My composting worms are housed in an average-sized bin that we keep in the hallway just outside our apartment door. This spot next to the recycling bin is great three out of four seasons of the year since it saves precious space inside our apartment and is the perfect distance between the roof garden and the kitchen. Unfortunately, the winter season poses a problem. The hallways are heated but just barely, not nearly enough to keep redwigglers (Eisenia foetida) alive.
This year, rather than lugging the big bin into the apartment and living with it underfoot until spring, I decided to downsize. The population in my bin is pretty tame right now. It’s good for the worms to have lots of room in the bin but mine were the equivalent of a two person family living in a monster home. Resizing and moving the contents was easy enough. The bin wasn’t ready to be harvested so I simply prepared a new bin using a smaller container I already had on hand. The worms went into the new bin, bedding and all.
They needed a small top-up of bedding so I shredded some used paper bags I had been saving and moistened it slightly before adding it to the bin. I’ve tried a variety of methods and materials for making bedding over the years and brown paper or paper bags shredded in a paper shredder is my favourite way to go. I don’t mind newspaper but prefer not to use it for reasons that really only come down to pure vanity.
I made a few changes to this new bin based on its size. I was most concerned about creating good air flow in such a small bin so I added a few extra holes to the bottom and top with a few more added to the sides. I also added a large hole on top using a drill bit meant for making doorknob holes. I added a piece of coir planter lining, which can be pulled out to increase air flow. I did this because sometimes the bin can get too wet, requiring me to prop open the lid to increase circulation. This works well but I tend to forget about it and leave it propped for too long, sometimes drying out the bedding more than I had intended. The idea behind the larger hole is to regulate air flow more subtly. We don’t have vermin so there is no fear of mice getting into the bin through the large hole and taking up residence. If you do have mice that come in for the winter I would suggest adding more small holes and skipping the larger hole.
Another little trick I’ve come up with over the years is propping the bin on top of small flower pots. Bricks and cans work too. Propping the bottom up allows for better air flow underneath the bin. And the extra plastic lid underneath catches any run-off which can be saved and poured onto your plants as fertilizer.
In Conclusion: I Rule
We’ve been living with the new bin for about 2 weeks now and so far it has been great. I love it and have offered myself numerous mental high fives since making the shift. As you can see, the new bin fits perfectly underneath a table in the kitchen so composting takes about 5 seconds. The new larger hole on top has been genius — I haven’t had any problems regulating air flow and have avoided having to prop open the lid.
For more on vermicomposting:
While writing the composting section for the new book, it occurred to me that my list in book one was rather incomplete and only covered some of the things we compost at home. There’s a surprising number of common, everyday items that are fit for the compost, yet many gardeners tend to stick to the basics such as kitchen scraps and dead plant waste. Adding just a few more items to the bin can drastically reduce the size of your weekly rubbish bag.
- Pet bedding (Rabbits, hamsters, and other herbivores only!!)
- Paper egg cartons
- Tissues and paper toweling (Depending on what was on them)
- Cotton balls (Depending on what was on them)
- Paper bags (I shred these for use as bedding in my vermicomposter)
- Toilet rolls
- Shredded paper, newspaper, receipts and documents (non-glossy)
- Wine corks
- Dry dog food (Be careful about attracting vermin but makes a good compost activator for getting your pile rocking.)
- Old spices and herbs from the cupboard
- Nut shells
- Wine (Another decent compost activator)
- Felt, old wool, bamboo or cotton socks
- Dust from sweeping and vacuuming
- Old pasta
- Spoiled flower bouquets and their water
Above image is the July entry from the 2008 You Grow Girl Calendar
I LOVE tomatoes. If I had to give up growing all other crops and choose just one I would probably choose tomatoes although basil would follow as a close second. Who can imagine tomatoes without basil?
Don’t make me choose.
Tomatoes aren’t the easiest food plant to grow but they are the most rewarding. No homegrown vegetable tastes, looks, and feels more radically different to its grocery store counterpart. That watery, anemic thing isn’t a tomato, it’s an impostor, and a bad one at that.
I love the challenge in growing tomatoes. The learning about this single crop type is endless. Every variety is different from the 6 feet (plus plus) tall indeterminates to teeny little potted plants. The leaves and shapes are different, their wants and needs are varied, and their disease and pest resistance can shift radically from plant to plant. And then there’s the weather. What thrives and grows abundantly one year can melt into a pile the next. Finding more water during a drought is hard enough, but how exactly do you take it away during a flood year? My region has already far surpassed all the records for summer rainfall and the summer isn’t even over yet. If you’ve ever experienced frustration and loss as a tomato gardener do not give up. Who knows what next year will bring? That next variety might be the one that kicks ass in your growing conditions. The one thing a gardener can never control or really predict is the weather. How amazing would it be if we could? But then I wonder how interesting gardening would be if we knew exactly what was going to happen and what to do about it beforehand.
A clump of ‘Purple Calabash’ tomatoes harvested just yesterday!
A gardener could focus their entire life on just the tomato and still live a very full and varied experience. I constantly long for the space to toss in 100 varieties or more in one year and just immerse myself in it completely. Still, I try with my little roof garden and community plot, slowly inching my way through the lists of inspiring varieties one plant at a time. I had to cut back this year to give my soil a break. It’s a bummer but has made me all that much more appreciative of the plants I do have, most especially the few that have pushed on through the excess rain to bring me my first sweet, ripe lovelies.
Tomatoes are beginning to ripen in both of my food gardens which means I am indulging in all of my favourite tomato recipes. I prefer to make tomatoes the star of the show rather than hiding them in among other overpowering ingredients so as soon as the first tomatoes were ready I dove straight into the two dishes I crave most during the off months of the year: Roasted Tomato Soup and Fried Egg Sandwich. (I cooked and ate one for lunch midway through writing this post!) The egg sandwich is as simple as frying two eggs any way you like them with a light spread of mayo and a couple of leaves of fresh basil. Add a little salt to taste. My newest love is Caprese Salad. I took up cheese making last year just so I could have really fresh delicious cheese with it. When the plants really start producing I’ll be making Roasted Tomato Sauce and Blackened Ranchero Salsa and then canning for winter usage. Yum.
Amazing that this is where it all begins. This is the ‘Purple Calabash’ shortly after germinating.
This post is a part of Away to Garden and Dinner Tonight’s Tomato Week Fest 2008.
I ordered a 1/2 pound of red wiggler worms back in May but the sellers have experienced such a boom in orders this year that they were unable to fill my order until July. Encouraging don’t you think?
I have kept a vermicomposter many times but haven’t had one recently. We’ve just been composting on the roof in boxes or carrying our food scraps over to the community garden where our bins of dry browns need all the wet they can get.
I have to admit though that I love having a bin of worms living with me, so when I had an excuse to get some I jumped on it. I have loved worms since I was a kid. Worms remind me of summer nights running outdoors searching the neighbors’ “lawns” for little dew worm heads poking up out of the ground. We always let them go, there was no reason to keep them. I just liked finding them and feeling them wriggle in my hands. I still do.
Worms also remind me of my grade two teacher, Mrs. Hamson. I’m pretty sure her name was Hamson although my brain wants it to be Hamster.
Anyways, when it rained the concrete pad of my schoolyard became flooded with worms, and I’m not sure if it was a particularly rainy year or what but the boys in my grade had developed a trend of throwing worms at the girls and it seemed like this was happening fairly regularly. This of course always sent the girls off shrieking which only served to egg the boys on more. Mrs. Hamson sat us down one day and explained that worms are animals, that there was nothing for the girls to be afraid of and that the boys should respect them as living creatures and leave them be. She brought some worms in and we all took turns touching and holding them.
That lesson has always stuck with me. I wasn’t one of the kids throwing the worms or one of the kids having worms thrown at me for that matter but what created an impression was the fact that this adult cared enough about something as small as a worm to teach us a lesson about creature abuse. A lot of adults in my neighborhood kicked cats and abused their kids. So when our teacher talked about the lowly worm as something to be respected and cared for she was also telling us something important about all living beings and ourselves. And what’s more she taught by example with a kind voice instead of lecturing or finger wagging. I don’t think I was the only kid who heard her because the worm throwing did stop. To be replaced shortly thereafter by digging clay or petrified cat poo out of the sandbox to throw at each other.
Here’s how to make a worm composter. They’re fun to have around, especially if you have kids, and those suckers (the worms, not the kids) will eat their body mass in food scraps daily. Worm poo is some of the best stink-free organic fertilizers you can also make yourself. Just be sure to get yourself the red wiggler type. Dew worms, night crawlers, and earth worms are good in the garden but won’t survive the conditions of a compost bin.
Question: I am having a problem with some tomato plants in my back yard. The plants are growing good and strong and small green tomatoes are begging to grow. I looked at the bottom of one tomato and it is turning black. Can you please tell me what is causing this. There are several tomatoes on the vines of this plant, but only one tomato has this black section on it.
- George K.
Answer: Hi George,
Your black bottomed tomato sounds a lot like blossom end rot. I don’t have a picture of it to post but a quick search will bring up countless photographic evidence for identification. The reason I am ruling out other problems is because you describe your plants as healthy. Blossom end rot appears as a blackened, sunken spot on the bottom of green or ripening fruit. The plant itself rarely shows any signs of a problem. In fact some stricken fruit is found growing on plants that are exceptionally leafy and health. This particular brand of the condition is a symptom of excessively fertilizing with a high nitrogen fertilizer. In that case, much of the plant’s energy goes into producing big, healthy leaves, leaving little else for fruit production.
Blossom end rot is a very common condition said to be caused by a calcium deficiency, however in general the problem is not caused by a lack of calcium in the soil but inconsistent watering, drought, and uneven soil moisture making it difficult for the plant to draw nutrients up through the roots.
From your description it sounds like your tomatoes are growing in-ground however this problem is especially common for container grown plants since containers dry out quickly and can be difficult to keep consistently watered.
The good news is that the problem is easily fixed — future tomatoes grown on the same plant aren’t doomed to be diseased if you follow the advice below.
General Tips to Avoid Blossom End Rot
- Amend poor soil by adding lots of organic matter like compost. This will provide better nutrition for the plants and make for soil that holds moisture well.
- Water tomatoes deeply, but less frequently. This means give them A LOT of water when you do water rather than watering regularly but in small quantities.
- Water more often once your plants start to produce fruit, continuing to water deeply each time. Tomatoes are a watery fruit, your plant will need lots to grow healthy fruit.
When Excessive Nitrogen is the Problem
- Cut back on high nitrogen fertilizers like fish emulsion.
- Add kelp meal or liquid seaweed to ergular waterings. You can even spray the blossoms with this mix when they first open.
Tips for Container Gardeners
- When growing in a container, grow only one tomato plant per pot.
- Choose a container that is appropriately-sized for the plant. Small busing and dwarf tomato plants will do in a hanging basket but most tomatoes have very deep and ample roots requiring lots of space. Garbage bins are the way to go.
- Grow tomatoes in plastic pots when possible. Plastic retains water much better than terracotta, a difference that will become much more noticeable at the peak of summer drought.