Maine Maple Sunday

This week at Everlongardener, we will be enjoying the sweetest harvest of all! Pure Maine maple syrup! Every 4th Sunday in March is Maine Maple Sunday. Sugar shacks across the state traditionally open their doors to the public for the event showcasing a unique part of Maine’s agriculture. Participants offer samples of the liquid gold poured over ice cream, tours, demonstrations and plenty of maple products for sale.

The process of making maple syrup starts with drilling a hole in a sugar maple tree and pounding a tap into the hole. Sometimes sap comes running out immediately. A sap bucket or other suitable container is attached to the tap to collect the clear sap. Other maple trees have sap but the sugar content is the highest from the sugar maple. Canada produces 71% of the worlds maple syrup.  States such as Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and beyond, all contribute with Vermont leading the way for the U.S. states according to the USDA. A total of 3.78 million gallons were produced in the 2016 season. For more information on sugar houses in your area, go maine.gov.

Maple products and tools of the trade.

On Sunday, we decided to make a quick trip to our nearby sap shack. We arrived early to get as close to the experience as possible.

Heading to the sap shack!

Temps were below freezing that morning so it took a while for the sap to start running through the line and into to evaporator. Hundreds of gallons of sap wait in a holding tank up above. Sap flows down to the shack from the tank through a large pipe.

Waiting for the sap to run freely.

Once the sap warmed above freezing, the nozzle was attached to the evaporator. An evaporator is what the professionals use to cook down the maple sap. This evaporator can process 160-180 gallons of sap per hour.

Hooking up the nozzle to the evaporator.

Next, the firebox needed to be lit. This particular evaporator runs on wood. The year that this shack produced nearly 600 gallons of syrup, they burned 40 cords of wood. The owner calls the pine that he uses “gopher wood”. You put some in the fire box then you “go for” more!

The fire box is ready.

After lighting the fire, the sap starts to slowly heat up.

Sap is already in the evaporator.

If you look close, you can see that the sap is actually slightly frozen on top. The fire beneath the sap begins to heat the liquid. Meanwhile, we asked all kinds of questions about the process.  All of the workers were so talkative and helped us get a better understanding of the large-scale production. A little different than our homemade stuff last year!

Steam is starting to rise from the vat.

Then the waiting game started. Slowly the sap started to steam in the evaporator. Plenty of time for conversation, stories and learning.

Now it really starts cooking!

When the sap hits just the right temperature, it’s time to pour off the finished maple syrup. It can be a delicate process, especially for home processors. Evaporators generally have temperature gauges on the side.

The sap is really starting to cook!

When locals drive by, they know that the sap is cooking. You can see the smoke and steam billowing out of the shack from the main road.

An array of maple products for sale.

Back up on the porch, we got to try the luscious syrup on ice cream. There are different grades of syrup. Some people like the lighter syrup while we prefer the darker stuff. Sunday they served the darker syrup and it was out of this world! We got to learn about maple cream and how it’s made. It’s a different product made by cooking finished syrup on the kitchen stove to a particular temp then plunging the pot in cold water. The cook must then stir like crazy and hope that the syrup turns to maple cream. It tastes like liquefied maple fudge in a spreadable form. Of course I had to buy some!

Vanilla ice cream topped with rich maple syrup.
Who can resist this?
Can’t beat this!
Maple cream!

We had just made some sugar cookies at home. They were the first thing that we paired with our new maple cream. I highly recommend this combination! Maple syrup can be used for so much more than pancakes and waffles. Syrup can be used for a healthy alternative to sugar by using 2/3 cup to 1 cup of sugar. Maple syrup is full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Try it in desserts, baking, glazes, rubs and barbecue sauces. There are tons of recipes at Pure Canada Maple or you can come up with your own. We always treasure our syrup and use it with care. Once you learn the process and find out the cost involved, you can understand why pure maple syrup demands such a high price. Don’t let a drop go to waste!

A stately row of tapped maple trees.

I really wanted to share our sap shack experience from the other day. I hope that next year you can go visit a shack on Maine Maple Sunday if syrup is made in your area. It’s a great family activity for early spring. It truly is a sweet harvest!

We have more winter weather to get through around here but the snow banks have started to shrink. We are anxiously awaiting our neighbors spring lambs to be born. More seedlings are popping up and finding their home under the grow light. The sun is feeling warmer every day. Soon, I’ll have pictures with more green, living things featured in them! Thanks for coming on our maple syrup adventure! Don’t forget to subscribe for all of my weekly gardening topics and think spring!

Hilary|Everlongardener

How To Start A New Garden

Sometimes the biggest obstacle a potential gardener can have is simply starting a garden.  The fear of failure prevents them from jumping right in.  I’ve been asking various people a question.  If they were to move into a new house, how would they start a new vegetable garden?  Some said raised beds, others said cardboard and mulch.  How would you start a new garden?

Traditionally, gardeners begin their years of toil by tilling a plot.  Nothing like that fresh dirt in neat, long rows!  But, then what happens?  Shortly after planting, a myriad of weeds emerge, ready to drown out any small plant pushing through the surface.  Better get out your hoe for hours of endless weeding!  Let’s explore a few ways to start a new garden and how to minimize some of the work!

Raised Bed Gardens

If you’ve read my post Try Raised Beds For Easy Gardening, you know that I’m a huge advocate for the raised bed.  I find that they cut my work literally in half.  With the garden raised up above the ground about a foot, you can easily sit on the side to harvest and work.  Weeding is minimal in a raised bed garden so most of your work will be planting, watering and picking.

Raised beds fix many gardening problems.

Raised beds can be made from many different materials.  Logs, cement blocks, pallet beds, brick.  Wooden boards are probably the most common thing used for the sides.  When the boards are 12″, the bed allows for growing longer crops such as carrots and parsnips.  Cedar, pine and our personal favorite hemlock are often used.  Hemlock boards can last for over 10 years.  Never use treated lumber when building a food garden bed because the toxic chemicals can leach into the soil.  Of course, if the soil is okay under the bed, don’t feel pressured to have 12″ beds.  I’ve even seen raised garden tables for no bending over whatsoever!  Talk about easy on your back!

We love our raised bed gardens!

Raised beds can be built with any dimentions that you like.  Since boards often come in 12′ lengths, we have built 12’x3′ beds.  A 3-4′ width across the bed makes for easier picking and sowing.  Our beds are secured with 3″ screws.  Lay one layer of cardboard in the bottom of the bed.
This will suppress weeds that may be under the new bed.  Our boxes have been filled with garden loam and then topped with compost or aged manure, which get worked in over the summer.  Every year, additional topdressing ensures soil fertility.  Cardboard can be placed on the ground between beds to establish a weed free path.  This can be covered with bark mulch or crushed rock.

Putting the board together for the box gardens.

Once you have your beds in place, many gardening methods can be used.  Mulch or no mulch, square foot gardening, it works well for so many things.  Worms can come right up from the ground below to start cultivating your soil.  There is some initial cost up front but the rewards will outweigh this very quickly.  I actually made a friend into a raised bed convert a number of years ago.  Now her whole front yard is full of them!

Simple No-dig Method

The no-dig method is making great strides in the gardening world.  There have been many similar garden types out there such as heavily mulched gardens and lasagna gardens.  The idea is to cover existing weeds with a layer of cardboard or newspaper, then add your soil right on top.  Compost or aged manure is then used to dress out the bed.  Beds can be made with sides or no sides.  In this type of gardening, no digging goes on.  Put away your spade and tiller.  Only a trowel is used for digging surface weeds.  This idea appealed to me so much, that last year I began to implement Charles Dowding’s no-dig advice.

Good soil is the key to a successful garden!

Many of us want to save money by having a home garden.  If you are starting a new garden, try not to skimp on soil.  I read somewhere recently to spend 75% of your garden budget on soil and soil amendments.  That may seem pretty steep but in the case of soil you really get out what you put into it.  For more detailed information on this topic go to No-dig Gardening or look up the expert himself, Charles Dowding.  I’m really excited to see how the results turn out for us in the coming gardening season.

Some reading on the no-dig garden subject.

Incorporating Edibles Into The Existing Landscape 

So, what if you can’t start a new garden but you want to grow more of your own food?  Container gardening is a fantastic way to utilize deck or driveway space.  Mix herbs into your flower boxes for an aromatic display.  Try planting deck tomatoes.  There are many self-watering planters on the market and the internet is full of do-it-yourself planter ideas.  Check your shed, you may have some pots that you can use out there!

My mothers beans in a container.

This picture above shows young pole beans planted in a horse grain container.  Almost anything that will hold dirt and keep in some water will work.

Chard is a wonderful addition to the edible landscape.

If you have existing perennial gardens, could you make room for some edibles?  Think about placing a few tomatoes or a bean teepee in between shrubs.  A potted cucumber tower could provide plenty of cukes with vertical growing.  Spots between perennial flowers can be cozy homes for clumps of lettuce, kale, carrots or chard.  Ever-bearing alpine strawberries make an adorable garden edging.  Add in a few high bush blueberries to the side of your yard.  Get creative, the more you plant, there will be fewer places for weeds to come up!

Leaf lettuce can provide an abundant harvest!

Whatever you choose to do for a garden, why not try something new? Many gardeners are proving that these methods really work and make gardening a whole lot easier.   One of the biggest rewards is the taste of homegrown produce!

We are in our first week of spring here at Everlongardener.  The weather feels a bit more like January but maybe March is going out with a bang!  Thanks for giving this a read this week and feel free to subscribe in the sidebar for more weekly gardening motivation.  Leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.  Remember, anyone can garden!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

5 Easy Vegetables For The Beginner Gardener

So many of the beginner gardeners that I talk to have an idea of what they want but don’t know how to get there.  The first vegetable garden I had in my adult life was very simple.  A few tomatoes, green beans and some lettuce.  Over the years, little by little, more types of flowers and vegetables have been added to my garden.  This is my list of 5 easy vegetables for beginner gardeners.

Green Beans

Whether you choose bush or pole beans, this easy vegetable can be a sure-fire crop.  Grow it well and you may be harvesting tons of beans.  Tasty, fresh green beans can be pricey in the stores but with just one packet of seeds you could be feeding quite a few people.

Wax bush beans.

First, decide if you are growing bush or pole beans.  Bush beans grow in a low, bushy formation and are fairly early.  Pole beans grow up a support and produce beans later than bush types.  For the first time gardener, you may want to start off with a few rows of bush beans.  If you are a bit more adventurous, add in two poles and grow climbing beans.  They will extend your bean harvest and can be easier to pick.

A mixture of wax and green beans.

We plant our bush beans in short rows and hill dirt around them as they grow.  To grow pole beans, you will need to plan for adequate supports well before planting day.  Bean teepees are popular or a trellis can be used.  We have an abundance of young trees in our woods, so we tend to set 10′ saplings in the ground fairly deep.  This may sound like overkill, but believe me, the bean vines are heavy and summer winds can be strong.

‘Romano’ pole beans climbing.

Look for tender varieties such as ‘Provider’, ‘Jade’ or French beans like ‘Hardicots Verts’.  Wax beans are pleasing to the eye as well as the palate.  Pole beans come in many lengths and colors.  Some favorites are ‘Romano’, a flat Italian and good old ‘Kentucky Wonder’.  I have to tell you that they are better than gold!

Lettuce

There are few things as glorious as making a salad from ingredients that you have grown yourself.  That being said, the foundation of such a salad is of course the lettuce.  Start with seeds in early spring.  Save some of your seeds for successive plantings.  With a little careful planning, you can harvest lettuce into the fall.

Leaf lettuce in the garden.

Some of the easiest lettuce varieties to grow are loose leaf types.  By cutting outer leaves, the lettuce plant is pushed to grow more leaves.  Pick colors and textures that appeal to you.  ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ is an old standby that sports bright green ruffles.  ‘Red Salad Bowl’ is a staple of the spring garden.  ‘Mesclun’ mix is an easy choice for a colorful mix.  For some warm season types, try ‘Summer Lettuce Mix’ from Fedco.  Other companies will carry a similar mixture that will be slow to bolt in the summer heat.

Gorgeous bowl of salad greens.

Plant a few rows of lettuce seeds as soon as ground can be worked.  Pick up a few lettuce seedlings if you want to get a jump on production.  Then, plant a few seeds every two weeks or so.  You can count on a continual harvest.  Sow additional seed in August for months of fall salad greens.  To learn about extending the harvest, read about Succession Planting.

Peas

One of the earliest of vegetables is the garden pea.  Like beans, they come in bush and climbing varieties.  At our house, we like our garden peas for fresh eating.  They rarely, if ever, make it to the table.  We relish those first sweet, firm green peas.  Fresh peas are also excellent in green salads.

Peas climbing up the support.

Peas will need a support if they are climbers.  3′ chicken wire between two garden stakes works just fine.  Some gardeners use strings with much success.  Pick out early types like ‘Sugar Ann’ or ‘Sugar Snap’.  Peas can be planted out very early.  Make sure soil is not too wet.  Attempting to grow enough for the freezer may be a stretch for the beginner gardener.  Plant according to your space.

Radishes

Nothing makes you feel like a gardener more than pulling those first crisp radishes from the garden soil!  How many other vegetables can you really grow in less than 30 days?  Radishes are an obvious choice for adding into salads but their greens can be used in soups and stir-fry’s.

Radishes with salad greens.

One of the great things about growing radishes is that they are generally a cool season crop.  Plant your first seeds in early spring and plant another round in fall for a second harvest.  Radishes take up very little space so they can be planted on there own or inter-planted with other vegetables such as lettuce.

Radish harvest.

For spring radishes, choose a traditional red like ‘Cherry Belle’ or go for a mix of reds, purples, whites and pinks.  ‘White Icicle’ has a long cylindrical formation.  ‘French Breakfast’ is alwaysan elegant choice.  Make sure when choosing radish varieties, that you take the hotness factor into consideration.  You will want to be able to eat what you plant.

Tomatoes

What beginner garden would be complete without a few tomatoes?  Choose tomato types according to what you like to eat.  If you like to make sauce choose ‘San Marzano’ or ‘Amish Paste’.  For the salad eater, try currant, grape or cherry varieties like ‘Sun Gold’ or ‘Super Sweet 100’.  For the BLT lover, go for slicers like the reliable ‘Jetstar’.

A variety of beautiful tomatoes.

Tomatoes are generally prolific.  A gardener can stake, cage or string tomatoes for support.  Pruning suckers can ensure an earlier harvest as well as managing plant size.

Place tomatoes in zipper bag to freeze.

Preserving the harvest can be as easy as freezing whole tomatoes.  If you want to put up a few and don’t have time to can, simply cut out the blossom end and toss into a freezer bag.  When you need tomatoes for a recipe that calls for crushed tomatoes, place a few frozen tomatoes in a saucepan.  Add a bit of water and cook down.  Remove skin and pour thawed tomatoes into your chili or soup.  For more details, go to Quick Food Preservation Tips.

Small Garden Planning

Depending on the size of your garden space, you can stick with the 5 easy vegetables or add a few more favorites.  Understandably, a new garden will probably be one garden but I took the liberty of designing a two bed system.  Boards often come in 12′ lengths, so with 5-12′ boards, you can make 2 raised beds and only cut one of the boards.  One board can be cut in 3′ lengths for end pieces.  I have more tips for raised beds in the article Try Raised Beds For Easy Gardening.

A small garden plan.

Notice that I’ve made room for our 5 easy vegetables.  This space allows for a few extras.  Two zucchini plants and two cucumbers are planted at the base of each bed.  There is room for 6 tomato plants along with bush and pole beans.  Flowers such as marigolds can be planted for attracting pollinators and beneficial insects.  Try planting a few favorite herbs if you have the room.  Whatever you choose, start small.  You can always expand upon your garden next year.

Common marigold.

Some of you may be making a vegetable garden for the first time this year while others are looking to simplify their garden.  Of course, not everyone likes all of these vegetables.  Just swap out one for another.  Grow what you like.  If your plot is smaller, grow only two tomatoes and just grow the bush beans.  Play around with the dimensions on paper.

Spring officially begins next week.  I’m not sure if the weather will feel like spring though!  Keep on planning your garden, we will be there before you know it.  Here at Everlongardener, we are starting a few seeds and shoveling snow this week.  Thanks for reading this week and don’t forget to subscribe in sidebar for weekly blog posts.

Hilary|Everlongardener


Start Your Own Seeds This Year

What’s one of the best way to kick off the gardening season?  Starting your very own garden seeds!  Until you successfully have a try at it, you may be missing out on the joy of seeing a seed go from seedling to harvest.  Let’s get into the why and how of starting your own seeds!

This time of year, when the weather can’t make up it’s mind what it’s going to do, many of us are Itching To Garden.  If you have a garden of any size you will quickly notice that the cost of seedlings can be pretty high.  By starting seeds at home you could grow dozens of plants for the price of one greenhouse seedling.   You can grow many different varieties and maybe even types that are unavailable at the nursery.  Perhaps, you have been saving seeds from open-pollinated plants that you want to use.

Seeds
Garden seeds!

If you are anything like me, you may have attempted starting seeds in the past, only to end up with a few leggy, miserable specimens.  I think we’ve all been there.  It seems hardly worth the effort.

Nasturtium and Winter Marvel lettuce seeds.

How?

Some gardeners are able to successfully grow seedlings on their windowsill.  I have been getting tomato and broccoli plants from a few friends for years.  Without lights, they are growing some really healthy plants.  In my attempts to start seeds at home, I have been quite disappointed.  Probably the conditions have been too dry or there’s not enough light.

Peet pellets
Peat pellets are fun to use!

You can literally start seeds in any type of container, but if you streamline your efforts you can make the process a lot simpler.  Peat pellets are cool to use because they are compressed.  After adding water, they expand to make little seed starting vessels.  Peat pots, pictured below,  can be planted directly into the garden when the seedling is ready.  Whole plant cell trays can be purchased for a very slick operation.  Saving plastic food containers is an idea for a cheaper fix.  Mushroom, yogurt and salad containers work well.  Always add drainage holes and use trays under containers to avoid messes.

Peet pots
Recycled containers and peat pots.

Some containers can be turned into instant mini-greenhouses.  This rotisserie chicken lid keeps precious moisture in while seedlings germinate.  Once you start looking, you will find all kinds of useful seed starting containers.

Mini greenhouse
Rotisserie chicken container turned greenhouse.

In the garden, soil should be teaming with life for best results.  This is not the case for growing seedlings.  Choose a more sterile seed starting mix for your seeds.  For beginner gardeners, pick up some commercial growing mix.  Experienced gardeners sometimes prefer to make their own mix combining peat, perlite, compost, vermiculite and so on.

Although I’m not going all out on the seed starting this year, I decided to grow peppers, tomatoes, some flowers and a few other things.  Knowing that my light situation is a problem, I made a simple seed table setup.  As you can see below, I used some wood to suspend the light above the seedlings.  Make sure that if you build something, it is secure.  The really exciting part of my operation is the 12 watt LED grow light.  Because of the bright sunlight for most of the day, I intend to run the light when it’s dark out.  I also intend to have more seedlings under the light after this week.

Grow light setup
My simple setup for this year.

To maximize the glowing pink light, I’ve seen some growers place foil lined panels on all sides of the operation.  I’m still contemplating that for now.

Read your seed packets.  There is a wealth of information to be found there.  Tips and advice specific for each variety.  Things such as planting depth and spacing.  If you have trouble figuring the information out, check out Decoding The Seed Packet.  It also helps to label your containers to avoid mix ups.

What To Plant?

As great as starting all of your own seeds sounds, remember that a lot of the crops that we traditionally grow do better just planted outside after the danger of frost.  Vegetables like beans, carrots, beats, greens and so many others do even better with direct seeding.  Focus your efforts on peppers, tomatoes, basil or anything else you feel needs a head start.  When plants are grown from seed outdoors, they struggle far less than a leggy plant trying to survive in a harsh environment.

Seeds
Swap seeds with friends to get more varieties!

When To Plant?

When do you start your garden seeds indoors?  Most northern growers start planting sometime in March.   Seed packets will tell you to plant so many weeks before the last frost date.  To determine your last frost date, go to a site like The Old Farmer’s Almanac for specifics on your area.

Zucchini seeds
Zucchini seeds ready for planting!

Hardening Off Seedlings

This process doesn’t have to be hard but the seedlings need special attention.  While the plants are growing, some gardeners find that running a fan on them helps in toughening them up.  This prepares them for easing into the transition of living outdoors.  Gradually introducing seedlings to the outdoors is also essential.  This can be tricky.  Keep seedlings in a place where you can keep an eye on them.  A protected area like a cold frame works really well.  Make sure to bring them back in at night until temps get warmer.  A windy spring day can be brutal for young plants.

Starting seeds
Tomato seedling reaching for the sun!

Most of all, have fun with seed starting!  This is a terrific way to get kids involved in gardening.  They can’t wait to get their hands in the dirt.  Kids love the anticipation of watching living things grow.  If seed starting is too much of a leap for you, there is no shame in purchasing seedlings at the greenhouse for your garden.  I’m always picking up something extra.  Something that catches my eye or maybe something that I forgot.  As you learn and grow in your gardening knowledge, you will be able to do more each year.

There are so many resources out there for seed starting advice.  I’ve been reading a few helpful articles by Creative Vegetable Gardener.   Most good gardening books will have a seed starting section.  One of my favorite in-depth seed-starting books is The New Seed-Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel.  Also, ask around.  Don’t be shy about asking experienced gardener for tips to start seeds at home.

Radishes are great for direct seeding in the garden!

Remember to start out small and build on your gardening knowledge from there.  With each passing season, you will getting closer to your gardening goals.  The first day of spring is just around the corner, so get planning your seed starting strategy today!  I would love to hear from you, either your questions or comments!  Thank you and have a great week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Adventures In Vermiculture (Worm Composting!)

Vermiculture.  It’s a big word.  What we are really talking about here is also known as worm composting.  You probably have heard of it but do you may not know what is involved?  Once you find out, it may be your next little gardening project.  Why don’t we learn what makes worm composting so incredible and how to get started in Vermiculture!

I started my worm composting bin last spring after obtaining some worms from a gardening acquaintance of mine.  I started with a small bin, maybe a 10 gallon tub.  The slimy details can be devoured at Getting Started With Worm Composting.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that this small bin was not going to accommodate my little worm farm.  As usual, my gardening projects have that ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ aspect going for them!  Before starting any slightly hair-brained sceam like this, consider whether you are up to seeing it through.  Worm composting is not for the faint of heart and you certainly need a stomach for it.  That being said, it’s not even that gross.  If you currently deal with a backyard compost pile, you can likely handle a worm bin.

Red wiggler worms.

Materials For Making Your Bin

A great thing about creating a worm composting bin is that it’s simple and inexpensive.  You will need: two 18-20 gallon bins or totes with one cover, shredded paper or newspaper, compost items and some garden soil.  When it comes to containers, many different things can be used.  Just search ‘worm compost bins’ and you will find tons of ideas.  Some have used an old cooler or even a broken chest freezer with great success.  The plan I have used is for someone who wants a typical home sized bin that can be managed with minimal work.

A baby red wiggler.

The last key ingredient would be the worms.  You will need to obtain some red wiggler worms or Eisenia fetida.  Regular garden worms do eat waste but not as rapidly as red wigglers.  Earthworms generally require deeper soil for survival.  It is fine to get worms from someone you know but be advised that their bin may have unwanted pests.  It is possible to find clusters of red wiggler worms in your garden.  Capture them if you like.  Just make sure that they are the type that you want.  If you buy online, purchase from a reputable seller such as Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.  This will obviously add cost to your project.

The fine castings from worms.

Worm Food

You are probably asking yourself what you can put in your bin.  Vermiculture is much like regular composting.  Save your kitchen scraps, egg shells and stale bread or pasta.  I tend to use the bread items sparingly.  Animal manure, leaves, newspaper and toilet paper rolls can be used.  All things in moderation.  Avoid using meat, dairy or fatty foods.

Worm castings on all compost items!

Do not over feed your worm bin.  I give my red wigglers one feeding per week.  You will eventually get an idea of how much you should feed them and how often.  I wouldn’t assume that your worm bin will replace your normal outdoor compost heap.  Only a large scale bin can really accommodate a large quantity of waste.

Assembling the Bin

Drill a few drainage holes in the bottom of one tote.  Also drill holes in cover and in the top sides for ventilation.  In the un-drilled tote, place two bricks or similar sized pieces of wood in bottom of bin.  Place drilled tote on top of wood or bricks.  This allows drainage to collect in bottom bin and helps with moisture control.

Drill air holes in the sides and cover.

Next, start layering your materials.  Build it like you might put a new compost bin together.  Layers of ‘brown’ and ‘green’ ingredients.  Add some kitchen scraps, then some paper, then some soil or compost.  After you have added all materials, nestle your worms into their new abode!  They should burrow into the yummy food quickly.  Layer some cardboard on top and this will keep your worms nice and cozy.

Larger bin for the new worm composted.
Worm feeding time! Kitchen scraps, newspaper and toilet paper rolls!

Worm Bin Care

Worried that you are going to spend every day tending worms?  Think again!  Normal maintenance should just involve one or two checks week.  The worms do not like bright like so keep the cover on as much as possible.  After each feeding, cover with fresh shredded paper.  The compost items should be covered.  Check moisture levels weekly.  Paper products should be damp but not wringing wet.  Bad smells could indicate that something is off in your bin.  The compost  bin can become quite heavy.  Get help with moving or use a dollie.

Worm castings on all compost items!

Where should you place your worm bin?  A cool shed, garage or on a shady side of a building are all good places.  Worms do not like warm temperatures.  To keep your red wigglers from getting to ‘aggressive’ keep them below 80 degrees F.  Ideal temps are between 60-80 degrees.  The bin should not be allowed to freeze in winter.  All these guys really do is eat, poop and make babies so you will want to keep them as happy as possible!

Harvesting Castings

Worm poop.  In more pleasant terms they are called worm castings.  Lovely sounding, don’t you think?  When see a quantity of casting accumulate, maybe after 3-4 months, it may be time to harvest.

Remove worms from castings.

Spread an adequate piece of plastic on the ground or a table.  You can then dump some or all of the contents out.  Begin to separate the worms from the ‘black gold’.  It is a learning experience.  Worms will shy away from the light so they will tend to gather together.  It’s really not hard to sift through them.  If a few worms get added to your garden, that’s okay too.   A fine mesh could also be used to sift the castings.  The castings are ready to use on your garden or to make worm tea.  Put your bin back together, layering more ingrediants and snap down the cover.

Placing something heavy on top can keep the worms from escaping.

I like to place a heavy object on the cover.  Some worms may unknowingly slip through the crack around the cover and then die in their escape.

Progress

So far, our worm bin has been working out really well.  Of course there is a learning curve, as with most things.  At times, I have felt like I’m one step ahead of what needs to be done.  I do think it has been a positive experience.  I harvested castings in the fall and got quite a bit for that initial small bin.  One major step was that when cold weather hit, I didn’t anticipate our garage being so cold.  Temperatures dipped down below freezing much of the winter.  What is a girl to do when her vermiculture project is about to turn into a giant worm-cicle?  Well, I had to bring them in the house.  The coolest place for them was in my tub upstairs.  At first, I was a bit terrified about having them so close to my actual living space but things have been fine.  My husband does assure me that this is not normal but hey, normal is overrated!

A healthy batch of worms!

There are some terrific resources out there for anyone interested in worm composting.  Henry Owen has a great web site called Worm Composting HQ.  He offers a blog, a fantastic website and free eBooks.  Another informative blog is by The Worm Monger.  Both provide comic relief and indispensable information for the budding vermaculturist.

The tiniest of worms.

This has been a wordy blog post but there really is no way around it.  I also apologize for these unappetizing photos!  Worm composting is easy but there is a lot to know.  Just like getting chickens or a rabbit.  I’m sure there are many other techniques out there and way more information.  This has just been my experience.  Thanks for stopping by Everlongardener this week!  Don’t forget to subscribe for free in the sidebar for more wormy content and gardening articles!

Hilary|Everlongardener