Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Worms, worms, everywhere!

Row garden area (with the coop sitting on part of it). All sections of it are now covered with well-watered cardboard.

I never thought I'd be so excited about worms! To a small gardener, they are signs of good things happening.

First of all, as displayed (half completed) in the above photo, we have our row garden area covered with cardboard. Basically, most of our veggie garden this past year was done using the square foot gardening method. We will continue to use this method for some plants, but since we have a good sized, previously tilled area set aside by the previous owners for a row garden, we are going to use that this year as well. Last summer, we did a few rows of corn and one of potatoes, but that's about it. This year, our plans are much bigger. We won't be using traditional rows so much as 'patches' but we will be planting in rows within those patches. To prep the soil, we did two things. One the left, we covered the area tilled last year with black plastic. This was to kill all weed seeds with heat. We have left it there all winter primarily due to laziness, but partially to keep the weeds at bay. We have so much water, that pleny of moisture is still getting under the plastic, so we should be good to plant this spring. This area was not planted at all this past season.

The rest of the area has been picked clean and pooped on by the chickens, and then covered with either rotting leaves or used hay from the goat shed. On top of this, we then layed out cardboard and weighed it down. We chose cardboard for 2 reasons. 1. It will block the sun and not allow weeds to grow, but it will still allow water/moisture and air to get into the soil so that the 'mulch' layer will decompose. and 2. we had tons of it from the it was free. ;-) Last weekend, we were peaking under the sections that have been there for a month or more and not only is all the mulch nicely decomposing, but the area is crawling with worms and other creepy crawlies! Yay! Busy, inhabited soil is healthy soil. We can't wait to see what we can produce this year! The plan is to pull up the cardboard, let the best pieces dry for future use, and toss the rest into the compost pile. We don't want to leave it where it is when we plant, or it will disturb the nitrogen balance in the soil.

The second population of worms that I'm happy about are our own doing. About a month ago, my H ordered a small herd/flock/mass/pride/pack (what do you call a group of worms?!) of worms so that we could start our own vermicomposting. Basically, this is using worms to eat garbage and then using their castings (poo) as fertilizer. Worm castings looks like the richest, most beautiful soil you've ever it's not gross and yucky at all. Plus, a well-managed worm bin won't smell at all, so it's totally suitable to small spaces (even apartments!). When H first got the worms, he just put them in a bucket with some bedding (moistened shredded paper) and some food cast-offs. This past weekend, we decided to improve their home and when we dug under the cover paper - they were already going to work on what we had left for them!

Anyway, we started with two rubber/plastic bins. We put two plastic tubs in the bottom bin to keep the top bin from seating all the way down.
Then we drilled holes in the top bin. Drain holes in the bottom and air holes around the lower part of the sides as pictured here...

We then put down a layer of shredded paper (lightly moistened with water) on the bottom and them spread out the 'garbage' and worms from the previous bucket. You can see a couple of the worms surrounded by starter soil and castings in this photo:

Then we covered all the 'garbage' with more shredded paper, moistened it, and put the cover on the bin to keep out light. The whole contraption is sitting in my husband's office (the warmest room in the house at about 65 to 70 degrees).

This is the worm bedding in the bottom of the two bins. The photo of the completed worm bin turned out blurry - but it looks an awful lot like this one only a bit more 'full'. ;-)

So, all we have to do now is to keep feeding the worms our bio-waste and keep them moist and happy. We'll be able to 'harvest' the castings when we are ready to start our next round of seeds and all summer long to use in 'compost tea' or for supplementing the soil in the garden.

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