Mix and Mingle

Over the past couple of months, I have been working and reworking my garden.  It has been a challenge and a joy all wrapped in one.  Starting out, I just wanted to grow some vegetables.  That turned into growing everything organically, which blossomed in a full back yard rejuvenation.

There have been numerous set-backs along the way.  I’ve started from seed twice and lost too many seedlings to count.  Some have made it to the garden, only to shrivel up and die.  Others sat for months, neglected, as I thought they were goners, only to come back to life.  In some areas, I decided on a new path (flowers anyone).

I have been simultaneously attempting a vegetable garden, butterfly garden, worm farm, and shade garden.  A lot has been learned, so I thought I would share an update.

Worms

Happy little buggers they are!  I moved the worm bin to the shade garden.  It was on the patio and they were not happy.  Even though they were in the shade, the temperatures were soaring, they were slow to eat, and I had thought I lost them all.  I sorted through all the compost, salvaged any worms that were left, cleaned out anything gross or unwelcome, rebuild their habitat with new organic matter and old peat pots, and gave them some time to adjust.  They seemed much healthier and were eating again.  I purchased another round of red worms and monitored the temperature and moisture daily.

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It was still too hot.  They were also gathering on the catch pan for the drain (I’m guessing because it was cool and wet) so I created two layers.  The bottom layer was lined with cheese cloth and filled with organic matter (no food).  The second layer started as a feeding bin, and later was promoted (as the temperature outside started to rise) as a second organic layer.  The third layer is simply a feeding bin.  It has a very small dusting of soil and leaves, covered on top with ripped up peat pots.

I have found that the worms stay low in the bin and come up to feed. The bottom layers stay moist and cool, keeping the worms happy, eating, and seemingly reproducing.  The peat pots covering the food allow air to circulate and hold moisture well.  The worms seem to enjoy meandering among the pots while eating, and traveling up and down through the bin.

Veggies

The vegetables are a continual work in progress. Never in my life could I have fathomed the number of issues that can arise trying to garden organically in South Florida.  I’m amazed, yet determined.

Sun is a continual issue, although now that the days are getting longer and it is warming up outside, everything seems to be doing better.  I’ve managed some potatoes and just harvested my first round of lettuce today.  Peppers were struggling, but are perking up as well and there are several baby peppers hanging on both plants that were purchased.

Everything that was from seed is in slow motion.  I have several pepper plants that are trying to get past the six inch mark, but they are getting more leaves even if it is taking a while.  The herbs have been moved and moved again to find a place where they are happier.  They didn’t take well to the hanging planter as it was too dry and didn’t allow them to spread out.  On a positive note, they are all still alive and slowly growing.

What is growing and blossoming is under the constant attack of caterpillars and aphids.  It has become my nightly ritual to go out caterpillar hunting at night.  I spray the plants once or twice a week with neem oil, handpick invaders, and give them a soap wash every few weeks.  It is an ongoing mission, but it’s kind of fun in its own right.

The tomatoes that I gave up on are now actual plants!  Some even have blossoms.  This is definitely cause for celebration.

My beans and melons, on the other hand, didn’t make it.  They were beautiful seedlings, but the transfer was too hard on them as the soil skyrocketed on the pH scale.  I put a lot of time and energy into creating a healthy plant environment and, if you read my prior posts, struggled with some bad soil.  Sadly, I have found that our water is also very alkaline.  So, in trying to give the garden the water it needs, I stripped it of the nutrients and created a hostile plant environment that was too much for some plants.  Mix that with sunshine that is lower on the spectrum, and it is not a great outcome.

So, I’m working to correct the soil, but that takes time.  I’m also working on a system to collect rain water for the future (gardening is becoming a very expensive hobby).

In the meantime….

Butterfly Garden, Flowers, and Shade Garden

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I tired of looking at an empty garden bed and a dull back yard.  Dead plants are depressing.  So, I decided to go with a change of pace.

 

I’ve dedicated two beds to a butterfly garden, added potted plants and bulbs to the landscape, and started working on the an old garden bed that is in full shade now.

Things are coming together and the back yard is becoming a place of beauty and enjoyment.  I found my first monarch caterpillar last night and found three babies this morning.  These are caterpillars that I welcome with joy!

Take-Away

Don’t give up.  These gardening adventures started over four months ago.  Everything has, obviously, not gone as planned, but I keep learning and adjusting.  I have no doubt that by the time fall rolls around, I will have a beautiful garden, full of both edible and decorative plants.  Although I have “failed” in a number of ways, the process has not been a failure in the least.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

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Tiny Beauties

I cannot express the joy that comes from working in, and on, my garden each day.  It is a source of relaxation, comfort, and pride.  It is a work in progress, a challenge, and a gift.  When I began this little adventure, I had no clue how much work it would be or how much delight I would get from it.  It just seemed like something I would enjoy. And, who doesn’t like fresh veggies right from their own back yard.

Tonight, I spend a good ten minutes just looking at the seedlings that are living in my laundry room.  The first batch never got to this point.  I had no idea what I was doing and they simply stopped growing.  Some survived, but are struggling.  Others just shriveled up where I planted them.  Some maintain the same stunted size as when I put them in the ground.

But I learned from this experience.  I read more, asked more questions, and did specific research.  Then, I took what I had learned and put it to use.  So far, so good.

My lessons were basic, and perhaps even laughable.  A seasoned gardener might question if I had done any research before venturing into this world.  I assure you that I had.  But a lot went unread and missed.

Here is what I implemented this go around:

  • When germinating the seeds, I used a heated grow mat and a humidity dome. I planted the seeds in your run of the mill organic potting soil.  I know, I know…I was supposed to use seed starter to keep it sterile.  I read that a bit late.  Thankfully, all seems to be A-OK in the seedling world.  Here’s hoping this doesn’t backfire on me.
  • I used grow lights during germination (approximately 16 hours).  Once the seeds started popping, I removed the humidity dome, but kept the heat.
  • When most seeds had sprouted, I removed the heat and maintained the grow lights (still about 16 hours).
  • I had started the seeds in a 72 spot seedling pan.  They are quite tiny (about 1 inch in diameter), so it didn’t take long for the seedlings to outgrow their tiny home.  More importantly, bigger plants – such as beans – grew large leaves that shadowed the smaller seedlings.  So, when most of them started getting true leaves I transplanted them to 4 inch peat pots.  Yes, I know, I had a dislike for peat pots.  I decided to give them another chance.
  • I check the soil moisture daily and bottom water as needed.
  • I have also had to pinch back some of the snow peas as a couple of them got a little out of control.  They are very delicate and way too tall.  My hope is that I can get them to fill out and thicken up before starting to harden them off.

My vocabulary has increased quite a bit! Every time I research something, it seems I have to look up at least one new phrase or way of doing things (pinch off, harden off, and the list goes on).

The reward for so much reading, research, and implementation? This:

I realize that I still have a lot to learn and that getting my tiny seedlings this far is only a fraction of the overall battle.  Yet, when I look at them, they make me so happy.  This work, the failures, the endless time researching, and the starting all over from scratch…this is what it was all about.  And they are beautiful babies, if I do say so myself.

Happy gardening everyone!

Looking Up (Veggies, Flowers, and Worms)!

One must wonder how much can be learned in a few months due to trial and error.  If you have been reading my blog, you know that I have learned a lot.  Beyond that, I have learned that you will fail and that in your failure, you will learn new approaches so that you can potentially avoid failing again.

It does not mean that you won’t.  It does not mean that you can learn everything from other’s mistakes.  You can only take everything you have learned, what others have learned, research, research, and research some more, and hope for the best.  At the end of the day, each garden is different and there is no telling what will work for you, in your zone, and in your yard.

I have failed on all fronts when it comes to my gardening endeavors in South Florida.  It has been sad and frustrating.  But in all of it, I have learned more than I could have ever imagined, and things seem to be looking up!

Two items that don’t seem much affected by my black thumb are the garlic and potatoes (and I’m not so sure about the garlic).  I sprouted organic sweet and red potatoes indoors, allowed them to continue sprouting outdoors for a few days (in the shade), and then transplanted them to grow bags.  They are the happiest thing in my garden and they do look kind of pretty if I do say so myself.

 

 

Out of all the veggies that were planted in November, this is where it stands.  My poor garden has managed to produce two tiny beans (which tasted pretty good), some very small flowers (honestly, I’m impressed they even bloomed as they were extremely leggy), and the beginnings of a pepper (the only plant in my garden that is not from seed or starter).  There is even some lettuce and spinach hanging on. Even though it is not what I expected, I’m loving the resilience of these plants!  It shows me just how well they are going to do once they don’t have me sabotaging things.

 

 

The cold has been cruel to my strawberries.  If you didn’t know, these strawberries are the second round of starters.  The first ones were a bad batch, but I was too nieve to realize it and expected them to come back to life.  I would have postponed ordering the second batch as I didn’t expect the brutal cold snap we had.  The dampness of South Florida, matched with consistent 40 degree nights, was hard on them. But, I still have about ten of the fifteen hanging on.  My hope is that the warmer temps and sunshine will help them start to flourish.

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Perhaps the most positive aspect of the past week is that I found about 100 red wrigglers, a bunch of babies, and some eggs.  These are the fighters.  After I thought most were lost, I decided to do a thorough cleaning of the worm hut and create a new environment for any who could be found.  I took a tiny bit of fresh food, covered it with a couple of inches of new bedding (worm castings, fresh organic soil, and some decomposing leaves), and started digging through the two old trays one handful at a time.  It took about an hour, but I was rewarded for my time.

Although 100 out of 1000 is still a massive hit to the hut, it isn’t over. I plan to give them some time to adjust. make sure I’ve got this food-thing down, monitor the temperature for a few weeks, and then add some new family members to their little tribe.

All in all, it’s been a good week.  Thanks for the encouraging words and for always reminding me that gardening is all about trial and error.  Just keep adjusting and a happy garden will be created!

 

 

 

 

Where have all the worms gone?

I’m not going to lie, yesterday was a rough day and I’m feeling like a complete failure when it comes to this whole gardening thing.

Over the Christmas holiday, I was gone for three weeks.  That was not the plan, mind you, but thanks to sickness and snow, we were gone a week longer than anticipated.

Before we left, I was a little concerned that my worms were not eating as much as others claimed they would.  I was careful not to give them too much food, sprinkling a handful or two in the bin at any given time.  Yet, although the worms would be in the area of the food, it just wasn’t disappearing.

I told myself that perhaps it was just the cold weather we were having (it’s been down in the 40’s on a fairly consistent basis and very wet) in South Florida, or that they were taking longer to acclimate to their new home than others.

During the time I was gone, a friend came over and fed my little worms.  She told me there were a few pieces of moldy food in the bin, but that they had eaten most of the food in there.  She added more scraps and checked the soil moisture.  Everything seemed fine. However, when I returned home, a week later, there was still some food and there did not seem to be nearly as many worms as when I left.

I tried not to stress and figured they were borrowing in the lower bin, as there were worms making their way to the top bin where the food was being placed.  The food was disappearing but at a very slow speed.

Then, yesterday, I decided to go digging.  This time when I lifted the bedding to see what the food situation was, there was a lot of food left and I saw very few worms.  I pulled apart the worm bin and starting digging through the lower bin.  Nothing.

Out of 1,000 worms, I found all of maybe 20 and moved them to the top bin.  My heart dropped.  So, I began more research.

All I can find is that perhaps the food was not ground fine enough for them, leaving it uneaten and decomposing.  I broke it into small pieces, avoided all off-limit foods (citrus, onions, seeds, etc.), and tried to pull out any pieces that seemed to be left for long periods of time (they didn’t seem to care for avocado peal for some reason).

I did my best to regulate the soil moisture, even though it was an uphill battle, with warmer temps drying it out and cold, damp nights making everything wet.  I had a bedding mix of cardboard, soil, worm castings, and organic leaf matter.  And I followed the directions to a T for starting and maintaining my worm bin.

Still, I have no worms.  My fear is that I killed them, while my hope is that they simply moved on to better conditions.

Today, I’m considering bringing them inside although I have little space and three cats I worry about.  But my options are feeling limited.  This Florida winter has proven brutal and not at all conducive to planting, growing, or worm farming.  Perhaps, however, it is just me.  So much to learn and so little money to keep making these serious mistakes.  Sigh….

All I can hope is that I can make progress moving forward.

On a good note, my new seedlings appear to be doing well.  More on that in another post.

Happy Gardening! (Well, hopefully someone is…lol).

The Tiny Flower

This has been the last month; travel, sick, snow, and delays.  I’m not complaining, mind you.  What was supposed to be a couple weeks of holiday travel turned into almost four weeks of travel and working my way back into the realities of life.  But that down time gave me a chance to rejuvenate and come into 2018 with a fresh approach.

So, how is that garden?  It is somewhat alive.  Ha!  Although it is a sad sight, I’m not upset.  I was a bit freaked out at first, as I put in a lot of hard work, but there are lessons to be learned at every turn and I’m really excited to put them into action.  While I was away, my neighbor made sure that any plant that appeared to be clinging to life was watered, and my friends came by and made sure the wormies were fed.

I, on the other hand, read…a lot.  I read about seedlings, sunshine, and bugs.  I learned even more about how much I really screwed up.  I looked at pictures of my friends garden and privately hated how badly I failed.  And then I decided that I would face this for what it was, a challenge.  I set out to have a successful organic garden in South Florida, and by golly, I am going to have one!

26732509_10214983774408945_399175159_oWhen I returned home, I found strawberries taking off, garlic growing like wild, and a small flower reaching for the sunlight.  It’s a little scraggly, but it is something for sure. I spent the evening setting up my new seedling tray and grow light where the cats cannot get to it and opened my envelope of new seeds.  Today I start over. Today is an exciting day!

True Leaves – Who knew?

You all can begin laughing now.  I am.  Sometimes I seriously question my own intelligence and wonder how all those years of schooling didn’t leave me a bit wiser.  I mean, how does one miss such an important piece in the gardening puzzle?  Oh, yeah, I know!  I didn’t know I was looking for it.

This is just another lesson in how important research is at the first sign of an issue.  If your gut is telling you that you might be missing something, you probably are.  Don’t make any assumptions.  We all know assumptions are rarely a good plan of attack.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother lesson on the books.  True leaves – and allowing your seedlings to mature into plants before transplanting them – are a good course of action.  In my defense, I’d like to take you through how this all went down.

If you recall, I mentioned those little peat pots.  I’ve yet to make a final determination if they are good thing or a not-so-good thing in the world of germinating plants.  With that said, they do hold a lot of water, especially when you live in an area that is known for the amount of moisture that lingers in the air.

A month and a half after seeding, my seedlings are still only about one inch in height.  I’ve attributed that to stunted root growth, bad soil, and a lack of sunshine.  And, while all of those are likely contributing factors, it never really occurred to me that my little plants just may not have been ready.

My line of thinking made sense to me.  They are not growing in the seedling pots, so perhaps they need more room to grow.  Assumption; not based on research or facts.  Gardening fail.

What I learned in my insomnia fueled Google search is that they may never grow.  Well, that sucks.  The good news is, there is a real reason that can be corrected.  My little seedlings need to have true leaves.  What are true leaves?  Well, they are exactly what they sound like.  Actual leaves on a seedling.  The first two “leaves” are not really leaves at all, but rather a part of the seed.  Now, I can get into all the scientific wording and such, but this is a blog, not a scientific journal.  There is a ton of information out there for those you looking for the specific explanation.

Those little leaves – that are not really leaves – are only there to help the plant survive until their true leaves begin to grow.  It is only when the true leaves are viable that the process of photosynthesis starts taking place.  Until that time, these little seedlings are truly your babies, in need of tons of love, warmth, light, and care.  Early planting is simply a recipe for garden death.

So, what caused the stunted growth in my seedlings?  I’m not 100% sure.  Perhaps they were not getting enough light, or maybe they had too much water.  It easily could have been the temperature.  As soon as I seeded the pots, the weather dipped into the sixties and got terribly damp.  Every night I would check on the pots only to find them dripping in cold dew.  I wasn’t focusing on light or warmth, and the seedlings grew to a specified height and stopped.

They simply were not ready to be transplanted and are likely stuck in the state they are in.  I guess only time will tell, although I’ve put myself on a timeline.  After the holiday, I will be starting the seeding process again with these new lessons put into action.

Gardening is a learning process for everyone new to it, but the challenge is part of the excitement.  Happy Gardening!

Worms!

Who knew?  Well, apparently most of the gardening world.  I don’t even know how I came across it and what prompted me to start researching it more, but I did.

It started with composting.  I mean, what gardener doesn’t want to compost?  But the thought, at the time, seemed daunting.  In my search for answers, I came across worm farming.  This excited me!  Perhaps a little too much.

Research, research, and more research.  I haven’t done this much research since grad school.  Google, and Amazon, have been close friends of mine during this process of learning how to successfully grow an organic garden.  I found a wealth of information on worm farming and set out to find the perfect worm hut.

Red wrigglers are apparently happy to colonize in tight groups and are not as apt to go wriggling away in search of freedom.  They also do not like to burrow deep, as other earth worms do.  For this reason, worm huts are a great method of clean composting.  Worms can turn your kitchen scraps into fertilizer, rich in minerals and nutrients your garden loves. This was right up my alley.

25285868_10214732061636283_833656636_oAfter even more research, I decided on a VermiHut 5-tray worm hut.  It had good reviews, a high rating, and seemed easy enough to operate.  I saw plenty of DIY worm bins on YouTube as well, but I liked the idea of a worm hut because it allows you to have working trays and finished trays, opposed to having to sift out your worms before using the compost.  The worm hut allows the worms to move up to a new level once the first level is full.  It’s like a little worm condo.

Once the hut arrived, I was able to order worms (again…Amazon).  I decided on 1200.  Mostly because 1000 seemed to be a number that many agreed was a good starting point.  The extra 200 were a bonus and went to a friend who is trying the hydroponic route.

If you are unfamiliar with worm farming, red wrigglers are known to eat half their weight a day in green (food scraps) and brown matter (leaves, paper, cardboard, etc).  I’ve had mine for about a month and they don’t seem to be quite at that consumption rate yet, but they are picking up speed.  As of a few days ago, I added my second working tray.

When the worms first arrive (if shipped), they are a bit stunned and need some time to 25198813_10214732063636333_803781733_oadjust.  Mine actually seemed to adjust quite quickly, and were eating in no time.  I expected them to be sluggish a bit longer, but am happy that they were not.  To prepare the tray, I mixed organic soil with soaked coconut coir per the directions that were included with the hut.  When the worms arrived, however, they were packed in quite a bit of soil.  The combination of the mix I prepared and the worm’s travel bedding pretty much filled the first tray.

This has made it difficult to see what they are eating as I’m constantly having to move dirt and worms out of the way to feed them and to see how much they have left.  I imagine this is quite disruptive and I’m always worried I’m going to squish worms by digging into the bedding.  It is for this reason that I added the second tray so soon.  It gives them a fresh start and I can better monitor their feeding habits.

If my calculations are accurate, I should have my first tray of compost after Christmas.  Needless to say, it won’t be ready before I need to feed my garden (as per my last post).  Today’s Amazon delivery includes one bag of worm castings.  Go figure. 🙂

Happy gardening!