What sunny days we have been having in East Tennessee! The sun has been beautiful to enjoy, but our poor plants need some rain. We had some spotty showers last week, but they all seemed to hit around us, with just enough drops to say it sprinkled here. Farmer Melissa has been using her new over head irrigation system to help keep our plants happy, healthy, and thriving. But, with all this sun I have been able to get out and put more gardens in at teen homes. We visited one of our teens, Nathan, last week and set up his box. He planted his tomatoes and peppers right away. Other families have finally come back from vacation, so we are in hopes to get three gardens set up this week! That is a lot of dirt, compost, and traveling, but it will be a lot of fresh veggies for families who need access to healthy food during the summer.
The teens learned how to care for our vermin-composting boxes. Here the teens are soaking cardboard, paper, and leaves so they will be nice and moist and easy to tear if need be. The paper and such for the compost needs to be wet but not too wet for the worms to live in it nicely, and you don’t want giant wads of cardboard in your compost either so it’s easiest to soak it and tear it to the desired size. The smaller the paper and cardboard, the quicker the worms will compost their “bedding”. Shredded paper works very well for the worms. Make sure to remove plastic from used envelops, staples, and paper clips as the worms will not eat these items and you will be picking them out later. The bedding needs to resemble a damp sponge as you wring out the excess water before placing into your worm bin. Worms are composed of 90% water and need to be kept moist, but not drowned, at all times. If you do not receive rain outside for your box (which ours has wholes drilled in the top to let rain and air in, on the sides for air, and the bottom for drainage if we get too much rain), you need to check and make sure your bedding is moist. If it is getting dry spray some water with a garden hose to re-moisten the bedding.
The teens made sure to have plenty of materials to start the compost so the worms don’t eat it all up so soon, but one doesn’t want too many “dry” ingredients (paper, leaves, cardboard). Although these “dry” materials are very important to the compost, the teens learned that the worms don’t think these ingredients are to tasty, but they will still eat them. Worms will eat the bedding, but if offered vegetable scraps, fruit scraps (but not a lot of citrus. Too acidic for worms), egg shells for grit (no yolk or whites), or vegetable plants they can compost your garden/kitchen waste as well!
After they finished soaking the bedding, they put it into the beds that are or will be full of worms. One could then put as many food scraps or the like in there for your beloved worms. Making sure to keep it moist and stir it every once in a while. When we notice that the worms have composted most of their bedding down, it is time to begin to think of harvesting the beautiful fertilizer left behind – worm castings. Worm castings make a wonderful additive to your garden plants to help build up nutrients and micro-organisms in the soil. When we prepare to harvest the castings, we push all the worms, worm castings, and excess bedding to one side of the box. We then add our new bedding to the opposite side, hiding the veggie scraps in the center. The worms will migrate to the new bedding, after finding the veggie scraps and sending word out to the other worms of “FRESH FOOD”. After about a week, we should be able to come pull the composted side out, and take little chance of loosing any worms. We also sift our worm castings through a self-made wooden framed screen so we can capture any excess worms and put them back in the bins and to keep any unnecessary trash out of our gardens that were missed when filling the box.
This week, the teens will be taking totes and making their own in-house worm boxes. We have worms ordered and they should be here in time to go home with the teens. They will make these boxes to grow their own valuable garden amendments and it will prepare them for a farming workshop that they will lead at our local farmers market on Saturday. They will also be making a worm-casting tea (recipe in next blog). The tea works as a big shot of vitamins when plants are at their worst. The tea is beneficial because the plants will soak it up through their leaves and roots right away, versus waiting for the dry castings to be watered in by mother nature. When asked how many teens wanted a box, I cringed thinking they would all say “yuck!”. Much to my surprise each and everyone wanted their own box! I am so excited!
As if this has not been exciting enough for the past two weeks, Friday, the Food Commanders collected bugs from the garden! Oh how awesome, a bug hunt! They were introduced to which bugs are good and which are bad, how to get rid of the bad bugs, and how to keep their plants healthy and happy in the ground. I was so excited about a bug hunt and was so prepared to go, until I found out one of our cows decided to climb her fence, escape, and find the one mud spot that stays nothing but a mud spot from the spring, and sank in. I spent all morning with other staff members digging a cow out of the mud. We did get her out, and the teens helped to try to pull her out of the hole she was in. They worked very well as a team, but we finally got a tractor in to pull her out since she was getting weak and tired. She is doing just fine now, and has not decided to go on any more adventures through the farm. As for me, I went home and took a very long shower and scrubbed mud off (sorry no pictures!). Hmmm, I don’t know about those mud baths. My skin is not soft yet!