Saturday, January 28, 2012

Using Worm Castings in Hydroponics

I've been using vermicastings (i.e. castings from worms) in my deep water culture bubbler system for a couple of weeks. The 2 lbs of castings are stored in a paint strainer bag and submerged in 9 gallons of water. The castings are generated by 1 lb of European Nightcrawler worms that compost my kitchen scraps and a large amount of coconut coir used as bedding material. The "bubbling" comes from aquarium air stones and an inexpensive aquarium air pump that aerates the water.

Today while removing the old castings and replacing them with fresh ones, I noticed something very interesting and somewhat surprising. Live worms! I counted 5 or 6 without really looking too hard. The worms weren't just living in the top of the castings, but there were several submerged deeply under water.

I've been keeping worms for 3 years.  Based on my experience, too much water in a worm bin is not healthy for the inhabitants.  When things get too wet in the worm bin, I often find "drowned" worms.  It's rare that I get that kind of water in my bins these days, but as a worm keeping newby it happened more often when I would overfeed them.

I can only guess that the worms were able to survive in the deep water culture bins because of the aeration being provided by the air pump. If worms can survive in that environment, then the plants must like it even more than I thought. :-)

Deep Water Culture Update

I took a few recent pictures of my basement hydroponics gardening project.

 The collards are thriving in my deep water culture bubbling resevoirs, but they took longer to get started than the lettuce and spinach.  I am sure the low intensity light generated by the T8 bulbs is a factor, but we've already had one harvest and judging from the health of the roots, we should get several more.

  Similar to the collards, the kale was a slow starter. We've had one harvest so far and it looks like we're due for another soon.

  We've had about 15 servings of salad from the hydroponic lettuce since I planted in in early November. One of the plants has slowed down, but the other 5 are still growing well.

  The spinach is really doing well in the deep water culture. Some people told me that I would have trouble growing spinach in hydroponics, but so far I've had great success.

Spinach growing in vermicastings deep water culture
 This tub of spinach is being grown in a much diluted hydroponic nutrient resevoir.  Instead of 18 ounces of nutrient per 10 gallons of water this nutrient is being grown in 12 ounces of nutrient and about 2 lbs of worm castings in a paint strainer bag.It's an experiment to see if I can stretch the hydroponic nutrient farther and reduce costs. This the second week since I planted the seedlings and they are picking up speed.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Vermicastings for Deep Water Culture

In my basement gardening project I've been going through 1 quart of nutrient every 3 - 4 weeks. Because I am a regular customer, the local hydroponic store gives me a 10% discount, but it still costs me $19 and change. As a way to help offset some of that $19, I am experimenting with vermicastings in one of my deep water culture bins.

I've been using red wigglers and European nightcrawlers to compost my kitchen scraps, newspapers, and cardboard. I've used the castings successfully in my ornamental plants and backyard garden, so I put a couple of pounds of vermicast in a paint strainer bag and suspended it in one of my hydroponic bins.

It's only been a week so far, but I've got my fingers crossed.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winter Kale and Spinach Harvest

Today we received our first significant snowfall of more than an inch accompanied by some of the coldest temperatures of the year for the Metro Detroit area.  But the cold temperatures didn't stop me from harvesting fresh kale and spinach for a dish my wife calls Easy Greens Bake from the Geraldson's Community Farm Farm to Table Cookbook.

It was 19 degrees outside when I harvested this collander full of hydroponic vegetables. Growing fresh vegetables outside in Michigan this time of year is impossible, but with hydroponics, efficient lighting, controlled temperature, and effective nutrients veggies these can be grown year round. I grew these in a spare room in my basement garden.

Hydroponic spinach and kale
It was 19 degrees when I harvested this collander full of kale and spinach today.  Growing fresh vegetables outside in Michigan this time of year is impossible, but with hydroponics, efficient lighting, controlled temperatures, and effective nutrients; veggies like these can be grown year round. I grew these in a spare room in my basement garden.

Kale, spinach, onions, tomatoes, and eggs = Easy Bake Greens for supper

It's a rewarding feeling to grow food, harvest it, and eat it within 30 minutes. Now that's fresh!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Malabar Spinach

I'm always on the look out for ways to maximize yield in the smallest foot print possible. As far as spinach goes, the Malabar variety seems to fit the profile perfectly.  I've seen many pictures on the web suggesting that this type of spinach grows like a bush and reaches 6 feet tall. It sounds perfect for an Earthbox. has a detailed review of this spinach. Based on his impressions, it kind of sounds like most other types of greens. It's probably an aquired taste, but for me most greens are. The older I get, the more I like them.

Spinach is normally a cool season vegetable, but this variety reaches maturity in 50 - 60 days and will grow in warmer weather. Now if I can just find some seeds....


My brother-in-law has been keeping bees for more than a decade.  We usually buy at least a 6 pack of 2 lb jars of honey each year.  The availability of honey from my private source has declined these past couple of years due to increased work duties cutting into his part-time beekeeping endeavors.

I know very little about beekeeping, but I do know it can be pretty difficult to manage honey production realiably year-in and year-out. As is the case with most types of agriculture, some years are simply better than others. Several thousand honey bees do most of the work, but there are environmental concerns and pests that must be managed.

I have never really lived in close proximity to my brother-in-law, so I haven't had the opportunity to learn any of his beekeeping secrets.  I've performed a few "beekeeping" searches on the Internet and have learned a little bit about beekeeping as a hobby and/or part-time business. People keep bees for the honey, making candles, skin care products, soaps, lotions, potions, and some even harvest queens to market to other beekeepers.  There are thousands of resource websites, retailers, blogs, wholesales, education courses, etc. on beekeeping.

Linda's Bees is one of my favorite blogs about keeping bees in the Atlanta Area. She has provide a detailed list of equipment needed to get started. There are many local beekeeping associations and there is a website that lists hundreds of beekeeping links. There's also many, many sites that provide quality beekeeping equipment.

Will there be a bee hive or two in my backyard this spring? Time will tell I guess, but the benefits for my other gardening endeavors are plentiful. They might also help cure my sweet tooth :-) I have may hobbies already, so my first task will be convincing my wife that I need to add another.