The fava beans are coming alive!

I’ve been reading quite a bit about cover crops and the benefits of nitrogen fixing crops in particular. One crop that got a lot of praise during my research was Fava beans, which provide a delicious edible crop and if properly inoculated will take nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it on nodules attached to the roots. In order for this process to occur you need to innoculate beans with Rhizobia bacteria (or make sure your soil is rich in Rhizobia bacteria).

There are several ways to inoculate Fava beans. I chose the slurry method, and performed my inocoluation by tossing my Fava beans into a zip lock bag, putting in a small amount of non-chlorinated water and then placing some inoculant in the bag. I closed it up and then massauged the inoculant solution into the seed. After this nice looking mixture sat for 15 minutes I went to my garden and planted the beans 6″ apart. The beans went in a couple months back and are now going crazy:

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I purchased my Fava beans and inoculant through Peaceful Valley Farms. Every time I look at the seedlings I get excited that they are producing food, fertilizer and mulch for the garden. Can’t wait to start harvesting some yummy beans next month!

Using vermicomposting and a worm factory to recycle your kitchen scraps

I recently went through my gardening journal to see where I was spending money. Since this was my first year gardening a largest chunk of my money went into buying pots, soil and accessories. I also purchased several bags of organic compost and organic fertilizer. A bag of organic compost is $5 – $6 at the big name stores, and you really don’t have any idea what went into it or how it was produced.

I took my numbers and starting pondering ways to save money. One item I came across while researching cost cutting measures was making your own fertilizer using composters and worm bins. I decided to take a composting class at my local community garden, and after the class I realized that I didn’t have enough space to put in a compost bin. This left vermicomposting as my main option, so I decided to start researching worm bins.

If you haven’t heard of vermicomposting it’s a process where you feed your vegetable scraps and fiberous material (paper, cardboard, etc.) to worms and they process this into nutrient rich worm castings. The castings can be used in place of store bought compost, and the tea (liquid worm poop) that is a byproduct of vermicomposting can be diluted and used in place of fertilizers.

Various solutions exist for vermicomposting. You can build your own worm bin, or you can buy a Worm Factory and call it a day. I chose to buy a Worm Factory for a couple of reasons:

– I was planning to leave this in our hallway so it needed to blend in.
– The Worm Factory has a drain spout for collecting your worm tea.
– The tray system should make collecting compost easier.
– I wanted to find something that others were using with success.

Setting up the Worm Factory was a piece of cake. The directions clearly show how to connect the various pieces, so I had the base built in a matter of minutes. Next I added several layers of news paper to the bottom of tray one, and filled the rest of the bin with a mixture of damp coconut coir, food scraps and shredded news paper. The bin was all set for my worms, which I ordered from Uncle Jim’s worm farm. My bin is now 3 months old and as you can see my worms couldn’t be happier!:

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Each week I get enough worm tea to feed the plants on my deck, and everything that gets a worm tea treat is thriving (my rosemary is going bonkers now that it gets liquid nutrients). The worms are also really cool pets, and if I could come up with 3000 names I would name each and every one of them. 🙂

This was a fun learning experience, and you would be amazed at the amount of food your worms can eat (this will cut down on the amount of trash you throw out since a lot of “garbage” can be fed to your worms). I feed them all of our table scrabs (no meat, dairy or citrus) as well as a healthy dose of junkmail, cardboard, coffee grounds, tea bags and egg shells. We barely notice that we have worms in our house, since the worm factory just sits in the corner doing its thing:

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I should note one thing. Shortly after I set up the worm factory I noticed a horrible smell eminating from it. The smell turned out to be the result of overfeeding, and was quickly fixed by burying the stinky food well below the top layer of worm castings. It took me a little while to figure out how much food I could safely feed them, and as a rule of thumb less is better (I started with more is better, and that’s the reason my worm factory had an odor for a day and a half).

I’m hoping to buy a second worm factory this winter, and I’m pretty sure two bins will allow us to convert all of our food scraps, cardboard and junkmail into compost for the vegetable garden. I’ll keep folks updated on my progress as I go along.

How to figure out when you need to water your plants

Before I began using my beloved Earthbox, I started a slew of vegetables in ordinary plastic containers. Each container type had a different set of challenges to learn about and deal with, but the biggest one I found was getting the moisture levels correct. There was information scattered around the Internet about how much to water, when to water, and experts opinions of how moist each plant needs to be. I tried several approaches to watering:

– Water once the soil had pretty much dried out
– Water when the plants showed signs of water deprivation (wilting, etc.)
– Water every other day
– Water every day
– Water when your dog howled at the moon

I tried all of the above, and I couldn’t tell much of a difference between them. That is until I yanked my Cherokee Purple Tomato plant because is was dying. After I pulled out the plant and looked at the roots I noticed that there was some type of mold or fungus growing all throughout them. After a bit of research it turned out I had root rot. 🙁 This was most likely caused by over watering and poor draining soil in my containers. This really bummed me out, and I decided to purchase a soil moisture tester for $10 to help me figure out exactly how much water my plants needed.

The soil moisture tester makes it easy to visualize how moist your soil is. Here is a reading from my tester:

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So the only time you need to add water is when the counter shows that the moisture content dropped to an unacceptable level (I usually water when I’m in the yellow area). The Luster Leaf device I am using has a chart for various plants to help with identifying moisture levels, and a bit of research will show what the typical soil moisture levels for a given plant should be. Some people may be asking why I don’t just stick my fingers down in the soil to measure the moisture level. Well, I found it makes a bit of a mess and in some cases the plants bushed out so I couldn’t easily get my fingers into the soil. I could slide the soil reader in though, and the readings were helpful for a new gardener who was trying to keep the plants happy. Also, for $10 you can’t really go wrong.