By H. JEAN SHIELDS
Special to The Breeze
This column is not about tea for the gardener, rather tea to put into your garden. There is so much emphasis nowadays on organic gardening and bad, bad pesticides, that you need to keep reading and checking what is more reliable and less of a harm to the soil and the plants - the less expensive the better.
A very successful organic product is worm castings. What is that? Well just as it sounds, it is a worm's castings, after it has digested its meal. I think you can read between the lines here, I do not want to be censored by being too blunt.
Gardeners are not usually a delicate bunch, however when some retire down to the Sunshine State and take up gardening, they can be a bit squeamish at first.
A more serious clarification of worm castings is to call the process of all of this, vermicomposting - using the worms to produce rich compost from kitchen wastes. There's no fertilizer ban necessary with this type of fertilizer. One pound of worms can turn 65 pounds of garbage into garden compost in about 100 days. These hungry little critters have a mighty appetite. You do not just pick up a bunch or any ol' worms you happen to find, and you do need to be feeding them the proper foods.
The correct worm will thrive in a worm bin environment and the result will be the excellent compost. A local worm farm will have a supply of red wigglers, which seem to reproduce quickly and are smaller than the African night crawler, which can also be used.
Local worm farms or bait stores should be able to provide these types of worms for fishing or composting.
The foods they eat, of course, will result in the best end results. The best diet will be food scrapes of plant origin. Fruits such as apple, cantaloupe, orange, grapefruit, watermelon, etc. Vegetables should be carrots, tomato, lettuce, corn, beans, celery, peas, etc.
Do not feed them meats, fish, bones or corn cobs. These foods will cause odors and attract insects. Worm composting need not be smelly at all.
Cutting the foods into scraps makes for better eating for the worms. One pound of worms can process a half-pound of kitchen scrapes a day. Just tuck the foods under the bin bedding that you will be using to house the worms.
Now a worm bin can be built by the home gardener by using an 18-gallon plastic or styrofoam container with a lid. You will also need some window screen, duct tape, an electric drill and sand or soil, to go with a pound of worms.
I am not detailing how to build your own cozy worm bin. Guess what, you can buy them easily in Lee County and you can also use your old blue recyclable bin if you still have it setting around in the garage, like mine.
To get an already-built worm bin, or to have a free lesson in bin building and worm care, you can contact a nice lady named Rachel Singletary at Florida Native Plant Seeds.Com. She volunteers with the Lee County Extension Service when it holds a Florida yards and neighborhood series of classes at Rutenburg Park, in Fort Myers, just cross the bridge.
These classes cover a lot of topics from native plants, to landscaping and general lawn and fertilizing care, also an occasional garden tour.
She is located in North Fort Myers, which is not the other end of the world. She also can tell you about making compost tea for your garden.
Do not just go out and drill a few air holes in your old blue recycle bin put in some sand/dirt and throw in some worms and fruit. Worms like it hot in their bin, and dark. There is also the proper amount of moisture to consider.
Once you have some proper compost you only have to dump our the compost and shine some bright light on the worms and they will borrow into compost pile and you can extract the compost and start over with the same worms, and some fresh food and habitat.
The little critters will also multiply and you can share your worms with others or just go fishing. I have heard of hog heaven, but never worm heaven, until now.
We have several people in our Garden Club who are doing the worm compost. I have not done one yet; I still prefer to just buy some bags from Miss Rachel. She shows up at plant sales and seminars so I am happy for now. I use the compost in my potted plants. Just mix a little into soil when I plant or on established plants that is my fertilizer of choice.
A little goes a long way. I do not make a potting mix, I just add to whatever is already in a pot, or mix with some loose soil I already have from prier pots, new fertilizer and compost all in one. I do occasionally use some other organic fertilizers, no problem.
A good potting mix would be 1/4 cup of compost, perlite, peat and some builders sand. This compost will lighten a heavy soil and aerate it. Use it on veggies and roses, and trees and lawns. It will not burn any tender plants, and it has no odor.
Watch for an occasional plant sale in the area and check out the farmers markets for some good healthy plants and trees.
Homegrown peppers and tomatoes are producing well, hopefully the last tomato I planted will be able to survive some of our summer heat. I planted it a little late but it is hard to think of having hot and humid weather one day.
Enjoy this beautiful weather and keep on gardening until we meet again.
H.Jean Shields is a past president of the Cape Coral Garden Club.