Posts Tagged ‘worms’

First Signs of Spring

March 6, 2008

We’ve melted off a huge amount of the nearly two feet of snow that has accumulated since our mid-70s days in January, and I’m seeing traces of edibles coming up in the yard. Normally, around this time, I would be putting lettuce, spinach, and bok choy into a cold-frame greenhouse, but a terrifically windy storm has sidelined that structure. I’ll need a good, long weekend to reassemble it, and it may be warm enough to open-seed by the time one of those come along.

Last fall, I put in three patches of rhubarb around the house. I found a woman online who was thinning her patch, and I picked up a few plastic shopping bags full of trimmed roots off her porch. One of my three spots is still covered in snow, but the other two have apparently survived both a very wild winter and my incompetent transplanting technique. This is the first time I’ve seen rhubarb sprouting, and it looks weird–like bright red button mushrooms. I’m not sure how long I’m going to have to wait to eat some, but I’m eagerly anticipating some rhubarb cobbler.

Also last year, I found some artichoke seeds at a farm supply store. Of the four seeds in the packet, one sprouted. Artichoke is not winter hardy in my area, so I planted it up against the house’s foundation in the hope that that would be warm enough to keep it alive through the winter. I upended a bucket filled with dry leaves over it as further insulation, and piled snow on top of it through the winter. I peeked during a warm day, and there doesn’t appear to be any growth yet. Time will tell if it returns or not. An eternal optimist, I’ve already purchased another packet of artichoke seeds this year. Fresh, homegrown artichokes are an enticing enough return to justify significant risk.

Asparagus is entering it’s second year, at which point the very impatient are allowed to do some very light harvesting. However, there is no sign of asapargus in the garden, yet.

Garlic, on the other hand, is looking beautiful. Last october, about the time I was putting in tulips and daffodils, I broke up some of last year’s garlic, harvested that July. I put the biggest cloves a few inches into the ground about 6 inches apart. They put up a little growth last year, and are back at it this spring. Planting them early gives them a month or two to build a root structure before winter’s freeze, at which point they go dormant. As spring arrives, the garlic is well established and ready to begin the growing season. It’s hard to do garlic wrong.

I can finally find last fall’s kale, which I’ll need to use before it starts growing again. The same goes for parsley. It won’t be long before the first of the wild greens start growing. I’m making a point this year of trying a few of them, which is slightly terrifying–most of them become unfit for human consuption at some point in their growing season, some to the point of being lethally poisonous. Should this weblog suddenly go dark, blame pokeweed.

Worm Update

Seeing as my worm post was far and away my most visited, I’ll give a brief update on my livestock. I continued to have problems with the worms congregating along the rim of the containter, although it was never as bad as the first day. I tried a number of solutions–adding water to increase moisture, adding dry bedding to decrease moisture, “fluffing” the bedding to add oxygen, and relocating the bin to adjust the temperature. I’ve settled on removing the lid and covering the bedding with a black plastic garbage bag, and it seems to be working. The lid, apparently, was a bit too airtight for the worms’ comfort, and the plastic bag fixes that without letting moisture out or light in.

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I’ve (Still) Got Worms, and More on Meat

February 27, 2008

I appear to be reaching an agreement with my composting worms (see previous post). After a few attempts at mass Exodus, my red wrigglers seem to have given up the fight and resigned themselves to eating my garbage. Every morning, there are a few huddled around the upper lid of the bin, but I don’t hold these few outlaws against the worm community as a whole. I’ve moved the bin into the shower stall with my greenhouse, for a big circle-of-life arrangement in one place.

Meat, Continued

As mentioned last post, I’ve worked my way through increasingly unprocessed cuts of chicken, from boneless skinless frozen breasts to a whole, plucked bird. This weekend, I stuffed a roaster with some wild rice and cranberries, skewered it shut, and dropped it in my beloved 12-inch cast iron pan. I put it in a very hot oven (450 degrees F), then lowered the temperature into the 300s. The high heat seared the bird, so as to retain its moisture. I cooked it for around 20 minutes per pound, spooned some of the drippings over the bird every 10-20 minutes, and put some potatoes and carrots in with it for the last half hour or so.

This bird came out so beautiful I could hardly stand it. It looked like I needed some buckled shoes and a bunch of Indians just to put it into context. It was delicious. My wife and I only managed to eat about 1/8th of it, so we’ve had chicken tacos, chicken sandwiches, cold chicken, and still have leftovers. I simmered the bones, skin, and wings for about 3 hours for about a quart of stock, which I’m going to use as the base of a potato-purslane soup that will help me clear out some of last year’s holdings before this year’s garden starts putting out.

On my way home from the grocery megastore, I passed a local farm’s meat outlet, which I’ll have to check out. Wife and I worked out a tentative plan to buy a share in an animal or two this fall, when we’re firing up the chest freezer to handle our garden surplus. Until then, we’re going to make the transition from supermarket meat to local/farmer’s market meat.

Grocery Shopping

I don’t really have a plan on localizing my convenience food purchases, other than cutting down on them. Potato chips, taco shells, and prefabricated pad thai don’t come in local versions. In addition, I picked up I-don’t-know-where carrots, apples, and oranges. I’ve got carrots and apples going into the yard this spring, but I’m going to have to find a citrus replacement.

I’ve Got Worms

February 21, 2008

Seeing as I’m writing a weblog on local foods in the dead of winter, I hope I can be forgiven for a slightly off-topic entry. Yesterday, I recieved a belated Christmas gift–a pound of red wriggler composting worms. My in-laws live in Kalamazoo, which would be ground zero for the worm-composting movement, if there were such a thing. The author of Worms Eat My Garbage, now deceased, lived there, and her organization continues to sell worms and vermicomposting supplies. Because this particular species of worm is cold-sensitive, I couldn’t have them sitting on my doorstep until I came home. My exceedingly generous and accomodating father-in-law delivered them on a trip through town.

Vermicomposting Basics

I’m trying to make this weblog beginner-friendly, so I’m going to run through the basics here. If you know anything about composting with worms, this next section is worth skipping.

Unlike the earthworms we’re familiar with in the Great North, red wrigglers spend all of their time very near the surface, where the soil is composed of mostly organic material. Because they don’t burrow and hibernate like earthworms, they won’t survive through a heavy or deep frost. They are, however, well suited for close quarters, and are able to convert an impressive volume of organic waste into “castings”, or worm manure.

My “worm bin”, which I prepared ahead of time, is an opaque Rubbermaid-style storage bin. I filled it about 3/4 full with shredded 2006 income tax instruction forms (available mid-April by the thousands at your local library) and wet the newsprint down. As recommended by Worms Eat My Garbage, I added 3 times the weight of the paper in water, aiming for a damp-not-soggy moisture level. More on this later. The worms “chew” by grinding food up with soil particles in a gizzard, so I added a dead houseplant, with its soil, to provide some grit. On top of it all, I dumped my worms. I left the lid off until the light-sensitive worms retreated into the newsprint bedding. I made my first deposit, burying some moldy home-baked bread under an inch or so of wet, grey paper.

The Process So Far…

The next morning, I eagerly checked in on my worms. Apparently, my bedding was too wet, which provided me with a truly horrifying first morning with my worms. Worms, as it turns out, breathe through their skins, which must be kept moist. If it’s too moist, however, they start to drown. This is why the sidewalks are covered with waterlogged earthworms after a good rain. Not having a sidewalk available, my worms climbed out of their too-wet bedding and congregated along the upper lip of the bin.

Now, I’m not the squeamish type, but hundreds of squirming, bloated redworms are an unpleasant sight, somewhere between a horror film and the sex-ed photos of STDs in their advanced stages. I added some more dry newsprint to balance the moisture level, pushed my worms back into the fray, and hoped for the best. This afternoon, things seemed to be on the level, so I think I’m OK. I hope to find all of the dessicated remains of escaped worms before my wife does.

Good Intentions

The plan with the worm bin, and the connection with the whole local-food thing, is pretty simple. The castings are a nutrient-rich plant food, like any manure. Unlike most animal manures, it can be applied to plants fresh. Also unlike most animal manures, I don’t have to drive ten miles out of the city to get it. This, along with the “worm tea” that can be drained off, will be put to use in my greenhouse to get my seedlings off to an organic start. Last year’s greenhouse seedlings were a pretty pathetic lot, because I didn’t fertilize them. This year, I may have to resort to a dilute chemical fertilizer until my worms get their act together. The most frequently suggested organic alternative, made out of fish waste, is a little scary in terms of heavy metal (lead, mercury, &c.) content, and I’d sooner use a known chemical than an unknown contaminant.

An added benefit is that I’ll be able to continue composting without making the long, long journey through the deep, deep snow to the compost bin at the far end of the yard. A bin in the basement makes for a much more enticing trip, which may result in a more-often-emptied slop bucket. Most of our vegetables come from produce we froze last summer, so there isn’t a lot of waste being produced. Hopefully, our worms can keep up with production. My complimentary book says that my worms can process 1/2 their collective weight in garbage a day, so this should work out.

In Other News

I filled the last of my seed needs at the sales at my local Flowerland, and have thinned my flats of lettuce, spinach, snapdragons, and annual poppies. The asparagus has not yet sprouted, but I think I’m still within their germination window.

As I watch the footage that inspired our nation’s largest-ever meat recall, I had to face my biggest why-aren’t-you-doing-this-already food problem–meat. I gave up vegetarianism a few years ago (for reasons I may get into later) and didn’t develop my meat-buying instincts while I was learning how to shop for myself. I’ve decided that I don’t want to be eating cows that are too sick to walk onto the killing floor, and will finally start choosing local meat when it becomes available at the farmer’s market.

Meanwhile, I am buying increasingly unprocessed cuts at the grocery store. Last week’s shopping trip saw the move from frozen, boneless, skinless chicken breasts to fresh, boned, skinned chicken thighs, and this week I bought a whole bird. I think I’m going to roast it, Thanksgiving-style. I might cut the next one up, depending on how that goes. My aversion to local meat in the past stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know how to handle an entire bird, or unground chuck, or what have you, so I’m going to be ready this year.