Saturday, March 28, 2020

Shelter-in-Place at the Garden

Winter crops protected from wildlife with a mesh screen.

The Winter Screen Scene

     Happy Spring 2020 from RWCEG! During the Shelter-in-Place restrictions on our community due to the Covid-19 virus, it is sure nice to have a safe and beautiful place in the outdoors like RWCEG to visit. To be clear, the pictures shown above were the winter season crops grown in Bed 1 (the wicking bed). From front to back, our gardeners grew carrots, violas (an edible flower similar to pansies), many varieties of lettuce, spinach, kale, fennel, chocolate mint, coconut geranium, cabbage, broccoli, and a forest of sugar snap peas. You may notice the green mesh screen cover draped over the white hoops. This screen was added to keep wildlife from eating the plants; especially the broccoli that was eaten several times during the fall. After our third time re-planting the broccoli, we added the screen barrier out of desperation. Prior to adding the screen, we had tried using motion detecting ultrasonic pest repellers. Unfortunately, they proved to be ineffective, so adding the cumbersome screen was our next preventative measure against pests. We made the screen such that is could easily be lifted up on the sides to allow gardeners to water and harvest the plants. Although working with the screen was cumbersome at times, it did do a much better job of protecting the crops. We hope to remove the screen as we transition to spring crops.

Bragging Broccoli

A broccoli with a super sized floret crown.

     Although we struggled to grow broccoli at RWCEG this past season, Evan and I were much more successful with growing them at home. The picture above shows one "super broc" we managed to grow. An advantage we have at the home garden is it is in an enclosed "garden house" made of the same green mesh.

The Red Wiggler Roundup

Multilevel worm composter
Red Wiggler worms in their slurry in composter

     A new addition to RWCEG is our Worm Farm! Around Christmas time, Evan decided he wanted to revive an abandoned Worm Composter. As shown above and to the left, a Worm Composter is made of several stacked bins, each with a mesh bottom. The mesh allows for worms to pass to different levels of the composter. As one level becomes depleted of food, they move to the next level. Worms typically used for composting are red wigglers (Eisenia fetida). They appear similar to earthworms (aka nightcrawers), but they are a bit smaller and redder in appearance. The advantage of red wigglers is they can eat and digest rotting organic material from the surface of the soil while earthworms eat already-composted soil that is deep underground. After digesting, these worms "poop out" material called worm castings. There are many benefits of worm castings. They contain minerals such as concentrated nitrates, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. Castings are considered organic fertilizer that can increase a plant’s yield, protect both soil and plants from diseases, and help the soil retain moisture.

     After Evan received a batch of mail order red wigglers, he introduced them to their new multilevel home. To feed them, he made a slurry by blending up news papers (which is rich in carbon), coconut coir, and raw compostable materials such as leaves, and fruit & vegetable food scraps. The worms were placed into the slurry in one of the levels of their composter housing. Over time, the worms eventually moved to a new level for fresh slurry once they had finished consuming from the initial level. The spent level, now full of worm castings, has been mixed in with the soil we are using for Spring planting. We will let you know if we notice a difference in the how the plants grow with this nutritious supplement.

Winter Harvesting and Spring Planting

Ava with her garden salad harvest

Evan standing next to his bamboo trellis masterpiece built with scout skills.

     As Winter came to a close, we had several good harvests. Above is garden-girl, Ava, showing off one of her harvests of peas and carrots. We estimate the winter pea vines produced about 200 pea pods. Ava made several great salads with her family after harvesting lettuces, peas, and carrots each week at the garden throughout the latter weeks of winter.

     More recently we have planted a variety of potatoes, bell peppers, carrots, nasturtium, many varieties of beans, and yes, more snap peas. Later in the season, we will plant tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. Since our pea vines always out grow our tomato cages and 5 ft. back trellises, Evan and I built a 9 ft. high trellis with bamboo and twine. We used our Scout Skills to lash together the bamboo rods with the twine. The newly planted peas have already grabbed the lower rungs of the string lattice with their tendrils. We hope our next picture will show the pea vines reaching the top! We will report back on our garden happenings at the end of the Spring season. In the meantime, from the RWCEG community, stay safe and healthy. During the Covid Crisis, please practice social distancing from other people, but remember, your plants still need your caring touch to thrive!

Posted by Glenn Starnes;  a RWCEG caretaker