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Category Archives: front yard farm

Worm tea and worm castings

Top bin removed before getting castings out from middle bin

A few months ago I bought some worms and made worm-composting bins.  My boys and I have been feeding them kitchen scraps every week or so since then.  It’s been a fairly low-maintenance venture, and worms don’t sting, so I don’t have to don a hot (not figuratively) bee suit every time I need to feed them and/or check on them.

The only real negative was the gigantic fruit fly swarm that materialized mid-August when I hadn’t put enough dirt on top of the veggie and fruit scraps in the bins.  Otherwise, it was just like any healthy composting set-up with no smell at all.

Those redworms have been busy.  I tried to lift up the top bin and almost pulled my back out.  I finally hoisted it off and the middle bin was full of dark castings.

Top bin compared to final product -- castings!

I’d been feeding the worms only in the top bin so they’d pretty much all migrated up, so I only had to fish a couple of them out of there and transfer them to the top.

The bottom bin was about half-full of tea, actually that’s “leachate” — I was informed by James Magee at Blue Ridge Redworms that’s the correct term for the liquid that runs off the castings. ( Worm tea is another form of compost-based liquid that comes from worms, but there’s more involved in making it, including fermenting it with molasses and some other stuff that sounds pretty advanced.  I’ll stick to the liquid dregs for now….)

Adding leachate to raised bed

So, as I’d suspected when we started composting with worms, our system wasn’t big enough to handle all our kitchen’s compostables.  However, they ate more than I’d thought they would — maybe 75% of the stuff that would have gone into our regular compost bins out in the side yard.

I put all the castings into one of my raised beds where I’ve got some dinosaur kale growing.  I poured the leachate around the arugula, mache, and red russian kale in another raised bed.

Putting castings into raised bed

Now it’s time for the worm bins to go back into the basement for winter as we’re getting into freezing temps at night.

And I’ll be keeping an eye on the winter greens on into spring to see how they benefit from our worm composting venture….

Redworms at work in worm composting bin

 

We’ve been robbed…and infested

Our beehive is having a rough time right now.  Not only have they been discovered by a band of marauding robber bees, they’ve also had some freeloading hive beetles and wax moths move in.

Beetle traps, sugar water, pollen patties (cider vinegar and oil to bait the traps)

To fight back, I called John Christie at Wild Mountain Bees up in Madison County and ordered some ammo:  mite strips and hive beetle traps.  And to help my bees re-stock their food supply to get them through the winter, I ordered some pollen patties.

Since we got this hive back in April, tending the bees has been fairly low-maintenance.  I fed them sugar water to get them established, and checked the hive every couple of weeks to make sure they were producing brood and building up a good supply of honey.

All was well till I started noticing the tiny black shiny hive beetles scurrying around in the racks, then I realized every time I’d go in the hive there were more of them.  Then we found some wax moth larvae (eww, vile grubby things) attached to the sides of one of the boxes.  But the most alarming thing was that where there had once been racks full of honey, there was nothing.  And it happened fast.

Robbed!

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do to prevent robber bees from coming in.  Robber bees are just bees from another hive who’ve been tipped off by one of their own that there’s a good supply of food in another hive, and they make quick work of stealing it.

One thing we did was to put an entrance reducer on the front of the hive so that our bees would have less territory to defend.  It basically is a strip of wood with a small notch cut out so that only a couple of bees can come in or fly out at once. I also put some grass and leaves over that entrance after a Google search informed me that would confuse the robber bees and they’d eventually give up trying to invade and go back home.

This is not just happening in my urban beehive:  it is happening in all my friends’ hives around the 28801 and 28806 zip codes.  I sure would like to see the hives where the robbers are absconding with our honey.  They must be strong and gigantic.

Mite strips: 7-day treatment

When checking on the hives a few weeks ago we noticed that some of our bees had shriveled-up wings.  That’s a sign of mites.  Despite their flightlessness, the other bees don’t reject them.  (My brother was marveling at this, reminding me that bees will banish the drones from the hive at the end of the season when they don’t need them anymore, but they will “let” these hive-bound bees stay and work.)

These mite strips about knocked us over — they’ve got formic acid in them. I don’t know what formic acid is exactly, but it smelled like the vinegar on steroids.  I felt guilty putting them in the hive knowing the bees would be trapped in there with all those fumes, but I knew that unless we dealt with the mites we were at risk of losing the entire hive, especially since we’re headed into winter.

Pollen patties on top of racks

So my bees wouldn’t hate me forever after I subjected them to the formic acid treatment, after I took the mites strips out I immediately put in some pollen patties.  Pollen patties look and smell just like PowerBars (I swear I didn’t taste one!) The bees started eating them as soon as I put them on top of the racks.

Trapped hive beetles

The hive beetle traps are great.  They work by luring the beetles in through small holes in the top with apple cider vinegar, then they get stuck in the vegetable oil inside.  These little traps also sit on top of the racks.  One note if you try them:  be really really careful with the oil — don’t spill any inside the hive because any bee that touches it will get all gunked up and won’t be able to fly.

The only things that could mess with our bees now are the giant variety:  bears.  They are roaming all over the place.  They’ve been in our neighborhood the past few weeks.  There was a family about a half mile from downtown, not far from us, just recently:

Mama bear and 3 cubs in tree, courthouse and downtown in background

Bear-proofing

Hence:

To end on a happy note:

October 13th and still coming in with pollen

 

“Edamame” sounds so much cooler than “soybean”

Time runs fast in the summer.  I’ve already pulled up all late spring veggies that were done, and am now heavy into tomatoes, squash and beans.

Soy plants in the raised beds. They're big. About 4 feet tall and bushy.

And speaking of beans, the edamame that my kids and I planted are coming in strong.  That’s an easy seed for little kids to plant — they are big, round, white seeds– so they’re easy to handle and see going into the ground in late spring. Now we’re enjoying some really robust plants.

When I was a kid, I remember my dad speaking disparagingly of fields of soybeans — I think he was disappointed to see mono-crops taking over the sandhills of South Carolina (I think I’m projecting….). Or maybe he just didn’t like to eat soybeans then.

I really didn’t hear much about soy again until I went vegetarian in college and ate all kinds of incarnations of the bean.  When I moved to Asheville about 15 years ago, I re-discovered it at a sushi restaurant as “edamame”.  Yum.  Anything that has lots of salt, I love.  Plus it’s fun to eat – it’s a Japanese version of boiled peanuts.

Sow True Seed had a variety of edamame seeds this spring, so I planted one row in the smallest (4×4 foot) raised bed, so not alot of plants but they are producing more than enough for our family.

My kids are not into harvesting edamame or any other small vegetable that requires patience to harvest. There are lots of mosquitos out and it’s hot, so it’s not really fun for long for anyone. However, they really wanted to pick every tomato, green and red.

They did enjoy getting to see how much we (ahem, “I”) harvested by weighing them on the kitchen scales.


Another fun thing about edamame is you don’t have to snap and/or string them like you do most other beans.  I just threw them in a pot of boiling salted water for about 8 minutes, drained, then salted them.  Then there’s the best part:

Still a little hot but sure are good

Notice there are no photos of my 2 year old eating edamame.  He likes to lick the salt off, then get the beans out of the pods and look at them.  We’re working on getting him to expand his vegetable repertoire.  Not easy, but at least he has a good example set by his older brother!

 

Great front-yard garden design

My friend Amanda Ray turned half of her front yard into this great garden, right here in 28801.  I think a garden really says alot about a person — Amanda Ray’s artistic soul definitely helped shape the space here.  She’s a mom to two boys too, and she’s designed a garden that’s both fun and practical for her family.

I love the layout of this design — you can imagine how cool it is for little kids — it’s a maze, so very inviting.  It also makes tending the plants really easy too, as you can get to them from both sides.

Of course the boys are loving to dig around in the gravel paths…..

Another thing I like about this garden is that it’s right up next to their front porch, so there’s really easy access to the food when it’s ready, and it’s easy to water too.

 

Blogging on gardening

[In the blogosphere, I’ve noticed a special kind of post, and I realized after writing it that this is one too:  it’s a “Why-I-haven’t-been-blogging-much-lately” post…]

When I started blogging about my “yard farm” back in February, I knew that I would not have quite as much time to write about my garden once the weather warmed up and I’d be outside, actually working in my garden with my plants instead of writing about them.

And the boys — well, they’d want to be outside if it were 33 degrees and pouring rain — but they want to be out in the yard and garden as much as I do when it’s been as pretty as it has been lately.

In addition to the call of the nice weather and growing “to-do” list in the garden, a few weeks ago I accepted an offer to work part-time for an organization I’ve been volunteer teaching with (Teach the World Online).  All of the work I do for TWOL is online, so that’s a couple hours of time in front of the computer each day (all quite interesting, though!), so as soon as I get done I’m rounding up the boys from their naps and heading out the door.

Needless to say, my blog has fallen a bit by the wayside in the past couple weeks due to the new job, glorious weather, and the start of the growing season here in the Southern Appalachians.  But we’re still here, hands in the dirt and feeling summer coming on strong!  Stay tuned!

 

Another 28801 front-yard farmer

Right up the street from Alsace and Candice’s garden you’ll find another cool front-yard, raised-bed garden.

While driving and walking down this street, I’ve watched this garden grow the past few years. I was first intrigued by the design of the bamboo fence:

When you’ve got your garden right up in the front yard, right next to the sidewalk, it is nice to have a little bit of a fence (e.g., keeps dogs – and clueless people – from wandering over into your plants).

I was walking home from picking up the boys from preschool last week and saw the person I thought belonged to this garden, and he (Andy) — like Candice and Alsace — was kind enough to take a few minutes and answer my questions and let me snap a few photos.

Here’s Andy in his garden.  He has managed to turn a rather small space into lots of growing room.  He’s put his composter in the corner of the space, you can see it behind him.

Over the winter, he put down pavers in the paths between the raised beds. That’s an improvement I’ve put on my wish list for next year’s garden.  It keeps the weeds and mud at bay, and it looks pretty cool too.

Here’s a couple more perspectives showing how Andy has turned a very small space, right on the sidewalk into a great garden (I love the city “No Parking Any Time” sign)…..

 

Shocking slugs!

I am sure I’ve mentioned my disdain for slugs.  In all my gardens prior to having raised beds, I’ve been plagued by them.  They can be so destructive, and no matter how diligently I picked them off young plants (or set up beer traps to drown them, or sprinkle slug pellets, or whatever cure du jour I’d most recently discovered online) they always managed to be one of the peskiest pests.

Last year I read about putting up barriers (of varying kinds) to keep them out of my raised beds.  The most ingenious one I read about was copper tape.  It supposedly works by giving the slugs a mild electrical shock when they touch it, so they won’t cross it.

And I must say, it has been very effective as I’ve yet to find one on even the tiniest of my seedlings.  My peppers, tomatoes and lettuce seedlings have been growing along untouched by these spineless, shell-less destructors.

This is what the copper tape looks like when unrolled.  It’s got adhesive on the back so you can just stick it directly onto the wood of your raised bed.

Notice that I got smart this year and wore gloves while putting the tape on the beds.  Last year I must have been in a hurry (or lazy) and I didn’t wear gloves, and I got some of the most wicked, tiny cuts from it.  It’s a fairly thin strip of copper so it was kind of like a paper cut, but with thin metal — ow!

This is what it looked like right after I put the copper strips around my two new raised beds.  Those beds are now planted with my tomato and pepper starts, which are safe and sound thanks to the copper.

The copper strips I put around the 4 raised beds last spring are still holding on tight.  They have a slight green patina to them, but they haven’t peeled off a bit, despite a harsh winter and torrential spring rains.

One thing I did read about in a gardening forum is that you must keep weeds and other plants from growing up over the copper strips, because the slugs will use it as a “bridge”  to avoid getting shocked and get to your plants.  Which reminds me, I need to go out and weed right now…..

 

Getting plants from TV land

This was on my doorstep a few days ago:

What in the world has my mama sent me now?  I love my mom.  My mom loves me. My mom also loves to shop — at thrift stores mostly, but being a night owl she also gets into shopping on TV.

Every once in a while she’ll find something on one of those cable shopping networks that she’ll order and have shipped to us.  Usually it’s something like a space heater or air purifier, but in the past few weeks, one of these shopping channels has started offering all kinds of gardening stuff — including plants.  And Mom is way into it.  Not for herself as she doesn’t have much space for gardening, but for us.

Last week I received a box of 8 dwarf butterfly bushes she’d ordered from one of these channels. Mom is very thoughtful — she’d heard me mention that we’re thinking about getting bees, so she ordered the butterfly bushes knowing they attract insects (not sure if bees like them though, but it’s the thought that counts.)

I had no idea what was in today’s box, but I noticed a distinct smell as I was cutting through the tape — tomato plants, and “heirloom” varieties at that:It’s so weird to me that tomato plants can be sent through the mail.  They all arrived looking fairly healthy, though.  And they came with tags too.

I’m going to have to find some space in the raised beds to plant these — I hadn’t planned on having any more tomato plants than the ones I’m growing from seed.   However, I just can’t not plant them — feelings would be hurt.

And while I didn’t inherit my mom’s shopping gene, I do share her trait of having a hard time getting rid of things.  In my case, it’s plants.  My house plants have to be on death’s door before I can toss them.

Thinning seedlings causes me mild angst, but fortunately I’ve learned to toss them into salads so I don’t feel like I’m wasting them:

Above are some of the romaine starts James planted several weeks ago.  I’ve been picking the outer leaves and mixing them with the explosion of spinach leaves (at right):

And here’s a photo of part of the front bed with seedlings grown from Sow True Seed:

I’ve been thinning these lettuce plants out and putting them in salads.  The really tall plants in the back are Asian greens that are also great in salads — and I’ve used them in a couple stir-frys.

Anyway, I’m wondering how the mail-ordered-from-the-TV tomato plants will do compared to my grown-from-seed tomatoes from my local seed company.  July will tell!

 

Front yard farmers in 28801

I’ve learned about gardening over the years from my dad, gardening books, and the internet.  I’ve also gotten lots of ideas by checking out other peoples’ gardens and small farms.  Right here in my own zip code there are some great gardens going on in front yards.  I love to see what other gardeners are doing.

It seems that most folks who keep their gardens in their front yards do so because their back yards are either too shady or there’s not enough space.  We moved our garden to the front yard because of the two giant spruce trees that line the southern side of our backyard, plus our front yard is flatter.

My college friend Jane emailed me last week to tell me she and her husband are moving their raised bed garden to their front yard too to take advantage of a sunnier situation (they live in Ohio and they’re ready for lots of warm sun after this past winter!)

Moving the garden to the front yard has made gardening a much more social experience for me. Neighbors tend to stop regularly on walks to check out what’s growing.  I can also find people to give vegetables to when everything seems to start coming in at the same time in late summer.

Just a few blocks from our house there’s a great garden that I pass on the way to preschool.

The entire front yard has been turned into a neat system of raised beds.  When I was on a run last week I noticed the owners were home and in their garden so I got a chance to meet them.  Candice was kind enough to let me interrupt her potato planting and tell me about what she and Alsace are growing in their front yard this year.

The bed to Candice’s right is the beginning of her potato bed.  She explained to me that she’ll keep adding boards and soil vertically as the potato plants grow.  We talked about the challenge of getting water to the lower layers as more soil gets layered on.  I told her about something I’d seen on the internet about putting a soaker hose near the bottom layer to keep the plants from getting too dry.

On the far right of the picture is their rain barrel that a friend made for them.  Up close to the house but a little hard to see is a cold frame that Candice made.

I asked them if it was OK if I follow their garden’s progress through the season on my blog and we got a chuckle out of the idea that they’ll have pressure to keep the garden going strong.  It’s the same kind of “pressure” I felt when James and I first started gardening in the front yard — I felt like we’d better keep the weeds out and everything looking good, while I hadn’t been so concerned about those things when the garden was behind the house.

Here’s another front yard system over in Montford (not far from our house):

 

These gardeners have managed to turn almost every square inch of dirt in their front yard into growing space, complete with cool signage letting everybody know what to expect to be coming up later in the season.

 

 

 

 

 

Another benefit of front yard gardening:  less grass to mow.  Or in the case of the two gardens above, no grass to mow!

 

 

Vermiculture, wormery (box of worms in the basement)

Worm farmers, please take no offense as I’m a total newbie when it comes to raising worms —  I’m still laughing about finding the word “wormery” while googling for ideas about building a worm compost bin.   Nursery, brewery, apiary, pharmacy — but wormery?

Well, reading more into it, it’s quite an interesting concept, so I’m laughing less and getting more intrigued by these lowly worms (Lowly Worm, by the way, was my favorite Richard Scarry character as a child; now my boys love it when he turns up in stories too.  Such a friendly fella).

I’ve been wondering how to expedite the composting process of kitchen waste. Magic answer:  worms (according to my recent googling).  They can do alot of composting in not too much time.  There’s even commercial vermiculture/composting to handle restaurant food waste.

Now from what I’ve learned, you can’t just dig up regular ol’ earthworms out of the backyard and put them to work as composting worms. Sounds to me like earthworms are kind of wild, solitary creatures who like to do their own thing in the open dirt.

Red wigglers, however, have more colonial tendencies and can turn most vegetable and fruit scraps (and coffee grounds among other non-edibles) into some of the best dirt on earth:  worm castings.  They don’t seem to mind being boxed in as long as the conditions are right and the food is good.

I had a feeling this would be an easy project to get my kids involved in as they are absolutely obsessed with worm-hunting in our yard.  When they found out we were making a “worm house,” I had their undivided attention (there’s not much of it to be divided anyway, but they were quite curious about the process).

I followed these directions on how to construct a worm bin.  Yesterday I went to a hunting and fishing store in West Asheville with my 4-year old and bought out their last 4 containers of red wigglers.   Then I got 3 ten-gallon plastic storage tubs to stack one on top of the other.  We drilled holes in them according to the directions.  This lets the worms have some air, and also lets the castings fall down into middle bin for easier collection.

So it’s three bins stacked one on top of the other.  The top one is where the worms live and work on breaking down the food waste, the middle one collects the worm castings that fall through the holes, then the bottom one collects any excess moisture, AKA “worm tea”, which is another very nutrient-rich compost to put on the garden.

Soon after the drilling, our friends came over to play and help out with the wormery construction.  The next step was to tear up newspapers into strips and get it wet to make an environment for our worms. (Soggy newspaper doesn’t sound like it would be exactly the ideal home, but I’m trusting the websites I’ve read, and going against my instinct to house them in dirt.)

Well, we did get to put a least a little dirt in there, as the worms need some grist to help them digest their food (no teeth):  

 

 

 

 

Then the kids turned the worms out into their new home:

 

And then we stacked the bins together, put a piece of wet cardboard over the top (apparently worms love to eat cardboard too, but I also think this is to maintain an ideal moisture level in the bin):

Now we have to wait a couple of days to let them acclimate to their new place, then we can start adding small amounts of kitchen scraps and let them go to work.

 

 

 
 
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