Caring for 160,000 composting worms is a year-round job and requires more time than one might think. In ideal conditions, our worms are eating 80 pounds of produce and bedding per DAY. Ballpark figure: That’s about a ton of food per month! And to keep the worms eating at a healthy rate, we need to keep the temperature moderate, the pH relatively neutral and the moisture balanced.
So what are our guys eating to stay healthy, and produce healthy Worm Compost? For starters, locally-sourced rotten produce. Why rotten? That’s the way worms like it. When they eat, they don’t draw nutrients from the produce, but rather from the mold and microbes rotting the produce. Their bodies take what they need from the molds and fungi, and excrete their castings with many of the nutrients still intact from the fruits and veggies they just digested. That’s what makes vermicompost so much better than traditional “hot” compost: It actually contains nutrients and minerals that your plants need.
While we’ve always used rotting produce for our worms (as opposed to animal manure or landscape waste), this past year we became much more selective about what we fed our worms. In the past, we would utilize any rotting fruit or vegetable as worm food; now we only feed them produce that is 100% seed-free. This means you won’t find a rogue seed or sprout in the finished Worm Compost. No more tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, strawberries, pumpkins, peppers or apples, which means we’ve doubled up on things like lettuce, spinach, celery, potatoes, mushrooms, kale, carrots, cabbage, yams, broccoli, cauliflower and radishes.
We also source coffee grounds from local coffee shops (100 pounds or so per month), coco coir, clean newsprint, and crushed egg shells.
All-in-all, these worms are chowing down 365 days a year to produce our Living Worm Compost.
Keeping things a comfortable temperature for the worms is vital—in both summer and winter. Worms like temperatures around the same level you and I might. If you’re cold, so are the worms; if you’re hot, so are the worms. That means in the summer, we keep fans blowing across the bins to cool things down. But in the winter we have to set up heating systems to keep the worms happy and hungry (and mating).
We’ve also vermin-proofed our workshop (chicken wire, traps, barn cat), as winter is the time of year when these worm bins becomes prime real estate for mice—warm environment with an all-you-can-eat buffet being restocked on a regular basis.
Like any other farmer, we need to make sure our livestock are safe, healthy and fed, and that means constant year-round attention. When the thermometer drops, that means more work for us to keep them happy, but it also means that the colder it gets, the more we’re “thinking spring.”
Good Sweet Earth is offering a new service for West Michigan gardeners looking to take their garden to the next level this year: Your own personal gardening consultant to work with you, from the planning of your crops through the harvest.
You'll have your very own Master Gardener to walk you through the entire growing season! Need help with your garden? Want to maximize your harvest? Looking for someone to answer tough questions as they pop up during the growing season?
We got your back!
Whether you do container gardening, raised beds or have a quarter-acre of yard space ready for planting, we can help! Here's what's included in your season-long Gardening Consultant Service:
1. An on-site assessment of your garden space-- we'll check your soil, sunlight, irrigation, space, etc.
2. A personalized plan for when and where to plant your seeds and seedlings. We'll sit down with you to go over the fruits, veggies and herbs you and your family most enjoy, and we'll map out your garden to maximize your harvest. We'll also make recommendations on different plant varieties based on your level of gardening experience, West Michigan climate and your personal tastes.
3. Season-long guidance. Questions always come up, but with Good Sweet Earth, you'll have an expert at your beck and call as you encounter pests, unproductive plants, fertilization questions, and any other curves nature can throw at you. We'll walk you through it all season long, from planting in the spring to wrapping things up in the fall!
4. Discounted soil test and analysis. We'll knock $10 off of our soil test and analysis. Testing is done at a Michigan State University lab, and analysis will give you guidance on how to effectively amend your soil for maximum results! Regular price is $50; discounted price is $40.
This package is only available to West Michigan residents (Kent, Ottawa and Allegan Counties), and is only available for purchase during the months of September-April, so that we can have adequate time to come out and assess your garden space and prepare your customized garden plan for spring. Best part? It only costs $100, but the food you'll harvest will be worth it!
Questions? Email Corey at Corey@GoodSweetEarth.com.
Ready to purchase? Sign up here and we'll be in touch to schedule an on-site assessment of your garden space!
How do you know when it’s time to start planting? Our weather has been more spring-like here in Michigan than wintery and if you are anything like me you have your seeds ready to go.
Is it too early though? A major deciding factor is what you want to plant. It is by far too early for summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, which shouldn’t hit the ground until mid- to late-May. But for the spring crops*...it depends.
For those marvelous spring crops that we all love to plant as soon as the ground thaws and the sun kisses the air? The deciding factor is the soil-- the soil's moisture and the soil's temperature.
First, grab a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball. If the soil becomes tight and holds its shape too well, then it's too wet to plant. Rototilling soil this wet or even walking on your crop rows at this point will compact things unnecessarily. However, if your handful of soil becomes a light ball that breaks apart easily, your soil's passed the first test of spring.
The next consideration is your soil temperature. Cool weather vegetables need the soil to be at least 35 degrees for your seeds to germinate. An inexpensive addition to your gardening toolbox is a soil thermometer. A good strategy when you are unsure if the temperatures will remain warm enough is to plant only a section of your crops, then wait a week and plant more. This way, if temps drop too far, your entire crop won't be lost. Staggering your sowing also spreads out your harvest a bit-- an added bonus.
Now before you put your seeds in the ground don’t forget to prepare your soil. Ready to purchase your Living Worm Compost? Click here. It's never too early or too cold to stock up on compost. Not sure how much you need? Email me at Corey@goodsweetearth.com and I'd be happy to help.
(*For the record, these are really the only things you should be putting in the ground in the early spring: spring cabbage, garlic-cloves, kale, onions, peas, radishes, shallots, spinach and turnips. Those are your spring crops that are able to handle a little extra cold.)
Corey Veldheer is the owner of Good Sweet Earth and has been Master Gardener Certified through Michigan State University.
With temps barely reaching 30 degrees it’s hard to think about your garden, but being cooped up on these long winter nights, I think this is the best time to start planning for spring! So what is a gardener to do in February?
First, take a look back at your garden journal and see what worked last year and what didn’t. (Not sure what a garden journal is? Check out this post from last season that explains why a garden journal is essential to successful gardening.)
Next, make a list of what which fruits and vegetable you would like to grow this year. Everyone seems to want the staples of a backyard garden—cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and green beans. Those are easy to grow and make a fine garden, but browse a few seed catalogs and consider branching out! One of our garden consultation clients is growing Amaranth which is a grain related to quinoa—how fun!
For me, this year I am working on expanding my perennials including planting more raspberries, strawberries, additional apple trees, and chamomile for tea. Also decide if you want to start seedlings or purchase seedlings from a local nursery. Some plants are best direct sown into the soil such as lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and green beans. Others, such as peppers, tomatoes and eggplant, need a head start with our shorter growing season. We are pretty lucky here in West Michigan with many greenhouse choices to purchase seedlings, so if growing your own seems intimidating, rest assured you will have a good selection of pros nearby to get those seeds going for you (for a price).
Finally, order your seeds! There are lots of great places to order organic seeds from but some of my favorites include Johnny's Selected Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Happy Gardening!
We officially hit the Winter Solstice at 5:44am yesterday. The Solstice fell on December 21 this year, but did you know that it can fall anywhere from December 21 through December 23. That means today is officially the first FULL day of winter. On the flip side (of the planet), today marks the first full day of summer.
But what exactly is the Winter Solstice? From the Old Farmer's Almanac:
Winter solstice is the day with the fewest hours of sunlight during the whole year...
The next big event in our planet's rotation around the sun will be the Spring Equinox-- March 20, 2017 at 6:29am. That's just 88 days, people! It's never too soon to start planning your garden for next season.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.