Monday, March 17, 2014

Worm Composting

Vermicomposting (worm composting) is a great way to compost at home.  Red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) can eat over half of their body weight per day and create a substance called worm castings... aka. worm poop.  Castings contain beneficial bacteria, enzymes, minerals, and organic materials from plants.  They are a great soil amendment and home-made fertilizer. 
Red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida)

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden hosted a worm composting class last week and they had a few kits left over, so I decided to become a worm farmer!  I got a lot of great information from the presentation prepared by Karen Carter, Henrico agent for the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Now, I have a confession to make- I have tried this before.  It was in my first apartment in Ambler, PA, and I was trying to worm farm in my hall closet.  I always woke up to dried out worms on the floor who had tried to traverse the desert of living room carpet, on their journey to who-knows-where.  I also had fruit flies... a very large number of fruit flies.  I had to tell my guests to put a coaster on top of their glasses of red wine so they didn't get floating fruit flies.  It wasn't pretty and I haven't tried worm farming for about 5 years, but I'm sure that this time will be better because I'm better educated!

I learned from Karen Carter that my problems were very common and it meant that my worm bin was unbalanced.  The worms were crawling out of the bin because there was too much moisture and the fruit fly population exploded because I was overfeeding and I didn't bury my food waste, I just dumped it on top. 

Here is Karen's materials list:
  • Bin with a lid, made of opaque, flexible plastic- 14 gallons(24" x 16" x 12")
  • Shredded newspaper- 4 lbs
  • Water- 1 gallon
  • Compost and coffee grounds
  • Worms-1/2 pound per cubic foot volume of bin
  • Drill with a 1/4-1/2" bit
First, I drilled holes in the upper 1/3 of the plastic bin and also in the lid, approximately 2-3" apart (the worms need good ventilation).  Then, I added moistened newspaper (squeezing out any excess water), compost, and coffee grounds to the bin and mixed everything around.  Then I added the worms under a layer of the newspaper.  It seemed pretty easy! 
14 gallon bin with holes drilled in the upper portion and lid.
Shredded newspaper and compost
As always, there is something that I would do differently next time- wear latex gloves when you are soaking and ringing out the newspaper or you will dye your hands like I did!
Mixing newspaper, compost, and coffee grounds.  This could probably be accomplished in a less messy way, with a shovel or stick, but hands work well too.
Adding red wigglers to the newspaper mix.  These were covered with a layer of newspaper.
I'm going to keep my worm bin in my basement and feed them tasty things like coffee grounds, banana peels, melon rinds, and lots of other things from the kitchen.  Lewis Ginter's Adult Education Coordinator, Phyllis Laslett, gave me a good rule of thumb for worm feeding- they are vegan- so I'll only feed them raw vegetable products.  She also said that they aren't fond of onions, so I'll put those peels in my regular compost bin.  I'll cover the scraps with layers of the newspaper so the compost won't smell and to keep the fruit flies down.  Wish me luck!

Keys to worm bin success:
  • Good ventilation and drainage
  • 70% moisture to breathe
  • Temperatures between 60-85 degrees F
  • Bedding and food supply
  • Darkness

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Home Ownership!

I was looking for a source of never-ending projects, so I decided to buy a house!  (I'm only half-kidding here)  I bought a house in the Bellevue neighborhood of Richmond, VA, just two miles from my lovely garden, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and very close to downtown Richmond.  Its amazing how mundane tasks seem exciting when you are in a new house.  From installing the kitty door the to the basement, to hanging blinds and artwork, to choosing paint colors- I feel like I'll never be bored again!  I'm going to capitalize on this enthusiasm until it wears off... 
Backyard, this Fall 2013
Front yard this Fall 2013.  AJ has big topiary plans for the lollipop-pruned Chinese holly on the right and the Nandina's days are numbered...
Of course, I'm itching for Spring so I can get outside and into my very own garden!  AJ and I spent some time putting together a plant wish-list while watching college football at a local bar this Fall... I'm sure there were other people making plant lists in the bar that day too, right?  It looks like we are going for an edible landscape/pollinator friendly garden.  We have big dreams of espaliered fruit trees, figs, blueberries, and thorn-less raspberries, white clover in our lawn, red buds, dogwoods, stewartia- oh the possibilities are endless!
This morning in my snowy backyard
I can't wait to see my cherry tree blooming in the Spring!
As soon as it warms up enough, I'll move the beehives from their home, for the past two years, at the Garden.  After their adventure moving 5 hours and 4 states from Pennsylvania, 2 miles should be pretty easy.

Stay tuned for blog posts of home improvement and gardening projects.  And I promise to start blogging about my quilting projects again soon!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Marie Selby Botanical Garden

Orchids in a shadehouse at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
I decided to recycle some photos that I never got around to turning into a blog.  Last October (2012), AJ and I visited the wonderful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, FL.  Selby specializes in epiphytes - orchids, air plants, bromeliads - so I visited to gather information when we were thinking about bring our orchid collection from an outsourced grower back to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.  We had a wonderful tour by Greenhouse Manager, Angel Lara.  He showed us the many different growing zones and gave me great tips about orchid culture, virus control, and curation.  It was a fun walk down memory lane for AJ because he was an intern at Selby about 10 years ago while he was studying Agriculture at Virginia Tech.
Angel and AJ at the koi pond
Flowering Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis
Sculpture in the garden surrounded by tropical foliage
A specimen in the fig (Ficus) collection
Bat plant (Tacca integrifolia)
The lush tropical vegetation in the conservatory
Garden house with bromeliads and Spanish moss dripping from a tree at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Small bromeliads on a series of horizontal wreaths hanging from the trees

Friday, October 4, 2013

Peaks of Otter

The view of Sharp Top Mountain from our hotel room at Peaks of Otter
A few weeks ago, we took advantage of the beautiful early Fall weather and spent the weekend at Peaks of Otter lodge.  The lodge is in the shadow of Sharp Top Mountain.  This was considered to be the highest point in Virginia until GPS was developed.  It is a short, but very steep climb to the top.  In addition to the gorgeous views, there were many native plants blooming.
Peaks of Otter Lodge from the top of Sharp Top Mountain
Boneset (Eupatorium)

Golden Rod (Solidago)
Witchhazel (Hamamelis)
White Wood Aster (Aster divaricatus)
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) Check out this great LGBG blog post about uses of jewelweed.
Lichens on a boulder

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Garden Fest Animals

The Conservatory model train display is a visitor favorite at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden's Dominion Garden Festival of Lights.  What makes our display unique is that the horticulture staff create miniature "fairy houses" out of dried botanical materials.  The detail on the houses is amazing. Ginkgo leaves turn into wallpaper, an acorn cap will be a porch light, and a small seed might be a tiny door knocker. 
Asian-style house from the 2012 display.  Pine needle thatched roof and colorful pressed leaves look like clothing drying on the clothes line.
This year, the houses will replicate the animals' homes in the book, The Wind in the Willows.  To highlight the theme, we also decided to replicate the actual animals.  Debbie, one of our great volunteers, made the animals heads out of clay which she painted.  Then, I created bodies out of foam, wire, bubble rap, and pipe cleaners and made clothing. 
Mr. Toad, Ratty, and Mole

I was also tasked with making a row boat for Ratty and Mr. Toad.  I started with a foam core frame and I covered it with river birch bark.  I then added details of bright green dried cattail leaves and deep red Japanese maple leaves.  The oars were made from twigs and river birch bark.
Ratty and Mr. Toad in their row boat

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