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Leaf Compost

Those precious fall leaves!

"Leaf Compost Pile"

My Leaf Compost Pile

Love them or not they are a  great source of plant nutrients. Calcium, phosphorous, nitrogen & magnesium.  Besides adding healthy nutrients to the soil, leaves create rich organic humus and leaf mold.

Leaf compost acts like a mop; it soaks up rain drops that will later moisturize sandy soils. It adds texture & aeration that clay soils benefit from. The leaf mold it creates invites worms. Roots love texture.  Gardens love worms.

How to Make Leaf Compost & Leaf Mold:

While Mother Nature actually makes leaf compost and mold, gardeners can respectfully take advantage of it. Once the natural basic breakdown process is understood, gardeners can work with it and get satisfying, sustainable results.

Leaves can take 2 – 3 years to breakdown. Here is a general description of the process and some simple tips to speed it up and a couple of things to avoid.

Composting leaves will need nitrogen to decompose. Turn leaf compost piles every now & then at regular intervals so all leaves are eventually exposed and/or unexposed to open air as well as turned under from time to time.  This will continue to keep the composting process moving right along.

Turn only the still composting leaves on top of the soil. Don’t turn the leaves into the soil at this point.   Leaves that are not decomposed and turned into the soil prematurely will rob desired plants of nitrogen.

For faster composting results grind or mulch your DRY leaves with a lawnmower equipped with an attached bag. I don’t have a lawnmower nor do I always have the time to mulch my dry leaves but when I do I throw on a pair of goggles & a dust mask & mulch them with my Weedwacker in a trash can.

Watering

Water assists the composting process.  Water down the leaf compost pile from time to time.  Don’t over water though.  Too much water will result in mildew odor.

Leaf Mold

Leaf Mold is the result of broken down leaf mulch. The matter found at the very bottom of an aging leaf compost pile. It is dark brown/black, crumbly and smells quite earthy. Leaf Mold is a superb soil conditioner, attracts worms, provides carbon, holds water and prevents erosion and drought.

Adding Additional Nutrients

When leaves have composted add any additional nutrients that your soil requires, if any. Add the additional nutrients to the leaf compost only and not the soil unless otherwise directed.

Leaf Compost – Sustainable – Agriculture

Urban Farming?  How do you compost leaves?

Worm Tea

Oh for the love of worms!
They aerate the soil and poop up some awesome goodness that plants love and gardeners appreciate.  I whip up some worm tea for a nutritious liquid fast feed.
How to Make Worm Tea
…like I do
Vermiculture: begins with the appreciation of working with worms who decompose your kitchen’s organic food waste and turn it into awesome nutrients for your crops. Worms are easy to work with, odorless, quiet, rebuild the soil, are sustainable, save water, energy & money because your food scraps are transformed into plant food so you don’t have to purchase any at the store. Less waste in the landfills too!

Worm Tea

How to Make Worm Tea

Utensils:

Food Safe Container – I use @ a 2.5 gallon beverage dispenser. I previously used a 5 gallon food grade bucket. Using the current beverage dispenser w/faucet is so user-friendly.
Aquarium Pump – I use a pump with a 5 – 15 Gallon Aerating Capability
Aquarium Air Tubing
Aquarium Air Stone
Worm Castings – I used the worm castings from the worm composter and the bottom tray. The bottom tray castings are extremely damp, damper than the compost found in finished trays.
1) First I scraped the worm compost particles that had collected in the bottom tray of my worm bin. I also use the worm fines from the upper trays.
I’m using the Worm Factory 360
2) Next I wrapped about 3 cups of the fines very securely in cheesecloth, now I use old nylon stockings because the fines don’t seep out as easily as when I used the cheesecloth leaving a long tail at the end of the knot to easily hang later.
3) Then I filled the food safe container with rain water.
4) I assembled a 5 to 15 gallon aquarium pump, aquarium air hose and air stone; submerged the air stone at the bottom and weighted it down with a rock.
5) I tied the long tail of the cheese cloth, nylon stocking the bucket handle and submerged the worm tea bag completely under water letting it dangle. I moved the air stone directly under the worm tea bag to allow direct air flow up and through the worm tea bag for maximum aeration.
6) Aerate the worm tea bag for at least 24 hours or even a little longer.
7) Funnel into watering cans & spray bottles.  Apply.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION:

Leachate: An unfinished liquid that accumulates in the bottom reservoir of the worm bin. Leachate should not be used as worm tea. It has substances which have not yet been properly broken down and can contaminate the surface of food crops and other plants. I use Leachate for direct, into-the-ground root feeding. This allows the Leachate to enter the earth, finish safely breaking down while feeding roots that I don’t plan to eat at the same time. I never use Leachate directly on plants.

Worm Tea:Nutritious, fast feeding sustainable, liquid plant food. Brewed from steeped worm fines aerated in liquid for at least 24 hours, preferably rain water.
Additives: Some worm tea brewers include additives to further enhance the final worm tea product. This is an ongoing study/controversy. Additives, even the organic kind, have been found to increase the harmful bacteria and so I avoid additives, even the organic ones.

Read more about the improper use of leachate as worm tea & the adverse effects of adding additives during worm tea brewing from the USDA.

Urban farming? How do you make Worm Tea?

Mulch as a Splash Guard

So, if you read my page about mulch, you should have discovered the basic description and idea behind its use. Here is yet another way to use mulch just like I did this morning.
Yesterday I placed planters on the patio of my apartment building. Some spinach, spearmint, and lemon thyme. Usually I cover the soil with salt hay. It prevents the soil from splashing out and coating the siding and floors with muck. It also deters my visiting squirrel from burying his treasures in my planter. I was very busy and went about my other chores, never considering the rain that was due to fall overnight.
When I woke up this morning to check on my crops there was mud yuck splashed here and there. Unfortunately my salt hay stash was empty. Not wanting to create dismay with my landlord or neighbors I rushed to my stash of dried mulched leaves from the previous autumn’s harvest. I like to cover the worm community with these from time to time. Needless to say I stood in the pouring rain covering the soil with the leaf mulch and all is good. As for my little squirrel buddy, I think he may also enjoy the leaf mulch…..

Urban Farming? Any splash guard recommendations?

Gnats In My Worm Bin

So I’ve been worm composting inside for a while now. I noticed that all the Red wigglers and I were happiest when I added a good balance of wet mushy left overs from the kitchen; topped with dry coffee grinds, toast crumbs, etc. topped with dead plant material mainly crushed, dried & crumbled plants from the previous year’s harvest and some of my unfortunate unattended to dead house plants.
Once I screwed up…things changed. Gnats; tiny little insects that enjoy laying larvae in damp compost loved the worm bin as much as the wigglers and I did.

Things were going well until several schedule changes in my personal life occurred. This created a domino effect on everything else that depended on me and my time. I rushed to feed the worms their sure-to-eat baby like wet and mushy worm food and ran out the door to work. I didn’t place the usual dry plant material on top of the damp food nor did I replace the newspaper on top.

Gnats welcomed this idea. They loved my schedule and moved right into the worm community. Each time I lifted the cover they’d fly out in adult form.

I learned that gnats love dampness and fungus. I realized that I cannot allow wet compost to rule the worm bin without topping it securely with the added dry plant mulch and newspaper.

It’s been pure hell trying to get rid of them but I did.

I got rid of the escapees by way of light. Flying gnats gathered on the window because it was the most lit area of the room at dusk. I’m a “sap” for living creatures. Even the annoying ones. I felt guilty but I also felt invaded & urgent. I decided to clean my window with window cleaner and wipe them and the window down with paper towel. I did this twice in one week while maintaining the dry plant material and newspaper to securely top off the worm community and have now rid them from my kitchen where my worm bin has been quiet and nonchalant since it arrived about a year ago.

So gnat’s in my worm bin have been one drawback so far to my worm composting experience. My solution wasn’t planned but it did work. However I’ll be hanging a sticky fly paper or two in the area just in case.

For even more worm composting tips and ideas to rid gnats from your worm bin check out this website. Red Worm Composting – Fungus Gnats in Worm Compost Bins It’s full of worm farming ideas, information & problem prevention techniques that may work for you.

I conclude that whatever type of compost method I choose there will always be some type of drawback. I certainly have experienced mine. Maybe scheduling a spin of the back porch tumbler that I chose not to use would have been easier. Still, I enjoy my wigglers and they do unite me every day with nature as I’m hustling out the door to catch that smoggy, crammed city bus. They provide a consistent amount of worm castings year round as well. Thank-you Red wigglers!

Do You Use Worms to Compost?

Worm Food

Here is what and how I feed my worms based on my indoor worm bin.
My Red wigglers depend on my diet for their diet. So I try to buy foods that I know are good for me and good kitchen scraps for them. We are compatible in that I’ve read not to add meats to the worm bin which I seldom eat anyway. I do enjoy dairy but I don’t share dairy products with the worms. I’ve also been warned not to add high amounts of citrus to the worm bin and so I don’t. There is a controversy over sharing egg shells. I can see the point. It would seem to “cut” very easily. Egg shells are a good slug deterrent around crops such as strawberries for this very reason. Slugs and worms do tend to have the same type of body texture and so I would agree not to add egg shells although I did once but I ground them up so small that the texture was like sand. I just simply avoid them altogether now that I’ve been alerted to the controversy.

My Personal Worm Food Ingredients:

1) Fruits & Veggies: Pretty much all vegetables & fruits, peels and cores included although I do avoid giving them bananas simply because the worm bin is in my kitchen and I just think it would invite trouble if I did. It’s just my hunch. Try it if you feel content.

2) Starches: pasta, rice, crackers, bread, cereals

3) Fiber: shredded newspaper, cardboard, egg cartons, coffee filters

4) Treats: Dry coffee grounds, tea bags (w/o staples), dead flowers and plants

I aim for a 50% Fiber – 50% Kitchen Scrap Diet
It is stated that 1 lb. of worms need at least 1/2 lb. of food daily.
I don’t measure or get too scientific. Maybe you will want to.

I chop/mince and add droplets of water to my kitchen scraps to make worm food. I read that if your worm food is mushy enough for an infant to eat then it is mushy enough for a worm to eat. The quicker the worms eat, the quicker the worms poop; and it’s true. The worms eat faster and the worms poop faster.

I add a minimum amount of kitchen scraps in slightly larger chunks so that these food particles will break down over time creating a type of worm food reserve that they can rely on in the event that I’m late feeding them.

I try to control this wet mushiness with a balance of dryness for healthy worm nutrition and worm bin environment. Worms need a bit of grit in their diet so I add dry used coffee grinds, toast crumbs, etc; even a few crumbs of dirt from time to time. I crumble up some dead plant leaves, mostly from last year’s garden, and place them on top of the wet mushy worm food to control dampness, prevent soil gnats and add even more worm food as it slowly breaks down. The worms like this.

I tuck them all in with a slightly damp newspaper, while other times I leave this newspaper dry, depending on the overall dampness that was already occurring or not in the worm community. Sometimes I add small pieces of newspaper on top of this.

Vermiculture

What Is It?

Worm composting, or vermiculture is a quiet, nonchalant approach to composting on an urban farm!
Worm poop is a gardener’s best friend! Worm castings amend the soil and add nutrients at the same time. Use as a soil amendment and feeder. Make worm tea to use as a quick feed liquid fertilizer!
For centuries rural farmers used red worms to compost healthy materials for their gardens. Simple walls were constructed using almost any material to surround outdoor piles designated for compost adding eager red worms to eat the garbage to process into worm castings.
Today urban friendly, apartment sized, worm composters are being welcomed into the homes of city farmers everywhere. They are self sustaining, simple to maintain, odorless and dependable.

Worm Composter – How To Make

To make your own worm farm use two dark colored food safe plastic bins. You choose the size. I used two 8 gallon bins.

Step 1: Bottom: Drill 1/4 inch holes consecutively from one end to the next, continue all the way across and down until the bottom is covered with holes.
Sides: Drill ventilation holes along the top edges.
Cover: Drill ventilation holes in ONE of the covers.

Step 2: Make-A-Stand: Try to use recycled material, all the same size, to make a stand. This will be used to set the bottom bin on top of. You will need 4 sturdy blocks or something that will function as such. Hint: I used four glass blocks, all the same size.

Step 3: Pour: a shallow amount of water in a bucket.
Shred newspaper into about 1 inch pieces setting them in the water to moisten.

Step 4: Wring: the newspaper pieces out and place them in one of the bins. Fluff.
Hint: Worms need grit to digest their food. I’ve tossed in some mulched leaves and a hand full of dirt and other times I’ve added coir. Whatever keeps the little charms content!

Step 5: Assembly: Place the bin cover WITHOUT the holes upside down on the floor. This will serve as the final catch for liquid (leachate) and castings.
Place the stands in each corner on top of the cover.
Place the bin without the bedding right side up on top of the stand.
Stack the bin with the bedding on top.
Place the worm bin in an area with a temperature range between 40 & 80 degrees.

Step 6: Add Red Worms:
Not all worms are alike. Red Wriggler Worms are high performing, very dependable worms who thrive on garbage. They live toward the surface of the soil. Not all worms thrive on garbage. Not all worms can live in mere compost.

Step 7: Feed the Worms:
Feed worms a well rounded diet of non-dairy, non-meat foods.
Hint: Place the food under the cardboard from Step 8 below. This prevents attracting fruit flies.

Step 8: Tuck Them In: Cut a piece of cardboard to lay over the complete worm community. Worms appreciate coziness.

Step 9: Worms like to feel secure: Place the bin cover WITH the holes securely on top.

*This method is referred to as “Vertical Vermiculture”.

Red Wiggler Worms

“WHY RED WIGGLER WORMS?”
“Because not all worms are the same.”

Red Wiggler, or compost worms flourish in conditions that are unfavorable to other worms. Their love for decaying and rotting matter make them superior partners in the vermicomposting process where soil loving worms would not survive.
Farmers have always favored redworms as partners in the composting process.

*Other common names for compost worms: Brandling worm, Tiger worm, Red Wiggler worm, Red worm