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’.

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.

Bees welcome

Beelvdr2 Although we do not use pesticides, in recent years we have noticed fewer bees in our garden. In response we have set up a hive under a white mulberry tree, and added a ‘bee garden’ in a corner of our vege patch. I’ve planted a short hedge of French Lavender (Lavandula dentata) that flowers from late autumn to mid spring, when few other flowers bloom. I’ve also added some Borage (Borago officinalis) as a treat for bees, and some Manuka shrubs (Leptospermum scoparium) to add its healing benefits to our honey.
The decline in bee numbers has become a global problem, with the United States losing  45 per cent of their bees and Europe has 13 million less bee colonies. It is a very serious problem because many of the foods we eat depend on bee pollination to produce crops or seed. If bee numbers continue to decline you can forget about having honey, the cost of manual pollination of crops would be exorbitant and many foods will become a luxury (See list below). Colony Collapse Disorder is the most puzzling aspect of this decline, where bees leave their hives and just disappear over winter.
In the past, CCD has been blamed on diseases, mites, poor nutrition, or Manuka Shrubpesticides, particularly the neurotoxic neonicotinoids. Last year, research at Harvard University found that long exposure to small amounts of two neonicotinoids (imidacloprid and clothianidin) are the likely cause of CCD. The European Union has already banned the use of three neonicotinoids, Unfortunately, Australia, that lags behind Europe in environmental issues, still allows the use of these pesticides.

TO ENCOURAGE BEES TO YOUR GARDEN:

Borage They need clean water, pollen and nectar. Keep a shallow container of clean water (e.g. birdbath) in your garden, and choose shrubs and annuals that flower in different months to provide a continuous supply of pollen and nectar. Both native bees and honey bees love our native shrubs. And, don’t use pesticides that harm bees. Read labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) carefully before use. Your garden will benefit greatly from the presence of these tiny, hard-working creatures.

Common foods that need bees to produce, fruits, nuts, vegetables and seed
Apple, Apricot, Blueberry, Boysenberry, Cherry, All Citrus, Cranberry, Cucumber, Currants, Custard Apple, Elderberry, Feijoa, Gooseberry, Grapes, Guavas, Kiwifruit, Melons, Nectarine, Papaya, Passionfruit, Pawpaw, Peach, Pear, Persimmon, Plum, Pomegranate, Quince, Raspberry, Starfruit, Strawberry, Almond, Brazil, Cashew, Chestnut, Coconut, Hazelnut, Macadamia, Walnut, Marrows, Okra, Pumpkin, Squash, Zucchini.
Common foods that need bees to produce seed
Beetroot, Broad bean, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Buckwheat, Cabbages, Canola, Caraway, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Chinese vegetables, Clover, Coriander, Cotton, Cowpea, Dill, Fennel, Linseed, Lucerne, Mustard, Nasturtium, Onions, Parsley, Parsnip, Pigeon pea, Radish, Rocket, Scarlet runner, Sesame, Silverbeet, Turnip.

http://www.businessinsider.com.au/harvard-study-links-pesticides-to-colony-collapse-disorder-2014-5
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/08/uk-food-security-honeybees

False spring

cloche Chilly days and nights after a brief period of perfect gardening weather occur every year in many parts of Australia. Australia is the only place where spring is said to start on the first day of September. Everywhere else, spring starts at the equinox when day and night are of equal length. This year, the spring equinox occurs on September 23rd.
Unfortunately, Australia’s deviation from world-wide practice tricks some gardeners into planting out seedlings while nights are still longer than days and soil is still too cold for root growth of warmth-loving plants. The problem can be solved by placing this simple cloche over beds that contain cold-sensitive seedlings. See: Cloche for seedlings.

Microbats

Microbat This odd little character often hangs out on our front verandah. He is one of the many species of microbat found in Australia and is 6 cm long when he is all tucked up and asleep. The reason he is odd is that he is always alone, eschewing the company of the colony of microbats we see dashing between the tree tops at dusk, and he sleeps on our verandah at night when bats normally forage for food.

Microbats are very helpful in the garden as they consume a huge quantity of mosquitos, moths and other insect pests. If you are fortunate enough to have a colony of microbats on your property, please avoid using chemical pesticides.

Windy weather update

Transpiratiion Predictions are for more cold, windy weather on the way. Keep a close watch on your garden as wind can dry out soils faster than summer heat, resulting in cell collapse of soft tissue plants. To discover why this happens and how to protect your plants, see: Windy weather
Seedlings and many vegetable crops are vulnerable to wind damage in winter and early spring. Ripening citrus are also easily damaged by strong winds.

Snake beans

Snake bean vine Snake beans are a good value crop for the vege patch where summers are hot, and French beans may struggle or be attacked by birds. They are prolific croppers over a long period and 4 plants are probably sufficient to supply a family of 4. Ours were still cropping at the beginning of June this year. A popular ingredient in Asian dishes, they can be substituted for French beans in many recipes, and blanched, young beans can be added to salads.

Snake bean pods Snake beans can grow up to half a metre or longer but tend to become a little tough if allowed to grow to this length (i.e. the beans at the bottom of the photo). They are best eaten when 30 cm or so in length while seeds are small, and they are young and tender. Pods grow fast and should be picked every day, or every second day at least, to ensure that they are harvested at their best, and to keep the vines forming new pods.
Snake beans take up very little space in the garden as they are grown on a trellis in soil that has plenty of compost and some organic complete fertiliser added, which should keep the soil pH at an ideal level (6.5–7). In late spring, when soil temperature is at least 15 degrees Celsius, sow seeds in damp soil 1 cm deep and 30 cm apart. Water to settle soil after sowing. Do not water the soil again until seed leaves appear, then water regularly to ensure healthy growth. In tropical areas where summer rainfall is heavy, sow seeds in hills to improve drainage. Seeds germinate quickly, and vines can produce pods in 60 days in very hot weather.
Snake bean ripening Greenpatch Organic Seeds has two varieties of snake bean; one with black seeds that produces pods up to 45 cm and one with brown seeds than produces thin pods to 60 cm.
Allow a couple of pods to mature until they have yellowed and lost their ‘puffiness’ (see photo). Then continue the drying process indoors. De-pod seeds when pods are crisp.

Moon planting article

orggardjulaug The July/August issue of ABC’s Organic Gardener magazine contains an article I have written to de-mystify moon planting. This ancient practice can be very helpful in getting the best results from sowing seed, pruning and fertilising plants. The article includes a pull-out moon planting calendar for the coming year.

Organic Gardener magazine is brimming with advice on many aspects of organic cultivation. This issue is on sale now.

Chemical review petition

Chemreview
Regular reviews of agricultural chemicals are essential to protect public health and safety. Gene Ethics has alerted the public to an alarming proposal by our Agriculture Minister and how you can voice your disapproval.

The federal government wants to remove a scheme that would ensure that pesticides used in farming are safe according to today’s regulatory and scientific standards.

There are currently dozens of pesticides available for use in Australia that have never been properly tested here, including some that have been removed from use in other countries.

Consumers deserve to have confidence that pesticides don’t pose risks to our health or the environment.
The re-registration scheme isn’t about stopping farmers using safe pesticides. It’s about ensuring these pesticides are safe in the first place.

Please sign Choice’s petition telling Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to retain the pesticides re-approval and re-registration scheme!
https://choice.good.do/toxic-reform/sign-the-petition-3/