Vermicompost Harvesting… Or Not

Plant Appreciation

Something is eating my plants. I don’t know what it is. But it’s chowing on all of my plants (except my sweet potato vine). Still, my bell peppers appear to be growing despite the leaf-eater, so I’m ignoring it.

At the beginning of this patio garden experiment I freaked out over bugs and tried killing them with various mixtures. Usually a mild mixture of soap will kill many insects, but it did nothing for the giant aphid population I had going on. I bought a commercial product and it still didn’t help. My peppers looked like hell and the aphids were taking over. I was trying to do everything right and it wasn’t working.

In addition, I was trying to do everything right be fertilizing my plants weekly, as recommended. I found out that using my “organic” fertilizer wasn’t helping. Aphids feast on the new leaves that chemical fertilizers cause to rapidly grow.

While all of this was going on, I was reading In Defense of Food. I was reading about commercial crop production and how horrible it is for soil to be over-fertilized and insecticided.

So I stopped. I bought some ladybugs to eat the aphids. I figured the aphids would come back with a vengeance after the ladybugs left, because, well, I couldn’t force the ladybugs to stick around. So I was set to buy ladybugs monthly.

I unleashed the ladybugs at night. I had ladybugs eating aphids for about three days, and then they were all gone.

And they—the ladybugs and the aphids—haven’t come back. It’s been two or three months and I haven’t seen a single aphid.

I left my cayenne peppers outside drying for a bit too long and something started eating them. I harvested the last few peppers while they were green and let them turn red on my counter, indoors.

When I was spraying for bugs and fertilizing weekly, my bell peppers kept flowers and producing peppers, but when the peppers became golf-ball sized, they’d fall off the plant and rot. Since I’ve quit screwing with the plants, peppers have been growing. And staying on the plant.

This whole experiment with patio gardening has taught me a few things. First, growing things can be a pain in the ass, and I’m feeling greater appreciation for farmers. Second, next year I’m going to try to use commercial products as little as possible. I should have a good amount of vermicompost by then, and now that I know the ladybug trick? Third, I think Americans in general expect produce to be bigger than it naturally should be. Fourth, cooking something with something you grew feels fantastic. I have been known to point at cayenne rounds in our kimchi kkigae, only to say, “Hey, I grew that cayenne right there.” Fifth, letting plants do their own thing seems to work better for me than doing what’s “right.”

Hence, I’m ignoring whatever bug is chowing down on my plant leaves. Instead I’m taking it as a sign that it’s time to remove the dying cayenne plants. It’s time to trim back the mint. I’m time to whack back the basil.

Pesto

I whacked down my basil. I made some pesto out of the two cups of good leaves I got. Dumped that over three-turned-into-six chicken breasts (seriously, American chickens are too big) and tossed it in the slow cooker for an hour and a half. Made GABA brown rice to go with it. When the brown rice was finished cooking, I steam cooked green beans for five minutes. Served the chicken over the rice and spooned some of the liquid in the slow cooker over it. Served it with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. It tasted wonderful.

Worms Eat My Garbage. And Then They Poop.

I thought my vermicompost was about ready for harvesting today, but I was wrong.

One way to harvest the compost is to dump it on plastic and expose the pile to light. The worms are supposed to dive down into the compost (they don’t like light). You then scrape off a layer of compost, let them dive deeper, and scrape again. Repeat until you have a wriggly mass of worms left over. Easy, right?

Well, my compost has been really wet lately, probably because I’ve been overfeeding it. I ended up smooshing all of the worms and the compost to one side of the bin and propping that side up on two yogurt cups. Over an hour or so a lot of water flowed to the other side. It was probably a good six cups or so, and the composty stuff was still too wet.

Still, I figured I’d harvest the compost. But there was a lot more unfinished material in it than I thought. Plus, it was rainy and not too bright out, so the worms didn’t really go anywhere. The lack of light combined with too much unfinished material made any worm diving difficult at best.

I took ALL of the compost out, and dumped the leachate. I added fresh, damp newspaper and dry corn husks and silk. I then went through the compost and sort of aerated it by hand and put it on top of all of the new bedding. I found worms all over. Inside packed newspaper, in clumps of compost, in banana stems.

Egg production is down, as is the mature worm population, probably because it’s too damn wet. Hopefully since I’m adding all of this fresh bedding, the worms will have more food and get happy and bring their sexy back. I still have a lot of worms, so it’s not like I’ve accidentally killed them all.

Oh well. Learn as you go. Maybe I can harvest my first batch of vermicompost by the new year.