Saturday, August 31, 2013

It’s Planting Season: Considerations for Selecting Perennial Plants

The following summarizes the advice I’ve received concerning determining what perennial plants to use in your garden. I limit this to perennial plants because annuals don’t typically represent a big investment (they are temporary, so it doesn’t require as much thought).

Once you’ve decided to add a perennial to your garden, consideration should be given to the following since these will influence the success or failure:

Plant factors
  • Choose plants that naturally grow in your area. Native plants are a great choice. They are already adapted to the amount of sun, rainfall, & temperature swings (as well as other climatological factors) in your area. Also, native plants are not likely to create problems for other plants or wildlife by crowding out native plants.
  • Select hardy plants that can thrive with intermittent or little care. Choose plants that can withstand variations in watering and fertilization schedules.
  • Select plants that are interesting or colorful and/or produce fruit for you or for wildlife. These plants will bring you enjoyment throughout the year. Also, consider plants that create habitat for butterflies, birds, and other native or migratory species.

Other factors
  • Be aware of microclimate conditions of your planting site. For example, is it heavily shaded or does it get a lot of morning or afternoon sun? Does it stay wet or drain readily. While the sunlight issues may require relocation, you can amend the soil to address water issues.
  • Consider mulching or other weed suppression techniques to prevent your addition from becoming another source of work for you. Mulching has the added benefit of retaining moisture so you have to water less frequently.
     Plan to dig a planting hold that is sized appropriately for your plant (three times the width of the root ball/pot and no deeper than the root ball or pot).
  • Amend your soil to suit your plant and soil type. I have sandy soil, so unless plants like that soil type, I always add lots of compost and vermicompost to my planting holes. Some people recommend mycorrhiza additions to aide in root formation and growth.

Naturally, when you water your new addition, consider using vermicompost tea if it is not too late in the year (you don't want a burst of new growth before first frost).

I hope you find this discussion useful.



Sunday, August 18, 2013

Show me your worm bin

This is an opportunity to show the many varieties of worm bins htat people make.

There is no right or wrong way when it comes to vermicompost. I think of it like gardening-- whatever works for you is the "right way".

I plan to update this blog as I receive additional photos.

I received these photos from Alain. He explains his system as follows:

I reuse styrofoam salmon shipping boxes and amke a three-tiered bin:
• bottom level collects drainage (worm bin leachate)
• middle level has small drain holes
• top level has no bottom.

Worms go in the middle level and food/newspaper is added. The one photo is labeled.

Thanks for sharing Alain!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

More on lawn seed-- adding mini clover

It is about that time of year when lawn patching should be done. 

I want to share my experience with a recent addition to my lawn seed mix: mini clover. Mini clover has all the benefits of white clover without some of the problems. I added mini clover to may lawn seed mix last year and I am very happy with the performance.

Mixed with my usual blend of grasses (see below), mini clover grows among the grass plants (forming small leaves when cut), feeding the lawn nitrogen, and aerating with deep roots. The nitrogen is released into the soil throughout the growing season (until the first frost). Thus, nitrogen is available when and where it is needed, and so there is no risk of runoff or burning. Because nitrogen is continually and slowly available during the growing season there is a reduced presence of disease like powdery mildew, rusts, and smut that can appear due to an overabundance of nitrogen (see

Traffic tolerance of turf containing mini clover will be superior to traditional turf or traditional white clover. Like other clover, mini clover fertilizes and improves wear tolerance in general. Also, because it is shorter, it does not suffer from being chopped to the stolon during mowing (which can make traditional clover can be difficult to retain when it exceeds mowing height).

Additionally, mini clover is semi-aggressive species (not as aggressive as White Dutch Clover), filling in bare spots where traditional grass may not repair for months. Mini clover competes well with weeds, thus reducing the need for herbicides. Note that broad-leaf herbicides will also kill mini clover so be careful with your weed control.

You can rad more and purchase mini clover at Outside Pride.

My grass seed mix*:
40% Fescue
30% Perennial rye
20% Kentucky Bluegrass
10% Mini clover
*Note that the first  four in the list are found in Allen Sterling and Lothrop's Bayscaper Mix.

--I received no compensation for this review.--



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Celebrating 5 Years!

I am amazed that my WormMainea blog is 5 years old.  I've written almost 100 blogs in that time on topics ranging from vermicomposting to organic gardening to energy efficiency (with some nature and adventure blogs inserted here and there).

When I look back at my posts and I see the number of views and comments, I see that you, my readers, have wide ranging interests as I do—vermicomposting and organic/natural approaches to energy efficiency and posts about nature. I will continue to post on these topics and others.
I hope you, my readers, find my blog interesting and informative, but mostly I hope you enjoy reading it (at least as much as I enjoy writing). 

Coming up: I am planning future blogs on the following topics:
  •  other people's worm bin pics. If you have a bin that you’d like to show, please send me a photo and brief description. There are many varieties of worm bins and I’d like to show that breadth on my blog for others to consider.
  • homemade Christmas gifts
  • outdoor composting
  • vermicompost separation (or sorting) with accompanying video
  • shingles
Let me know if you have any questions or would like me to blog about any other vermicomposting topics. 

Also, if you have not already, please LIKE WormMainea on Facebook.

Cheers and thank you for reading.


Friday, August 2, 2013

How long do I have to wait before I can harvest compost from my worm bin?

This is a question that I receive very frequently. The answer is... it depends (everyone loves that!). 

In this case, it really depends on a number of factors:  1) what you feed your worms (that is, the type of food) 2) whether you put the food in whole or chop it up and 3.) how warm the soil is.  Note that these are all factors that you can control. I will describe the factors in greater detail below and tell you how to speed up the process (assuming that is what you want to do).

1. Type of food that you feed your worms
This may or may not be obvious, but the types of food you regularly feed make a big difference on how quickly your vermicompost will be ready to harvest. Consider strawberries and potatoes left out on the kitchen counter. In 3-5 days the strawberries will turn to mush and be covered in a grey, fuzzy mold. In that time the potatoes have only gotten in the way and even after a few months all that will happen is that they may turn a bit green and sprout from a few of the eyes. The same thing in your worm bin-- some foods (like tree fruit) decompose really quickly. Whereas other foods (ground contact veggies and fibrous food) breakdown very slowly. Every family will have a different mix of food that breaks down at different rates, so only you can estimate how quickly the foods that you typically add will decompose. If you want to make things go very quickly, add more foods that break down quickly.

2. Surface area of the food
If you chop/grate/mash/slice or otherwise make your food smaller (more easily accessible for decomposition), it will breakdown more quickly. For some foods, this includes freezing or heating the food to break the cell walls prior to placing it in the worm bin. For example, squash breaks down more quickly when cooked and leafy greens turn to mush after freezing. In general, if you juice your food (everything going into your bin is pulp), your worm bin can be ready to harvest in as little as 60 days. If you want to make things go very quickly, increase the surface area or break the cell walls using a food processor/blender and/or heat/freeze before adding to your worm bin.

3. Soil temperature
Soil temperature dictates the activity of the worms as well as the other organisms that assist in the decomposition of the food. In general, warmer temps make the process go more quickly. I recommend your soil temp remain between 65-75F to prevent problems. Temps above 75F can rapidly move into the 90+F range which will most likely kill your worms. I recommend a soil thermometer and a gentle warming method (like a root heater for seedlings). If you want to make things go very quickly, warm your worm bin soil up to 70-75F.

So if you want to speed things up, now you know what to do. 



Sunday, June 16, 2013

Acceptable damage: patience and the organic method

With the organic approach you have to be patient and allow nature time to work. This is difficult for me (if you know me, you understand), but I try. A good example of patience is aphids and our plum trees.

Plum (Stanley)  tree.
I love these plum trees. We planted them in the hope that eventually they would produce enough plums to make a pie (but I digress).

A large part of the organic approach is surveying your property. That means walking around and looking at plants to see what's going on. Last week I noticed that there were aphids on the new growth, and that they were starting to make the leaves curl. Some would respond with a spray of poison, but I know better than that. I wanted to grab the hose and spray them all down with a strong stream of water (aphids are weak and many would die with just a strong stream of water knocking them from the leaves).

My plum trees are healthy and can survive a little damage.  And, I know that if I leave them (and don't spray poison), the predators will come (and not be killed by the poison). The predators will feed on the aphids and then multiply to make more predators.

Aphids are at the bottom of the food chain, and are prey to a bunch of wonderful beneficial predators (lady bug beetles, predatory wasps, etc.). So, against my nature, I decided to do nothing and let nature work (the population of prey should serve as a magnet for their predators).

The magnet!

One week later, and here are the results-- HOORAY!!! The predators are here.

(You may need to click on the photos and enlarge to see the subjects in the following photos.)

Look closely-- that's an Assassin bug-- SO COOL! They control a wide range of pests. 
Lady bug beetles. The adults and nymphs eat aphids like grapes.

Eggs of something. (If you know what these are, send me an e-mail.)

Predatory wasp.

A different predatory wasp doing his thing (laying eggs inside the aphids). Just one o'clock from center.
Aphids after the predators-- the black aphids show that the predatory wasps have been there and more wasps are on the way.

The predators responded to the bloom of the aphid population and, because my trees are not coated with poison) they are controlling the outbreak. The predators will multiply and thrive in my yard and surroundings to control future outbreaks (I'm pesticide free, so there is nothing to harm the natural predators-- who control many pests). More importantly, the damage to my trees was very minimal, and I have another reminder as to the many benefits of the organic approach and giving nature time to work.

My next step for these plants is a band of Tanglefoot (on the lower trunk of the trees) keep the ant and caterpillar population down.

I should be enjoying some plums in early September. YUM!



Friday, April 12, 2013

The Joys of Teaching Vermicomposting

I truly enjoy teaching about vermicomposting.

These photos are from a class I taught in Scarborough in February through the Adult Ed program.

That evening was quite snowy. Despite the weather more than a dozen people turned out to learn about indoor vermicpomposting.

The photos below show some of the highlights of the class.