June 29, 2014

Tall Tales of Organic Gardening

A new experiment is underway at Lillworm!

I already know that applying vermicompost to the soil before planting and a few more times throughout the growing season is a surefire way to get larger leaves, more fruits, and taller plants.

#1 Organic Gardening Assistant (husband) heard through the tomato vine that putting grass clippings at the base of tomato plants made them grow larger and bear more fruit- similar to vermicompost. Logic tells me this could be true, but there's no better test than a test!

I decided to let him cover the base of three of my tomato plants to see if we could prove or disprove the idea. 

You can still see the vermicompost at the base of the tomatoes in this before pic:
organic tomatoes
After he mowed the lawn, he piled up some clippings next to the garden:
Next, he piled the grass around the base of three plants:
grass clippings as fertilizer

grass clippings as fertilizer
Now it's just a matter of time before we have our answer....in the meantime, what other organic gardening tall tales have you ever heard or tested?

Here are some organic tall tales I'd love to put to the test:

-BEST TIME OF DAY/PLACE TO WATER- Is it in the morning without hitting the leaves? Or in the evening covering the whole plant? Does it depend on the plant?

-A BOWL OF BEER WILL ATTRACT SLUGS AND SNAILS- What kind of beer? Wouldn't it attract other things, too? If it's effective, how often do you refresh the beer?

-SINGING TO PLANTS MAKES THEM GROW BETTER- Do they prefer certain types of music or pitch of voices? Should it be continuous or just like a few a minutes a day?

-CUCUMBERS NEAR CORN, BEANS NEAR POTATOES, CARROTS NEAR ONIONS- Is there anything to companion planting? Is there really a benefit to planting vegetables and herbs in close proximity to improve their growth?

I'll share the results of the grass clipping tomato experiment throughout the summer, and here's how the rest of the garden is faring so far....

Upper bed- cucumbers in the back, tomatoes along the left, onions along the right, spinach along the front (SAD! no idea what's going on!) and parsley & cilantro in the middle:

organic garden
 Lower bed, strawberries on the left and middle, and mixed peppers on the right:
organic garden
 Close up on the cilantro:
organic cilantro
 Berry berry close up:
organic strawberries
organic peppers
Mid-season vermicompost application coming up soon!

May 11, 2014

2014 Organic Garden In The Ground!

The seedlings were going strong, and I was getting impatient.
There was only one thing to do:

Get OG2014 into the ground!

With my #1 organic gardening assistant (husband), as well as #2 & #3 assistants (dogs), we took advantage of the beautiful weather in the northeast today to get the garden party started.

One mistake I thought I made was not labeling the seedlings. I was confident in my ability to figure out what was what, but once it started sprouting....I had no idea.

However, I let them grow a teeny bit further, and they started to look familiar:
organic seed starting
After three years of seed starting, I recommend peat pots a million times over! These biodegradable trays can be easily cut and your new seedling can be planted right into your garden still in its little container that will eventually biodegrade away- extremely convenient.

If you water as aggressively as I do, I also recommend placing the containers in sturdy plastic tray, as they can turn a bit mushy.

Oops, the bottom just fell right out of some of them once I took them from the tray. Luckily, we were right near the garden, so no biggie:

First in were the cucumbers. Maybe you remember "Cucumber Flavored Whaaaaaaaat?" from 2013?

Whether they are in salads or sliced up alone or resting on my eyes, cucumbers are one of my favorite summer vegetables!
organic cucumbers
You can also see my sneaky onions along the top of this picture- a birthday gift from my Mom- they've been growing for two weeks already!

Next in were the tomatoes- which I'm counting on for salsa. Here the cucumbers are along the top of the top bed, and the tomato plants are below them on the left. You can see the strawberries already in full swing in the bottom bed- I just leave them in the ground year to year:

For some reason, just putting in these few plants knocked OG Assistant #1 out.
Assistants #2 & #3 thought this made the garden even more interesting. (We have to keep our eyes on Assistant #2- he once ate a small bed of strawberries at our old house in just a few sittings.)

Does Assistant #3 want to help by putting on a garden glove? Nope, but we tried!
To finish off the top bed we planted spinach seeds, along with some cilantro and parsley (which admittedly looked frail), and sprinkled on some magic worm poop- AKA vermicompost.

Moving on the the lower and already-blooming-with-strawberries-bed, we planted the peppers in their peat pots (say that three times fast!):
 An overview of both beds:
organic garden

organic garden
Of course, we couldn't forget the berry fence! Made from a few pieces of flexible PVC pipe and chicken wire, the berry fence protects our harvest from the local birds and bunnies (as well as Assistant #2):
organic garden fencing

organic garden fencing
Speaking of berries, here are the pre-season raspberry and blackberry bush (fingers crossed and Lucky Charms poured for a good berry harvest!):
organic berry bushes
Guess who showed up during all this digging?! These guys must have heard how well we treat their cousins!
garden worms
Finally, we completed a very Pinteresting project: vertical PVC planters.

I had Assistant #1 drill three rows of holes in three pieces of PVC- two for the deck and one for the mailbox:
vertical pvc planter
We capped them off at the bottom, and used zip ties to secure them to the deck and mailbox. I placed three different types of plants into the holes, and filled the remainder with potting soil and OF COURSE, vermicompost!

The finished product on the deck:
vertical pvc planter

vertical pvc planter

vertical pvc planter

vertical pvc planter
The one we made for the mailbox was a little smaller:
vertical pvc planter

vertical pvc planter
I'm really hoping that I selected the correct flowers to fill out the planter, because it was a rather simple project that's already generated a lot of conversation in the 'hood.

OG2014 is in the ground, and the Pinteresting flowers are planted...stay tuned!

April 13, 2014

Organic Garden 2014 Is About To Begin!

Time to start anew- for Organic Garden 2014 (OG2014)! 

This year, I'll be growing:
Strawberries, continued from OG2012 & OG2013
Onions, the starters were a birthday gift from my Mom
Cucumbers,got a bit out of control last year
Spinach, my favorite smoothie add-in
Tomatoes, to make salsa
Colorful peppers, I was shocked to learn a few years ago actually start out green
Raspberries, started last year with zilch harvest, and the bush still looks a little meager- seems to need a double-dose of worm poop!
Blackberries, grow completely out of control and have to be cut back several times a season so they don't overtake the whole garden

I took all my materials- peat pots, seeds, plastic tray, and vermicompost/potting soil tub, out onto the deck.
organic garden seed starting
Using the time tested peat pots (I tried a more recycle-y method last year with paper towel rolls that didn't prove sturdy enough for my seed-starting ways), I filled each with a mixture of two parts potting soil, one part outside dirt from OG2013, and one part...drumroll, please...vermicompost, or WORM POOP!

organic seed starting

After I doused them with water, I let them sit in the direct sunlight outside for the afternoon with just one, small nebby visitor: 
organic seed starting

organic seed starting
Finally, I covered the pots with some plastic wrap to generate a mini-greenhouse effect and placed them in front of our glass doors for optimal sunlight. 
organic seed starting
I'll be spritzing them with water every morning, and I'll post progress pics as they poke their tiny buds out!

Of course, the worm poop is the secret ingredient that gave me comparable results like in this photo- the plants on the left were raised with vermicompost, the ones on the right were not:
organic pepper plants

Not only did those plants grow larger and more sturdy, they had double the amount of flowers/fruit. They also seemed to repel pests more effectively and had less bug-holes in the leaves.

Lesson learned!  With an exceptionally small garden, I'm focused on quality, not so much quantity.  I now start & cultivate with vermicompost all growing season so each plant can live to it's fullest. It's as simple as putting a handful at the base of each plant once or twice a month!


Don't forget- if you would like to give vermicomposting a try but just want a small amount of worms to get started,  you can order 1/2 of Lilliworm Red Worms shipped right to your door! Visit the "BUY 1/2 LB OF LILLIWORMS!" link on the right hand side of this page.

March 9, 2014

Rain, Sleet, Snow, or Hail...Soon My Worms Will Be Traveling By Mail!

The time has come...I have more worms than most people have ever seen in their whole lives all totaled up!

When I push away the top layer in the Worm Wigwam, the scene revealed can best be described as a very populated, hugely squirmy mass of worminess. They climb the walls, they live in the bottom, they skim the top...they practically overflow from the bin!

There's only one thing left to do...sell some of my friends! Not as worm bait, mind you (because I've had plenty of offers for that!), but to some newbies like I once was that are interested in vermicomposting as a way to get rid of their organic wastes, as well as organically fertilize their houseplants or garden with amazing results.

When I click around, I notice most people sell composting worms by the pound (estimating about 1,000 worms in a pound). Worms are typically shipped living in a moist peat-like material inside a cloth bag surrounded by shredded newspaper.
shipping composting worms
My worms multiplied quickly. They went from a large Rubbermaid container to three large shoebox size Rubbermaid containers within about 2 1/2 months.
worm bin

worm bins
They moved into the Worm Wigwam less than a year later:
worm wigwam
My experience tells me that you can start very small and still end up with a healthy herd that can easily munch through your organic scraps each week.
organic scraps
Soon, you will see an option on the side of the page to purchase 1/2 pound of worms- or about 500 worms. This size is great if you are interested in vermicomposting, but want to start small. It also works for kids that are creating a school project.
vermicomposting project
Rain, sleet, snow, or hail...soon my worms will be traveling by mail!
composting worms for sale

January 25, 2014

Third Year Organic Gardener, Seventh Year Worm Wrangler

Happy New Year, wiggly ones!

2014 will be my third year as an organic gardener, and my seventh as a worm wrangler- we all know how they go hand in hand!

I've learned so much, I thought I'd revisit a post from last year where I reviewed what I learned from my first year to do differently during my second. Now with TWO whole seasons to draw from, here's some of the plans for the third organic-y year of growing goodness.

Starter Planters

2012- Peat pots

I used biodegradable containers that got transferred right into the garden when it came time to plant:
They were convenient, and they held up well throughout the starter growth of the plants. They didn't grow mold or fall apart early (some of them were still intact halfway through the growing season after being planted into the actual garden).

2013- Free & green cardboard roll pots
My environmentally friendliness kicked in and I used the FREE cardboard rolls leftover at the end of toilet paper and paper towels.These little planters were easy to make.
recycled seed starter planters
recycled seed starter planters
recycled seed starter planters
HOWEVER....not so sturdy! Once the seedlings were watered, things got ugly with these cardboard planters.
They got mushy. They grew mold. By the time they were going to be planted in the garden, it was a bit of mess. The bottoms were falling out, so the dirt in them wasn't solid. The roots of the tiny plants seemed weak and exposed because the dirt and container were so flimsy.

Give me extra points for being free and green, but minus points for being ineffective in growing strong plants with good roots to start the season.

2014 Decision- Peat Pots! Lesson learned! Back to the peat pots. It's so important to start good, strong seedlings- and I have such a great soil formula, using about 1/3 vermicompost and 2/3 garden dirt, to cultivate them. Time to return to the sturdier, more dependable peat pots.

Dirt & Fertilizer
2012- Chop and leave the remnants

When I put the garden to bed in 2012,  it looked like this:
organic garden
2013- Pick out the remnants

When it reopened for 2013, it looked like this:
organic garden
A bit of a mess. Although I was thrilled that the strawberries were on their way back early, I had to sift out all the stems and sticks I thought would compost up all nice over the winter (clearly false!). After doing that (and adding a serious dose of vermicompost!), it all worked out.

So I learned another lesson- don't chop everything up at the end of the season, mix in the first few inches of soil, and hope for the best- because you'll be sifting out stems and sticks come spring.

2014 Decision- Start Fresh!

This past season, I cleared out all the debris before putting the garden to bed:
organic garden


2012- Buy seeds

In 2012, I bought my seeds at the local home improvement store. Everything turned out OK, except the onions were a little harsh.

2013- Buy seeds
Last year, I bought a new red raspberry plant, plus bought seeds from the local home improvement store for tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, spinach, and onions again. The strawberries were multiplying from the year before, so no need to buy any more of those. (I blame my poor starting pots, not the seeds, on the less sturdy crops I yielded last year.)

2014 Decision: Buy seeds
I enjoy the process of starting seeds and getting to see the effects of vermicompost up close and personal, so I'm going to continue to purchase seeds and start them on my own.


2012- The perfect garden stake

You may have read my absolute amazement at finding the perfect garden stakes in various sizes last year.

2013- Recycle and reuse

I reused the stakes from last year with no problems.

2014 Decision- If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
The stakes are still in great shape, so they'll be re-used for the third time. 


2012- Creative berry fencing

We constructed our very own berry protection from the birds, using PVC pipe and chicken wire.
garden fencing

2013- Recycle and reuse

We pulled that gem right out of the garage and re-used it in 2013.
organic garden fencing
2014 Decision- Third time's a charm
It works so well, and looks so interesting. Another organic garden item that will be in circulation again for 2014. 

Rain Barrel

2012- Investment year
We invested in this beauty in 2012:

2013- Re-connect!

We reconnected it from it's winter nap on the side of the house.

2014 Decision- Re-Connect!The rain barrel is a huge water saver- as in we never saw it go below halfway full all summer. It's also positioned so conveniently close to the garden that we probably water even more often than needed.

One great thing kicking off 2014 is that I have worms and vermicompost practically come out of my basement. The worms have had a stellar off season- getting plenty of scraps and eating their way through the holidays....and pooping out some great organic fertilizer.

Let OG2014 begin!