Thursday, December 27, 2012

For People Who Just Got a Worm Farm for Christmas

First, here is the first of a fabulously corny set of videos from the Happy D Ranch (whoever they are.)  It's very useful, especially if you watch the whole series:

Next, this is how to separate the worms from the castings (aka "worm poop") that they create so you can use this black gold to fertilize your plants.  Different people have different ways they do this, so I will post a few:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Worm Poop

Here's the poop (and nothing but the poop!)
Chances are, if you are reading this post, that I have just given you a jar of worm poop harvested from my worm farm and that you have followed the web address on the jar label. I didn't have room to fit all the fascinating details onto the side of the jar, so I have directed you here (hopefully, if it's very far into the future, you decided to click on the "worms" tag...)

Worm Poop (aka "Worm Castings" or "Black Gold" or "vermicompost") is a very powerful plant fertilizer that is also wonderfully gentle. One tablespoon full will feed a houseplant for a couple of months, but you can also safely plant seeds in it. Party bonus: Worm Poop is completely clean and nontoxic!

Here are ways you can use your Black Gold:

1. House Plants

Sprinkle a couple spoonfuls of worm poop into the top layer of the soil of a potted plant. Remember that castings are very potent, so you don't need to overdo it. You can also mix in a little bit when you transplant. Note: this stuff is very dry so it will repel water at first. If you add a little water to the jar and let it soak, or work it into moist soil, it will soon be damp again.

2. General Garden Fertilizer
(and check out the photo of Alice circa 1999 looking at wormies with her Papa...)

When planting annuals or perennials place a small handful of castings into each hole or you can sprinkle worm castings on top of garden soil.

If you are starting plants from seed, add a small amount of worm castings in the bottom part of the soil. Once you transplant the seedlings place a small handful of vermicompost in each hole. This works for all types of plants!

3. Making Compost Tea

This is a good way to extend your worm poop farther. Add two tablespoons of castings to one quart of water and allow it to steep for a day, mixing it occasionally. The tea should be a light amber color when it is ready to use. If it is darker than that simply dilute with water. IMPORTANT: Water your plants with this "tea" on the same day you make it.

Finally, here's a video to help you get acquainted with a few of my worms. If real, live, squirming, slimy, wiggly worms make you feel all oogie then you might want to skip it. But if you have heard me speak lovingly of them and would like to meet them, have at it!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Eating Canna

"Can you eat it?"
Ed is one of my gardening friends. Every time someone in the community garden mentions a new or interesting plant to grow, Ed's first response is, "Can you eat it?"
My father has been growing canna "lilies" (which are not lilies) for years. We never knew much about them except that they were very prolific. He got a few rhizomes from a friend several years ago and they multiply so much that he can't find enough people to give them away to and he ends up throwing away buckets full after he lifts them each fall.
He passed some along to me when I finally got my own bit of earth and they made quite a lovely show this past summer in one of my heavily composted raised beds, growing to a height of over seven feet and feeding hoards of hummingbirds with their gaudy red blooms. While everyone else "oooohed and ahhhed" and wanted to know what these beauties were, Ed remained unimpressed. "Can you eat it?"
As far as I knew, because of their attraction to the ruby-throated hummingbirds, my cannas exemplified only one of my current garden obsessions - being helpful to pollinators. So when Ed asked, "Can you eat it?" I told him that, unfortunately, I didn't think so. But of course I started doing research and discovered that the large, banana-like leaves are often used as a wrap for cooking fish and other things.
Ed and Steve are friends and Steve is growing cannas also. Steve and I were loving the mystery if it all...his Chinese mom brought their cannas from California and they were both surprised that my variety appears to be exactly the same. Both our cannas look like photos of the original "wild" canna that comes from South America. I've also read that Native Americans in the Northwest used them as an important food source (citation needed.) If THAT is true, then another of my gardening obsessions is fulfilled - NATIVE PLANT, folks!
And then came the kicker. Steve told me that his mom told him about cooking and eating the roots as a cure for arthritis. Really? This rocked my world. I'm very excited at the prospect of cooking and eating some of my canna rhizomes. I was growing them for the WOW! factor of their height and beauty, plus their value to the hummers and then I found out that they might be native plants and THEN I found out-quite by accident-that they are truly edible. Quadrupal whammy!

Saturday, September 15, 2012


I have been increasingly concerned about mothballs in the homes of loved ones. I need to find a way to lovingly and firmly convince people that, if a home reeks of mothballs, the residents of that home are slowly being poisoned.

I have only just started my research on this topic, so I don't have much to go on yet.

Here is a brief overview, but I need to find some scientific studies to back up this information.

If anyone has any information, please post here or feel free to contact me. I am mostly interested in how inhalation of mothball fumes may simulate symptoms of dementia in elderly humans.

Pollinator Pathway

A gardening friend told me about a project for which her niece has won an award. It's the Pollinator Pathway project in Seattle and here is some information from the website:

What is the Pollinator Pathway?

Pollinating insects are in crisis, with populations plummeting across the U.S. The work that these tiny animals do to sustain plants and food crops– usually working out-of-sight and out-of-mind– is critical to not just their survival but our own.

The Pollinator Pathway is a plan being developed by artist and ecological designer Sarah Bergmann to provide a model of support to the foundation of the food web. With a mile-long series of gardens in planting strips along Seattle’s Columbia Street, the project establishes a corridor between the two green spaces bookending the project-Seattle University’s campus at 12th, and Nora’s Woods at 29th.

The project is also getting a lot of attention from the press. Here is an entry on National Public Radio's food blog that interviews scientists about the effectiveness of Pollinator Pathway's plan to convert small parking strips all over the city into gardens.

The main idea is to plant small islands of native plants everywhere possible in order to create tiny sanctuaries for native insects that help pollinate our food crops.

The conclusion: It helps!!!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bok Choy #2

Less successful than Bok Choy #1 and I want to go outside and play, so here are two quick photos:
Ingredients included:
-Old garlic (minced)
-Bok Choy stems
-Sesame oil
-Red chile pepper (dash)
-Sliced carrots
-Soy sauce
-Black sesame seeds

Bok Choy #1

I just invented the most awesome recipe from a freshly picked bok choy given to me by my gardening friend, Ed.
Ed has planted a lot of Chinese vegetables in his plot for his family to use, and when he gave me my bok choy he pointed out that they often make two different meals out of the same plant: soup from the stems and a stir fry from the leaves. I wasn't in the mood to make soup during these bright days of May, but my brain started thinking....I don't have to make soup, but I could still use two different recipes from the different parts of the plant.
Oh-and he said to "toss" the flowers also since they are a delicacy. In a salad? I asked. No, to cook them. Of course, I don't have a wok or any other fancy cooking vessels. I just have a basic, stainless steel pan. I'm not brave enough to toss.
After reading a few recipes, I decided to start chopping and make some decisions later. As I chopped, I mulled over what I had read and decided to plunder my supplies and start categorizing some ingredients into two camps: salady & sweet; nutty & meaty (I didn't have any meat, so think "hearty supper dish".) Here's what I came up with for Salady & Sweet:
-Green leaves cut from stem of bok choy and sliced into slivers
-Various small stems and pieces from central stem
-Yellow bok choy flowers
-Ginger powder
-Lemon grass
-1/2 red onion sliced
-Two small red pears cubed and slathered with lime juice
-Grape seed oil
Oil, lemon grass and ginger powder went into the pan first over a low flame with a cast iron heat diffuser between the pan and the stovetop. Onions and stems came next with flowers following soon after.
Then I covered it all with a lid and let it simmer while I washed the dishes.
After everything was sizzling nicely and sending out nice smells, I added the greens by the handfuls and smooshed them down into the pan with the lid. After a several seconds, the greens reduced a bit and I was able to turn the leaves into the earlier ingredients (all nice and slurpy by now.)
After about a minute, I turned off the heat and spooned the whole colorful and lovely melange into two bowls - one for me and one for the fridge!
I dubbed myself a genius and moved on to the next challenge: Nutty & Meaty!

Thursday, May 3, 2012


I have become a Beewatcher. In the same way that many erstwhile Birdwatchers prefer to be called Birders, I have dubbed myself a Bee-er. I go Birding. I also go Beeing.
Here is my latest "observation" from a prestigious published source.
In the following recent article, The New York Times has (partially) atoned for their poorly researched article of almost two years ago that claimed the bees are dying from a virus.
While reading this new article, please don't forget that at least one of the experts quoted, David Fischer, GETS PAYED BY THE COMPANY THAT IS MAKING THE PESTICIDE THAT IS KILLING THE BEES! (I get to say that with such positivity because I am merely a private citizen and not a scientist who is SUPPOSED to be balanced and fair. I say whatever I want and I can be as prejudiced as I please. Thanks to journalist Carl Zimmer for being balanced and fair for all of us.)
OK - Read on!
"2 Studies Point to Common Pesticide as a Culprit in Declining Bee Colonies" By CARL ZIMMER Published by The New York Times: March 29, 2012
"Scientists have been alarmed and puzzled by declines in bee populations in the United States and other parts of the world. They have suspected that pesticides are playing a part, but to date their experiments have yielded conflicting, ambiguous results.
"In Thursday’s issue of the journal Science, two teams of researchers published studies suggesting that low levels of a common pesticide can have significant effects on bee colonies. One experiment, conducted by French researchers, indicates that the chemicals fog honeybee brains, making it harder for them to find their way home. The other study, by scientists in Britain, suggests that they keep bumblebees from supplying their hives with enough food to produce new queens.
"The authors of both studies contend that their results raise serious questions about the use of the pesticides, known as neonicotinoids.
“'I personally would like to see them not being used until more research has been done,' said David Goulson, an author of the bumblebee paper who teaches at the University of Stirling, in Scotland. 'If it confirms what we’ve found, then they certainly shouldn’t be used when they’re going to be fed on by bees.'
"But pesticides are only one of several likely factors that scientists have linked to declining bee populations. There are simply fewer flowers, for example, thanks to land development. Bees are increasingly succumbing to mites, viruses, fungi and other pathogens.
"Outside experts were divided about the importance of the two new studies. Some favored the honeybee study over the bumblebee study, while others felt the opposite was true. Environmentalists say that both studies support their view that the insecticides should be banned. And a scientist for Bayer CropScience, the leading maker of neonicotinoids, cast doubt on both studies, for what other scientists said were legitimate reasons.
"David Fischer, an ecotoxicologist at Bayer CropScience, said the new experiments had design flaws and conflicting results. In the French study, he said, the honeybees got far too much neonicotinoid. “I think they selected an improper dose level,” Dr. Fischer said.
"Dr. Goulson’s study on bumblebees might warrant a “closer look,” Dr. Fischer said, but he argued that the weight of evidence still points to mites and viruses as the most likely candidates for bee declines.
"The research does not solve the mystery of the vanishing bees. Although bumblebees have been on the decline in the United States and elsewhere, they have not succumbed to a specific phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, which affects only honeybees.
"Yet the research is coming out at a time when opposition to neonicotinoids is gaining momentum. The insecticides, introduced in the early 1990s, have exploded in popularity; virtually all corn grown in the United States is treated with them. Neonicotinoids are taken up by plants and moved to all their tissues — including the nectar on which bees feed. The concentration of neonicotinoids in nectar is not lethal, but some scientists have wondered if it might still affect bees.
"In the honeybee experiment, researchers at the National Institute for Agricultural Research in France fed the bees a dose of neonicotinoid-laced sugar water and then moved them more than half a mile from their hive. The bees carried miniature radio tags that allowed the scientists to keep track of how many returned to the hive.
"In familiar territory, the scientists found, the bees exposed to the pesticide were 10 percent less likely than healthy bees to make it home. In unfamiliar places, that figure rose to 31 percent.
"The French scientists used a computer model to estimate how the hive would be affected by the loss of these bees. Under different conditions, they concluded that the hive’s population might drop by two-thirds or more, depending on how many worker bees were exposed.
“'I thought it was very well designed,' said May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"But James Cresswell, an ecotoxicologist at the University of Exeter in England, was less impressed, because the scientists had to rely on a computer model to determine changes in the hive. 'I don’t think the paper is a trump card,' he said.
"In the British study, Dr. Goulson and his colleagues fed sugar water laced with a neonicotinoid pesticide to 50 bumblebee colonies. The researchers then moved the bee colonies to a farm, alongside 25 colonies that had been fed ordinary sugar water.
"At the end of each year, all the bumblebees in a hive die except for a few new queens, which will go on to found new hives. Dr. Goulson and his colleagues found that colonies exposed to neonicotinoids produced 85 percent fewer queens. This reduction would translate into 85 percent fewer hives.
"Jeffery Pettis, a bee expert at the United States Department of Agriculture, called Dr. Goulson’s study “alarming.” He said he suspected that other types of wild bees would be shown to suffer similar effects.
"Dr. Pettis is also convinced that neonicotinoids in low doses make bees more vulnerable to disease. He and other researchers have recently published experiments showing that neonicotinoids make honeybees more vulnerable to infections from parasitic fungi.
“'Three or four years ago, I was much more cautious about how much pesticides were contributing to the problem,' Dr. Pettis said. 'Now more and more evidence points to pesticides being a consistent part of the problem.'"
A version of this article appeared in print on March 30, 2012, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: 2 Studies Point to Common Pesticide as a Culprit in Declining Bee Colonies.