The third- and fourth-graders from Longfellow Elementary School in Spokane surrounded a big tube soil. The looks on their faces were skeptical. What do you mean there are potatoes in there?
Six sets of hands hesitantly dug into the dirt. All of a sudden, a hand brought up a round, red-skinned potato. Eyes got big. There are potatoes in there! After that it might as well have been the California Gold Rush all over again as they dug for the treasure. This is the joy of gardening with children. When their skepticism is overcome by the joy of discovery, it’s magical.
To garden with children, start with a raised bed or several large pots filled with good-quality compost or potting mix. If you start with ordinary dirt, you stand a chance of failure, and the children might think it’s their fault and that will shake their confidence.
Put the garden in a sunny place they can easily access to see what’s happening.
To decide what to plant, ask them about their favorite vegetables. This always leads to some interesting answers, some of which aren’t going to be practical. If the idea is far-fetched, break it down into manageable pieces. If they want to grow a pizza, then discuss what vegetables they like on their pizza. Tomatoes, onions, green peppers and sage are all easy to grow in a garden. This can be their pizza garden. This combination can also make a salsa garden.
Scorching summer heat waves are setting record high temperatures throughout much of the country and will continue in many regions for the rest of the season. Despite the weather, you can help your lawn and garden thrive in … Read More…
There are plenty of options for raising composting worms in bins, from basic home-made boxes to high-tech structures that can be purchased at retail stores or through the Internet. I tried many types of worm bins before finally settling on a simple and effective version as the best for my purposes, and will share that design with you today.
This home-made worm bin is based on a Vermiculture workshop that I attended at the Rodale Institute several years ago and have I have managed to keep a colony of composting worms alive and well ever since then with no losses. By “no losses” I mean that the worm population did not die off or migrate out of the bin.
Achieving Care Free Success with Composting Worms
In addition the bedding has remained in good condition, the worms have multiplied, and the moisture levels have remained consistent without the extremes of drying out or becoming over saturated to the point of leaching liquids. My bin has been relatively care free; all I’ve done is feed the worms.
The only possible issue has been the infiltration of foreign soil organisms such as snails and other tiny creatures. Even this has not created a problem and probably could have been avoided if I had not introduced organic matter and some yard waste from the garden into the bin. On the other hand the diversity could actually be a sign of a healthy bin and nothing has grown out of control at this point.
Creating a Simple Worm Bin out of Recycled Materials
But let me get back to the worm bin itself and share how easy it is for you to make one for yourself. Most of the bins that you find will be made out of plastic or wood, but the material of choice for my bin is Styrofoam. Like the common Styrofoam coolers that you are familiar with, but I recommend recycling the Styrofoam shipping containers that you can find at pet stores. They are larger, sturdy, and used to transport aquarium fish and other critters to the stores.
The thing that makes Styrofoam ideal for shipping aquarium fish also helps create a great environment for worms; it’s the insulating properties! My worms love their Styrofoam bin. How do I know? Well besides them surviving, and multiplying, they never wander off even though my bin has large holes drilled all over it. That is all there is to the bin construction, you simply drill one inch size holes into the sides and bottom the Styrofoam tub.
Adding Bedding and Red Wiggler Worms to the Bin
I’ve come to wonder about the necessity of the holes, and in my next bin I may skip them altogether. Or maybe I’ll just place a single hole at one end of the worm bin just in case there ever is any excess moisture that needs to drain off, even though that hasn’t been the case since I began using this type of bin. I do keep a shallow tray underneath the bin to protect the floor and the bin itself sits on a few one by one wood strips to allow for air circulation.
When I first started this bin I used shredded newspaper that was moistened and a couple handfuls of garden soil. The soil added a bit of biology to an otherwise rather sterile environment and the newspaper made up the bulk of bedding material that the worms live in. Place a few inches of bedding on the bottom of the bin, sprinkle the soil across, and then add the composting worms to the center. Top things off with a few more inches of bedding, put the lid on, and your bin is ready to work.
Feeding the Worms and Basic Maintenance of the Bin
To feed I usually bury a thin layer of kitchen scraps in the bedding to start with. Over time as the bedding is converted into compost and castings I will just place the food on top over a third to half of the bedding surface of the bin. I also cut a piece of heavy cardboard to lay across the top of the bedding/food in the worm bin. The worms love scraps like salad mixes that are beginning to decompose, cantaloupe rinds, and they will even eat paper.
You can use a spray bottle of distilled or spring water to mist the bedding if it shows signs of drying out, but my bin has seemed to maintain enough moisture that I have not needed to mist it on a regular basis. Over time you will see the depth of the bedding rise as the worms convert the food scraps into rich, dark brown, castings. The worm castings are an amazing soil conditioner and plant fertilizer that will find many uses in the garden and I will talk more about that in a future article.
I first suspected that agave snout-nosed weevil had arrived in my rural community north of San Diego when I noticed a collapsed Agave americana in a friend’s yard. I could barely believe it. She lives atop a rocky hill surrounded by acres and acres of chaparral. Either the weevil had arrived via infested nursery stock (on a different agave most likely, seeing as the dying plant was part of an old colony), or it had walked in. Yes, walked. It’s a flightless beetle.
Not long afterwards, I saw telltale signs of snout weevil infestation a block from my home: An agave’s center was upright but its lower leaves had collapsed. (It’s shown here between two healthy ones.)
I’ve since observed that it takes a captive weevil ten days to die despite receiving no water nor food. “Mine” traveled about 4 inches per second and was a good climber.
Consider: If a dying agave hosts dozens of grubs that turn into beetles, and they scatter in different directions, one or more will certainly find another agave.
This fast-spreading pest prefers variegated (striped) Agave americana (century plants) but will go after other species and members of the Agavaceae family. It leaves behind collapsed plants with gooey, grub-infested cores.
If you live where agaves thrive in landscapes and gardens, snout-nose is likely in your area or soon will be. Because the beetle is most active in spring, now is the time to pre-emptively treat healthy agaves. Find out what experts recommend.
How to tell if you have an infested agave. How, when, and why the beetle attacks. How to protect your plants from infestation. Which varieties are most and least at risk. Safe ways to grow agaves in weevil areas. How to remove an infested agave. Updates on weevil controls.
One silver lining of the coronavirus lockdown is that it comes at the start of the growing season. Between now and the fall, folks have the chance to coax food from the soil while also feeding the soul.
This year, a vegetable garden may also provide one thing we seem to be lacking at the moment: control over our lives. It includes the satisfaction of raising nutritious and delicious food, exercising outdoors while socially distancing, relieving pressure on the nation’s food supply system, passing essential knowledge on to your children and growing extra to share with others. At the very least, it’s a constructive distraction in a confined environment.
You can think of it as a Doomsday Garden; I prefer to regard the spring 2020 plot as the Stick It to the Virus Garden.
The coronavirus pandemic, and the broad quarantine guidelines that were put in place to help curb the spread of COVID-19, mean that Americans are spending more time at home than ever before. Staying home doesn’t have to be boring, though; in fact, we think this is the perfect time to exercise your green thumb. After all, if you’re going to log more hours in your own backyard, don’t you want it to be beautiful? Whether you’re new to gardening or consider yourself a total pro, there’s always an opportunity to pick up a few new skills. Now, the New York Botanical Garden is offering online classes—up to seven each day of the week—on a variety of different green topics, Apartment Therapy reports, so you can brush up on your gardening skills from the comfort of your own home.
If you’re interested in signing up, do so soon. One of the most popular classes—Botanical Watercolor for Beginners and Beyond—already has a waitlist for its May 4th session. “Enjoy painting botanical watercolors in a relaxed atmosphere. This class is designed for both inexperienced students and those who wish to improve their skills,” the course’s description on the NYBG website reads.
Most times when we think of gardening, we envision a nicely laid out plot of straight rows of beans, corn, and other garden veggies. Often, we don’t consider other opportunities to produce great crops away from the garden and in unconventional methods.
One of these ways is through container gardening. Not everyone has the acreage or square footage in the yard, such as people who live in apartments, to plant a garden. Others may not have the time or energy required to manage and maintain a garden plot. Container gardening can offer the benefits of fresh produce and the satisfaction of growing your own crops without the extra responsibilities of a conventional garden.
One of the added benefits of container gardening is being able to protect your crops from damaging frosts at the beginning or end of the season by bringing the entire plant and container inside a garage or other shelter.
Containerized gardens are also easier to cover with protective fabric or another covering to save them from frost damage.
Here’s a really quick, easy, and simple hack for growing mushrooms at home with just a few easily obtainable items. I learned this technique from a couple members of the Georgia Mushroom Growers Club at the Radical Mycology Convergence in New York last September.
The ingredient list is short and consists of “Yesterday’s News” Kitty Litter (unused and unsoiled of course), Guinea Pig food, distilled water, plastic bags, and some mushroom spawn of varieties such as oyster or shiitake. Sterile conditions are not necessary for success and there is no heating or pasteurization required.
One of the Easiest Ways You’ll Ever Find to Grow Mushrooms at Home
This process is very simple! You place four cups of “Yesterday’s News” Kitty Litter in a clean container and add four cups of distilled or de-chlorinated water. Let sit until all of the water is absorbed by the kitty litter, then mix in one-third cup of Guinea Pig Food and three-fourths cup of mushroom spawn. This mixture is then packed tightly into a plastic bag. Those long slender sleeve type bags work perfectly for this task.
Tamp the media down to compress it and remove as much air as possible, then twist and tie a knot so that you are left with a solid tube of inoculated mushroom growing substrate. Cut four one inch slits in the sides of the bag to allow the spawn to breathe and place the bag in a dark, cool spot.
The Spawn Run and Colonization of Your Mushroom Bags
Then it’s just a matter of time as you wait for the mushroom mycelium to spread throughout the kitty litter substrate. Once everything is fully colonized you will notice the light colored mycelium is visible throughout the mixture of kitty litter and mushroom spawn. As is typical with mushroom spawn, it has to run through and fully consume the nutrients in the growing substrate before fruiting.
You will eventually get budding and see tiny clusters of mushrooms start to pop out in various parts of the bag where they are receiving air from the tiny perforations that were made in the plastic bag. At this point the bag should be in an area where it can receive light, but avoid placing it in direct sunlight or where it could over heat or dry out. A slightly humid location is also good but not critical for success.
Fruiting and Harvesting the Mushrooms in a Matter of Days
At this fruiting stage the mushrooms will grow rapidly and should be ready to harvest within a few days. You can lightly mist the bags with a spray bottle of non-chlorinated water to help the mushroom form but don’t overdo it. Harvest the mushrooms as soon as they reach full size and before they begin to release any spores.
I haven’t tried this yet, but you should be able to let the bags rest for a couple weeks then soak them in water over night to coax a second fruiting out of them. I have some other ideas that I plan to experiment with to keep the spawn going and I will share them if it is successful. Even if this is only a one or two harvest application it will still be worth the effort. The spent bags of mycelium can be composted, broken up and used as a soil amendment, or be fed to earthworms if you have a worm bin.
So if you’ve wanted to try your hand at cultivating mushrooms this is a great way to start the journey. It’s also pretty satisfying as you can go from start to finish in a month or so with just a handful of ingredients and no special equipment!