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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

How to Have Tomato Transplants Ready for Your Garden in 6 Weeks - Container Size Matters

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Growing tomato transplants isn't really difficult once you have the basics down. It just takes some time to learn. However, growing large plants in 6 weeks, that are ready to be planted into a garden, can be challenging. The key is container size. Lighting, watering, and fertilizing will impact plant growth but cell or container size is often over looked. Generally speaking, a transplant's size is constrained by the growing space of the roots. The stronger and larger the root system, the more quickly the plant can grow in size. A lot has been written about lighting, watering, and fertilizing. I thought I would show you how container size impacts the growth of your tomato transplants. 

Here are several tomato plants that were all started on the same day with starting mix, lighting, watering, and fertilizing all being equal. The only difference is the size of the cells in which they were grown. The seeds were started on November 24th and today's date is December 29th. That is 5 weeks. You can see how the seeds started in the larger 6 pack, on the right, are much bigger plants. The roots had more room to grow and expand. Therefore, their overall growth/size is significantly larger than the other plants. The tomato transplants in the middle had more space for root growth than the plants on the left. You can also see a size difference in those plants.

Room for roots is the 'overlooked' key to getting transplants garden ready in 6 weeks. The plants on the left and in the middle are really ready to be potted up into larger containers and need a couple more weeks of growth. Starting plants in larger cells not only brings you larger transplants over the same time period, it can save you time, by removing the need to up-pot/repot plants. The container size you choose, to start your tomato transplants in, is really a function of space available under your grow-lights and the amount of transplants you are growing. 

The plants were watered equally and were fertilized around the 2 week and 4 week mark with a diluted water soluble fertilizer. The next step for the 5 week old plants, on the right, is acclimation to the the outdoor sun. Since seed starts are grown indoors, they do not have protection from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. They need to be slowly exposed to the sun and elements over a 7 day period. This additional week of acclimation brings the plants to 6 weeks of growth. They would be ready to go into the ground, if my ground wasn't frozen. Keep in mind that tomato transplants are best grown in soil that has reached 50 degrees and when the danger of frost has well passed. Here is the video that goes along with this blog post.

Click to Visit My Seed Shop for Starting Supplies

The pictures below show how the root systems filled the actual growing space of the large, medium, and small cells almost equally over 5 weeks. The root growth is more expansive when the plants are given more starting mix to grow within from the start.  That is, there are more roots and root surface area in the larger cell. You can see how growth was restricted due to space limitations. Smaller cells do restrict the growth of the stem and leaves by limiting root growth or expansion.. Each cell type has value based on what you are growing, your space, and timing for getting plants into the garden.

You can find seed starting products at my seed and garden shop: Starting Cell & Flats. The largest cell in the this post is listed as Medium Cells at my shop.

Alternatives to purchasing cells could be recycled yogurt containers, cut water bottles, repurposed nursery pots or any plastic container. Make sure you place holes in the containers for drainage. Root systems of your transplants will quickly grow and expand to fill the space of the containers you use. The more root growth you have to start, the more top growth you get. Addressing root growth will allow you to grow large tomato transplants in 6 weeks.

Larger Cells - No Need to Up-Pot

Medium Cells - Up-Potting Perhaps

Small Standard Cells - Up-Potting Needed

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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Your First Vegetable Garden

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5 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Your First Vegetable Garden

I can't imagine not being able to have a vegetable garden. It has become an essential part of my life and happiness. My goal is to help you have a better garden. These are common mistakes people make when starting their first garden. 

Most garden plants really do require a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun. That 6 hours is firm for full plant production.  However, very often, gardeners don't take the time to make sure their future garden gets 6 hours of essential sun. In a perfect world a garden should get 8-10 hours of sunlight. Check the space that you are considering for your new garden every 2 hours, starting at 8 in the morning. It doesn't matter if the hours of direct sun are split up over the day, just make sure it gets a full 6 hours of direct sunlight.

Not only do you need sunlight, you need soil the drains well. Plant roots can't sit in soggy soil for prolong periods of time, think 24 hours. Sitting water, at root level, causes root rot. In short, water fills the spaces in the soil and replaces oxygen. Most gardens drain just fine. Watch your future garden space after a heavy run and see how it does. It should be able to shed the excess water, from the surface, within 60 minutes. If you are in doubt, dig a hole 12 inches deep and about 12 inches wide. Fill the hole with water. If it drains away in about an hour, you are good to go.

Along with good drainage, is the need for regular and consistent watering. No one can tell you how often to do this. It is too dependent on the soil in your garden, the size of your plants and your daily temperatures. The most important thing to understand is that you have to water the entire garden. Most plants send out surface roots. You need to supply adequate water to the surface roots and the deeper roots. Very often new gardeners just water the base of the plants. When in doubt, water your garden 2-3 times a week and supply enough water during those periods for water to soak a good 6-12 inches into the garden soil. Obviously, when you plant seeds or have small transplants you wont need to water this deeply but you will have to keep the top several inches moist. 

Don't Get Overwhelmed: Start Small - The Rusted Garden

It is more important to start small and wish you had more room to grow more plants than it is to have more space than you can handle. Overwhelming yourself with a garden that becomes too large to manage and care for, when the crops start maturing, is easy to do when you first start. You will have to learn to prune, feed, and manage pests and diseases. Start small, learn, and as your confidence grows, expand your garden.

Start A Compost Bin Right Away - The Rusted Garden

Limited Space? Use A Trashcan to Make Leaf Mold

Organic gardening is wonderful but it is not about buying packaged goods with stamps of organic approval. There is nothing wrong with the products. However, very often, you are paying a lot of money for them. You just don't need everything they literally throw in your face with fancy packaging.

Organic gardening has been around for centuries. It is about sourcing your garden amendments from your immediate and local area. Make your own compost, order in manures locally and look for alternatives to paying very high prices for bagged organic products. No bagged product is better then good old compost and manure. When it comes to composting, it is not rocket science. Start a compost pile or bin right away and just fill it. Nature will take care of it for you.

And finally, the biggest mistake, in my opinion, is not starting your first garden. Fall is a great time to build the beds and set up your future new garden for the coming spring. Plants want to grow and gardens want to give. You don't have to know 'everything' prior to planting your first garden. In fact, you need to start planting and growing your gardening to find out if it is your new passion. If it is, your garden will also become your classroom. Each year you will learn more and become a better gardener. So... just get started!

Cheers & Good Luck in Your Gardens!

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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

How to Simply and Easily Build a Garden Compost Bin: Just Get Started Composting!

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How to Simply and Easily Build a Garden Compost Bin: 
Just Get Started Composting!

Composting is not difficult. The biggest barrier is finding a place to put the pile and just getting started. They key to good compost bin is the right size. You can really use whatever materials you have on hand. A compost bin that measures 4x4x4 feet/1.2x1.2x1.2 meters or a bit larger is perfect. That is the right size to hold material and have a core that will hold moisture and let microbial and garden life flourish. You can cold compost or hot compost with this size bin. The video will show you the whole build.

Start with measuring out your 4x4x4 foot space and use posts that will give you at least 4 feet above the ground and have 12 inches to go into the ground. Metal fencing posts work best.

4x4x4 feet or 1.2x1.2.x1.2 Meters for A Compost Bin

Line up your chicken wire or metal fencing so it is in line and flush with the first post. This will make wrapping the posts a lot easier and it will keep the fencing tight against the posts. There is no need to be perfect but it does helps to start off flush.

Line Up the Fencing Flush to the First Post

Wrap the wire around the two back posts and tie the cage to each post in 3 areas. You can tie it off at the fourth post and leave the front open or you can bring it across to the first/starting post and enclose the entire bin. If you want, but its not needed, you can put boards on the bottom. This can make it easier for scooping up worm casting in the future. 

Wrap 3 Sides with the Wire Fencing

Leave the Front Open or Bend it Around the Starting Post

If the bin is going to hold something like leaves that can blow away easily, you want it closed. If you are going to be layering materials in there, like grass/greens and leaves/browns for hot composting, you can often leave it open as they tend to weigh each other down. The major barrier for people to start composting is finding a place to to put the materials. This is a great project to do in the fall. Good luck getting started!

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Friday, September 18, 2020

What are You Really Getting When You Buy Stamped Organic Seeds and Non-GMO Seeds? Not Much Really

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What are You Really Getting 
When You Buy Stamped Organic Seeds and Non-GMO Seeds? Not Much Really

First off, let's no equate a pack of 'organic' seeds to the tried and true practices of organic gardening and the use of compost.  You are or are not an 'organic' gardener and you do or don't have an 'organic' garden based on the seeds you use. Second off, let's not go down the rabbit hole, that was dug over the last decade, that 'organic' gardening is about buying stamped certified products. Third off, let's not argue that chemicals (as a blanket statement) are bad, because all thing are chemicals including organic products. It is up to us to learn and know what they are (whatever 'they are' may be) and what they do, beyond looking for a shiny stamp.

Gardening has been organic for thousands of years. Clear and prepare the earth, plants seeds, make compost, use fish and animal byproducts, collect seeds, manage pests and diseases and harvest. Somewhere down the line we were sold that we are not capable of educating ourselves to the garden products out there and that we need to follow stamp certifications to be organic. 

What is in an 'Organic Seed' packet?

Stamps are misleading. Stamps do not mean that if you don't have the stamp then you are not what the stamp states you are or your product is if it had a stamp on it. This is where I laugh. Read that line again. Here is the question I recommend using; What Is In That Product? If you answer is I don't know but it has (or doesn't have) a stamp... take some time to read more about the things you are purchasing and using in your garden. 

Certifications to get stamps are expensive and they hurt the small time farmers and small family run businesses. I choose to know my local farmers and support them as people. I choose to learn about products and educate myself. You know who can afford the cost to organically certify an entire farm and every product and maintain certifications? The giant companies. Not the local guy or small business. It is potentially true that both people and stamps can lie to us but you can look a person in the eye, while at their farm, and ask them questions. 

You have to be certified (cost money) for organic stamps to be on your products but you can label packets and products how ever you want. You can put non-GMO on anything and don't have to pay for it. This is important to understand because labeling in not regulated for the most part.

'Non-GMO' is just seed packet labeling

The 'Organic' stamp means certified

I also spent a lot of time reading about how land and seeds get certified. This is were I laugh again. But that is for another post. It is really silly when it comes to seeds and land.  Okay, here is one bit... 3 years of no chemical fertilizers and your land can produce organic seeds. What was your land producing before that 3 years? You do know that fertilizers of any kind, don't change the genetic make-up of a tiny tiny tiny seed.  But... many of us getting started, don't know that and that is why I made this video and post. Seeds are seeds are seeds. Here is the question to ask; What Could and Tiny Seed Pick Up and Hold Inside from Earth that Had a Chemical Fertilizer? Exactly... nothing. 

Okay here is one more... the certification officer says, "Are you spraying any synthetic chemicals or using chemical fertilizers, may I see your product usage log. Looks good."  As far as I know land and produce are not tested for harmful chemicals (at the spray level). What if the person fakes his logs? I do agree with knowing what sprays are on food. I dont agree with a log that can be well... as I said faked. The soil and food aren't tested for bad stuff with respect to sprays, again keep that point in mind. Which goes back to... know your farmer and food sources and ask them eye to eye, how they manage their farm and livestock. Do I really need a certifying body to do this for me?  Who certifies the certifying companies anyway?

What could possibly be or not be in that tiny oregano seed with or without a 'Stamp'.

To be honest, my real concern are what new to market dusts or sprays do. And those companies that make these dusts and sprays are already protected well from really having to disclose information to us in a viable and useful way. Not all of the products are bad. We really need to stop are 'on or off' thinking. But all of them, dont really have to tell us what the side-effects and hazards are... well sure we can go track down a website, with tiny font and tons of words and all that. How about a stamp... these processed chemicals are 'Hazard Free'.  That will never happen but we get to be fooled with 'organic' stamps on seed packets. We never needed that. It was never a health issue or a hazard. That is why I am posting this. 

Now being organic is outstanding. I am 90% organic by choice. I give myself an A. We 'old' gardeners now the truth (most of the time), make educated choices and manage our gardens in healthy and safe ways. My concern is for the new gardener who is stepping into the crazy gardening world of stamps and certifications. Someone that is just getting started hears things like; Chemical fertilizers are fake and will harm you... Don't by GMO seeds for your garden... Make sure you buy organic seeds so they dont hurt you and are healthy. The best word to define these statements is nonsense. Absolute nonsense. Compost is King or Queen. Organic practices, not stamps, are golden. 

Today I am not going to address chemical fertilizers which I will use infrequently. My recommendation is to make your own compost and have a worm composter or two. What I hope I am addressing today is feeling you have to pay more for seeds stamped organic or labeled non-GMO. Why? because I want you to know what you are paying for and once you do, you know what you are buying. And then, spend your money as you wish.


GMO's stand for genetically modified organism. It is the wrong name, by the way, for what they are trying to describe. Genetic modification occurs when breeding animals. It occurs when you cross two tomato varieties by hand or by Nature using natural 'but not stamped' friendly pollinators. This type of modification is happening all the time. What GMO really means is crossing two plants through engineering that could not be done by Nature.  These new plants should be called GEO's or genetically engineered organisms. Basically, scientist literally blast one plant's DNA into another plants DNA. They do this 1000's of times and see what happens. They are created in a lab. They can not be created otherwise. Once created, the seeds (if viable), cuttings or divisions, hold the new traits. These are new organisms engineered by people. Good news is... you will never find them in a pack of seeds!

That is right, you will never see them in a seed packet because they are too expensive and big business. But someone got the idea to label their packet non-GMO. Which 'technically' is a lie of course if it is a hybrid because hybrids are made by cross pollination and modified in a natural and cool way.  Don't confuse hybrids with being bad. We are talking GEO's engineered by means other than what Nature can do. Hybrids are a totally safe crossing of like plants, for new traits, via pollen and flowers.  My point... once someone put non-GMO on a packet, it made you think... well do the other seed packs have GMO's.  No.. they never did. By the way I sell seeds at my seed shop and they are all LEAD & HEAVY METAL FREE.  I also have a collection of ALL NATURAL seeds and some very hard to get COMPOST GROWN seeds. You can find them at The Rusted Garden Seed and Garden Shop.

Buying GMO seeds requires signing legal documents, a huge outlay of money and agreement you wont sell them. And there aren't many of them around. So why do we need to have non-GMO on a seed packet? Simple, it made you buy them over the other seed packet. Again, I just want you to know what you are paying for when you buy stamped and labeled organic and non-GMO seeds. If we are not careful the size of seed packs will have to increase to include; organic, non-GMO, Lead Free, Heavy Metal Free, Clean Watered, Compost Grown and Clean Hand Harvested. And by the way when you see GMO Free Heirloom... well that's another post. 

To summarize... buy any seeds that you want. The goal is for good seed germination. Leave it to people to make something as simple as buying seeds so needlessly complicated.

Cheers & Enjoy Your Gardens,

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

How to Inexpensively and Effectively Fill a No-Dig Raised Bed for Almost No Cost: Use These 1/3 Filling Principles and They Will Also Feed Your Plants!

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How to Inexpensively and Effectively Fill a No-Dig Raised Bed for Almost No Cost: 
Use These 1/3 Filling Principles and They Will Also Feed Your Plants!

Filling large sided raised beds can cost 100's of dollars when using bagged potting mixes and other products. It works, but that is the most expensive way to do it. You can fill the bed for free or at a greatly reduced cost by following the principles of 1/3 filling. It is not new and it is known by many other names like hugelkultur, lasagna gardening and the simple... layering.  Of course, if  you have tons of fully broken down compost... you can just use compost to fill the beds, but most of have a limited supply.

How to Inexpensively Fill a Raised Garden Bed

This principles are best used for beds over 12 inches tall. A variation can be used for beds under 12 inches, which generally means using finer cut materials and materials that are a bit more composted or broken down. It is best to do this in the fall as to give your bed several months to establish. It can be done in the spring.  However, you may want to supplement the 'lower' layers with more nitrogen, such as blood meal, to prevent the decaying organic matter from competing with your spring plantings. Nitrogen is used by soil microbes to break down the organic matter. 

Filling a Raised Garden Bed at Little or No Cost

As you build the layers, you want to have 6-12 inches of good planting soil on top, depending on the height of the sides.. Save the good stuff for last. Most plants will establish well in that depth range of soil. If you have to spend money for materials, that is where you would spend it, the final top or planting layer. For plants like radishes, lettuces, spinach, arugula and other greens, 4 inches of good soil will work. The top layer is more important for the first year of using the bed. After a full season the bed will be established and continue to feed your plants year after year. All you have to do is add top dressings of compost, shredded hardwood, grass or combinations. Compost is always king but other materials will work as they will breakdown each season and get integrated into the raised bed by the soil life. You will not have to dig and turn this bed.

The principle is simple and can be adjusted based on the size of your bed and the materials available to you. The example 'fill', in the pictures and video, is based on a raised bed with 17 inch side. To start, the bottom is filled with coarser less decayed materials like tree branches and even logs. It can also include green grass and green yard waste as the 'green' has nitrogen and that will help the soil microbes breakdown the coarser less decayed materials. The materials in the bottom are initially less likely to impact the root systems of the plants but eventually they will enjoy what they find there, year after year, as it establishes. Cardboard can also be put down to cover over grass and weeds in shallower raised beds. It also is good to use in the lower layers as worms love it and it breaks down quickly.

Worms Love Cardboard

Coarser Materials in the Bottom & Grass Supplies Nitrogen

The bottom can also contain leaves, wood chips, materials you collected that are just starting to compost down (a couple months old). The bottom 1/3 is what will decay over time and feed your plants over the years, with help from the soil life. It will also hold moisture. An added bonus to this type of fill, is that you will have to water less and the layers will maintain even moisture over the seasons.

Materials for Filling the Lower 1/3 of the Raised Bed

Materials for Filling the Lower 1/3 of the Raised Bed

Materials for Filling the Lower 1/3 of the Raised Bed

Materials for Filling the Lower 1/3 of the Raised Bed

Partially Composted Material for Bottom or Middle 1/3

The next step is to move into better material to fill the middle 1/3. This is where I use a lot of earth from digging edges around my flower beds or when I am doing construction. Any earth will support the roots of the plants. You can also use composted materials that are not 100% composted down but getting close. A good volume addition at this point is peat moss or coco coir. They are less expensive than potting mix. They can also be used in the final or top 1/3 of filling the bed. Thinks of it this way... bottom 1/3 needs time, middle 1/3 is okay stuff and top 1/3 is better stuff for the plants to root and establish. They are so many variations to this. Don't follow this as an exact recipe but use it to create and experiment.

Takes Earth from Around Your Yard for Middle Filler

Fill the Middle Layer with Earth from the Yard

The middle layer can pretty much just be earth from around your yard. If you want, you can mix in peat moss, coco coir, compost as mentioned, but soil life will move through there over time and improve it. We will all have different resources available for the middle layer, and generally speaking, the whole filling process. The final layer should be your better layer of about 6 inches of 'good stuff'. You can buy potting mix or mix peat moss and any yard earth at a 50-50 ratio. You can mix in or completely use high quality compost to finish off the bed. They key is that the bottom 2/3 of the fill doesn't have to be costly. Just fill it and let Nature work her magic.

The general 1/3 filling principles will save you a lot of money and build great raised bed soil over time. If plants struggle the first year, don't be afraid to add higher nitrogen fertilizers, like blood meal, and/or water them often with water-soluble fertilizers, like fish emulsion.  Moving forward from year two, just add materials to the top of the raised bed and enjoy the harvest.

The Final 1/3 of the Filled Raised Garden Bed


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Wednesday, September 2, 2020

How to Set-Up a 'Wine Cap' Mushroom Garden Bed: Now You Can Have A Garden In Full Shade!

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How to Set-Up a 'Wine Cap' Mushroom Garden Bed: 
Now You Can Have A Garden In Full Shade!

What can I grow in full shade? I get that question asked often and the answer is mushrooms! Full shade is perfect for growing 'Wine Cap' mushrooms. Unlike the white button mushrooms and portabella mushrooms, we get at the grocery store... these mushrooms should always be cooked. And yes, I worry about eating the wrong mushroom but when you set up a mushroom garden, you know what to look for and it is easy to identify a wine cap. 

Wine Cap Mushrooms

The best way to 'seed' your mushroom bed is with mushroom spawn. You can look on-line for different companies to buy the spawn. You simply want wine cap mushroom spawn. It is typically grown in sawdust and the spawn itself is mushroom mycelium. The sawdust will be covered in white threads and it comes in a sealed bag. The mycelium is kind of like your seeds. The pack of sawdust, covered in mushroom mycelium, gets crumbled and sprinkled over your bedding. 

Mushroom Spawn - Mycelium for 'Seeding'

Pick a location that gets full shade or nearly full shade. If is going to get sun, morning or late evening soon is better than mid day sun.  A 5 pound bag of mushroom spawn is good for a 4x4 foot space. The first video covers the basics of setting up your mushroom garden. You will need bedding or substrate for it to grow on. I am using cardboard, shredded hardwood or hardwood chips and straw (not hay).  I basically framed out a 4x4 foot area for my space. I layered in the materials and sprinkled spawn across the layers. 

After sprinkling the spawn across each layer, water it in and add the next layer. The next video shows the entire set up process if you want more details. Basically... frame out area, put down a layer of cardboard, put down a layer of hardwood, sprinkle on the spawn, water it in, put a layer of straw down, sprinkle on the spawn, water it in and repeat the process. Each layer can be about 1-2 inches. The key is making sure the area stays moist. Typically, a fully shaded area will take care of itself.

Layers of Hardwood and Straw

If you are building this in the fall (which I did), typically the mushrooms will pin and form the following spring, if the mycelium is well established. The mycelium can manage freezing temperatures too. If you are building it in the spring, the earlier the better. Mushroom form when the mycelium is established and moisture and  temperatures are right. Dropping, rising or changing temperatures cause the mushrooms to pin and form. Wine cap mushrooms are best suited for your first mushroom garden and do well with temperatures found in my home State, Maryland. Remember to make sure your garden stays moist. And good luck with your first harvest!


My Wine Cap Mushroom Garden Set-Up

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Benefits of Worm Composting & How Do You Get Started

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The Benefits of Worm Composting & How Do You Get Started

Worm composting is a method used for composting down kitchen vegetable scraps and other garden materials. Instead of piling up the organic waste, and letting it breakdown over time, as is typically done to make compost... we use red wiggler worms in a container.  Red wigglers are different than earthworms in habit, appetite and reproduction. Composting worms live around the surface of the compost bedding and digest new organic matter. They have a huge appetite and reproduce quickly, matching their population to the amount of food and space available to them. 

The Rusted Garden Homestead  - Feeding Worm Composting Worms

Your composting worms will create worm castings from what they excrete after digestion. I like to call that "the end product of Nature." They also excrete liquid, which is often overlooked, that can be collected with many, but not all, worm composting systems and I like to call that "liquid gold." Castings and liquid is what a worm composting system creates for you to use in your gardens. 

The Rusted Garden Homestead - Red Wigglers Eating Kitchen Scraps

To get started you need to purchase or make a worm composting bin. There are many different kinds of bins to purchase. I use and recommend the Hungry Bins worm composting system. I chose it because of the simple set up, the easy collection of materials and the use of a continuous flow system for feeding the worms and harvesting the castings and liquid. The latter means I dont have to move containers or shelving around to collect castings and manage the bin. I like putting the food in at the top and collecting a castings brick from the bottom. Whatever system you chose, the basic set up and benefits to your garden are pretty much the same.

Once you have your worm composting bin, this is how I recommend setting it up but you will have to adjust it, based on the type of system you are using. All bins need bedding material for worms. You can use potting mix, peat moss, coco coir, compost and even shredded paper.  The bedding material should be loose and hold moisture. I use 'Leaf Gro' which is local to my area and is essentially composted leaves. I recommend using quality compost or 'Leaf Gro' for the bedding material. The others work. I feel my suggested materials edge out the others. 

In the Hungry Bin system, to get started, you fill it 3/4 the way up with the bedding material. I purchased 2000 red wigglers and added them to the top of the bedding. Your bedding material should be moist but not soaking wet. If it seems dry to you, add some water several days before introducing the worm and let it absorb through the bedding materials. Damp bedding material is the goal.

The Rusted Garden Homestead - 'Liquid Gold' from Composting Worms

Composting worms do not want rotted organic matter. It should be fresh. You should also give the worms all they can eat but not so much it rots and begins to smell. In the video below, I talk about how the liquid and bedding have no odor at all. If your bedding is to compact or wet, it might cause an anaerobic state with odor. You dont want that. Rotting food will attract other insects.  

In the Hungry Bin system, once up and going for 4-5 months, the worms can eat 2-4 pounds of food daily. That total can be a combination of kitchen scraps and garden waste. The worms will increase or decrease in population based on the available food. You dont have to have pounds of scraps available daily. When the worms are first established, start with 1/2-1 pound of food, based on the number of worms in your bin. Slowly increase that over time. Your composting worms will adjust to the amount of food you feed them over the week.

Your compost worms can eat most organic matter. It is recommend not to feed them citrus fruits as the oils can irritate them.  Onions and garlic are also on the list but I do feed mine onions. They eat it without issue. An established worm composting system can take several pounds of organic matter daily.

Your bin, once set up, should be placed in a completely shady area. If not, the heat of the summer sun will bake and kill your composting worms. My bin, in the video, sits in full shade. We get high 90 degree temperatures with high humidity. The red wigglers managed just fine and really took off in August. It is a good idea to put some burlap or cardboard over the food, if you need to manage moisture in the bedding. If your bin is going to freeze in the winter, it will kill off the worms but the eggs are insulated and survive. They will repopulate the bin with worms as the seasons change. I recommend putting your bin in a garage or a basement. My outdoor basement holds temperatures above 40 degrees.

The Rusted Garden Homestead - Worm Composting Bin

Worm composting systems vary on when the first castings will be available. The Hungry Bin takes about 4-5 months before rendering the first brick of worm castings and that is because it is continuous flow system. The casting will work their way from the top to the bottom of the bin over time. Once the cycle is establish, you can get a brick of casting every 6-8 weeks depending on the worm activity and amount of organic matter processed. The liquid is collected in a tray that sits below the system I use. The liquid starts dripping regularly about 2 months into the process. You can see all I collected over a month in the video. Realistically, you can get about 1/2 gallon a week based on humidity, amount of worms, and the amount of organic matter processed. I'll be doing future articles on how to use the castings and liquid.

Now, when I said castings are the end product of Nature, it meant the worm castings have everything Nature intended for your garden plants to thrive. You are collecting what Nature has created since the beginning for plants to grow. For perspective, chemical fertilizers may have a nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium rating of 24-12-12. And organic granular types may have an N-P-K percentage of 5-4-3. We are accustomed to thinking bigger numbers are better. That is not true for garden plants. What holds true for them is a consistent supply of the things they need to thrive. What they need is more than just N, P and K. Compost, the other gold standard, has a rating well below 1-1-1.

The Rusted Garden Homestead - Keep Your Worm Bin in the Shade

Worm castings supply the major macro-nutrients of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) to your plants. They supply the minor macro-nutrients of Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg) and Sulfur (S). They supply micro-nutrients and trace elements. They are pH neutral and help adjust the pH level in your soil. They contain growth hormones (humic acid) and healthy microbiology for plant growth and soil development. The key is regular use of the castings and liquid. I use castings to set up my container soil and in the planting hole for my garden transplants. I use the liquid, diluted 50% with water, as a regular feeding to my container plants when available.

There is a lot of research, if you want to do a search, that show castings help with managing diseases and pests. They help increase seed germination rate, plant growth, flowering, and production. There is good research that shows the worms have an enzyme (chitinase) that breaks down the exoskeleton of insects for digestion. These enzymes, which are present in the castings, my deter beetles and other insects. Now... this is not a 1 use cure all. These benefits come from regular use and presence of castings in the soil. The old adage that a healthy plant fights off diseases and pests better is true when the soil holds what it needs.  Worm castings will bring that to your plants. 

Good Luck in Your Gardens,
Gary (TRG)

Here are some links to learn about the technical  benefits of worm castings and worm liquid:

About Worm Castings (University of California)

Using Worm Casting for Insect Repellent (Chitinase) (OptiGrow Group)

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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

How to Grow Squash, Zucchini , Cucumbers & Tomatoes in Containers: Soil, Containers, Care & Trellising (With Videos)

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How to Grow Squash, Zucchini , Cucumbers & Tomatoes in Containers: 
Soil, Containers, Care & Trellising (With Videos)

You can grow just about any garden plant in a container. The key is matching the container size with the mature size of the vegetable plant. Container vegetables like squash, zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes demand a lot of water and fertilizer. Sure, they look like you can fit them all into one little pot when they first germinate and are young but once they start maturing, you will be greatly disappointed. 

Container Plants & Trellising - The Rusted Garden Homestead

The goal with any container garden is to give your plants what they need to thrive and not just survive. A thriving plant is much more productive. My book: The Modern Homestead Garden: Building Self-Sufficiency in Any Size Backyard https://amzn.to/3kOXGdF covers the key principles for container gardening, provides minimums for container sizes and plants, and it covers container soil recipes.

Generally speaking, for these larger plants you want 15-30 gallon containers. The metal containers in the video are about 17 gallons and the half whiskey barrels are 20-30 gallons. The more you plant in them, the more often you will need to fertilize and water them. Plant them based on your ability to manage watering and fertilizing when they are larger and producing. Watering frequency is very dependent on your summer temperatures. To help address watering related issues, potting mix or container mix should really retain water. Nutrients are important but water retention is the key to the mix, as you can periodically add fertilizers to your container garden. Fertilizers dont need to be given to your plants daily, so being late is more forgiving. You may have to water your plants on a daily bases when they are large and the summer is in full swing.

If you are buying bagged soils, make sure the bag is a Potting mix or a Container mix. It will say that on the packaging. They typically are made from peat moss and shredded woods. This is the most expensive way to fill your containers. You can make your own mix using 50% peat moss or coco coir and 50% earth.soil from your property. This is a good base mix. You can substitute composts for earth or other materials, as you wish. It is important to make sure the compost is fully broken down and the process is finished. Otherwise, it will continue to break down in your container mix and challenge your plants for nitrogen and other nutrients. A good water retaining potting mix, the right size container (with drainage) and some basic organic fertilizers is all you need for success.

Many potting mixes come with fertilizers, which is fine, but that should just be considered a bonus. You will need an organic granular fertilizer which is a slow release fertilizer and water-soluble fertilizer which is mixed in water and provides nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to your plants immediately.

The key to fertilizing, and spraying or dusting for managing pests and disease, is a routine.  Success is more about sticking to a routine than it is about the brand or type of fertilizer, anti-fungal or insecticide. Many options are effective but only as effective as we are consistent with our application routines. 

Try and find a granular fertilizer with a nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) that is around a 5-5-5. You will see those numbers on the packaging. A few numbers up or down is fine like a 4-3-3, 7-3-5 or 4-4-7. The key is to represent the N, P and K.  Any water-soluble with N, P and K in the single digits is also fine. If you buy one that is really high in those numbers, you can cut the dose in half.

Trellising helps you manage the plants and protects them from damage. As the plants mature to size and produce heavy fruit, it is easy for that weight to pull plants over into the edges of containers. Vines often bend, break or get severely damaged when this happens. Trellising also allows you to more easily manage the plants for inspections, spraying, and managing pests and diseases. They best way to trellis is to just get it done and think out of the box. Trellising is not a beauty contest, it is done for plant care. It is much easier to place your trellises when the plants are smaller before growth makes it harder to set them in place.

Many of your vining plants will produce additional roots where the growing stem of the vine touches the ground. This can be used to your benefit to manage insect destruction, for example from the vine borer. I show examples of new roots and discuss how to train some vine along the container mix to make secondary roots, in the video. 'Back-Up' roots will mitigate damage if the vine borer gets into the main the stem and to the main root area. 

Insect dusts, organic or human made, kill all insects and should be used with respect. Never douse an entire plant in dust. You can dust some outer leaves away from the flowers to kill off cucumber beetles. You can dust just the stem and earth where it comes out of the ground. Dust a few inches of stem, and insects walking across it will be killed. Another good way to protect the pollinators and good insects is to dust late in the evening and rinse it off in the morning. Many insects are active at night and you can control the pests that way. These principles will help you have a thriving and productive garden.

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