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Natural Living and Gardening Tips, Worm Composting How-To's, Cool and Useful New Products, and Special Discounts and Coupons... All in one place, and absolutely free!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Keeping Weeds Out Of The Garden The Natural Way

The one thing that stops many would-be vegetable gardeners is the thought of spending hours on your hands and knees, pulling weeds by hand. Herbicides are one way to keep weeds out of a garden without the work. However, herbicides aren’t good for the environment, and if you make a mistake, you could kill more than just the weeds. If you don’t want to battle weeds all summer, try a weed barrier. Not only do weed barriers make it difficult or impossible for weeds to grow, but there are many types to choose from with a variety of different benefits.

Plastic Sheeting

Black plastic sheeting is the easiest choice for preventing weeds. Simply roll it out in your garden, stake it to the ground or weigh it down with rocks, cut holes to plant your vegetables and viola – no weeds all season! Another benefit of plastic sheeting is that it will help your soil retain moisture. However, plastic sheeting does have a few drawbacks.

The drawbacks of plastic sheeting:

  • It isn’t exactly organic: While plastic sheeting shouldn’t leech dangerous chemicals into your soil, it is made of petroleum products. It’s also often difficult to recycle – many recycling companies simply won’t take it.
  • It can be flimsy: Some plastic sheeting is perforated for water permeability, but it doesn’t take much to tear it. Small stones in your soil can work their way through, or your footsteps could stretch and tear it. Heavy-weight sheeting may last you two or three seasons, but you will need to cut larger holes for your plants since it isn’t water-permeable.
  • It may be too hot in the summer: In the dead of summer, black sheeting can heat the soil as much as 12 inches below the surface. That increase in temperature along with the reflective heat from the plastic’s surface can wilt your plants.
  • Sheeting isn’t very flexible: If you’re the type of gardener who likes to put plants in different places or move things around, plastic sheeting may not be the best choice. Once you cut holes for your plants, that’s it – you will either need to place a vegetable plant there or weed the empty holes.

Plastic sheeting is one of few products that will give you a truly weed-free vegetable garden. However, it does come with it’s share of drawbacks. If you are willing to take the extra steps to use sheeting the right way, it can pay off at harvest time.

 

Bark Mulch or Wood Chips

While wood-based mulches are traditionally used in landscape beds, some gardeners like to use it in their vegetable gardens as well. Bark mulch and wood chips make it difficult for weed seeds to sprout. The seeds that do sprout grow into weak, spindly plants that are easy to remove. Wood-based mulch will help enhance your soil to some extent, and it also does a great job of locking moisture into the soil. On the other hand, wood mulch does have some downsides. It can cause the nitrogen levels in your soil to drop. After a few years of repeated applications, it can make your soil too acidic for vegetables. Wood mulch is also susceptible to a few other problems, including:

  • Soured mulch: When wood mulch is piled high, the deeper sections can become oxygen starved, which creates excess acetic acid. You will know if this happens because the mulch will smell like vinegar, ammonia, sulfur or alcohol. You will need to turn over the mulch bed to air it out – otherwise your vegetable plants could wilt and die.
  • Artillery Fungus: If you notice small orange or cream-colored cup-shaped fungus, this is artillery fungus. While it isn’t necessarily dangerous, artillery fungus actually “shoots” it’s small black spores, which can leave stains on your plants, fences, siding or anything nearby.
  • Slime Mold: Slime molds aren’t dangerous either, but they look gross. If you see what looks like bright yellow or orange jelly, you will want to remove it quickly. Slime molds can grow up to a foot in diameter in just a few days if left untended.

Newspaper

If you’ve saved up a stack of newspapers, the perfect way to recycle them is to use them as a weed barrier. Newspaper is biodegradable, so you won’t have a huge mess to clean up at the end of the year. Just make sure you avoid glossy paper or paper with colored inks, since these sometimes contain harmful chemicals. Just like plastic sheeting, weeds are unable to grow through layered newspaper.

To use newspaper effectively, put down a couple of layers over your soil. You will need to thoroughly wet it so that it doesn’t blow away. If you don’t like the look of a paper-covered garden, you can always put down a thin layer of wood mulch or straw on top.

Straw

Straw is a great choice if you don’t have a huge weed problem. While it will slow weed growth, particularly aggressive weeds can still grow through it. Straw offers a number of advantages that most other mulches don’t have. In addition to conserving moisture, straw also helps to keep soil cool.
The light color reflects heat away, making it a perfect medium for cool-weather plants like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. It also makes a good insulator if you want to keep things like onions or garlic in the ground over the winter.

If you plan to use straw in your vegetable garden, keep two things in mind: first, make sure it stays damp, especially if high winds are forecasted. Dry straw blows away easily. The other thing is that you need to be certain that you haven’t accidentally purchased hay. Since hay is full of seeds, you could be adding to your weed problem instead of eliminating it.

Compost

Compost is very rich, so by itself it doesn’t make a great mulch. If you spread several inches of compost on top of your garden bed, it will add too much nitrogen to your soil. The result will be sad, unhealthy vegetable plants.

The best way to use compost is in conjunction with another type of mulch. This way, you will get the nutrient-rich benefits of compost, a weed-free garden, and you are likely to save some money since you may not need to purchase as much mulch. To use compost properly, spread a thin layer over your garden bed. Once that is done, you can use a couple of inches of wood mulch, straw or two layers of newspaper to serve as the weed barrier.

Every gardener has different methods for keeping weeds down. Now that you have the facts about how different mulches work, you can make the right choice for your own vegetable garden. If you have gardening friends who have their own problems with weed control, share this page with them. Our goal is to help everyone have an abundant harvest while saving time, money and labor!

Do you know of any other chemical-free ways to control weeds? Post your tips in the comments section below to help out your fellow gardeners!

Friday, May 23, 2014

8 Reasons To Use All Natural Beauty Products

While natural beauty products might seem like the latest craze, there are actually a number of good reasons to use them in lieu of more products made by traditional, heavily marketed companies. From chemical-free products that are better for your skin to sustainable manufacturing that is better on the planet, natural and organic beauty products are more than just the "new fad." They're here to stay - and here's why you should be using them.

1. Chemical Free Is The Way To Be

There are literally dozens of chemicals used in natural beauty products that are proven to be harmful to the human body. Many people assume that since these types of products are simply being applied externally, there is no real danger. However, it's a fact that everything you put on your body gets absorbed into your body.

Common chemicals found in traditional beauty products include:
  • Polyethelene Glycol - the same substance used to remove oils from the skin is found in oven cleaners
  • Propylene Glycol - found in many hair care products, cosmetics and dental care products, this ingredient is also primarily found in anti-freeze
  • DMDM Hydantoin & Urea - found in a variety of beauty products, this ingredient releases formaldehyde into the body
  • Dioxin - this product is known to be carcinogenic
These are just a few common ingredients found in today's traditional beauty products - the list is seemingly endless. Avoiding these chemicals can help reduce your risk of cancer and other harmful diseases.

2. There Is Zero Regulation On Chemicals Used In Beauty Products

You'd think that the government would be aware of the dangerous chemicals used in these types of products, however, there is no regulations or safety standards that manufacturers of such products have to adhere to. This means that the manufacturers can use whatever ingredients produce the best results or are cheapest to use, without having to do anything besides list them on the back of the bottle.

3. Natural Ingredients Produce Less Skin Irritation

Since there are far fewer - if any - chemicals in natural products, such as natural body wash, the skin is less irritated as a result. Have you ever used a beauty product marketed for "sensitive skin" and still had a reaction like redness or stinging after applying the product? Natural ingredients like fruit oils and plant extracts are far less harmful and irritating to the skin than the ingredients in traditional beauty products.

4. Sustainable Manufacturing Is Better For The Planet

Most manufacturers of natural beauty products use sustainable manufacturing practices. For example, our sister company Naked Skin Bar's Moksa body bar does not use palm oils in the crafting of their natural body wash, as palm oil is one of the primary causes of deforestation.

5. Natural Beauty Products Can Be More Affordable

While it's true that some natural or organic beauty products are more expensive than their traditionally manufactured counterparts, others are much more affordable than name brands, especially those you would find in department stores. Their Moksa Iceland Mint Organic Soap Bar is just $6.50 a bar - far less than you would pay for a bar of name brand soap filled with chemicals and synthetic ingredients. With olive oil, coconut oil, cannabis oil, shea butter and pure essential oils and plant extracts, this bar is nourishing to the skin and body.

6. No Animal Testing

Many of the traditional, heavily marketed brands test their soaps, cosmetics and other products on animals to determine how their product needs to be labeled. For example, if a rabbit has a severe reaction to a cosmetic applied to their eyes, the company would likely place a label on the product to avoid getting into eyes. The large majority of manufacturers of natural beauty products shun animal testing, even though their products contain much less harmful ingredients.

7. Natural Or Organic Products Are Often More Effective

Have you ever spent a ridiculous amount of money on a certain beauty product, because it was considered "the best" or to be extremely effective, only to find out later that it didn't work at all?

Many people have experienced the same, yet because of the excellent marketing tactics of traditional beauty product manufacturers, the public still continues to believe that these products are the best.

Natural or organic beauty products actually tend to be more effective than their traditionally manufactured counterparts, since they do not upset the body's natural balance. Instead, these products work in harmony with it, allowing the body to be restored to its proper state.

8. Added Benefits Of Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy has been used for centuries to aid in a variety of conditions, including stress, depression and pain. Instead of being pumped full of synthetic fragrances to cover up a chemical scent, natural beauty products often contain essential oils like rosemary extract, mint extract, lavender, calendula and more. Essential oils and natural fragrances can help relieve stress, clear the sinuses, and promote an overall sense of well being, in addition to a number of other benefits.

The truth is, natural beauty products are here to stay. Consumers want options, and they want to be able to choose products that aren't harmful to them, to animals, or to the environment. If you haven't made the switch to natural cosmetics, organic beauty products or natural body wash, today is a great day to start. Check out Naked Skin Bar's incredible line of affordable, all natural beauty products here and support a growing company interested in the same things you are!

Don't forget to share this article with your friends to help them learn more about why they need to make the switch too - the more people who stop using harmful products and start using all natural ones, the better it is for their health and our environment!

Friday, May 16, 2014

How To Check & Maintain Your Worm Bin's Temperature

We at the Squirm Firm want to help our fellow gardeners with the upkeep of your worm composting bins. We cannot stress enough the importance of being aware of temperature of your worm bin and constantly keeping it under control. Happy worms make a happy gardener!

The Effect of Temperature on Your Worms


The temperature of your worm bin affects red wiggler worms drastically.

  • What if the temperature of your bin is too low?
    • Your worms eat and reproduce less.
    • How to tell with a glance:
      • Your worms mass together in a ball that looks like ground hamburger meat to keep each other warm.
  • What if the temperature of your bin is too high?
    • Your worms eat and reproduce less.
    • How to tell with a glance:
      • Your worms migrate into the cooler lower trays.
If the temperature is too high or low, these effects will eventually damage the overall health of your worm bin. When the temperature becomes extreme either way, your worms will start to die or flee to more moderate temperatures.

The Range of Ideal Temperatures


Red wriggler worms enjoy the same climate as we do. Imagine a perfect day. What is the temperature like?

When most of us think of the perfect day, the temperature is usually between 60-80° Fahrenheit (16-27° Celsius). These temperatures are also the ideal temperatures for your worms.

  • Which Temperatures are Dangerously Cold?
    • Temperatures below 50° Fahrenheit (10° Celsius) will slow down worm activity.
    • Temperatures below 40° Fahrenheit (4° Celsius) will kill your worms over an extended period.
  • Which Temperatures are Dangerously Hot?
    • Temperatures above 80° Fahrenheit (27° Celsius) will slow down worm activity.
    • Temperatures above 85° Fahrenheit (35° Celsius) will kill your worms quickly.

Temperature Maintenance


We’ve impressed upon you the importance of worm bin temperature maintenance and given you the ideal temperature range for your worm bin. Now, we will impart some crucial tips on how to check and maintain the temperature.

Checking the Temperature


We recommend measuring the temperature inside the worm composter with a soil thermometer since the temperature of the bedding is usually cooler than that of the outside air.

We offer a thermometer for only $7.95 that is especially designed for worm composting with an 8" probe that is color-coded for each action you should take. We also offer other cool new composting accessories for checking other types of conditions inside your worm bin.

Increasing the Temperature


  • What can you feed your worms to increase the temperature?
    • Foods high in nitrogen as they generate heat as they break down.
      • Lentils, mushrooms, peas, leafy greens, tofu, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, and oatmeal.
  • How can you protect your composter from the cold?
    • You can protect your composter from the cold by insulating the composter.
      • If your composter is on a cold surface, then place a sheet of cardboard underneath it.
      • Wrap the composter in insulating material such as wool, cardboard, or other fabrics to protect it from drafts.
    • Warning: Do not wrap your worm bin too tightly with these insulation materials. They could restrict airflow, which can be harmful to the health of your red wriggler worms.
  • What are other ways to increase the temperature of your worm bin?
    • To increase the temperature of your worm bin, provide a heat source for the worms.
      • A heat lamp or a spotlight will work well to warm the bin and provide an incentive for your worms to migrate to the top of the bin to eat.
    • Tip: Keep the lid of the bin on tightly if using a spotlight because worms will shy away from bright light.

Decreasing the Temperature


  • Where should you avoid placing your worm bin?
    • To make sure the temperature does not exceed 80° Fahrenheit, never place your worm composter in direct sunlight.
  • How can you keep your composter cool outside in hot weather?
    • If it is necessary to keep your worm bin outside during all seasons of the year, you must keep it cool during those hot summer months. Make sure to find a shady spot with good airflow and keep the bedding moist.
  • The temperature of your composter is too high, what can you do?
    • To cool the compost, you can place 1/4" thick wood pieces to separate the trays.
    • If this doesn't cool the bedding enough, we recommend adding a fan to lightly blow on the composter (make sure to keep the bedding moist.)
    • Use ice to cool extremely hot worm bins. Only do this in emergency situations as it can make your compost too moist and cause water to leak out of the worm bin.
We hope that this comprehensive information about the temperature of your worm bin helps you stay a happy, healthy gardener with happy, healthy worms! Pick up a worm compost thermometer today if you don't have one already, and share this page with everybody you know that uses worms to compost. Nobody wants to hurt their worms by accident! Happy vermicomposting!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Does Your Mom Have Worms?

Does your mom have worms? No? Well, maybe she should think about getting some!

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, so if you’re searching for the perfect gift for the most important woman in your life, time is running out.

That’s where we come in. To help you celebrate that special lady (or if you just can’t pass up a great deal for yourself), we’re offering a 10% discount on all of our worm composting bins when you checkout using the coupon code “MomsDay2014”. Worm composting bins are a great investment to make for a variety of reasons, not least of which involves their benefits to the environment.

Why worm composting bins?


Maybe you’ve never thought about worm composting bins being a particularly glamorous gift, but consider this: how much organic waste do we create in a day? A week? A year? Where does it all go?
Unless it’s recycled somehow, it goes straight to landfills, where waste truly becomes waste. Worm compost bins put that material to good use in a variety of ways while contributing to the betterment of the environment. What mother wouldn’t love to go a little bit Greener this year?

If you’re still not convinced, let’s take a look at some of the other benefits and advantages they offer:

  • They produce worm castings, which can be turned into worm tea, both of which are excellent organic fertilizers.
  • Worm compost has 7x more nutrients than traditional compost
  • They produce earthworms or compost worms, which can enrich your garden’s soil.
  • They don’t emit greenhouse gases.
  • You’ll save money on pesticides, fertilizers, and soil conditioners
  • The worms do all the work.
  • Organic waste is processed in a very short time
  • They’re clean, with no funky odor emission.
  • They can be installed indoors or outdoors.
  • They are easily maintained.


As you can see, the perks are many, and there are even more possibilities, depending on what you use your worms for. Worm composting bins aren’t just for the environmentally conscious mind. There are a number of things that could determine if your mom would benefit from starting a worm farm.

What kinds of moms would love a worm composting bin?


As important as it is to work on building a better Earth for our children, worm composting bins are ideal for all sorts of people with all sorts of interests.

If your mom enjoys gardening, she would no doubt benefit from a worm composting bin. As we mentioned, the bins produce a surplus of worm castings, the most nutrient-rich organic fertilizer known to man. Further, the castings provide plants with an unmatched level of protection from pathogens. If your mother uses worm compost in her garden, she is almost guaranteed to see bigger, better yields from her fruit and vegetable crops and bigger, stronger flowers than ever before.

Or, maybe your mother is more interested in animals than flowers. Worm composting bins are obviously going to produce tons of high protein snacks for a variety of exotic animals, such as birds of prey or fish. Instead of being forced to buy food all the time, your mother can have her pet’s dinner on hand at all times, which is not only convenient, but also a great way to save money.

Moms who have small children might be interested in a worm composting bin to teach their young ones about worm farming or the environment as a whole. Worm farming is a fun, educational activity for everyone, but children may find it especially appealing.

Finally, because these bins produce so much compost, your mom might find herself with a surplus of nutrient-rich material that she could sell to make extra money.

If you’ve ever been on the fence about purchasing a worm composting bin, now is the time to do it. This special discount, combined with the many benefits the bins provide, will make you more than glad you decided to give this gift that keeps on giving.

Again, to take advantage of this 10% off deal, enter this coupon code at checkout: MomsDay2014

The sale goes until Friday May 16th: Mother's Day!


If you think this is an offer your friends and family shouldn't miss, please feel free to share this post on your favorite social networking site. Everyone can take advantage of this opportunity!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Do You Really Need to Use Compost?

You’ve set up your first garden, or you are preparing to do so, and you’re wondering if there’s anything you’re missing. The land is cleared and you have bags of soil ready to go. Suddenly, you remember hearing something about compost.

Do you really need to spend money on compost? What are the benefits of compost? If so, should you buy premixed compost or should you build your own system? Should you invest in a worm composting system?


Practical Benefits of Using Compost

Compost describes the natural process of the decomposition of organic matter. During this process, countless varieties of micronutrients are released from the plant matter. These nutrients, when properly composted, can be added to soil and provide plants with what they need to reach their full potential.

What are some of the key benefits of using compost?
  • Improved soil structure. Not only does it add micronutrients to the soil, but compost improves the overall structure and texture of the soil.  Structure is a term used to describe how the inorganic particles combine with decayed organic particles. Inorganic particles are sand, silt and clay. Each type of inorganic particle benefits from compost in different ways. The overall result is that the soil itself will retain more nutrients, air and moisture. This creates healthier and stronger plants.
     
  • Time released nitrogen. Compost is created out of many different types of organic matter. Each type decomposing at different speeds. Part of the decomposition process is releasing nitrogen. Nitrogen is vital to the overall balance of the soil and health of the plants within. Generally speaking, organic matter will release 25% of its nitrogen in the first year, 10% the second and third years and 5% during the fourth and fifth years. This time released nitrogen will continue to generate health plans for years to come.
     
  • Fewer pest problems and diseases. Some research has indicated that using compost can prevent unwanted pests. Compost helps to control diseases by providing organic matter that can prevent the spread of disease by having natural checks against them. It is specifically beneficial against fungal infections that can destroy roots if unchecked. Furthermore, the variety of micronutrients provided by the compost enhanced soil will create a healthier plant and root structure.
As you can see, compost helps gardeners and landscapers in many ways. It works as mulch, a soil amendment or as an ingredient in potting mixes.


Worm Compost Systems vs. Premixed Compost

It’s now clear that you do really need to use compost for your garden, lawn care or potted plants. You’ve likely discovered that there are dozens of ways to involve compost with your gardening or landscaping project.

Two of the primary options are premixed compost and do-it-yourself systems. Should you invest in your own system? Or should you just buy premixed compost?

The answer will vary based on how much time, money and effort you’re willing to invest in your garden. Buying premixed compost bypasses tons of time and energy that is required for operating your own compost system. However, it may not be the best.

One of the downsides of premixed compost is that they are precisely mixed and may not be right for your situation. Precise mixing may seem like a benefit, however, the variety and randomness of organic matter in your own mixes is typically more beneficial to your plants. Standardized compost, such as the premixed varieties, are only beneficial if you know exactly what your plants, lawn or potted plants require. Even if you do, you’re likely going to provide your plants with a greater variety of nutrients by using your own compost system.

If you have some time to spare, investing in your own composting system will be cheaper and will likely be more beneficial to your plants. There are dozens of ways to create your own composting system. Some prefer to throw all of their organic matter into a bin, stir it regularly and then use that compost.

However, there is a better, more efficient way to generate nutrient rich compost. It’s called vermicomposting. Or, to say it another way, worm composting. Using a worm composting system will quickly (relatively) turn organic waste and garbage into ‘black gold’.

Here’s an overview of the entire worm composting process:
  1. Buy or build a worm bin. You can either build your own worm bin or you can buy a premade vermicomposting system. Premade systems greatly eliminate much of the chores that come with worm composting. A premade system is typically made out of several layers of bins with a release valve at the bottom. Conversely, if you create your own worm bin you will have to deal with a messy harvesting process.
  2. Add your waste. Once you’ve setup your own or purchased a worm bin, you’ll be ready to start adding organic waste. Raw fruits and vegetables are ideal. However, paper can also be used. Avoid meats and dairy products as well as any highly acidic fruits, such as oranges.
  3. Add your worms. Red worms, or red wigglers, should be used for your worm composting bin. Countless gardeners have found that this species of worm eat the most and product composting bin the fasts.
  4. Let them feast. Receiving your finished product will depend on how you’ve setup your worm system. Typically, it will take a few months before your ‘black gold’ is ready for harvesting. If you’ve used a premade system you may see results slightly faster.
  5. Harvest and use. The harvesting process will be very easy for those who invested in a premade system – simply turn the nozzle at the bottom. Harvesting will be much more complicated for those who built their own. There are several methods, many of which involve dumping everything out and separating the worms. This is why premade systems are well worth the investment.

Yes, You Really Do Need Compost

Compost provides several important benefits and is easy to create. You may buy premade compost mixes or invest time into creating your own system. For best results, purchase a premade worm composting system and harvest nutrient rich compost that can be used to take your garden to the next level.

Friday, April 25, 2014

How to Solve Common Soil Problems

Like many gardeners, you might have experienced a moment while digging in the dirt that made you wonder, 'is something wrong with my soil?' Maybe you’ve suspected your soil isn’t up to snuff for a while, but you weren’t sure what the problem was, and you were even less sure how to find out.

Most gardeners know that healthy, beautiful flowers, vegetables, and plants need soil with plenty of nutrients. They also need soil that is able to retain moisture. But what can cause soil to be low in nutrients? What can cause drainage problems?

Start finding answers by testing your soil yourself. There are some quick and easy ways to test your soil that you can try today.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Most gardeners are used to getting their hands dirty, but many of us are so eager to get to work putting in or pulling up plants that we don’t take the time to familiarize ourselves with our soil. Giving your soil a good feel can tell you a lot about the problems you may face.

To get a good sample, first dig a hole 6 to 10 inches deep. Take off your gardening gloves and grab a handful, then break the soil apart in your fingers and pay attention to how it feels.

Does the soil feel gritty and fall apart if you try to roll it into a ball? If so, your soil is sandy. Water drains quickly through sandy soil, carrying nutrients away from the plants before they have a chance to use them.

Does your soil feel sticky? If you get it a little bit wet, can you roll it into a ball? That indicates you have dense clay soil. Clay soil stores water well, but it can be compacted and difficult to turn. Working dense clay soil when it is wet can damage it.

The ideal soil type is loam, which is somewhere in between the sandy and clay soil types. If you felt it between your fingers it would be a somewhat gritty, somewhat sticky ball that crumbles easily.

Count the Worms

Take another look at that soil sample you dug. Do you see anything wriggling? Counting the earthworms in a soil sample is another good way to test your soil. If you see fewer than three earthworms in your sample, then your soil doesn’t have enough of the organic matter that earthworms feed on. And if there aren’t enough earthworms happily squirming away in your soil, then your soil isn’t benefiting from all the great things earthworms provide.

Do a pH Test

It’s important to know if your soil is too acidic or too alkaline. To find out, you’ll need to do a pH test. If your soil’s pH is too low (acidic) or too high (alkaline), your plants may be having a hard time taking nutrients in from the soil.

The pH scale goes from 0 to 14, with pH 7 as the neutral point. You want your soil to be in the 6 to 7 range. You can find a pH test kit at most hardware or garden stores, and they will give you a fairly accurate reading of your soil’s pH. When testing your soil, just be sure to use a sample with soil from various spots in your garden, since pH can vary from one spot to another.

Solving Soil Problems

Now that you know your soil a little better, what can you do to improve it?

If a pH test determined that your soil is too acidic, you may want to treat your soil to make it more alkaline (this is also known as liming). Calcitic or dolomitic limestone are commonly used to remedy this problem.

If your soil is too alkaline, you may want to consider adding acidity. Elemental sulfur is often used for this.

Before treating acidic or alkaline soil, it’s a good idea to send a sample of your soil to a lab. Not only will you get confirmation of your soil’s pH levels, you’ll get recommendations for the safest and most effective ways to treat your soil and change its pH.

No matter what the problem is with your soil, adding organic matter to your garden is always a good idea. Organic matter makes soil easier to dig and provides essential nutrients. Organic matter can consist of leaves, straw, newspaper, yard or garden waste, kitchen scraps, or manure. For best results, consider composting organic matter before applying it to your garden.

Compost can keep nutrients in sandy soil, and it provides space for air and water to move through clay soils, so the more compost you add to your garden, the better both for sandy and clay soils. Composted organic matter can even help change the pH of your soil.

Before composting, it’s a good idea to understand how to make compost and apply it to get the best results. Some tips:
  • If you’re composting kitchen scraps, avoid adding animal byproducts (fruit and vegetable scraps are best).
  • Adding red wriggler worms to your compost before adding it to your garden (vermicomposting) is a great idea. Nutrients in vermicompost are often higher than traditional compost.
  • When applying compost, spread it on top of the ground without working it too much into the soil. This encourages earthworms to travel to the surface and pull the organic matter down through the soil, which improves aeration and soil drainage.

For even more tips on composting, visit this website: http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/orgmatter/#compost.

Any gardener that has found aphids on a rose bush or a deer snacking on hostas knows that poor soil isn’t the only cause of poor growth. But even after you’ve sprayed your roses or built that deer-proof fence, it’s a good idea to inspect your soil. After all, the more you know about your soil, the better you’ll understand your garden’s needs.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Feeding Your Red Wiggler Composting Worms

Red Wiggler worms love to eat. In the right conditions, they will consume and digest 50 percent of their body weight in a 24-hour period.

But to keep them healthy, Eisenia foetida should be fed a proper diet of vegetable and fruit waste. Citrus fruit matter should be used in moderation, though. Too much citrus is a bad thing for Red Wigglers.

In addition, your worms will appreciate some fiber with their veggies. Shredded newspaper and paper towels, along with cardboard is a good choice. Use common sense, and don't pile in too much paper.
It is important to chop the food waste into very small pieces, as the Red Wigglers have no teeth to help them grind through larger chunks of food.

It is also a good idea to consider adding some paper products at the same time you add any moist food products to your worm bedding to help absorb the excess water contained in the food. You don't want your habitat to get too moist, because overly moist conditions can lead to pests and an unpleasant odor in your worm bin.

Coffee grounds and tea bags, and ground up egg shells (in moderation) are good add-ins, and aged animal manure can be added judiciously. Be careful not to over-do it and upset the delicate balance of the worm bin, however.

Starchy foods, like breads, potatoes. pasta and rice, can be scarcely used, but this is a risky step best avoided by beginners. The best course is to stick with the basics, and practice moderation when adding variety to the worm menu.

There are some things you will want to avoid at all cost.

Stay away from dairy and meats, and oils or greases. Obviously, harsh chemicals and non-biodegradable materials are problematic, as are human and pet waste. Once again, common sense is the best practice.

Other tips to consider:

Let your waste material sit for a while, allowing it to degrade a bit before adding it in. The worms really don't munch on the carrot peels and pepper slices. Instead, they are noshing on a microbial slime that forms on the rotting matter.

This is a little strategy that pays big dividends.

You might consider purchasing a compost pail to collect kitchen waste and other organic matter, where you can let it simmer and ferment for a few days while the microbial colonization process begins to take place.

Now that I've shown you how to feed a hungry bunch of composting worms, I'd like to hear what kinds of food your little guys enjoy the most. Tell us in the comments section below!