Posts Tagged ‘cost concerns’

Last year I didn’t put too much thought towards the details of fertilizing because I was grappling with the basics of taking care of a deck full of vegetables, but in these slow months I can turn my attention to what I am feeding my plants. Everything I have read has been full of praise for worm castings. They have a wide range of nutrients that are in a form easily used by plants, they improve soil aeration, they add lots of biological activity to your soil, they help hold moisture, you can’t burn your plants with them through overuse, they are ph neutral… all very good things that chemical fertilizers can’t offer.

Another big plus for me is that they are actually practical for me to produce on my own. I hate going to the store to buy things if I can make it myself! I don’t have bats or chickens to poop for me, but in January I am starting a worm bin. I figure the starting cost will be about $20-30 depending on where I can find worms and should be almost free to upkeep.

I recently bought the classic Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System by Mary Appelhof which I have flipped through a little. I understand the basics and hopefully when I read it throughly I will find answers to all the questions I have:

  • How much castings will my worms make every month?
  • How long can I store harvested castings before using them?
  • How quickly will unused nutrients wash away in the soil?
  • Are they too rich in nitrogen that they will discourage blooming or is that not a concern?
  • What nutrients are they lacking?
  • Do they cause salt build up in the soil or is that a problem only with chemical fertilizers?

I’ll let you know how it goes and post a review of the book when I get things set up, but like I said, this isn’t happening until early 2009.


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Lessons Learned

It was sad these last few weeks getting rid of my summer vegetables, but overall it was a good season. I learned I can get things to grow and produce for me, but there are a million things I will do differently next year. In fact, I’m leaving most of the crops I grew this year behind because I think I could get more out of other things with the particular set up I have now, though I will probably pick most up again when I have a yard to plant in.

  1. The tomatoes were the most satisfying thing to grow because the tomatoes themselves were so much better than what you can get in the store. All three varieties grew like champs. The yellow pear made the most attractive fruit, but they were sweet and a bit mealy; good for snacking, but they just aren’t very tomato-y. The basil and rosemary both provided us with a lot of fresh herbs that would have cost a fortune if I had to buy them in the store. The basil has been tossed for the season, but it paid for itself many times over. Next year I want more tomatoes and bigger varieties and have a second basil plant starting in July so we can both have more to harvest and so when the first bolts I can use the second until it gets cold.
  2. For the kind of veggies I was growing, one plant per pot. I doubled up with the squash and zucchini and paid for it, but they took up a lot of space and were quick to wilt anyway, so they are out for next year. I’ll definitely grow them again when I can give them the space they need though.
  3. Next year I will use the potting soil made by the excellent local nursery, though probably with amendments. I went there with my brother this fall and they were very helpful and they have a great selection of pretty much everything, but most importantly they are much more budget friendly than I had thought.
  4. I need to learn more about fertilizer. I under fed this summer, but also I’m looking into worm composting and other organic solutions.
  5. I want things that can grow in cooler weather, so I’m not just getting veggies in the back half of the summer.
  6. More flowers!

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Garden Diary

June 8, 2008: I decide to plant vegetables in containers to grow on the sunny deck of my apartment. I do some research and figure out the bare bones of what I need to buy, because being a poor student does not afford me the opportunity to try anything too fancy.

June 9, 2008: I go to the farmers market and buy plants and Wal-Mart and Lowes to buy supplies and end up having enough room/money for:

  • Jalapeno x 2
  • Straightneck Squash x 3
  • Black Beauty Zucchini x 3
  • California Wonder Bell Pepper x 3
  • Patio Tomato
  • Sweet 100 Tomato
  • Yellow Pear Tomato

(I already had rosemary, basil and some houseplants.) I picked these plants because I knew I would eat them (I’m still getting over my childhood vegetable aversion and honestly cooking and gardening have been the best way to do that) and I picked plants that looked the most mature because I was afraid that I was getting a very late start. It turned out that this was not the case, but it didn’t end up mattering.

June 13, 2008: I planted some coleus and snapdragon seeds so I could have some things thriving in the fall, but mostly as practice growing things from seeds. My deck looked like this:


And my plants were starting to fruit:
Three tomatoesZucchini buds!
First jalapeno!

July 11, 2008: I watered everyday, sometimes twice in the intense summer heat. This was a bit labor intensive because we don’t have a spigot outside, but I was pretty diligent and attentive.

I fretted a lot about every small thing that might indicate a problem with my plants. After my first jalapeno (pictured above) set within a few days planting I experienced some early blossom drop and fretted about that. I fretted when my earliest tomato blooms didn’t set. I wondered why the green peppers weren’t blooming. I checked my zucchini and squash everyday and wondered if I would be able to tell if I saw a female flower. I worried if I was pinching the basil back correctly and if I was pruning my tomatoes too much or too little. I worried a lot about the Mircale Grow Moisture Control soil I used and if had too much nitrogen.

But everything was growing nicely! It was a jungle out there on the deck and hard to walk around and even though I worried, I was proud with what I have achieved. The deck looked like this:
Yellow Pear Tomato

August 4, 2008: Most of the things I worried about were totally irrelevant. It turns out I was just impatient, because most plants were producing well. The squash and zucchini were battling with powdery mildew though, probably as a result of overcrowding and wilting on 100+ degree days, stressing them. We got a little to eat out of them, but not as much as I hoped.
Sweet 100And by the way, bell peppersunripe yellow pear tomatoes in summer

August 25, 2008: School started, so I wasn’t giving the plants as much love as I had in the full summer, but while I didn’t kept up with jalapeno canning I got to graze heavily on never ending tomatoes. I knew I was coasting on all my hard work from the summer, but fall was not too far off and these plants were going to be tossed soon anyway. Oh, and my coleus and snapdragon lived.
Fruits of the harvestColeus in summer

Part 2 coming soon with my lessons for the season, followed by a garden update and then with my (current) planting ambitions for next year.

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