Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Young worm farmers prepare for vegetable growing season

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Boys and Girls Club of Cheyenne worm farmers show off their worm compost bin. Photo by Barb Gorges

This column was also published at Wyoming Network News: https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/young-worm-farmers-prepare-for-vegetable-growing-season.

By Barb Gorges

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No squeamishness! Photo by Barb Gorges.

Have you ever seen a girl handle a worm without expressing squeamishness or a boy hold a worm without trying to scare a girl? I have.

Out at the Boys and Girls Club of Cheyenne there is a worm composting bin. The kids, self-proclaimed worm farmers, gave me a tour of their livestock the other day. Taking off the lid, they moved the partially composted material to one side with a hand-sized rake and didn’t hesitate to plunge their hands in to wrangle a red wiggler or two and bring them out for inspection.

After I’d been introduced to the worms and enlightened about their biology, the worms were carefully returned to the bin. The kids washed their hands and then dried them with paper towels.

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Two of the boys gently rake the kitchen scraps looking for the red wigglers. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Maggie McKenzie, a volunteer at the club who works under Carlos Gonzales, youth development professional, oversees the worm farm. She reminded the kids to throw the paper towels in the bin for the worms to process. The worm castings (worm poop) will go into the club’s garden outside as soon as it is warm enough. It will be great fertilizer for the vegetables which are grown organically—without chemicals.

Back three months ago, I witnessed McKenzie and two other Master Gardeners, Susie and John Heller, give this batch of compost its start.

Bins

Vermicomposting, composting with worms, is simple. You can build your own bin using a well-washed 5-gallon bucket that has a lid. John Heller said at home they have used the plastic buckets kitty litter comes in.

Punch holes 4 inches up from the bottom edge for aeration. Punch another few in the bottom for drainage of the worm urine. It’s valuable natural fertilizer you’ll also want to collect, according to http://www.wormfarmfacts.com.

The Hellers donated a fancy bin to the club. It comes in removable layers, like a layer cake. The worms start off in the lowest one and as compost is finished in that layer, bedding material and food is added to the next layer up. The worms migrate to it through its mesh bottom. This leaves the compost in the first layer to be harvested.

Bedding and food

The Hellers start with a sheet of black ink newspaper (no color) laid in the bottom of the bin. For bedding they shred or tear newspaper into 1-inch-wide strips, moisten it like a wrung-out sponge, and then crumple it into a 1-inch layer.

Next, 2 to 3 inches of food are placed on top. Kitchen scraps are best, but not meat, dairy or grease. Susie Heller said to think about what nutrients are needed in the garden. We have a lot of calcium in our soil, so leave out the egg shells. The smaller the scraps of food are, the faster the worms will digest them. The Hellers sometimes dice theirs.

A little sand is needed because worms, like chickens, have a crop and a little rough sand in their crop helps them break up and digest tough fibers.

Some things are too hard for worm digestion, like avocado pits. Seeds from tomatoes and other fruits pass through unscathed and will sprout. The worms are not fond of citrus fruits. A little goes a long way. However, the worms will eat Starbucks coffee filters and tea bags, said Susie Heller.

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Red wigglers are more active than earthworms, and make compost faster. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Worms

The Hellers added a pound of worms they ordered for about $6 from the Wyoming Worm Wrangler, wyowormwrangler@yahoo.com. Red wigglers, smaller and redder and more active than garden-variety earthworms, work best. The worms placed on top soon crawled below to get away from the light.

The lid was placed firmly on top of the bin. It’s important to keep the worms in the dark, said Susie Heller. And if there isn’t at least a little light outside the bin 24 hours a day, the worms will come out to explore.

Temperature is important too. If it drops below 45 degrees F, the worms will go into hibernation. If it gets above 80 or 90 degrees F, the worms in the bin will die. In nature they can crawl deeper in the soil to stay cool, said Susie Heller.

Maintenance

McKenzie brings in a produce bag of kitchen scraps about every week to 10 days, “I usually add some paper at the same time —newspaper and paper towels—which helps keep odors down if I overload the worms.”

The worm bin should smell like clean dirt. If it gets a rotten smell, add more newspaper—or old brown tree leaves if you have them. McKenzie’s one worm failure though, was due to letting the bin dry out too much.

Harvest

If you use a one-bucket system, in three to six months you’ll have a bucket of worm castings to spread on your garden. At that point you’ll want to sort out the worms and save them for your next batch. Push all the worm-laden compost to one side and put fresh scraps on the other side. The worms will move to the greener pasture on their own in a few weeks. If all went well, they’ve been reproducing, laying little white eggs.

As the Boys and Girls Club kids will tell you, it’s fun to be a worm farmer. There’s nothing quite like the gentle, cool touch of a hard-working, compost-making, red wiggler when it gets a break from the bin to explore the palm of your hand.

2018-03WormsBoys&GirlsClubofCheyenne byBarbGorges 2    The Boys and Girls Club of Cheyenne gave permission to take and post these photos with this story. Red wiggler photo by Barb Gorges.

 

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Planting gardener partnerships

The Taylors

Jackie and Scott Taylor let their pregnant goats clean up last year’s high tunnel garden and fertilize for next year’s crops. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 18, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “How to plant a partnership. How do gardening duos work out what to grow and who will weed and water?”

By Barb Gorges

Last year, I relinquished our small vegetable garden plot my husband, Mark, so he could experiment with all the new information he was learning as a Laramie County Master Gardener intern.

I even refrained from harvesting any cute cherry tomatoes and popping them in my mouth when I walked by.

Well, almost.

This year, I want to grow vegetables again. This has me thinking about how gardeners work as partners. How do they split decisions and the maintenance? Before I learned to grow a tomato three years ago, it was easy: Mark grew our vegetables and I grew flowers.

I’ve interviewed people from four partnerships to see how they work.

Sisters

Jennifer Wolfe and her sister, Gina John, own the house, now 100 years old, in which they grew up. Because its location is close to the Capitol, they decided to turn it into office rental space. Because the city requires a landscape design for commercial properties, their gardening decisions are based on those requirements.

Jennifer, with her master gardener training, said they decided to make providing habitat for wildlife their objective, rather than waste money on lawn watering. So she and Gina have converted the space to mostly perennial flowers, with many of the plants contributed from their home gardens. You may have seen it on the Master Gardener Garden Walk in 2013.

Because her sister is still working, Jennifer is the primary gardener. Gina comes sometimes comes in the evenings to help and seems to be in charge of adding garden art.

Employees of the tenant, a health services company, appreciate the effort, often strolling the garden and opening windows to let the garden sounds and fragrances in.

The Taylors

Jackie and Scott Taylor were in business together for 30 years before they became serious gardeners. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Business partners

A quick perusal of the Laramie County Master Gardeners directory shows there are 15 sets of people who share the same last name and address. Presumably they are couples in which both take a serious interest in gardening.

One of these couples, Scott and Jackie Taylor, went so far as to take the advanced master gardener training recently.

They are cultivating a serious amount of space–15,000 square feet–including two high tunnels and an orchard, plus raising livestock, west of town, near Gilchrist Elementary. You may have seen some of their harvest for sale at the Tuesday and winter farmers markets.

In business together in Laramie for 30 years previously, they have learned how to disagree, come to a decision, and still be friends.

“We start with seeds, look at plot space, and it’s invariably a big discussion and I want more than there is room for and Scott reins me in,” said Jackie.

When it comes to the chores, Scott said, “I do the fencing and digging and bed prepping. Jackie does the seedlings.”

This is a fairly typical division of labor—one person is more attuned to the details of nurturing delicate plants.

Scott is also in charge of watering, with the help of timers, “I’ve got things on a rotation in my own mind.”

But Jackie, after weeding, will report on potential moisture level problems. And while the vegetables are a joint venture, “He’s more interested in the fruit trees and I’m more interested in the flowers,” said Jackie.

They’ve been married 44 years, “going on 70,” one of them said.

Scott’s advice, “Learn to laugh. You have to resolve conflicts, like over row spacing. You have to be able to talk it out and get on.”

There is a benefit.

“It’s nice to enjoy the fruits of our labors together,” Jackie said.

Family style

Riley Elliot digs gardening.

At a young age he was using his toy truck to move dirt in his mother’s garden. Now he, at age 11, and his mom, Carolyn, are newly fledged master gardeners.

You might run into Riley at the Paul Smith Children’s Village where he volunteers. It was when he and his mom visited in 2011, shortly after moving to Cheyenne, that director Aaron Sommers began encouraging Riley’s interest in gardening.

Last year, at home, out on the prairie west of town, his dad Reagan helped Riley build raised beds out of old shipping pallets and fence the deer out.

Riley grows vegetables he promises to eat, such as peas.

“Last year, my first year gardening, I grew peanuts, popcorn and pumpkins,” he said. “Peas do real well and the popcorn did real well, and probably the peanuts (if the chickens hadn’t uprooted them while searching for grubs), but the sweet potatoes need more sand.”

He and Carolyn have big plans for this year, hoping to do better.

“We are just starting to do some flowers,” said Carolyn.

Since there wasn’t time to install the automatic watering system, Riley helped out with hauling hoses.

“We really didn’t have to weed that much,” he said, because raised beds aren’t very weedy.

While Riley believes in eating what he grows, he only wants to eat some of what’s in his mom’s vegetable patch. When the deer got her cabbage and Brussel sprouts, Carolyn said his reaction was, “I wish I could find Bambi and pat him on the head.”

 

Botanists

Jane Dorn spent years holding down the fort, garden-wise, while her husband, Robert, spent summers out in the field working as a professional botanist.

Not that he wasn’t interested in what was growing and helping with the gardening—he’d worked in his uncle’s greenhouse when he was growing up.

When Jane retired, the couple left Cheyenne and built a cozy house on acreage outside Lingle. Recently, they built a greenhouse over their vegetable patch. It has become Robert’s domain for experimenting with vegetable growing. He has begun to keep extensive records, the scientist in him unable to be suppressed.

Now, when planning this year’s garden, Jane and Robert discuss the veggies: what has done well, what seeds are left over, what new varieties in the seed catalogs sound like they might do well.

“We plant multiple varieties because some work better one year than another,” said Jane.

They also discuss Jane’s native plant prospects. “I’m trying to grow native wildflowers,” Jane said. Robert helped her build a rabbit-proof fence.

She and Robert are co-authors of “Growing Native Plants of the Rocky Mountain Area.” Jane will be speaking about growing natives at the Habitat Hero workshop March 28 sponsored by Laramie County Master Gardeners, Cheyenne Audubon and other organizations.

Discerning what the native plant catalogs are offering, whether they are new improved varieties, or just renamed originals, and whether they will grow at their homestead makes use of Jane and Robert’s lifetime of expertise.

While they have affinities for certain parts of the garden, Jane explained, “You don’t want to get yourself in a situation where one of you doesn’t know how to operate the rest.”

Both Jane and Robert weed, though with raised beds there is not much to do. While Robert has drawn up the watering schedule for the drip irrigation system, Jane can also run it. Jane seems to have a knack for harvesting beans, and Robert takes great joy in bringing greens in from the greenhouse every night for dinner–all winter long.

The Taylors

Scott and Jackie Taylor depend on two high tunnels to raise vegetables in southeastern Wyoming for local farmers markets. Photo by Barb Gorges.