Category: gardening


By , May 16, 2010 6:51 pm

What a glorious sunny, warm (but not too warm) day it was in Arizona’s mountains today. Finally we had our first real late-spring day!  It might be the last for a while judging by the forecast of cooler temperatures and yet more unbelievably strong winds again for this week.

The sun was gently warm, its blue sky background scattered with just enough gentle puffy white clouds for interest. Leaves are emerging on trees, but not yet on the Gambel Oaks. Stems are greening up and little leaf buds are miraculously presenting themselves on plants that look deader than dead.

Encouraged by the relief from the strong spring gales and finally warm air, I decided to take the Big Frost Gamble and join the throngs headed for the nursery.  Somehow I resisted the temptation to buy everything green and flowery and bought only the necessary plants  – but I know I’ll be back!

My 9 year-old and I spent a lovely day planting pots and window boxes while my husband washed cars (his number two favorite hobby after cleaning garages). My 7 year-old son made a mess map in the mud with a hose, forming lakes, islands, peninsulas and bays, each with its own name. My 4 year-old went to the park with her best friend and best friend’s mom to feed ducks and play on the play-ground.

It was a fine unplugged day!

Harvesting the Worm Bin

By , August 28, 2009 2:09 pm


About 8 weeks after we began our first attempt at vermicomposting (worm composting) it’s already time for our first harvest!

  • How did I know? The contents of the bin were rich black castings and the newspaper bedding was almost completely decomposed.  Also, the worms were starting to climb the sides of the bin, clearly no longer satisfied with their accommodations.
  • Preparation: Always feeling that I can improve on any instructions (a major character flaw I am afraid), I did not follow my original harvest plan.  Instead I pushed all the bin contents over to one side, and set up a new area on the other side with damp brown paper shreds and food.  I left the bin this way for about a week hoping that the worms would mostly migrate to the fresh, new side.
    • Harvest Day: This is what the bin looked like when I opened it this morning.  See the two sections? Old on the left – ready to go in the garden – and new on the right:

You’ll need newspaper, tub of water, and a bucket for the castings:

(Note: Cats are not a required item, although they felt they were.)

First I tore newspaper into 1 inch strips and tossed them in my tub of water to soak.

Next I began digging out some of the castings from the left side and I noticed that most of the worms had indeed migrated to the fresh section.  It was mostly worm free until I got close to the border, then I had some sorting to do.

NOTE:  I don’t mind worms, so I used my hands (the castings smell and feel rich and damp and clean, like the ground after a cool rain!).  However, if you’d rather not handle the worms, you can try this method.

I spread each handful of castings on some newspaper and picked out the worms and any chunks of not quite composted newspaper or food.  It was truly a glamorous job, but at least I felt fairly sure that most of my worms would end up back in the bin to keep up the good work.  No garden vacations for my guys!

I returned the undigested material and any stray worms to the new side of the bin.

By the time I had finished, I had collected at least a gallon of gorgeous black worm compost:

and my bin looked like this:

    • Redecorating: Finally, I spread out what remained in the bin, squeezed out my newspaper strips (really well so as not to drown the worms) and tossed them on top.  I added a bit of fresh sand for their gizzards and some food for their tummies, assuming worms have tummies.  I placed a fresh piece of damp cardboard on top to help keep things moist (the voracious little devils had completely eaten through their last one!) and put on the lid.

  • The Garden: The hardest part of all this was deciding where to put my precious compost.  I chose a climbing rose that I have had for about 4 years.  It was the very first thing I planted when I moved into this house.

Much to my surprise, there was still plenty left over.  I headed to my dismal back flower bed which grows ugly little stunted flowers due to poor soil, and gave it the rest.  Will it all be 6 feet tall by tomorrow???

LINKS:  How we made our worm bin (quite easy and inexpensive), and the arrival of the worms.

Worm Bin Update – NO VACANCY

By , June 24, 2009 10:12 pm

(WARNING:  If you don’t like worms, then skip this post!)

It was a very thrilling day today – our 2 lb. bag of Red Wigglers finally arrived!!

The Fedex driver had probably never had a more excited welcome than he got this afternoon.  As my 8 year-old daughter put it:  “Now we have millions and millions of pets!!!”  Hmmm….not exactly what we need with 9 cats, a dog, 2 birds, 2 fish and a bunch of happily reproducing sea monkeys.

Here is the box of our very well traveled worms.  Did Fedex know what they had in here?

The worms arrived nicely packed in a brown paper bag.

We opened the bag…

… and this is what we saw:

After holding a few worm friends:

And discovering an egg:

We gently tipped them into our “Worm Hotel” and tossed some of the damp newspaper on top of them.

Next came food.  We were certain that they were hungry after their very long trip, the sort of trip that most worms never have to make.

The menu consisted of a medley of carrot peels, followed by leftover bok choi greens and brown rice, with some tea leaves for dessert:

We hope that our new pets will be very happy and produce a great deal of lovely, rich poop castings to transform our nasty clay soil into gorgeous, moist, nutrient-filled humus.

NOTE:   To see how we made our worm bin, please visit our “Slippery” Unplugged Project post.

UPDATE:  Harvesting the worm bin (it took only 8 weeks to make a gallon of lovely compost).


Slippery – Worm Bin (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , June 17, 2009 10:09 pm


We have just added a new weapon to our arsenal against the heavy clay soil of Northern Arizona: our very own worm bin! In case you wonder what I am talking about, worm poop (more politically correctly known as “worm castings”) makes wonderful compost for the garden.

I didn’t pick the theme slippery with the worm bin in mind, but it occurred to me later that since worms are a bit slippery, this project fit the theme!

One option is to buy a commercially constructed worm bin such as this one, but I opted to go homemade (I guess this could have fit last week’s homemade theme too).  Worm bins can be made out of wood or plastic containers.  They can be one simple box or multilevel.   I followed these online instructions for a two story, Cheap and Easy Worm Bin.

You’ll need two 8 to 10 gallon plastic storage boxes with lids (dark plastic, not transparent), a drill with a 1/4″ and a 1/16″ drill bit, some newspaper and a piece of cardboard.

First drill about 20 large (1/4″) holes in the bottoms of both boxes.  Space them approximately evenly to allow for even airflow and easy worm travel.

Next drill small (1/16″) holes all around the top edge of the boxes, about 1 to 1.5″ apart.  I did two rows for maximum ventilation.

Also drill small holes (about 30) in ONE lid.  The other lid will be the base to collect any draining liquid, so don’t put holes in that one.

Fill a bucket or other plastic container with water.  Tear the newspaper into long strips, approximately 1″ wide and toss them into the water to soak.  This will be your worm bedding and you’ll want about 3 to 4″ of it in the bottom of the box.  For us, it took one whole newspaper.

Take the newspaper strips out one handful at a time and squeeze them out well.  They need to be nicely damp, not sopping (don’t forget that worms breathe through their skin so don’t drown them!).

Toss them in one of the boxes and fluff them up.

Once you have your 3 to 4″ of fluffed up bedding, you’ll need to mix in a bit of dirt.  Since we still have a giant sand pile in the back yard, we put in a bit of sand too.  Worms have gizzards and need to eat some of this rough material (dirt/sand) in order to digest their food (by grinding it in their gizzards – no teeth!).

Finally, soak a piece of cardboard just big enough to cover your bedding and place it on top of the bedding.  The worms will be put underneath this cardboard and it will also become a tasty treat for them.

Now it’s time to set up your worm hotel.  Place the solid lid upside down on the ground as a tray to catch any draining liquid from the decomposition process (known as “worm tea,” your garden will love this!).  Place some bricks or blocks on the upside down lid as a base for the boxes (this allows for drainage).  Next goes the empty box on top of the blocks, with the full box nested inside it.  The lid with the air holes goes on top.  Keep in a cool dark place.

When the worms move in, place their food in a corner and bury it under the newspaper to avoid odors and fruit flies.  Bury new food in a different part of the bin each time you feed them.  They will follow it around the bin.

Voilà!  The finished worm bin!  Now all we need are the residents.  I ordered a 2 lb bag of Red Wigglers online and they should be arriving soon.  At least their new home will be ready for them.

NOTE: Worms like:  vegetables, fruit, tea bags, coffee filters and grounds, eggshells, bread, cereal, grains.  Do NOT feed:  meat, dairy, oil, fat, feces.

For more complete feeding information, as well as how to harvest your worm castings, please be sure to read the Cheap and Easy Worm Bin article!


Cheap and Easy Worm Bin

Worm Anatomy

Worm Composting (Vermicomposting) How-To



FOLLOW-UP: Be sure to check out the arrival of the resident worms in this post: Worm Bin Update – NO VACANCY

ALSO: Read about our first harvest (only 8 weeks later)


Flat – Stepping Stones (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , July 28, 2008 6:48 am

Hooray! We managed to participate in the Unplugged Project this week!  This week’s theme was flat.

My step-mother wanted us to make some “flat” stepping stones for a muddy patch of her garden here in Upstate New York, so I got brave and bought concrete, something I’ve never worked with before. 

Our supplies were the smallest available bag of quick-set concrete (40 lbs – ugh!), a bucket that we wouldn’t reuse, a stick to stir, some old shoe boxes for molds, and an assortment of “treasures” – dollar store shells and buttons, glass stones from a garage sale, and pieces of a cereal bowl that we broke by accident earlier in the week:

I mixed the concrete with water in the bucket. My advice: don’t try to mix too much at once. It is VERY hard to stir. Next time instead of trying to dump from a 40 pound bag, I would scoop some powder into the bucket so as to keep the mixture small and manageable. You can do several small batches like this, mix it more easily and thoroughly, and save your arms!

We poured the concrete into the molds and the kids began decorating:

We let them dry in the garage overnight. Tip: to move the now heavy and floppy shoe boxes without bending them and messing up the wet creation I slid a rimless cookie sheet under each one and transported them to the garage without damage.

24 hours later we were able to remove them from the molds. They came out very easily:

And here they are! Aren’t they lovely? My step-mom is thrilled:


What did you do this week for flat? If you joined in the Unplugged Project this week, please put your link in Mr. Linky below and leave a comment. I am still on vacation (until Wednesday), so I will try to visit, but can’t guarantee.


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project is:


Hope to see you next week!


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