Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Making Vermicompost Tea

Items used:
Large bottle
Cheese cloth
Bit of hemp string
Water (allowed to sit for at least 24 hrs)

A piece of cheese cloth, doubled over works well as the tea bag. Scoop in some vermicompost. I didn't follow any ratios, just guessed as to a good amount for the size of the bottle used. This elongated shape fit inside the bottle well.

Roll it up

Tie it off with elastics at each end and some string to ensure the vermicompost doesn't all spill out in the water. Pop that baby into the bottle filled with water that's been sitting for a while to get rid of any chlorine.

Add a stick for easy lifting and jostling of the tea bag. Some sites I read call for aeration, but I'm no professional and think stirring it frequently will be good enough. You can use a fish pump for aeration if you have one. Here is the vermicompost tea after steeping for 24 hours:
I think I'll let it sit for another few days and then water my indoor plants with it.

Vermicompost: Storing & Using on the Balcony Garden

We used our worm compost on all of the plants on our balcony garden by spreading it around the topsoil. We are making a vermicompost tea solution to water our indoor plants with.
Once I had obtained my vermicompost I had to deal with the issue of how to store it. I did a bit of online research and what I read in this helpful blog post is that if you have vermicompost (a mix of worm castings, partially decomposed bedding material and other stuff from your bin) then it should be stored in a container that is not air tight. The reason is that all of that extra material will continue breaking down and if there's no ventilation it could be really smelly and foul. This article also suggests that you first dry out your vermicompost so it's not too wet before putting it in a container. If you have vermicastings (only worm castings, ie you've taken/sifted out all of the other matter) then it is best to store this in an air tight container.
I know from looking at what I harvested from my bin that I do not have pure castings, although they compose the majority of my harvest's contents. There are still remnants of hay and newspaper that were on their way to being broken down completely. It is not wet, but just damp. I figure I will just use a plastic tupper ware container and punch some holes in the lid to store my vermicompost in.
I think the addition of the worm castings to our potted plants is already helping them and am noticing that they are retaining moisture better, requiring less frequent watering (although it could just be the humid weather we're having).
We tightened in our plants, bringing the marigolds off the rails closer to our tomato and other plants in the hopes that their pest repelling properties will help. There are no longer aphids on anything on the table (below), plus the ladybugs are kicking ass on the morning glory vine on the wall. What remains in terms of edible crops are 5 tomato plants (3 cherry, 2 pomodoro), spinach I planted a few weeks ago (enjoys cooler weather than this), garlic chives, mixed herbs, and the pole beans (haven't produced any beans yet - have been spritzing with water). Here's a few pictures of our garden these days:

The blue variety of Morning Glory I planted this year (above) and an awesome show of flowers this morning (below)

The first flowers on the tomatoes we started from seed! (above)
A wasp (?) on the bean plant (below)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ladybugs to the Rescue

Earlier I posted about aphids entering my balcony garden. They affected the lettuce (which we removed), and were spreading to the tomatoes. We then discovered them on the morning glory vines. I had submitted to defeat figuring there was too much vine for them to eat it all, but lo and behold, nature provided its own solution with the sudden appearance of ladybug larvae, which eat aphids! They are crawling all over the morning glory, like guardians of the vine. A little ecosystem in itself, the balcony garden finds its balance. This also gets me thinking about how balcony gardens/rooftop gardens may seem removed from nature below, but they are just as subject to its forces as more traditional ground level gardens.

Ladybug in larval stage on my Morning Glory plant

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Harvesting the Vermicomposting Bin

Yesterday we harvested our vermicomposting bin in order to obtain the useful worm castings they have been producing. As you can see (below) the level of material in the bin decreased dramatically over the 3 months as the worms broke down their bedding and the food scraps I gave them. The original level was near the top piece of duct tape.

There were several steps involved in the harvesting:

1) Preparing new bedding for the worms. - We did this in a large recyclables bag, in which we shredded newspaper just like the first time we made bedding for our worms. It was easy to moisten the newspaper with water and estimate the amount of bedding we needed in the bag.

2) Piling and Sorting the bin's material into 3 basic containers: worms & reusable bedding material, worm eggs (to avoid overpopulation and eggs hatching in plant pots), and the worm castings (what we're doing all of this work for!). We taped two cut open recycling bags together to create a large plastic sheet to line the balcony to do our sorting work on.

We used the pile & sort method where we emptied the bin's contents into several small cone shaped piles. The worms buried down to the bottom of the piles to avoid the light and we, pile by pile, scraped off the tops of the piles to get the vermicompost, working our way to the bottom. This was a very long and tedious process as we did a very thorough job. There were so many baby worms which were at times difficult to pick out and did not move down away from the light as well as the adult worms did.

This is what the bottom of the bin looked like after taking much of the vermicompost out. It's amazing to see what a job the worms did on that newspaper!

Piles for sorting

Pie plates helped with sorting
The Results

Two containers full of worms (below)

Collected worm eggs. Not sure what I'll do with these yet. I've read they can last many years. I am kind of playing god when it comes to the population of my worm bin (removed a little less than half of the population, and most of the eggs - they'll just produce more anyway), but I kind of have to because overpopulation would be a bad thing.
Total amount of Vermicompost collected! Several pounds (about 3/4 of that ikea garbage can is full)
Poo poo la poo poo la poo poo la pooGardener's Gold!! Harvesting all of this natural fertilizer I helped produce with my own food waste was really satisfying! Harvesting was hard work, and since the next harvest will be in late summer/early fall, I'm going to try a different method whereby I just push all of the bin's contents over to one side, fill the empty side with new bedding and food to draw the worms over, then harvest the empty side. The way we did it produces a much purer end product which I was only really concerned for when used on my indoor plants (i.e. I don't want any missed worms trying to live in my indoor plants). I have decided I will make some vermicompost tea for use on my indoor plants, thus alleviating any of these concerns.

3) Returning the worms to their new bed, while removing some of the worm population to avoid overpopulating the bin.

We added the larger container's worth of worms back into our worm bin, with freshly prepared bedding material (moistened shredded newspaper, hay, soil, some egg shells, undecomposed bedding from before). We contributed the remaining worms to the community composter in the park by our apartment building, which from what I have heard, has run out of red worms.

To come: Using the vermicompost in my balcony garden & making vermicompost tea!

Good Things

insects visit
flowers bloom
tomatoes ripen

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Balcony Garden: Vines & Flowers thrive

On a more positive note, there are plants that are doing really well on my balcony garden, mainly the morning glories and beans growing up the 2 trellises and the marigolds I started from seed have finally blossomed! The vines are my favourites because they add so much green to the grey balcony.

Aphids & Death in the Garden

Things change so fast in the garden, even on a balcony garden. I didn't think I'd have many problems with insects since I'm up in a high rise, but I've discovered Aphids on my lettuce, and they have crept onto my tomato plants too... Here's a look at them:

Here's what one of the aphids on my lettuce looks like up close:

They appeared and reproduced so quickly! As a solution, I had some Safer's Trounce (an organic insecticide) around so I sprayed the lettuce with it a few days ago when they first appeared in droves. It's killed a lot of the aphids, but now the lettuce doesn't look anywhere near as healthy (check out photo below). I will likely have to cut down this crop and start over if I want more lettuce. This is disappointing but just another part of having a garden - another challenge to overcome and learn from.
I am not sure where the aphids come from; is it the soil (are they in it all along waiting for ideal conditions and temperatures?)? do they fly up to my balcony? did I bring them back to my balcony after a bike ride? -- it's just very strange to me that they suddenly appear with such a vengeance.
My peas have also fallen subject to the wrath of an insect infestation. Some kind of fruitish fly has taken over its pot and the peas have pretty much died. It may not have been getting enough sun, leaving the soil too damp leading to the fly problem. If I have them in direct sun though, they just fry. I struggled with peas last year too, so perhaps they're just not suited for the balcony.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Vermicomposting Bin: Current Status > Almost Harvest Time

In 10 days I will have been vermicomposting for 3 months. At that point I think I'm going to harvest the vermicompost from my bin to use on my balcony garden and houseplants. The overall level of the materials in the bin have reduced by about half, indicating the worms have done a good job breaking down their newspaper/hay/soil bedding mixture into castings. There's a plethera of baby worms in the bin, which will be more adapted to the conditions of my bin. I will keep these when I harvest and will likely have to take some adults out of the bin to make sure it isn't overpopulated.
I have yet to decide what method of harvesting I am going to use. I will probably end up doing the method where I will divvy out the bin's contents into several small cone shaped piles on a large plastic sheet, the worms will escape the light by burying to the bottom of their piles and I'll scoop off the tops of the piles (will document harvesting process to come). I was originally hoping I could do the method whereby you feed the worms on one side of the bin for a week or two, and then harvest the castings from the vacated side, putting in new bedding and repeating for the other side, but I have been doing the rotating pocket feeding method, and I always seem to find worms wherever I pull back the bedding - they don't seem to stay just around the food source for me.

Pinecone & Clover