Hydroponics and Worms

Ventured out to the WindHorse Wellness Center this past weekend for a review on worm composting.  My little guys weren’t doing as well as expected (imagine that)  and I wanted to know why?   Why would any worm want to escape from the fabulous Wormery Lodge crafted especially for them? 

They can’t deny it.  I know some of them made a break for it by the dried carcass I spotted on the garage floor.  I would have attributed it to another case of stray-crazy-worm-syndrome, save for the few that continued to loiter near the lid of my container. 

Hmph.  The nerve.  To think I showered them with daily visits of spritz and scraps.  But seeing no sense in dwelling in the misery–and having no interest in repeating the misfortune–I decided to consult with the experts.  You can imagine my delight when the serendipity of coincidence landed this wonderful email in my inbox:  Lesson in worm composting this weekend at WindHorse!

Well, glory be!  Could the heavens be nudging me in that direction?  (Of course.  How else do you think that message ended up in my mailbox?)  So away I went where I met the sensational Angela Ringler — one of the eco-fabulous Green Girls from www.KarmaFarmOnline.com (the place to buy eco-friendly products) and learned everything I needed to know about worm composting.  Does this woman know about worms!

She gave an excellent demonstration using a specially made worm composter.  Granted, this one was a far cry from my do-it-yourself doozy, but “style” wasn’t my problem.  Getting up close and personal with her worms, I realized it was far more serious.

I’d been dooped.  Unintentionally, I’m sure, but my local angler was incorrect when he cited the worms he carried were red wigglers.  (I think.)  Sure, they wiggled a lot, but they weren’t as red as Angela’s.  Hers were red-red–worm red, brick red.  Plain red

Mine?  While mine were gorgeous, they lacked the rosy rouge of her girls and stood bland by comparison.  So, I set them free into my compost pile near the garden, with the very high hopes they may find their way into my veggie patch.  Remember the old saying?  “If you love something, set it free.  If it doesn’t come back, it was never meant to be yours.  But if it does, love it forever.”  To my worms I say this isn’t goodbye…it’s simply until we meet again.

Enough drama.  The point remains, her composter was awesome, easy and stink-free.  So lovely, she keeps it in her house!  Love that convenience.  Would get one for myself, but besides the fact my family eats too much for the composter she utilized, I have no place to put it.  Thank goodness she showed us how to make the perfect at-home bin!  Would you believe it looks a lot like mine

Two simple improvements to my bin and we’re in business!  Number one:  add a piece of screen mesh to the lid.  This covers the holes, provides excellent escape prevention, yet maintains plenty of air circulation.  Number two:  add a spigot to one end, bottom center.  As worms eat, they not only poop, but pee.  (Gee, did we forget that little fact?  Where are those birds and bees when we need them!)   This liquid is like a magic tea.  You spritz it on your plants for not only great nutrient supply, but disease and bug control to boot!   Who knew! 

While at WindHorse, I had the pleasure of viewing their hydroponic towers; the perfect solution for small spaces with minimal mess.  Don’t they just look easy?  Plants are said to grow up to 50% faster, because they don’t expend unnecessary energy growing roots through soil in search of nutrients.  It’s readily available in the liquid solution.   And if this wasn’t enough good news, this system uses about 10% of the water consumed by traditional crops.  Wow.   These berries are a beautiful testament, wouldn’t you agree? 

And you’re not limited to the smaller plants, either.  During a brief stroll through the hydroponic garden, I learned you can also grow tomatoes this way.  Just look at this beast! 

Simply flourishing–robust and green.  The iron fence next to this tower lends needed support (which I highly recommend).  My thanks to Al–resident hydroponic gardener–for his allowing my unexpected visit!  Would make an excellent field trip

In fact, March 19-20 they’re hosting their WindHorse Equinox, “a festival of international food & fun!”   Sounds like great times, but better than food, there will be a fellow on site giving a class on how to make your own hydroponic system.  Is that great, or what? 

Can’t wait.  And can’t wait to get my red wigglers.  In fact, I’m going to Karma Farm online to buy my next batch.  This way I’ll be sure to get the real thing.  For hydroponic growing centers in your area, check with your local agriculture department for a listing.  Or surf the web!  Amazing the amount of information available at your fingertips these days.  Have fun!

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If Men Were Plants, Mine Would Be A…

Have you ever wondered about the similarities between plants and men?  Probably not!  Most sane people don’t.  But me, when I’m not writing, I spend a LOT of time in my garden – maybe too much — and my thoughts?  Well, they naturally veer in that direction.  That’s when I realized men and plants have much in common!

Ever wonder, if your man were a plant, which would he be?  Just for fun, I’ve listed a few.

Corn – Tall and slender with silken hair, this man provides well and yields a harvest of golden treasure.  While pleasing to look at, beware:  he also tends to be needy; easily blown over by the slightest of breezes—not the man for you hardier types!

Peanut – This good ole boy is made of solid stuff, on the inside and the outside, not to mention he’s filled with sweet old-fashioned appeal.  For most ladies, it’s a tough combination to resist.  Add the fact the kids love him and you’ve got a yourself a marrying man! 

Watermelon – This well-rounded fun-loving guy is always welcome at a summer barbecue and usually proves a big hit with the kids.  Prone to balding, his colorful personality distracts one from notice.  However, take heed.  If left to his own device, this one can grow wild and get quite out of hand!

Garlic – This fellow is somewhat distant, as he spends long periods of time out of sight, only to emerge when conditions improve.  Strong and distinct, he’s not for everyone, but given the right environment, he can show great depth, even mellow his pungent tone with time.  A worthy peer, indeed.

Okra – Strong, of firm build, this one likes it hot and enjoys it spicy—very at home in the Big Easy, too.  Generally speaking, he blends well with others, can plant himself anywhere, but caution:  he can be seedy, even a bit slimy at times.

Potatoes – These fellas are generous producers, enjoyed by most everyone as they appeal to a variety of tastes.  They can get easily crowded, though, so give them plenty of space.  If you do, you’ll have yourself a real winner with this one.  Note:  be patient with the sweeter types—they need a little more time before they’re ready to hit the dinner-date table.  But if you can wait, go for it.  You’ll reap the gold with this gem!

Onion – Sometimes sharp, sometimes sweet, this notable companion enhances every dish he meets.  But don’t be fooled.  You have to watch yourself around this double-edged treat.  He tends to “age” those around him quicker than most, and will often make you cry.  But if you like a challenge, give him a try.  He will infuse your life with flavor!

Raspberry – Sweet at first sight, this guy may follow up with a tart bite.  He generally likes to be left alone—literally thrives out in the wild of nature.  Ah…an adventurous type yourself, you’ll feel drawn to this bright and colorful character, but be forewarned:  he’s got thorns and lots of them.

Squash – Talk about diversity, this one has it!  From sunny yellow summers to cold and cozy winters, this man will keep you well supplied no matter the season.  The cutest of pumpkins, he’s always welcome during the holidays, and his cousin plays a mean racquet ball—for you sportier types.  But keep him moving; stagnation easily leads to illness with this one.  Rest assured, if variety is your thing, take heart.  This dazzling character can fulfill your desires, tenfold.

Carrots – Bred from firm and solid fiber, these men are steady and strong and always there for you.  Given proper attention, they can also become quite sweet in nature; a true hidden treasure, if ever there was one.  They do need some elbow room, a bit of thinning at times, but if you’re willing to work for it, this one’s a keeper!

Beets – Down to earth is putting it mildly with this guy–he’s knee deep in it!   Quiet, mellow, well-rounded…  It’s a wonder he doesn’t rank top of the list for every woman in town.  Perhaps he can come on a bit strong, in an easy-going sort of way.  But if you have thick skin and like to keep it real?   This one’s for you.

Lettuce – This boy likes everybody and everybody likes him.  Similar to the granola-type male, this fella stays healthy and fit, slim and trim.  How could he be anything else?  He has a knack for blending well with any crowd and blend well, though be careful–once he mingles, it’s hard to separate him from the mix!

Tomatoes – This popular guy is an all around favorite with the ladies, most drawn to his bright and cheery appearance and radiant personality.  A real reliable kind of guy, sweet with a hint of tang, meaty and quite robust—he comes in all sizes.  Yes, this one is tempting.  Be sure you’re in for the commitment—he’s going to need it if you expect him to produce.

My husband?  He’s definitely a raspberry with garlic tendencies, albeit aging like a carrot. 

Me?  He claims I’m a Venus flytrap.  Yes, I gave him the evil eye—at first.  But then, I got to thinking.  Imagine the unique and stunning plant for a moment, with her beautiful red, heart-shaped petiole, her pair of symmetrical lobes hinged near the midriff—I mean, midrib.  Lovely so far, isn’t it?  Catches insects and spiders with a bat of her eyelashes.  Tolerates fiery tempers–er, fire well.  Tolerates fire well.   Actually uses the flames to suppress the competition around the neighborhood.  (Sounds like a feisty gal to me!) 

Sure, she can be difficult to grow, but what plant doesn’t have its difficult days?  You know, the more I think about it, the more I heard compliment.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Transplanting Beans

Talk about excitement–this week the students transplanted their bean sprouts into the garden–woo-hoo!  Pull those seed journals out and get scribbling because we have things to report!   Now, before we go on, let’s acknowledge the (sad) fact that not all seeds germinate.  As in nature, some make it and some don’t.  Glancing over the seed trays, it was apparent several of ours didn’t sprout.  But why?

It’s simple really.  Beans are like Goldilocks.  They like their soil not too wet, not too dry… actually. they like it just right.   And as their trusty gardeners, it’s our responsibility to maintain proper germination conditions.  As their supervisor, it was an issue I wanted to explore. 

“If yours didn’t sprout, I want you to dig for your bean.”

The burrowing began.  “Hey–who stole my bean!”

Peering over his shoulder, he wasn’t telling tales.  There was definitely no bean in the soil.   “Now, let’s not be too quick to judgment, kids.  There could be another reason your bean is missing.”  Met with suspicious scowls, I continued, “Remember, your beans are heavier than the light fluffy dirt.  If you flood your seed tray with water, the seeds can float to the soil’s surface.”

“Hey,” another perked to attention.  “Mine’s mushy.”

“Why do you think that happened?”

The pointed finger flew through the air.  “She watered my sprout too much!”

“Oh she did, did she?”  You see, much like adults, it never tends to be our fault.  It was someone else.  I’m sure of it. 

Another bean came up dry.  Actually split into two pieces.  He frowned.  “Mine didn’t get enough water.”

“You see, just like in nature, if there’s not enough rain or too much sun, the seeds won’t grow will they?”  Heads swung from side to side.  Not one to commiserate, I exclaimed, “How about we plant the ones we have!”

The kids jumped to attention.  “Okay!”  Well that was easy.   Guiding them to the correct row, the kids weeded the bed and tilled the soil. 

Plants do prefer soft beds.  Next, we dug holes twice the size of our sprout’s root ball.

Gently–and I do mean to emphasize gently–we removed the sprouts from their containers and placed them into the awaiting holes.  

“Okay, now, same as a castle, let’s build a moat around our sprouts.  This is called a well and it will collect the water, directing it straight to the sprout’s roots.”

Oh, ho–do these kids know about building moats!  They went straight to work and formed the most beautiful wells you’d ever want to see.  (It’s all about the lingo.  Speak in kid terms and you can communicate anything!)

Stepping back, surveying our handiwork, we had to admit, these transplants looked great.  We’re going to have ourselves one lush row of limas to be sure.  But better than the ample harvest on our horizon was the sheer cooperation these kids demonstrated.  Transplanting bean sprouts can be tricky business.  Many of the kids needed help transferring their delicate sprouts from tray to dirt and you know who helped them?

Their fellow students.  To watch as one child took charge and assisted the other place his hard-earned sprout into the ground warmed this mother’s heart.  Weeks of watering and tending their trays really made an impact on these kids–to the point they felt a vested interest in the outcome of their transplant.  Which doesn’t bode well for our co-op concept.  (Kids are funny that way —  they’ll remember exactly where their sprout is and make sure everyone knows it’s theirs.) 

But that’s okay.  It all works out in the end.  One thing I’ve personally discovered is that if you want to get a child to eat vegetables, have them grow them themselves.  I’ve never seen so much plucking of fresh veggies and popping them in their mouths as I have in this garden!

But who can blame them?  They are gorgeous, aren’t they?  Definitely a feat to be proud.  We’ll worry about doling out beans later.  For now, we simply enjoy.

Health Benefits of Herbs and Plants

Ever suspect you might have bad breath, and not an ounce of mouthwash on hand (but don’t dare lean to your lunch date and ask)?   And speaking of bad breath, how’s your sinus?  A bit stuffy today?  Not to worry — simply munch that sprig of parsley on your plate, dab a pinch of chili pepper on your tongue and problem solved.   It’s the natural solution.   Parsley freshens breath while the capsaicin in the pepper clears the mucus–voila!

And let’s say that handsome waiter bumps your arm with the oven hot skillet dish you ordered (an accident, though you couldn’t be mad at him if you tried), leaving a mild red burn in its place.  Sure, mild is relative, but if you’ll pluck a branch of aloe from the attractive plant nearby, then squeeze some of its gooey gel over the burn, the healing will be almost immediate.  Disregard the “stink” factor — we’re concerned with saving skin here, not sensibilities.

One of my favorites is the cocoa bean.  There’s a reason we reach for a chocolate bar when we’re feeling blue:  it’s the natural antidepressant.  Yes, we women are innately brilliant this way.   Neurotransmitters send relaxing messages to your body while the phenylethylamine makes you feel like you’re falling in love.   (Hint to men:  if you’re standing nearby while she’s devouring said chocolate, you may reap some lovey-dovey mood benefits!)  Chocolate is also good for your cardiovascular health, due to its polyphenols (think red wine).  So take heart fearless men and consume to your heart’s content!  So long as the chocolate in question doesn’t belong to a female.  If so, I’d take sword and shield and run for cover.

And if your sweetheart takes you out for a night of sushi, but your stomach disagrees, nibble a bit of the pretty ginger on your plate.  It does wonders for an upset belly, though my preferred remedy is Coke.  Much like chicken soup eases the symptoms of a cold — and I couldn’t tell you why —  this soda cures a tummy ache like nobody’s business!   And if you’re still feeling sick, it may mean something more serious.  Try leaving a few sliced onions around the house.  It’s said the onions attract the harmful bacteria from the air, thus keeping them from entering your system.  Could be an old wives’ tale, but most old wives I know are pretty smart!

So more than a place to grow gorgeous herbs and vegetables, your garden is like nature’s pharmacy.  I knew this gardening thing was a good idea. 

Weed, Till, Mulch and Plant — the kids were busy!

And having a great time.  Really.  Even weeding can be fun with the right attitude!

The middle school students joined us this week and wielded hoes like professionals, tilling and weeding, managing near amelioration.    “Boys, boys–over here.  We don’t need a cleared five foot perimeter!”  Left unsupervised, the whole field may have been cultivated, had they their way.  Though to their credit, the border did look nice.

Next came the hay.  Pulling and tossing and separating…  “Can I go back to class?  I’m allergic to hay.”  

That might have been a good thing to know before you mulched half the garden with it.  “Sure, but are you okay?” 

“Yes, I just get itchy.”

I smiled.  “Me, too.”

Next, the elementary kids made note of their broccoli.   It’s bolting.  With our warmer weather of late, the broccoli went straight to flower.  “Can we eat them?”

Of course they’d ask that question.  Why wasn’t I prepared?   With a shrug, I replied, “Well, they are edible…”  

Hands dashed out, blanketing the plant with greedy plucks.   “Mmmm!  They’re good!”   Another student wasn’t as certain and returned a frown.  “Bitter.”

Lower elementary was in charge of planting carrot seeds.  If you’ve ever seen a carrot seed, you know this would amount to an exciting project.  The seeds are quite tiny, easily dropped, spread to the walkway, stuck to the skin… 

Luckily their garden coordinator was close at hand for help.  “How about you carve the channels into the soil and I’ll demonstrate how to “roll” the seeds out over the dirt forming a fine line.”

Worked for them!  We then sprinkled some bone meal over the area, followed by a thin layer of dirt.  Bone meal offers a punch of phosphorous which we learned helps grow big roots and big fruits.  “Hey, that rhymes!” 

I winked.  “Yes it does.   Makes for a great way to remember, don’t you think?’   Night, night carrots.  Sleep tight in your soft comfy bed.

We rounded out the week with our kindergarteners.  Taking their turn at weeding–an interesting sight to see, what with shovels dipping, dirt flinging, rakes scraping, boys wandering, girls squealing;  it was a great time had by all!

But the best moment came when one of the boys discovered an earthworm as he transplanted his strawberry plant.  Oh, the glorious hoots and howls and shrieks, “Let me see!”   “Let me see!”   “Don’t hurt it!”  “He’s stabbing it!”

WHAT?  “No, no, let him go!  We need him in the garden.  Remember, plants love worm poop.”

Ewe…. 

At least it stopped them in their tracks.  Gently prying the worm from their tight-fisted grip, I set him back in the dirt, quickly covering him with soil.  Whew!  That was a close one.   “See, he’s happy and so is your strawberry plant.  Look, there’s one growing now!”

Distraction is key, as every keen adult knows, to moving the process along.  Eager stares scoured the area for sight the coveted strawberry.  I pointed to a white flower.

“That’s not a strawberry,” one child said while another noted, “but it is pretty.”

“Look closer.  See?   In the center is the beginning of a strawberry.”

Well, that impressed them.  As it should.  Next on the list was lavender.  Bodies leaped from the ground.  Passing around the small plant, the kids were amazed by its sweet rich scent.  “Smells good, doesn’t it?”

Heads nodded agreement all around.   “Okay, we’ll plant it right here, and watch as it grows pretty purple flowers.”

With one plant, our plant-to-child ratio wasn’t appealing so we promptly moved on to our final task.  Harvest.

Oh, the splendor of pulling your very own carrots from the ground! 

Just make sure each child has one to pull, or the whines of injustice will drive you clear from your state of euphoria.   Thankfully, we had enough to go around and sent each child home with a petite bunch of veritable gold treasure.  “I’ll take that, thank you!”

Be sure to wash them before you eat them!  When you grow your own, this little tidbit of advice should be taken to heart, else you end up with a mouth full of dirt (and who knows what else!)

p.s.  Our beans are sprouting.  Aren’t they fabulous? 

A few of the kids expressed concerned.  “What will happen if we don’t get them into the ground soon?” 

“Will they grow out of their tray?”

You have to appreciate the logic of the young mind.  They’re always thinking, always pondering the “what ifs” of life.   Faced with their steep concern, it was my job to reassure them.  “No, they won’t grow out of their tray.”  Not exactly, anyway.  “But we do want to get them into the garden soon.  Maybe next week?”

Cheers all around!

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