We’ve Got Worms!

By OCMGA Master Gardener Carey Pederson

red-wigglers-in-compostI have to say, worms really rock! Those Red Wigglers are the best at composting and it is so easy and inexpensive to get started. We bought a few black tubs (20”W x 26”L x 6”D at Menards) for about $5. Use your imagination when it comes to giving your worms a home. This is what worked for us – make yours smaller if you prefer. To start off we put a mixture of shredded paper or saw dust with cut up kitchen scraps. Banana peels, melons, carrot peels, apple cores, lettuce – any kind of fruit or vegetable part that we don’t eat. The only items that I don’t put in are onions and egg shells. I read somewhere that worms don’t like onions, whether this is true or not I have always put the onion parts in the outside composter. As far as the egg shells, I’ve read that the worms don’t like to scrape up their bodies on sharp edges so I also just leave these to the outside compost bin as well. Food for the worms is almost the same as saving things for your outside compost bin. At the end of the day I cut up all the fruits and vegetables into small pieces. I take this along with used coffee beans (coffee filter and all); tea bags and toss it into the bucket under the kitchen sink. The bucket has a sealed top so we don’t have to worry about any smell. Once the bucket is full enough I put it in the freezer for about a day. This seems to kill off any attempt of the dreaded fruit flies or bugs that want to have fun in the worm bin. (We’ve been worming for over five years and have not had a problem with bugs). I take the bucket out of the freezer and let it defrost. At this time I mix in shredded paper or saw dust. You don’t want to let the worms dry out nor do you want to drown them so I add an appropriate amount of water and mix everything together. It should feel like a moist sponge. Then I add this to the worm bin. All you have to do next is put the red wigglers in, cover loosely and let the worms make you compost!

563cdd0ca9309.imageWe got lucky and had a really awesome friend give us some red wrigglers, however, you can purchase them from various sites online. To cover the worm bin, we cut black plastic bag to size and lay it over the worm bins. This helps keep any light off the worms and helps it stay moist in the bin. We keep our bin in the basement. Harvest time! Fold half of the black plastic over and keep a light shining on the bin. The worms will slowly move down to the darkness. Scrape the top dirt off into a bucket. Leave the worms move down and over to the covered side, then repeat the scraping of the worm poop. Repeat the process until you’ve hit bottom. Put in your mixture of worm food, cover and let the worms do their business. I’ve read about all the worm juices that you’re suppose to get from this. We never really have gotten much of any juice so the newest bins we have don’t have the little holes in the bottom of the worm bins for the juices to drip down for us to collect. We even had installed the little hose spigot but never had to use it.

Maybe we have not perfected worming, but the point is we try and are still getting lots of valuable material that helps our plants. Worms are pretty forgiving too. We have forgotten about them for quite a few months only to see them still surviving (barely). After giving the worms a bunch of food they came right back. I swear by the stuff. Whenever my African Violets are void of flowers, I just add a little worm poop and within a short period they are blooming like crazy again. If you want to add your worm compost to outside flowers and it is still in the middle of winter, no problem! I have kept worm compost in a sealable plastic bin for months and it is still good.

All-Purpose Fertilizer for Vegetables


Nice, rich compost

Every year, we get the same questions in a variety of formats:  why won’t my vegetables grow? What should I do to grow more tomatoes? Do I need different types of fertilizer for my different vegetables? The answer to all of these questions is the best fertilizer for your soil and vegetables: compost! Compost is the all-purpose answer to everything, and if you have enough of it you won’t need much of anything else. Though different crops have different needs, they will be able to serve themselves from the smorgasbord provided by healthy soil with plenty of compost in it. Once you start adding specific fertilizers, you start having to pay attention to each individual diet.

Salad greens, for example, want lots of nitrogen to promote the fast growth of leafy tissue. Peppers, on the other hand, are more eager for the potassium that promotes flower and fruit development. Although they too need nitrogen, they’d make great big green leafy bushes with nary a pepper in sight if you gave them a lettuce-appropriate dose.

And major nutrients like nitrogen and potassium are just the beginning. There are dozens of micronutrients, such as boron, calcium, and copper, that plants must have — in different amounts — to thrive.

In practice, it can be hard to create soil so fertile that no amendment is necessary, especially when growing vegetables in a small space. But before you break out the fertilizer cookbook and start concocting special meals for all the crops you want to grow, make sure the soil is well drained and well aerated, and that the pH is between 6 and 7 (the best range for most vegetables). Ensuring these conditions exist may be all you need to do. If the soil is bad or the pH out of whack, it won’t matter what you put on the table, the vegetables won’t be able to eat.

by Vicki Schilleman, OCMGA Master Gardener

Straw Bale Gardening – take 2

Guest speaker Jim Beard shares information about Straw Bale Gardening

I’ve done posts before on Straw Bale Gardening (see June 9, 2016 here), but I thought a repeat was in order as we’re all thinking about getting our gardens going for 2017. For those who not yet tried it, this might be the perfect alternative to creating a big vegetable garden. At our Garden Conference on April 1, guest speaker Jim Beard (subject of October 15, 2015 post here) had a wonderful presentation about the benefits of trying straw bale gardening.

According to Jim, you plant from the top the first year, plant from the bottom (potatoes) the second year, add it as a wonderful addition to your compost pile in year 3. There’s a little work involved, of course, but all good gardening requires some work!

I’d be interested in your efforts — let me know if it’s successful for you!


by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Don’t get rid of those leaves!

NeaveFall2The weather has been beautiful — the weather has been rainy and cold.  Welcome to Spring in Wisconsin! On those days that are beautiful, have you been cleaning out your gardens, lawns, and under your trees?  All of those wonderfully dried leaves are just waiting to be turned into nutritious compost for your gardens. Compost provides the perfect amount of food for every plant — including essential nutrients not found in commercial fertilizers. Raking compost into your turf improves the structure of the soil under your lawn. If you think that plants need chemicals to survive, just look around you!  The woods, plains, and wildflowers sustain themselves without any man-made materials.

It all starts with shredding those leaves! Whole leaves take quite a while to break down on their own, and tend to mat together.  Whole leaves just sit there cold in compost piles.  Not only don’t they help — they can actually prevent the composting process.  Shred them up, though, and you create the perfect compost makings. Remember, though, that shredding decreases the volume by a factor of ten. In other words, 10 bags of whole leaves can be shredded down to the point where they can all fit in one bag.

imagesThere are a multitude of publications that help you with the dynamics of what to use for composting, how to compost, what to add, what not to add, etc.  You can use commercially manufactured compost bins, fenced-in piles, garbage cans studded with drainage holes, or simple black garbage bags — all of these solutions and more work to create quality compost as long as you’re using the right ingredients! My favorite book is Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost, which is written in plain English in a light and humorous style. There’s even a chapter on vermiculture (composting using worms). [Note: for more information on vermiculture, see our previous post here.] Another resource is a pamphlet produced by the UW-Extension Master Composter program, which can be downloaded and printed here.

Dark, nutrient-rich compost

Dark, nutrient-rich compost

Don’t be afraid to start composting — it’s easier than it looks and you can start small. You don’t have to make enough compost for all of your gardens — just set a goal to make enough for your container plants, or for one container! Your lawn and gardens will thank you for the nutrition, and you’ll save the money you would have spent on expensive fertilizers.

Composting with Worms

by Patrick Meyer

worm-compostThe process of worm compost is interestingly different from the regular composting procedure. Worm composting or vermiculture is an easy, affordable, and low-maintenance way of creating compost. It has a lot of advantages. Definitely it requires less work, just let the worms eat up all your scraps and in two months you’ll have rich compost at your disposal. The worms used in composting are the brown-nose worms or redworms. They work best in containers and on moistened bedding. Those night crawlers or large, soil-burrowing worms are not good for composting purposes. Just stick with the redworms and things will work out well. All you need to do is add food waste to the container and soon enough the worms will eat them up and convert compost together with the bedding. Before placing your redworms inside containers, place a nice layer of paper to serve as bedding for the worms. Any kind of paper will do, but it has been observed that the worms will consume newspapers, cardboards, paper towels and other coarse papers faster. The worms will eat this layer of bedding together with the scraps of food to convert them in compost. You can also add a bit of soil on top of the paper and a few pieces of leaves. If your redworm container is located outside the house, try considering adding livestock manure on it. Redworms love them.

Fruits, grain, or vegetables are great for worm composting. The redworms can even eat egg shells, coffee grounds, and even tea bags. Avoid giving them meat, fish, oil, and other animal products. Like the traditional composting, these materials only attract pests to the composting bin and also produce bad smell. The proportion of worms to food scraps will be based on how much scrap you like to be composted in a week. For example, if you want one pound of food scrap to be composted a week, all you need is also a pound of redworms. You don’t need to add redworms into the container unless you want to increase the amount of food scraps you intend to compost in a weekly basis.

For containers, keep it well ventilated to let the air in and let the excess moisture out. You can use plastic bins, and even wooden boxes for worm composting. The time to harvest would be when the container is full. Scoop out the undigested food scraps as well as the worms which are usually on the top few inches of the material. The remaining material inside the container is your compost. To remove the remaining worms from compost, you can spread the compost under the sunlight.