Compost worm farms

compworms.jpg For organic gardeners who don’t have enough recyclable waste for a productive compost heap, a compost worm farm is the answer.

Compost worms are different from earthworms that tunnel through soil and move into compost heaps after organic matter has been partly processed by microorganisms. Consequently, the term ‘compost worms’ can be confusing to new gardeners. Worm farm (compost) worms require a moister and cooler environment than earthworms (10–30° C.), and feed on a wide range of organic matter, including vegetable and fruit waste (except for citrus and onions), wet paper and cardboard, grass clippings, aged cow and horse manure, soft weeds and hair. Chopping waste into small pieces provides a larger surface area for worms to feed on and speeds up production. The digested waste (worm castings) are a clay-like humus that contains all the nutrients and trace elements that plants need for good health in a form that plant roots can absorb immediately.

Worm castings are Nature’s slow-release, complete organic fertiliser. The more varied the worms’ diet, the better the fertiliser. Simply rake the worm castings into the topsoil on garden beds. As they do not smell, they are the perfect fertiliser for both indoor and outdoor pot plants. They are also a great addition to seedling mixes and, when diluted to very weak black tea strength, the liquid that drains from the worm farm is a fertiliser that gets seedlings off to a flying start.
Worm farming has become a very popular method of recycling and various commercial worm farms are available to suit different situations. Most children find worm farms fascinating and enjoy looking after them.

  • Commercial worm farms come with complete instructions, a starter colony of worms and edible bedding for the worms. Small commercial farms with several tiers are easily moved into a shed or garage in areas where frosts occur. Or, in frost-free areas, if you can find an old hip bath or large sink, you can make your own worm farm as we have here. Worm farming
  • Containers with a drainage hole prevent moisture build up in the base of the farm and a waterproof cover excludes light and rain. (Avoid using old carpet or underlay as a cover as these are impregnated with pesticides.)
  • Add a little water to the farm when necessary to keep the food and bedding damp.
  • A light dusting of dolomite every few weeks will keep the worm farm smelling sweet and the pH close to perfect.

HARVESTING WORM CASTINGS
Worms in farms with stacked trays will move up into the next highest layer when all the food in their tray has been eaten, and it is time to collect the worm castings.
Uncover the worm farm and leave the surface exposed for 15-20 minutes. The worms will move down through the castings away from the light. The castings will contain worm eggs. These are easily recognised as you can see in the photo. They are about the size of the head of a match, or a little bit smaller. Worms don’t lay their eggs in groups like some insects do. They lay them one at a time through the worm castings, but usually close to where they can find food when they hatch.
Harvestcastings1 Use a scoop to collect a layer of castings from the top of the farm. A scoop can be made from a 2 litre juice bottle with a handle. Spread the castings onto an old tray by lightly brushing the castings with gloved hands. Check for worm eggs and any small worms that might still be in the castings and put them safely back into the farm. Cover them with a layer of food.
Then tip the collected worm castings into a bucket and collect another scoop full of castings until you have enough to put into your garden bed, or to make ‘worm tea’.

What to grow in March 2015

mandarin.jpg March weather is usually pleasant for gardening, and let’s hope that this year repeats the pattern. Yellow leaves on citrus trees often indicate a magnesium deficiency at this time of year. Citrus trees have a high citrus requirement. See: Yellow or pale citrus leaves
The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be planted during March in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive monthly guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, weed, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2006, 2009, 2012, also now available as an e-book).

* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list at any time this month, although you may find germination is weaker when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase.

WARM CLIMATE – South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, bulb fennel, cabbage, headed and open Chinese cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, mizuna, radicchio, rocket, silver beet (pre-soak seed), tatsoi, chamomile, coriander, nasturtium and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of strawberry or white clover, Japanese millet, oats, field pea or triticale. Celery, leek, spring onion, sweet basil and parsley can be sown or transplanted.
During First Quarter phase, broccoli, bush and climbing beans and peas can be sown directly into beds, and tomato and zucchini and can be sown or transplanted.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, and radish can be sown directly into beds, and cauliflower, early season onion, swede turnip, turnip, lemon balm, lemon grass, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, thyme and watercress can be sown or transplanted. Globe artichoke suckers, strawberries, avocado, citrus, olive and pineapple can be planted.

WARM CLIMATE – Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, nasturtium and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of Japanese millet, lablab, oats or triticale. Cabbage, leek, silver beet (pre-soak seed), spring onion and chamomile can be sown or transplanted.
During First Quarter phase, broccoli, and bush and climbing beans can be sown directly into beds, and capsicum, cucumber, egg plant, pumpkin, rock melon, summer squash, sweet corn, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown or transplanted.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip and radish can be sown directly into beds, and lemon grass and oregano can be sown or transplanted. Citrus, pineapple and strawberries can be planted.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, bulb fennel, cabbage, headed and open Chinese cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, mizuna, radicchio, rocket, silver beet (pre-soak seed), tatsoi and coriander can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of red or strawberry clover, faba bean, field pea, barley, cereal rye, oats, triticale or wheat. Leek, silver beet , spring onion, chamomile and parsley can be sown or transplanted. In warmer areas, celery and chickpea can also be sown. In colder areas, also sow English spinach and sow Brussels sprouts directly into beds.
During First Quarter phase, cauliflower can be sown directly into beds, and broccoli can be sown or transplanted. In warmer areas, peas can also be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, radish, swede turnip and turnip can be sown directly into beds, and early season onion, globe artichoke, lemon balm, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and watercress can be sown or transplanted. Globe artichoke suckers, strawberries, avocado, citrus and olive can be planted. In warmer areas, parsnip, mango, and pineapple and oregano can also be sown or planted.

COOL CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, headed and open Chinese cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, mizuna, English spinach and tatsoi can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of clover, faba bean, field pea, cereal rye, oats, triticale or wheat. Leek and spring onion can be sown or transplanted. In warmer areas, cabbage, radicchio, coriander and rocket can also be sown.
During First Quarter phase, suitable broccoli can be sown or transplanted in warmer areas.
During Full Moon phase, radish, swede turnip, turnip and garlic can be sown directly into beds, and strawberries, mint and watercress planted.

What to grow in February 2015

tomato1 February can be a challenging month for gardeners with heavy rain in some areas and fierce heat in others. Gardening efforts may be limited to collecting the fruits of your labour and taking advantage of the cooler parts of the day to prepare beds for gardening in more pleasant conditions.
The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be planted during January in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive monthly guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, weed, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in the diary section of my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting, updated edition (Scribe Publications, 2012), and e-book (Booki.sh 2012).
* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list for your climate zone at any time this month, although you may find germination rates are lower when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase.

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, leek, sweet and purple basil can be sown or planted out, also celery, spring onions, in late February. Cabbage and silver beet (pre-soak seed), can be sown directly into beds (also lettuce in late February), as well as a green manure crop of millet, mung bean, pigeon pea, or Japanese millet.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds. Capsicum, cucumber, tomato and zucchini can be sown or planted out, also broccoli, cauliflower and spring onions in late February.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, potato (Brisbane and areas south), radish, swede turnip and turnip can be sown directly into beds, and watercress, avocado, banana, mango, and pineapple can be planted out.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, a green manure crop of lablab, mung bean, pigeon pea, or Japanese millet can be sown.
During First Quarter phase, capsicum and tomato can be sown or planted out in suitable areas. Sweet corn can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, lemon grass can be sown or planted out.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, lettuce, radicchio and silver beet (pre-soak seed) can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of cowpea (early), mung bean, barley, Japanese millet, oats, or triticale (also cereal rye late in February). Brussels sprouts, leek and spring onions can be sown or planted out (also bulb fennel and celery in late February). Sweet basil can be also sown in warmer areas.
During First Quarter phase, bush beans can be sown directly into beds (also sweet corn in warmer areas), and broccoli, cauliflower and summer squash can be sown or planted out. Peas can be sown in colder areas in late February.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, radish, swede turnip, and turnip can be sown directly into beds. Dandelion, mint and watercress can be sown or planted out. Also avocado, potato, mango, and pineapple can be planted in warmer areas.

COOL CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, lettuce and silver beet (pre-soak seed) can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of mung bean or oats (plus barley late in February). Leek, lettuce, silver beet (pre-soak seed), spring onions and parsley can be sown in punnets or planted out. In warmer areas, also sow or plant out Brussels sprouts (early), and radicchio. In colder areas, also sow or plant out open Chinese cabbage, mizuna and tatsoi, plus English spinach in late February.
During First Quarter phase, broccoli can be sown. In warmer areas, cauliflower and peas can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, radish, swede turnip, and turnip can be sown directly into beds, and watercress can be sown or planted out. In warmer areas, also sow parsnip directly into beds. In colder areas, also sow garlic directly into beds.

Flies around fruit bowl

Drosophila-wikipedia Column 8 in today’s Sydney Morning Herald stated that Sydneysiders’ kitchens have been infested by fruit flies, stating that, “They emerge from fruit and hang around all summer”. The flies referred to are not fruit flies, they are the very small vinegar or ferment flies (Drosophila). Genuine fruit flies are kept out by fly screens. Vinegar flies emerge from fruit, tomatoes, etc. as grubs (larvae) and require pupation outside the fruit in order to complete their life cycle as a fly. If these tiny pests are a persistent problem, there must be a breeding ground nearby or the kitchen needs more regular cleaning.
Vinegar flies are attracted to the smell of yeast in fermenting organic materials and drains. To eliminate the problem:

  • Do not keep fruit at room temperature in warm, humid weather
  • Cover compost and garbage containers
  • Regularly rinse out garbage containers
  • Rinse beer and wine containers before recycling
  • and treat drains with an enzyme product to break down thick scum where they can feed and reproduce.

Genuine fruit flies, the Mediterranean Fruit Fly (Ceratitis capitata) and Queensland Fruit Fly (Dacus tryoni) cause a lot of destruction in gardens. They require pupation in soil after the maggots emerge from fruit. To reduce the problem of genuine fruit flies, collect all fallen fruit, put it in a sealed black garbage bag and leave the bag in the sun for three or four days to cook the larvae (and encourage your neighbours to do the same). Never put infected fruit in the compost container.

Corn – improving pollination

All types of corn are pollinated by breezes that blow pollen from the male flowers onto the silk threads that emerge from the top of each ear of corn. This is why it is better for home gardeners to grow corn in a block rather than a long row. Each strand of silk is connected to a separate immature seed and is covered in tiny sticky hairs that collect the pollen. If some silk strands don’t receive pollen, kernels may not form along one side of a cob, or near the top of the cob. (Female part of corn plant in photo at left.)

Male flowers form at the top of the corn plant as an upright spike and lower branches that open out like umbrella spokes. Pollen forms in small yellow ovals (anthers) that release their pollen mid morning after dew has dried from the flowers (between about 9 and 11 am). The centre spike is the first part to release its pollen. Pollen release may only last from 3 to 5 days and the released pollen is only viable for up to 24 hours. (Male flower in photo at left.)
It can help when growing small quantities of sweet corn or popcorn to pollinate it by hand, to ensure that the cobs your plants produce are full of juicy kernels. In nature, silks are rarely pollinated by the same plant.

To ensure good pollination, you need a sheet of A4 paper and a clean, dry, soft paintbrush. Fold the paper in half lengthways and open it out, then fold it in half the opposite way and open it out. This helps the paper to form a shallow well. Or, you can use a small clean shallow tray – something easy to manoeuvre between the plants. Hold the paper under a male flower and gently tap the spike and lower branches of the male flower with the handle of the paint brush. When tassels are ready to be pollinated, plenty of bright yellow pollen will fall onto the paper. Collect some of the pollen on the hairs of the paintbrush and dab it onto all sides and the centre of silk strands of other corn plants. Repeat this process over several days. Once a tassel has been pollinated, the ends of the silk strands will start to turn brown. As the cobs mature, you may have to net your corn crop as birds know when corn is perfect for eating.
Corn anthers won’t release pollen when conditions are too wet or very dry, the plants will wait until conditions are favourable. In areas of Australia that experience long periods of rain, it is best to plan your corn crop to avoid the wet season.

Koalas – help please

joeypouchesIFAW has been astonished by the most generous response to their call for koala mittens and now have more than sufficient for current needs.
If you would still like to help injured animals, they are in need of
pouches for orphaned joeys that can be made from old cotton or flannelette sheets.

Completed pouches can be mailed to: IFAW at 6 Belmore Street, Surry Hills 2010

01_6_15_koala2_0
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is asking for volunteers to make mittens for koalas that suffer from burnt paws during bushfires. We have already had some devastating bushfires this year and the bushfire season is just beginning.

The mittens are easy to make from old cotton pillowcases or sheets (cotton breathes, polycotton doesn’t), and some leftover wool for ties. Burnt paws are bandaged and the mittens go over the bandages. Raw edges of the mittens stay on the outside of the mittens so that the koalas’ claws don’t catch on any loose threads. They need a lot of mittens as each koala has four paws and the mittens have to be changed daily.
If you can help our little native animals with this project, thank you very much.

What to grow in January 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We wish all our readers A Very Happy, Healthy 2015. Very hot weather (with extreme conditions for Victoria and South Australia) at the beginning of this month make keeping your garden healthy a challenge. Lower than average rainfall in some areas of Australia doesn’t help, either. You can find some tips on how to protect your garden through summer heat, and save water in “Heat wave protection’.
If weather is pleasant enough in your area for spending time in the garden this month, here are some suggestions for what to grow.
The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be planted during January in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive monthly guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, weed, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in the diary section of my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2012), and e-book (Booki.sh 2012).

* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list for your climate zone at any time this month, although you may find germination rates are lower when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase.

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, silver beet (pre-soak seed), and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cow pea, lablab, millet, mung bean, pigeon pea, Japanese millet, or sorghum. Leek can be sown in late January.
During First Quarter phase, eggplant, rockmelon, summer squash, tomato, and watermelon can be sown, also cucumber in late January. Bush and climbing beans, and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, lemon grass, mango, pineapple and watercress can be sown or planted out. Beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, potato and radish can be sown directly into beds, also seed potatoes in Brisbane and areas south.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cowpea, lablab, mung bean, pigeon pea, Japanese millet, or sorghum can be sown in suitable areas. Sweet corn can also be sown as a green manure crop, and slashed when it is knee high.
During First Quarter phase, sweet corn can be sown directly into beds where heavy rains will not damage pollination.
During Full Moon phase, lemon grass and mango can be sown or planted out.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, Brussels sprouts, leek and spring onions can be sown or planted out. Cabbage, suitable lettuce, and silver beet (pre-soak seed) can be sown directly into beds, (also nasturtium and sunflower in warmer areas), as well as a green manure crop of cow pea, millet, mung bean, pigeon pea, Japanese millet, or sorghum.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds. Cauliflower, cucumber and leek can be sown or planted out, also rockmelon, summer squash, tomato, watermelon, and zucchini in warmer areas.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip and radish can be sown directly into beds, and lemon grass and watercress can be sown or planted out. Pineapple, potato and mango can also be sown or planted out in warmer areas.

COOL CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, Brussels sprouts, leek, lettuce, spring onions, sweet basil and parsley can be sown or planted out. Cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, silver beet (pre-soak seed) and dwarf sunflower can be sown direct, as well as a green manure crop of mung bean or millet. In colder areas, bulb fennel, open Chinese cabbage, dill, mizuna, and tatsoi can also be sown directly into beds.
During First Quarter phase, broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini can be sown or planted out, and bush and climbing beans can be sown directly into beds (also peas in colder areas).
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, and radish can be sown directly into beds, and dandelion, mint, sage, and watercress sown or planted out (also pyrethrum in colder areas).

What to grow in December 2014

gingerbread2 I wish all Aussie Organic Gardening readers a Very Happy Christmas, or whichever event you celebrate at this time of year. If you don’t have time to spend in the garden during this busy month, try to organize volunteers to mulch garden beds so that you don’t need to spend as much time watering over the holiday season. For those who have a some time to spare, the following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be sown or planted during December in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in the diary section of my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2012), and e-book (Bookish 2012).

* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list for your climate zone at any time this month, although you may find germination rates are lower when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase.

WARM CLIMATE ZONES
If your area has a wet season in the next few months, it might be wiser to not sow sweet corn this month, as heavy rain will prevent good pollination. Corn of any variety can be sown as a green manure crop, though, because green manure plants are cut down when about knee high.

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, silver beet, nasturtium and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cow pea, lablab, mung bean, pigeon pea, soybean, Japanese millet, millet, or sorghum.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans, eggplant and pumpkin can be sown directly into beds, and capsicum, rock melon, summer squash, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown or planted out.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot, carrot, parsnip, radish, and watercress can be sown directly into beds. Banana passionfruit, lemongrass, passionfruit and dandelion can be sown or planted out, and banana, mango, pineapple and mint can be planted. Cuttings of mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and watercress can be taken.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, sow a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cowpea, lablab, mung bean, pigeon pea, soybean, Japanese millet, or sorghum.
During First Quarter phase, capsicum, tomato and watermelon can be sown or planted out.
During Full Moon phase, lemon grass can be sown or planted out, and mango planted.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, lettuce, silver beet, dill, nasturtium and sunflower can be sown directly into beds. Leek and spring onions can be sown as well as a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cowpea, mung bean, pigeon pea, soybean, millet, Japanese millet, or sorghum.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds. Capsicum, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, rock melon, summer squash, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown or planted out.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot, carrot, parsnip, and radish can be sown directly into beds. Banana passionfruit, passionfruit, dandelion, lemon grass and watercress can be sown or planted. Banana, mango, pineapple and mint can be planted. Cuttings of marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and watercress can be taken.

COOL CLIMATE
In cool climates, there is still time to plant fast-maturing varieties of pumpkin, rockmelon and watermelon. Seed for these can be ordered from Phoenix Seeds in Tasmania (PO Box 207 Snug, Tasmania 7054).

Before the Full Moon, cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, silver beet, tatsoi, dill, and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of adzuki bean, mung bean, soybean, cereal rye, millet, Japanese millet, or sorghum. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leek, lettuce, spring onions, sweet basil and parsley, can be sown or planted our. In warmer areas, NZ spinach and nasturtium can be sown directly into beds, and in colder areas bulb fennel, open-headed Chinese cabbage, and mizuna can be sown directly into beds.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds, as well as suitable varieties of pumpkin, rockmelon and watermelon (see notes at beginning of post). Cauliflower, cucumber and zucchini can be sown or planted out, as well as summer squash in warmer areas only.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot, carrot, parsnip, and radish can be sown directly into beds. Dandelion, pyrethrum, sage, and watercress can be sown or planted out, and mint planted. Cuttings of rosemary, thyme, and watercress can be taken.

Ladybird larvae

Stressed plants attract pests and where you find pests you will also find beneficial insects that feed on pests. During extreme weather conditions you may notice some of these strange little creatures on various plants in your garden.

LBtransverse_lvLBcommspot_lvLBstriped_lv

LBsteelblue_lvLBmealybug_lvLBfunguseat_lv

These are not pests – they are juvenile ladybirds

Both juveniles (larvae) and adult ladybirds eat vast amounts of aphids, various types of scale and mites. One species eats fungus, including powdery mildew. The white, fluffy species eat mealy bugs. They are difficult to distinguish from the pests they devour. Australia exports this variety of ladybird to the USA to help with their mealy bug problem.

These are some images of the pupa stage, just before adult ladybirds emerge. Ladybird larvae have an attachment at the end on their abdomens that allows them to stick to a leaf surface while they pupate.

LBsteelblue_pLBfunguseat_pLBcommspot_pLBvariable_p

 

 

 

 

Lady bird larvae often seek shelter from birds in the curled leaves that citrus leaf miners produce. Remember, if you decide to use chemical or organic sprays to treat pests that you will also kill beneficial insects and their offspring. There is only one species of ladybird that is not helpful in the garden: 26 or 28 spotted ladybird.

 

For lots more information about lady birds, see: Ladybird Field Guide

e-book moon planters

NewEOG12_LR It has been drawn to my attention that some moon phase changes for 2015–2017 in the e-book version only of Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting have been listed incorrectly.
Scribe Publications have corrected the errors and the correct version is available from Apple and Amazon Kindle. It will shortly be available from other vendors. Scribe apologises for any inconvenience.

If you use moon planting, please contact your vendor for a corrected copy of the e-book, or contact Scribe Publications: david@scribepub.com.au