Tag Archives: organic

Taken Over By Dirt

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how to keep your garlic fresh: put it in dirt and forget about it (except for water)

LETTUCE FAILURE

The last couple weeks have been packed with seemingly insignificant progress. While I learned that the best and easiest way to keep garlic fresh is to sprout it, I haven’t had time to make a grow light, or construct an organizational scheme for the planting. In the mean time, as seen below, my lettuce plants are suffering.  According to several online sources, they are “too leggy” and this is apparently caused by lack of proper lighting.

leggy lettuce display 1

leggy lettuce display 2

Also, as you can see, cut in half, gallon milk-jugs with holes sliced in the bottom make excellent medium table pots (and are readily available throughout the neighborhood on recycling day).

Lettuce Lessons Learned

  1. Do not attempt to grow lettuce indoors without a grow light or excellent windows.
  2. They sprout exceptionally well, so there is no real need to put them in a starter cell and then transplant them through various containers. In fact, this is more likely the damage their extremely thin roots than to help them. Just throw 1 seed in a medium bin of dirt (the cut in half milk-jug is just about perfect), water it for two days, and watch it sprout nearly 100% of the time.

WORMS

In other news, I solved my worm bin problem (they were all crawling out at night and dying on the kitchen floor). I bought a very fine mesh cloth for $2 and it seems that the worms are incapable of crawling on it. Since putting this in, not one worm has been found crawling up the sides.

worm bin tutu

A side note: it’s taking a while to get the European Nightcrawlers to eat regular kitchen scrap compost. They wouldn’t touch it to begin with, so I started covering it in this “worm food” I bought from the worm dealer (which appears to be some sort of grain ground into fine flakes) and mixing this whole concoction with finely crushed egg shells. As soon as I added the egg shells, the garbage started disappearing.

Important Recommendations Based on Experience with Nightcrawlers so Far

  1. Give them finely crushed egg shells with each new feeding
  2. Place the food on the surface and don’t mix it in. First of all, European Nightcrawlers are especially sensitive to the acidity of the soil and you may unwittingly be throwing it off for them when you mix it in. Secondly, they are surface feeders and naturally come to the top to feed and mate. Third, you don’t want to overfeed these little guys and the only way to make sure you aren’t putting too much in there at once is to keep it all where you can watch it.
  3. The majority of the food should be grains or non-acidic foods, such as green vegetables. You can feed them used coffee grounds and coffee filters (also on the surface) BUT make sure to mix egg shells in with this stuff and to keep it on the surface!
  4. Keep the soil moist by dampening it morning and night when you first get them. My bin drains really well, which seems to be working out for the worms- I haven’t found one dead worm since the great escape.  But this means it also dries out within a day and a half. Which brings me to my next point.
  5. Keep a large bucket of water that was drawn at least 24 hours before use next to the worm bin (the chlorine in tap water kills off the bacteria that help your worms do their job and enhance your soil. Letting the water sit out overnight allows the chemical to evaporate). Use this on the worm bin and your plants. Most likely, you will find that some of it collects in the container under your worm bin after draining through and under your plants. Collect this before anyone or anything is flooded and dump it back in the bucket. Over time, this water will turn into worm tea and you will already be in the habit of using it on everything. In addition, you wont have to refill the bucket more than once a week if you’re like me and have a fairly small indoor operation taking place.

MORE SEED REVIEWS AND A PLEASANT SURPRISE

A wonderful man in Oregon sent me these and five other packets of various seed types thanks to the seed exchange site (which I linked onto here a while back)

Seed Review

I ordered broccoli, pearl onions, and two-star loose-leaf lettuce off of the Territorial Seed company website. So far, I’ve only had time to plant the broccoli, but it immediately sprouted! By the way, these are open-pollinated seeds (all of the ones I purchased from this company). I’ve also received my seed order from Sustainable Seed Company, but have not had time or resources to plant any. This should change in about two more weeks and I’ll have more to update with.

Territorial Seeds. The website sells them for less than the price listed on the packet.

Sustainable Seed Co.

Worms, Green Onion and Garlic Green Harvest

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My European Nightcrawlers arrived a day before I thought they would and I had to throw this together at the last second.

I forgot to put a cloth or something similar in it to prevent the worms from crawling through the holes. This resulted in the great worm escape of 2012.

All that dirt on the side is the result of them scaling the walls. Some  died on the kitchen floor, but the majority were put back in the soil and placed under light so they’d crawl back in. I’ve had the lid on ever since and now they seem to be congregating by the food and not trying to go crazy. The guy I bought them from (who sounded like Larry the Cable guy age 80 over the phone), said they would be kind of crazy for the first couple days until they settled down from the trip

In other news, I enjoyed my first “harvest” today. I took the tops off my some of my green onion and garlic plants.

and made this:

The trick to harvesting salad shoots from these plants is to cut at least four inches from the base of the soil. The rate of growth increases the taller the plant gets. The onions in particular, started with about 1/5th of an inch of growth a day. Now they are growing nearly a half inch a day and this rate seems to keep increasing the taller they get.

Lessons Learned

  • Put a cloth in the worm bin to keep them from crawling out of the holes
  • Harvest green shoots 4 inches from their base

Green Onion, Garlic, Parsley, Bean, Pea, Squash, and Lettuce Growth

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As you can see, my green onion experiment is coming along nicely:

This is what we started with. These were the bottoms of green onions I’d bought for a salad. They were placed in water for about four days and then placed in this. I’ve been watering them twice a day from above and now they look like this:

The garlic cloves (also taken from a bunch I used for cooking) were planted upright and mostly covered in soil. I sprinkled parsley and cilantro seeds around them. Originally they looked like this:

Today this is what they look like (if you squint, you can see baby parsley!):

Also, you might remember my seed review on the Bentley brand. I saw nearly 100% germination within the first two days! Well, now we have 100% germination and, as you can see, the lettuce seems to be thriving in the seed starter wells. This is about three day’s growth:

Lastly, remember those several-year-old beans I had sitting in my cupboard that had the really great germination rate? Well, this is what they look like after only ONE week’s growth:

On the left hand row closest to us is one of the two peas out of 18 that I planted (BURPEE brand= terrible germination rates for me!). On the back row, on the far right, you can see the squash plant slightly falling over under it’s own weight.

I’m seeing GREAT results so far! Now I just need to build a couple grow lights!

Expenses, Other Drawbacks, Attempts at Solutions

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Expenses

Today I realized I’ve spent ~$105 on start-up stuff. I didn’t keep the receipts (going to start doing that), but here’s what I have so far:

  • 1lb European earthworms
  • spinach seeds
  • garden bean seeds
  • summer squash seeds
  • cabbage seeds
  • lettuce seeds
  • pea seeds
  • parsley seeds
  • cilantro seeds
  • oregano seeds
  • basil seeds
  • a small-well flat-sized planter set up
  • 2 medium-well planter set-ups
  • 2-ten inch diameter pots
  • 1-fourteen inch pot
  • starter soil
  • potting soil
  • liquid fertilizer

The soil alone has cost $10 so far and the pots have come out to be about $20.

Main Drawbacks and Possible Solutions

  • The cost of starter soil. I can’t find starter soil in anything larger than a small bag for $3. This is not feasible in the long term. One bag starts about 36 plants, which will be transferred into larger pots. This means that the soil cannot be used for starting again. To solve this problem, I’m going to experiment with making starter soil from potting soil and worm castings.
  • The price of pots. The starter pots aren’t that bad in terms of how many plants you can produce for the price, considering they are reusable. However, the larger growing containers are too expensive for a very low-income person to be able to budget for. I think the only solution here is going to be to find junk parts and figure out how to create planters that don’t drip all over the living room and meet the vegetable’s needs.
Update 4/8/2012: Okay, the solution is shown above- reuse old yogurt containers and any type of container you buy from the store (the lids can be put underneath to collect excess water.) Old baking sheets can also be used under the plants. Instead of transplanting into the store-bought containers I showed, you can transplant into plastic cups bought in bulk with holes cup into the bottom. For larger plants, you can turn old storage crates into garden beds by hammering holes into the bottom with nails and putting the container lid underneath to collect water. I will get a better picture of this and post it below when I transplant the lettuce into their largest container. You can also use a regular box with a garbage bag liner with holes poked in it for a couple plantings. When the box starts falling apart, you can transfer the liner into another box and use the worn one for worm food.
  • Space. I knew this was going to be a problem. I cannot, realistically, grow 15 heads of lettuce at once in my living room if I use normal planting methods because I wont have room for anything else. I *think* the solution to this is to plant multiple things per container; to go for a total soil-cover instead of, say, just having a pot of garlic by itself. Instead, I’ll have garlic and herbs. I’ll grow cabbage surrounded by carrots. THIS is where experience is going to come into play. I have to figure out what can be grown with what to maximize soil space
  • The cost of starting a “fertilizer maker” (worm bin). After researching the issue of worm purchase and maintenence expenses, I’ve concluded that this actually should be counted as a capital investment , rather than an expense.  It turns out that the European Nightcrawler is a relatively new species with a previously unseen combination of attractive traits. It’s the hardiest worm used for composting, a prolific breeder, consumes the most food per worm, and reaches large sizes desirable for a bait worm. I will be able to sell the worm castings and the worms to a public that’s never even heard of this species. This investment alone may pay back more than I’ve spent on the entire operation so far. One pound of these worms is currently selling for a minimum of $20 over the internet. Locally, no one near me is breeding these worms and those that do breed other species are selling them for $40/lb. These same people are selling worm tea for $14 per quart. They should prepare to be put out of business.