting manure changes it – ammonia off gasses, there is less Nitrogen, but more phosphorus, potassium, and salts. If salt levels are high in your garden, no adding manures! Home composting simply doesn’t get hot enough to get rid of pathogens. That’s why manures are not recommended for veggie gardens, especially for soil touching root crops like carrots, radishes, and lower lettuce leaves. Yet manures have been used for centuries for growing veggies. But, be warned, ok? Organic farmers follow strict guidelines when using manures. If you have plenty of time, in winter simply till it into the soil and wait for Mama nature to do her work; plant in spring! The exceptions are rabbit or goat, sheep that compost in place quickly. Dig ’em right in.

Manures and grass clippings decompose quickly, days to weeks. Compost takes longer, 6 months, depending on the system you use and how you do it. When applying to your garden, a combination will give immediate and long term improvement. Sheet composting can be speeded up by using THIN layers of chopped green wet materials in combination with straw brown dry layers. Remember, manures and compost are not quick fixes for ailing yellowing plants low in Nitrogen. If you need quick, blood meal and fish emulsions will work faster.

The word on Cow Manures! Hold your nose. They contain methane. What goes in comes out, that could be hormones, chemicals. That’s not organic. It’s less ‘hot’ than chicken manure. Dairy cow manure is more water holding than steer manure. Ask if there is straw or sawdust mixed in. That’s good for composting, but not if the nutrient content is reduced by waste water and urine also mixed in.

Buy manures bagged, or find a local source.

  • Ask what the creature has been eating. If a horse, you may get lots of weed seeds if they field forage. They only digest about 1/4 of all the grass and grains they consume. Cows, on the other hand, have 4 stomachs, so their manure is more digested, equals less seeds.
  • Ask if the animals or chickens have been given any hormones or drugs like antibiotics.
  • Has any of their food or bedding had an herbicide used on it?
  • Ask if the manure pile has been sprayed with insecticide to kill flies or keep them away.

Rabbit or goat, sheep? Rabbit! It’s twice as high in Nitrogen, 3.5%!  Work any of these three manures, these fab little pellets, fresh right into the top 2” of your soil! All that area that’s exposed makes them compost right in place quickly, and they don’t burn your plants! With bedding they are great in compost piles!

Cat, dog or pig manure are not good. They can have infectious parasites. Cat manure can be harmful to unborn babies.

One of the oldest, safest sources of Nitrogen, urea breaks down fast in your soil, compost pile or compost tea. The human NPK ratio is almost 45-0-0!  Be careful, it’s potent. Dilute it, a lot, unless you use it along perimeters to discourage predators or gophers.

All raw bird manure is premixed with urine and manure.

  1. That would be bat and seabird guanos. Bird guanos are not a quick fix; they take awhile to break down in your soil. Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time is perfect timing for when your plants are ready to bloom! 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! Know your guanos! Guanos vary hugely in NPK percents! Mexican bat is high N (leaf growth, plant vigor) 10-2-1. Jamaican bat is high phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2. Peruvian seabird is high in N and P (leaf and bloom) 10-10-2.
  2. Chicken! Besides eggs, they make grand hot manure for the dollar! Perfect for high production leaf crops like lettuces. And, it suppresses nematodes.  3-4-2 Strawberries don’t like the salts in chickie manure.
  3. Pigeon?!  Yes, prized in Europe as super manure!  It’s the winner at 4.2-3-1.4  And, if you find it available, it’s likely free!

Vermicompost – worm manure!  According to Rhonda Sherman, North Carolina State University:

‘Earthworm casts are covered with mucus from their intestinal tract; this layer provides a readily available carbon source for soil microbes and leads to a flush of microbial activity in fresh casts. Vermicompost improves soil structure, reduces erosion, and improves and stabilizes soil pH. In addition, vermicompost increases moisture infiltration in soils and improves its moisture holding capacity.

Plant growth is significantly increased by vermicompost, whether it is used as a soil additive, a vermicompost tea, or as a component of horticultural soilless container media. Vermicompost 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. Vermicompost also decreases attacks by plant pathogens, parasitic nematodes and arthropod pests.’  The Soil Ecology Center at Ohio State University is the leading vermicomposting research laboratory in the United States. it includes scientific papers on vermicomposting.

Worms are easy to tend, use your green waste, you know what they have been fed.  The more quality stuff you feed them, the more quality comes out!

Green Manure – Grow Your Own! Over winter, or when you soil will be unplanted for a time, legumes, like favas and clovers, and blue lupines, peas, clover, buckwheat, Lucerne, oats, broad beans and wheat, are perfect to plant. Not only are they a living mulch, but legumes feed your soil, gathering N from the air, depositing it in little nodules on their roots! Chop and drop your crop, dig it into the top 6” if you want to, leave all those nodules right where they will do the most good! Presto! Plant your crop in about 2 to 3 weeks!

Pellets or piles, be knowledgeable in your choices. A combination works best, providing the various nutrients your plants need for their overall health! Sometimes FREE is not a good choice.  Ask questions and if you still don’t feel right about it when the ‘right’ answers are given, trust yourself. Could be the stuff is good but not the right thing for your plants right at that time. Or maybe the answers weren’t completely honest. Wait. Do something else. Or nothing. Your plants’ lives depend on you.

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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 city’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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Fine Bright Lights Chard

To start, especially tomatoes, 4 things!

  • First, throw a big handful of bone meal in your planting hole and mix it in with your soil.  Bone meal is high in Phosphorous (for blooming) and takes 6 to 8 weeks before it starts working – perfect timing!  It is also high in calcium, which helps prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes.  Water regularly or it won’t help.  Fine ground bone meal releases quicker, coarse ground lasts longer.
  • Second, throw in a handful of nonfat powdered milk!  It’s also high in calcium, that your plant can uptake right away, but more importantly, it is a natural germicide, and boosts your plant’s immune system!!!
  • And what about tossing in some worm castings?  They have special plant-growth hormones in the humic acids of the castings.
  • This is indirect, but makes sense.  Sprinkle mycorrhizal fungi ON the roots of your transplants when you plant them!  To live, the fungi need the sugars the roots give.  The fungi, in turn, make a wonderful web of filaments, mycelium, that work in harmony with your plant, increasing its uptake of nutrients and water, reducing transplant shock, and helps with disease and pathogen suppression!  One of the great things mycorrhiza does is assist Phosphorus uptake.  Of the NPK on fertilizers, P is Phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop.  Buy them fresh at Island Seed & Feed.  Ask them, they will weigh out whatever amount you want.  A quarter pound would be $4.99 (2-24-11/Matt).  Mycorrhiza & Farmers video

When your plants start blooming

  • Sidedress them with seabird quano (NOT bat guano) that is high in phosphorus, stimulates blooms, more blooms!  More blooms, more tomatoes!
  • Foliar drench or spray with Epsom Salt mix – 1 Tablespoon/watering can.  Fastest way to feed plant, and often the most efficient, is to foliar feed it.  Epsom Salt, right from your grocery store or pharmacy, is high in magnesium sulfate.  Peppers love it too.  It really gives your plants a boost, and fruits are bigger, peppers are thicker walled.  I drench all my Solanaceaes – toms, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, tomatillos – with Epsom salt.  Some say apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, or spray a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salt per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set.

Fish/kelp mixes are for light feeding, are well balanced, but stinky, even when the fish emulsion is deodorized.  If you want a more potent mix, use the hydrolyzed powder.  Maxicrop is great stuff!

Along the way, if leaves start yellowing, green ‘em up quick with emergency doctoring!  Bloodmeal!  It’s very high in quickly usable Nitrogen (N).  Dig it lightly into the top soil, water well.  Be aware, it and fish/kelp mixes are stinky and bring predators.

Give everybody a little manure, dig into the top 6” of soil, but only on two sides of your plant.  We want most of the near-the-surface roots to be undisturbed. Steer manure is cheap.   Chicken stores in less space per what it can do, but it can be hot (burn your plants’ roots), so go lightly with it.  Lettuces like manures.  Compost is good stuff but sometimes not strong enough on N.  Sometimes you can get FREE compost from the city.

Again, indirect, but organic mulch not only keeps your soil cool, moist and weed free, but feeds your soil as it decomposes.  Apply coarse mulch that decomposes slowly so it doesn’t use up your plants’ Nitrogen in the decomposition process.

Well fed and maintained plants are more disease and pest resistant, are lusty and productive – they pay back with abundant  larger tasty fruits and potent seeds for the next generation!

“Earth turns to Gold in the hands of the Wise” Rumi

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