Friday, June 17, 2011

Fat, juicy worms

            Want juicy cantaloupe? Big rose blooms? Every successful gardener knows slimy, slithering and twitching Earth worms is a sign of rich, healthy soil. Nutrient-packed soil is the key to healthy plants. The bigger, the faster and the more energy Earth worms have means you're dirt has nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other important nutrients. A few years ago, I was so miffed after I saw that half my yard had an abundance of earth worms, but just not where I wanted to plant my tomatoes. So I shoveled the loamy dirt with the worms into my planting site. I don't recommend that unless you want an aching back, wasted time and dead worms.
        A better idea is to make a compost pile. Compost is great for plants. Plants grow easily. And it's just as It's easy to make a compost with just your own kitchen waste and a little ingenuity. A compost bin isn't even needed. No worries about four-legged prowlers digging up your orange peels and carrot shavings.
      Mother nature provides all you need: leaves, mulch -- whether pine needles or the kind you buy -- as long as it's natural. Start by digging a long shallow ditch, or use a flat plot of space. Choose a spot that will get dappled sunlight. If that's not possible,  try to find a spot that will get both sun and shade. But even if there is no spot like that in the yard, you can still  create a great spot for a composting site. Worms aren't choosy.
    Choose your spot away from the house. The next step is to line the bottom of the compost area with the leaves and mulch. I keep a small garbage pail with a plastic garbage pail liner and whatever kitchen leftover I have goes into it. That means only -- ONLY -- raw vegetable and fruit waste. NO meat, dairy, or cooked anything. In my house, this usually means orange peels, unused leafs of romaine lettuce, mango and peach pits (watch it they often do sprout into trees) the ends of uncooked broccoli (yup, that's even sprouted roots and started growing). You get the idea. 

   A kitchen is a great source of organic raw material. Give the garbage disposer a rest. Use eggshells (they won't break down as fast) carrot peels, watermelon rinds, any rinds, all fruit pits and uneaten skin, pea covers, corn husks. (Those are the ONLY cooked veggie you can toss in). 

   When your small garbage pail is full or when gets a bit pungent take the matter and spread it over your mulch area. Whether in a shallow ditch or flat, be sure to take the leaves and other mulch material and cover your kitchen scraps well. You want to make a mulch pile, not attract four legged foragers. If it is covered well, it won't attract anything. Hunters will tell you anything with a scent must be buried or otherwise covered well enough with earth so animals can't sniff it out.
    Depending on your weather, there will soon be rich, gunky and gross compost to either spread over plants as fertilizer or to mix with gardening soil. What a punch of nitrogen. Hot and humid weather makes the fastest compost. I live in Florida. We got hot. During a dry spell, water the mulch pile a bit once a week. It doesn't take much. The worms will be busy quite fast.
    Another fast way to improve the soil is to buried fruit and veggie waste directly in the yard. It will enrich any dirt, and promote rich loamy soil. IIt also will be on the alkaline side, as will your compost pile. Most plants are acid loving, so adding some high acid  water-in plant food will restore ph balance. Whenever I planted a new rose bush, I used to toss into the hole whatever uneaten, overripe fruit I had in the fridge. That burst of nitrogen gave me huge beautiful blossoms. Hey, don't forget this: here!

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