Friday, November 29, 2013

By Trina Ball...The "Worm Lady"

Winter holidays provide the perfect incentive to start a family worm bin.  Begin now and stop trekking kitchen scraps through deep snow to the compost pile! Special composting worms can make your life easier.  And the results of their labor? The very finest compost, full of chemical-free, water-soluble nutrients recycled and ready to nourish your spring plantings.  Trina Ball, “The Worm Lady,” tells us how easy it is, and how to get started.  Please click on METHODS & MATERIALS, above.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Nice and sunny, snow almost gone, so I finally dug the last of the Kennebecs today.  Sizes range from that of a good-size pea to just over 19 ounces with a good many in the 6-ounce range—not the kind of uniformity one would expect in the local supermarket.  The good crunchy texture and real potato taste more than make up for that, though.  Finding a perfect 5-ounce Dark Red Norland I had missed earlier was a nice surprise.

Those potatoes grew in an area that 18 months ago was nothing but useless lawn grass struggling with dandelions and black medic in mostly clay soil.  Stay tuned, as I’ll try to get an item on converting lawn (or whatever…) to useful garden space without much work posted sometime before sleigh bells interrupt the proceedings.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Frost a couple weeks ago finished off the tomato plants, and final fall cleanup is well underway.  We've covered our remaining root crops in preparation for the hard freezes and snow that may come soon. The carrots, parsnips, and beets should winter over well, and the turnips should provide delicious early greens next spring. The Red Russian kale is so sweet now that it’s almost candy-like; we’ll let a bit of it survive as long as it can.  There are still a few Kennebec potatoes to be dug. Onions and garlic are “cured” and stored in a cool corner of the basement.  Perennial herbs are ready to divide and move, and seed from annuals such as savory is drying in a box with silica gel along with other seeds from earlier.  Some will do better if it’s “stratified” first, i.e., given a cold storage period.

We got off to too late a start this year to do much in the way of cover crops.  We left legume roots in place to conserve the nitrogen they've stored, and our few remaining deep-rooted daikons will reduce winter soil compaction and be mostly broken down by spring.  We've decided to leave the soil in most of the beds bare except for very thin layers of straw.  Mulching can greatly reduce erosion, but we don’t have a problem with that.  It can reduce compaction caused by rain and the accumulated weight of snow and ice, but we broadfork our soil carefully each spring, loosening without turning it, so it doesn’t stay compacted for long.  Also, we would want to remove any mulch as soon as possible in the spring so the dark soil could catch the heat from those first few warm, sunny days.  Then the one- and two-year-old straw mulch will go back around the plants as soon as they’re large enough.

The compost pile will get one more loosening before it freezes.  One of our neighbors was generous enough to donate several bags of nicely shredded maple leaves raked from an organically maintained lawn, enough to bring the leaf contents up to about 10-15 percent by volume.  (We don’t want to exceed 20% in any case.)

Projects we hope to tackle this winter include a bulletin board frame, a picnic table, and cut-to-size components for a couple cold frames and three different types of plant supports: cages made of concrete reinforcing wire, bamboo trellises to be assembled with zip ties, and wooden overhead supports used with twine and clips for tomatoes or hanging material of a couple kinds to try for pole beans.  There are seed starting containers to clean, new fluorescent lights to install over indoor growing areas,

We’re thinking about seed orders for next year now, hoping to share a few seeds and plants with friends, especially those working in gardens for youth program support.  First we’ll select as many of our favorites from Seed Savers Exchange, then start perusing a few commercial seed catalogs as they arrive.  We’ll try to maximize use of seeds grown close to home, or at least at a latitude close to ours, and we’ll think twice before ordering from any company whose ethics we question.  Can’t wait to get our fingers in the soil again!
Compost covered with straw, ready for the snows!