Make a Soil/Rock Sifter for New Garden Beds

My friend Adam made a sifter to sift out rocks from soil when creating new garden beds. It is a simple contraption made with stuff I had lying around. He found a pallet and cut it in half. Then he screwed 2 layers of chicken wire onto the pallet. He used two 2×4 as portable legs to lean it up on an angle. Then you just put a shovelful of your rocky soil on it and the dirt falls through while the rocks roll off. The soil is light and fluffy and ready to add compost or horse manure to it. When I later looked up how much one is you can buy online, they were $250! Here is Caleb using it on a new garden bed.

How to make compost

So now that you have some compost bins, you are ready to  make compost! You’ll need to add brown (carbon) material and green (nitrogen) material for heat. For brown I use straw, old hay and leaves. For green I use chicken poo, goatie poo, horse manure but no dog or cat poo, (they eat meat), fresh grass and plant clippings (still green-not dry). Also considered green are eggshells, coffee grounds, fruits and vegetables too old to eat. You can add bloodmeal or cottonseed meal if you don’t have enough heat (nitrogen). The best ratio is 25-30 carbon (brown) to 1 nitrogen (green) commonly listed as CN: 25 or 30/1. What does this translate to in the garden bin? Use 1 part brown to 2 parts green. So add like 2 inches of brown and 4 inches of green. Do this so the pile gets hot enough to decompose into compost. It you don’t add enough green (nitrogen) then the pile will cook much slower. Add enough brown/green layers till pile is about 3 feet high. Water well between layers so pile is moist but not soggy. In about a week, if the pile is hot enough, it will reduce it’s size by about half. Sometime after that, turn it into the middle bin and water again. That way what was on the top will now be on the bottom and be able to break down faster. When the middle pile get’s half as big again, turn it into the the last bin and water again. I use the compost anywhere from the second stage to when it is totally composted.  You can also make compost tea which will add lots of nutrients and soil microorganisms back into the ground to help the plants you will grow this next season.

Here’s is a a great site that explains it all in a lot more detail and in simple terms- Home Composting Made Easy

Now one last word-it’s winter here so you may want to wait till the hose is defrosted in spring to start making compost but it can be done in winter if the green stuff is hot enough and the hose isn’t frozen. And if you make it in early spring it will be ready by planting time.

Worm Farming-Vermicomposting

Finished vermicomposting area

Last spring when I planted my tomatoes I put worm castings in each hole before I put the plant in. Worm castings are a form of composting that are from (do I dare say it?) WORM POOP! I paid $25.00 for a 5 lb bag for this POOP at one of our local nurseries and I thought, next year I’m going to do this myself and save the money. Plus you don’t have to turn it like regular composting (now there is an idea I like-less work)! Worm castings protect the plants from soil borne diseases, conditions the soil and is a mild natural fertilizer with 1% Nitrogen. People also use it in their compost teas for their plants. I created a vermicomposting area a few weeks ago in my abundant free time (lol)! Here’s how I did mine.

I found out we need a certain type of earthworm called a Red Wiggler (decided not to show the worms-not a pretty sight!). It is a different from our regular earthworm (although they are great in the soil as well). This red wiggler worm has a huge appetite and will eat manures, peanut hulls, oak leaves, humate and other ingredients such as kitchen scraps-non meat-they are vegetarians!! lol

I put together an outdoor vermicomposting area right next to the chickens so they can go to work! Some people put them in special bins inside their people house (not chicken house) so they don’t freeze. Forget that noise-although if you don’t mind…

I decided to use straw bales to ‘frame’ my outside area. I heard they will go into the straw in winter and lay their eggs and they come back (I think they freeze and their babies come back) when it’s warmer but I had this soil cable that will keep the soil about 70°F and decided to try it to keep them from freezing this winter and keep them working. (Crack that whip!)  We’ll see if it works this winter. Here I put the cable down (above pic) .

Then I put some hardwire cloth over it and wired it on with some twistie ties from my garbage bags. Make sure the wire is underneath the hardwire cloth. I did this so when I shoveled the compost out later, I won’t accidentally cut the wire.

Next I covered the wire with straw and newspaper to make a bedding for my new wiggly friends. I wet down the area so the materials were damp but not soaking wet. Worms like their environment moist but haven’t learned to swim yet!

After that I put some food down for them. What else but pumpkin! I have lots of that! Looks like they won’t starve this winter! (I heard they love pumpkin-good thing!)  I wonder if someone talked to them and the worm said, “We love pumpkin”. I mean how do we know for sure ?!! I also put in some old chicken manure, squash and coffee grounds for variety! Then I had a friend give me some of these wigglers and I put them on top of this so they would burrow in and feast! I forgot to take a picture of this and when I went back less than 1 minute later to take a picture they were already ‘down under’ this stuff.

Last I put more straw over the whole pile and wet it again so everything was moist. Now I check every week and pull up the top layer of straw and add more ‘food’ as needed. Also be sure to keep pile moist so sprinkle with water periodically. This winter when the hoses are frozen I will take a sprinkling can out to wet it. If you don’t get a soil cable, don’t worry, just follow the rest of this post.

One last thing to make it easy to separate the worms from their castings next spring, I divided my vermicomposting area in half and put a board between the two sections-you can see this in the very first picture at the top of this post. They are in the left section now and later when I see the castings I will stop feeding them on the left side and put the food on the right hand side. The worms will migrate over to the new food source leaving the castings for me to take (at least that’s the theory). I hope they are reading this too!

So now I’m a worm farmer! I can’t wait till next spring to get my very own free worm poop! YEE HA!!

How to Make a Coldframe

My coldframe

A dear friend of mine, Kim, asked me if I would explain how to build a coldframe while there is still time before planting time in early Spring. There are many designs available online to make a coldframe or hot bed. Here is the coldframe plan (as a pdf) that I basically used when building my coldframe with a few small exceptions. Now mine isn’t super refined as you can see in the photo but seems to be working! (Be sure you look at the pdf because there is a lot more information in it). As you look at the plan, it’s pretty self explanatory but here is what I did for the sides and the bottom inside.

one page of the coldframe plan

I used 2 inch x 10 inch lumber for the bottom section all around and another 2″x10″ section for the top side slanted pieces. Cutting the diagonal piece is easy, I drew a line from one corner across diagonally to the other corner and cut on the line then I used one piece for each side on top of the bottom piece. The only thing I did differently is I put one more 1 x 2 inch piece vertically in the middle on each side  (screwed in-see photo not diagram) and in the back to join the top and bottom piece together. I added a 2 x 4  (long) piece on the lid that I screwed in (not tightly) so I can raise and lower the lid and prop it up vertically (see the piece holding up the lid on the right side). In the photo you notice I taped BIG bubble wrap (not small bubbles) with duct tape on on the inside of the plexiglass lid to add extra insulation in the dead of winter. I also divided mine into two sections.This isn’t in the plan but in the left section I started with hardwire cloth on the bottom to keep out gophers. Then I added dirt and compost on top of the hardwire so I could plant in it but the soil isn’t heated. The right side has a garden heating cable. I attached the cable with twist ties to the hardwire cloth that is cut out to fit the bottom. Then I turned over the hardwire cloth so now it is on top and place it on the bottom. I did this so I can’t put a spade through the cables while digging around in the dirt when planting. Then I put dirt on top like the other side. So the right side is a contemporary hot house when I plug in the heating cable (which I haven’t done yet). I will use it to heat the soil to a temperature so the seeds will sprout. A traditional hot house has a dug out area where ‘hot’ green manure is placed into. Then on top of that is the dirt that you would put your plants or seeds in. The manure gives off heat as it composts, heating the soil just like the heating cable. Now I love the idea of the manure and doing it naturally but I don’t want to have to replace it every year so I chose the heating cable. I will use an extension cord to bring power from the house. I’m experimenting with the non-heated and heated side to see if it really makes a difference in early Spring. If it does, I’ll heat the left side too next year.

Last time I reported, the right side which I planted with transplants in November, is still doing well while the left side where I planted transplants in January all died in the -20°F we had one night (except the parsley which survived) which is interesting cause I don’t even like parsley! I think the left side all died while the right side didn’t because they did not have any time to grow roots while the right side planted in November did. Remember I haven’t heated the right side yet so I know that wasn’t a factor. Anyways I’m sure the plans will help you more than my description!

Favorite Vegetable Gardening Books

Here are some of my favorite gardening book to read and reread for reference throughout the year for regular and giant vegetables. Just click on each book to see it larger. All of these can be found at amazon.com.

My lettuce bowl-chickens love it!

I put the lettuce bowl outside under heavy rowcover cloth (.09) as it wasn’t getting enough light inside. Yesterday I thinned it so the baby lettuce have room to grow and gave the seedlings to my chickens.

The girls eating the lettuce seedlings

They are nuts for lettuce anyways but fresh baby seedlings? yum! Here are some pictures of the chickens eating it and some closeups some of them as well. Speaking of chickens,besides providing wonderful eggs they help make compost with their manure.

Chickens eating lettuce seedlings

They are pets which each having a name so I don’t eat them, just their eggs. I feed them lots of scraps from the kitchen which  is what makes their egg yolks so orange. The rest of the kitchen scraps goes into the compost pile. Their manured compost is great for the veggie garden but don’t put it on fruit trees-it has too much nitrogen.

closeup of 'Chimay'-a Belgium Campine chicken-hence the name!

closeup of 'Kielbasa'-a Polish chicken

'Grayhawk' drinking water-an Andalusian chicken

'Ari'- an Auracana chicken-lays green eggs!

I struck gold!

Well we got about 14 yards of composted horse manure yesterday most of which went into Bri’s Giant Pumpkin Patch with enough left over to replenish the regular garden. I struck gold-brown gold! It was fun driving the Bobcat.  I want one of these! Here are some pics.

driving the bobcat

getting ready to dump the load

dumping the load into the trailer

spreading it into the new giant pumpkin patch