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Summer Heat Lovers Harvest Basket by Komali Nunna

Komali Nunna says ‘One of my greatest pleasures of summer is that I get to harvest from the kitchen garden and create meals around my harvest. I love to grow as many exotic vegetables as possible for my table, including red okra, green eggplant and an Indian cucumber called dosa kaya.’ …at Entertaining From an Ethnic Indian Kitchen

Recently night air temps have been steadily in the early 50s. Soil temps in the sun are now just 60. 60 to 65 are what we are looking for. Peppers especially need warmer temps, nighttime temps above 55°F and soil temps above 65°F. If planted too soon, sometimes they miss their natural sequence of production, and never produce. Best Planting Temps Per Veggie!

APRIL through June Planting Timing

APRIL! is true heat lovers time! Start MORE seedlings indoors NOW for successive June plantings. Sow seeds. If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, get transplants and pop them in the ground per their right times! April 1 or as close to it as you can, start your Jicama seeds! Winter squash for sure. It needs time to grow big and harden for winter storage. MAY for cantaloupe, peppers, pumpkins and squash! Wait until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons. Many wait until May, some even June, to plant tomatoes to avoid soil fungi. Some gardeners wait until JUNE to plant okra. Okra really likes heat and grows quickly when happy. Choose faster maturing varieties for coastal SoCal. Long beans need warm temps to start from seeds. If YOU anticipate a HOT summer, plant a tad earlier, but be prepared to deal with it if summer is overcast as often is the case after all.

It’s heat lovers time! Eggplant, limas, okra and peppers, pumpkins! Transplant early-maturing varieties of beans, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Sow and/or transplant asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, chard, corn, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, heat-tolerant leaf lettuce, okra, summer-maturing onions, parsley, peanuts, the last peas (choose a heat-tolerant variety such as Wando), white potatoes with zucchini, radishes (with cukes to repel cuke beetles, and with eggplant to repel flea beetles), rhubarb, and spinach.

Choose heat and drought tolerant varieties when you can. For example, why wait when it gets HOT and your tomato stops setting fruit?! Get heat tolerant varieties! Check out this nifty page of options at Bonnie Plants! Tomatoes are the Fireworks of Your Summer Garden!

Tomatoes! Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts, Fusarium and Verticillium. Instead, get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In Santa Barbara area continued drought conditions, consider getting only indeterminates. In the Mother Earth News tomato survey, they found gardeners chose heirlooms over hybrids if their soil is wilt/blight free. Otherwise, the longer the gardener has gardened, they more they chose wilt resistant toms if their soil has fungi. La Sumida has the largest tomato selection in the Santa Barbara area! See Special Planting and growing tips for your Tomatoes and Cucumbers! 

Time for heat-resistant, bolt-resistant lettuces of all kinds! Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson are some. Tips for super Successful Transplanting!

Strengthen your garden! Remember, plan your Companions! Keep the biodiversity rolling! Plant pest deterring plants first so they will be up and working when you put in your or seeds or transplants!

  • Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions!
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill to go with pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!

Keep ’em coming! If you have already done some planting, mid to late April, schedule to pop in another round! Poke in some bean seeds where your very last peas are finishing, add cucumber seeds between the beans, plus dill at each end of the trellis to be there when you pickle your cukes! Plant more radishes to deter the Cucumber beetles, repel flea beetles. Fill in spots that could use a helper companion plant like calendula or chamomile. Succession planting makes such good sense. Put your seeds and transplants in at the same time. Seedlings will come along 6 to 8 weeks behind your transplants so you have a steady supply of yummy veggies! But, again, if tending seedlings isn’t your cup of tea, just leave space and put in more transplants in 6 to 8 weeks after your first planting.

It is perfect to put in fast growers like lettuce, beets, turnips, arugula, to hold space until you are ready to plant bigger plants. When it’s time for the bigger ones, clear a space/harvest, pop in your seeds or transplants and let them grow up among the littles. As the bigger plants start to shade out the littles, remove lower leaves so the littles get light too! If you anticipate a HOT summer, plant littles on the morning light side of larger plants.

Put in borders of slow but low growers like carrots, mini cabbages, in more permanent placements, like on what will become the morning side of taller backdrop plants like peppers and eggplant.

Natural Disease & Pest Prevention!

  1. Be wise and pick the right plant varieties for your temps and conditions! Get heat tolerant, bolt resistant, drought tolerant, disease tolerant/resistant. If you are just starting, just start! You will learn as you go. Our climate is changing, so we are all adjusting and plants will be being hybridized, and hybridize naturally, for new climates. We can get varieties from other areas that are already used to conditions we will be having. Together we will do this.
  2. Think biodiversity! Plant companion plants that repel pests, enhance each other’s growth so they are strong and pest and disease resistant. Mix it up! Less planting in rows. Split up groups so pests won’t go from one plant to the next, and the next. Allow enough room for air space between, no leaves of mature plants touching each other. That breaks up micro pest and disease habitats.
  3. Make top notch soil! Make compost. Grow worms for castings. In planting areas add tasty properly aged manure mixes. Add non-fat powdered milk for immediate immune system support at planting time; put in a finely ground bone meal for later uptake when your plant gets to flowering time. Sprinkle mycorrhizae fungi directly on transplant roots, all but Brassicas, at planting time to increase their uptake of nutrients and water.
  4. Immediately drench your transplants, foliar feed, with a non-fat powdered milk, baking soda, aspirin, soap mix to jazz up their immune systems. Specially give your peppers an Epsom salt and soap mix bath for a taste of sulfur. More details and all the recipes.
  5. Maintenance! Keep your plants strong while they are working hard! Be ready to do a little cultivating composts and manures in during the season (called sidedressing), or adding fish/kelp emulsion mixes if you don’t have predator pests like skunks! Keep your plants watered and vibrant, but not so much as to make their leaves soft and inviting to munching insect pests like aphids. Trap gophers immediately if you are able.
  6. Harvest promptly. Insects and diseases know when plants are softening and losing strength as they age. Insects are nature’s cleaner uppers, and they and diseases are hungry! If leaves are yellowing or not looking up to par, remove them. Whiteflies are attracted to yellow.
  7. Prevention A frustrating typical spring disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on late peas, Curly Leaf kales, broccoli. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day if transplanting. A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! See Aspirin Solution.

Water Wise Practices!

  • Please always be building compost. Compost increases your soil’s water holding capacity.
  • This California drought year consider planting IN furrows, where the moisture settles. Plant crosswise to the Sun’s arc so the plants’ root areas will be slightly shaded by the depth of the furrow in early AM and late afternoon.
  • Make mounds with basins on top. Rather than losing water to evaporation from overhead watering, put the water right where it will do the most good and nowhere else. Make the mound to the dripline of your plant so small surface feeder roots get moisture for food uptake. For larger leaved plants, put a stake in the center of the basin so you know where to water. With a long watering wand you can water under the leaves rather than on them ~ unless they need a bath.
  • And, PLEASE MULCH. It keeps your soil cooler, moister, less water needed. And it stops light germinating weed seeds! Plant littles like lettuces, a bit more densely, under larger plants to make living mulch.
  • Sprinkle and pat on Mycorrhiza fungi right on the roots of your transplants when you put them in the ground. It increases uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for it bulk at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta.
  • Dust Mulching, cultivation, weeding, is perfect to break up exposed soil surface. That keeps the water from wicking to the surface and evaporating. If you use a hula hoe you do two things at once! Just a half to one inch depth cuts off weed sprouts that use water. Indeed, it turns the soil a tad, all that’s needed. More weeds will follow, but it’s quick and easy to repeat the process. Two, three times, a few days apart, and there will be few weeds after that for awhile. Get ’em while they are small and easy to do. Smart gardening.

Put in last minute amendments, soil preps for May plantings of Cantaloupe, okra, tomatoes. About Manures

Keep COMPOSTING! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, feeds just perfectly! And if you made it, you know what’s in it! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist. Giving back to Mama Earth is nature’s natural way! And, like Will Allen says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins.

Plant Bee Food, Herbs and Flowers! Sow or transplant basil, borage, chervil, chamomile, chives, cilantro, comfrey, dill, fennel, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme. Be mindful where you plant them… Mediterranean herbs from southern France, like lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme, do well in hot summer sun and poor but well-drained soil with minimal fertilizer. On the other hand, basil, chives, coriander (cilantro), and parsley thrive in richer soil with more frequent watering. Wise planting puts chives by your broccoli, kale, but away from peas if you are still growing some. Cilantro, a carrot family workhorse, discourages harmful insects such as aphids, potato beetles and spider mites, attracts beneficial insects when in bloom. Dill is a natural right next to the cucumbers since you will use the dill if you make pickles. They mature about the same time. Let some of your arugula, carrots, lettuces, cilantro bloom! Bees, and insect eating birds and beneficial insects love them and you will get some seeds – some for the birds, some for you, some to swap! Grow beauty – cosmos, marigolds, white sweet alyssum – all benefit your garden in their own way!

…each a miracle of seed and sun, I’ve always been one to enjoy tomato or cucumber right off the vine, with never a trip into the house—one magical wipe down a shirt-front and they’re ready.. ~ commenter Rachel

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Please enjoy a few March garden images!
See the entire April Newsletter! (Sign up for it if you like!)

April – Time for Exciting Heat Lovers!
Quick Guide to Summer Favorites Veggie Soil & Temp Preferences!
Peppers, HOT or Not!
Other Community Gardens – Wayside Chapel Edible Rooftop Veggie Garden! 

Events! Botanic Garden SPRING Plant Sale! CEC EARTH DAY Celebration 2017, Permaculture at Quail Springs!

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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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Arch Trellis Squash Melon Cucumbers

Get those fruits off the ground! An arched trellis saves space and is magical! You can build one easily yourself. It will make shade when covered! Keep it narrow? Read more!

Kinds of squashies!

Summer: Zucchini, crookneck, Pattypan/scalloped, loofah.

Zucchini Squash Costata Romanesco Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden

 

 

Select heat tolerant Moschata type varieties or super productive types like Costata Romanesco! In the image at left, you can see that Italian variety makes a zucchini at every leaf!

Super Vibrant Crookneck Squash!

Besides different varieties of squashes, there are different sized plants! Zucchini, for example comes in the traditional vining type that will easily take up to 15′ in length, and in container or dwarf varieties that travel very little. Both do get good 1’+ wide leaves, so you still need to allot ample space!

Fig Leaf Squash, Chilacayote ~ Cucurbita ficifolia, a Mexican cuisine favorite!

 


Smooth south of the Border summer squash Chilacayote, aka Malabar or Fig Gourd, Cucurbita ficifolia grows 10-15 pound fruits, the vines are 50-70 feet and can produce 50 fruits. The fruits can be eaten young and tender or harvested at full maturity like the one in the image at left. See more!

Japanese Winter Squash Black Futsu


Winter
squash favorites are grown in summer but harden for winter storage! Winter squash, aka Waltham or butternut, and also Acorn and Pumpkins. Pumpkins are cosmic Beings, of course. There are tons of other exotic colors and forms including warty Hogwarts types like this Japanese Black Futsu Squash!

Plan for Companions!

Plant potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugsRadish with cukes & zukes to trap flea beetles and repel cucumber beetles.

Preplant the companions so they will be up to do their jobs when your seedlings are starting and especially before your squash (and cucumbers) start blooming.

Planting!

Start planting from seed in a SoCal warm winter in January after average last frost dates for your area. They are frost sensitive, so keep your seeds handy just in case you need to replant after a late frost.

Squashes grow best in full sun, days at least 70 degrees and nights to dip no lower than 40 degrees. They like rich well-drained soil, high in organic matter, and require a high level of feeding. Zucchini, in particular, produce a lot and get hungry!

PreSoak your seeds overnight 8 to 10 hours. 60 Degree soil works though they do better when it’s warmer, 70 – 95.

Spacing depends on what kind of squash you are planting, whether it will be going up a trellis. If you are in a drought area, make a basin as big as the anticipated feeder root growth area expected. Make the basin lower than the surrounding soil level so moisture is retained. Put in a 5′ tall stake where your plant root grows from so you know where to water when the leaves get big and obscure the area. Water only there unless your plant’s leaves get dusty. If they need a bath, preferably spritz them in the morning so they are dry by evening. Mulch the basin well. Replenish time to time as needed.

If you don’t trellis your butternuts, put an aluminum pie tin upside down underneath them. The tin reflects light and heat up to the squash, and keeps it off the ground so it won’t be nibbled or damaged.

Pests

The mighty pests of squashes are squash bugs and cucumber beetles. Plant potatoes, insect repelling herbs, and radish among your squash. Let them grow up through the squash plant leaves wafting their scents adrift through warm foliage discouraging the pests. Check out this IPM page.

Ants/aphids and whiteflies may put in appearances. Hose away until they are gone. Sprinkle the ground with cinnamon to repel aphid-tending ants. Remove any yellowing leaves throughout your garden that attract whiteflies. Water less. Remove unhealthy leaves that may lay on the ground and harbor pests or diseases. Thin some leaves away to improve air circulation.

Lay down some Sluggo or the house brand to stop snails and slugs. Two or three times and the generations of those pests will be gone.

Remove pest attracting weed habitat.

Diseases

Best of all is to plant powdery mildew resistant varieties:

  • Cucumber: Diva
  • Yellow Summer Squash: Success, Sunray, Sunglo
  • Zucchini: Ambassador, Wildcat
  • Pumpkin: 18 Karat Gold, Gladiator

Otherwise, when you install transplants or your seedlings get about 4 to 6″ tall, treat them with your baking soda, powdered milk, aspirin foliar feed as prevention!  Water the soil not the leaves or blossoms. Avoid harvesting plants while they are wet. Water in the morning so plants can dry before damp evenings.

Equisetum (Horsetail) tea is the sovereign remedy for fighting fungus — especially damp-off disease on young seedlings. Spray on the soil as well as plant. Chamomile tea and garlic teas are also used to fight mildew on cucumbers and squash. Compost tea inoculates your plants with a culture of beneficial microorganisms.

Harvest

With zucchini, check your plant frequently and look carefully! Overnight a monster can occur! Wait three days, and….OMG!!! Harvest when the fruits are small if you know you won’t be able to keep up and you have already given so many away people stay away from you now!

Store your Veggies under the bed!Storage

Winter squash and pumpkins, potatoes prefer room temp! Store them in clear containers so you can see what’s in ’em! Tasty veggies all winter long!

There is in-your-fridge storage, can’t wait to eat it! Extra summer squash love hanging out in the fridge, but not for long! They are more soft than carrots or peppers, so give away what you won’t use asap.

SAVING SEEDS!

Squashes from different species can be grown next to each other. Separate different squash varieties in the same species by at least 1/2 mile to ensure purity. Experienced, home, seed savers grow more than one variety in a single garden by using hand pollinating techniques. Squash flowers are large and relatively easy to hand pollinate.

Squash must be fully mature before harvested for seed production. This means that summer squashes must be left on the vine until the outer shell hardens. Chop open hard-shelled fruits and scoop out seeds. Rinse clean in wire strainer with warm, running water. Dry with towel and spread on board or cookie sheet to complete drying. Allow to cure 3-4 additional weeks after harvest to encourage further seed ripening. Their viability is 5-6 years.

Culinary Treats!

Nutrition varies considerably from a green summer zucchini to a butternut winter squash! Calories, vitamins, etc. Here is undated information from a non commercial site that may get you thinking.

Asian Winter Squash Kabocha Stew BowlKabocha Squash, aka Japanese pumpkin, are considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures! It makes a lovely Asian Winter Stew Bowl!

One of the most unusual squash foods is Squash Blossoms! Delicious fried or stuffed! Zucchini flowers are a great source of folic acid and are often “prescribed” for those who are lethargic, anemic or pregnant! You may be given a choice of male or female flowers. Both are edible but you’ll find that the femalesZucchini Squash Zoodles Kale Pesto Edamame Recipe are slightly more robust (with larger innards and a little zucchini for a stem) which just means they’ll need to cook a little longer. If you have the universal problem of more zucchini than friends who will accept them, then harvest the females! Tromboncino, Italian for Little Trumpet, summer squash make excellent squash blossoms for stuffing!

‘Long about late June, July, gardeners are starting to seek new ways to enjoy their Zucchini! Try ZOODLES! Here are 28 cool summer recipes on how to deliciously enjoy this common veggie in unique ways!

Pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie! Make Tasty Zucchini Chips. Stuff anything and everything! Broiled, Zuke-Cilantro soup, cornbread, fritters, rollups, pancakes, kabobs! Sticks, pickled, lasagna! Crispy fresh slices in salads! Simply steaming squashes is one of the all time summer garden favorites!

Summer Squash Pattypan Green and Yellow

One way or another, Squashes just keep you smiling! 

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for SoCal 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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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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