Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Totally Natural Healthy Ways to Increase Your Garden's Growth - A Garden Review

growing cucumbers

It's mid-summer and everyone who has a garden is starting to reap the rewards of their spring labor.  Now I must confess, I did not do a whole lot of back breaking labor.  I live on the 18th floor of an apartment building and digging in the ground is not an option for me.  So I have three Rubbermaid Tubs on my balcony.  These are my "garden" and that is my space to grow my tomatoes and cucumbers.  

tomatoes on the vine

Don't go feeling sorry for me, I like it this way.  I gave up my "home garden" a few years ago, but missed my fresh tomatoes so much, I had to find a way to grow some higher up.  

When we first moved into the apartment, I tried to grow tomatoes in smaller pots (10 inch diameter), I would water, feed (with fertilizer) and talk to them daily.  I was somewhat successful that first year.  My husband would eat his balcony fresh tomato and say, "that was a lot of work for this tomato, you can buy them cheaper at the farmer's markets now that they are in season!"  

He was right, the first year, even though I did my best at caring for these plants, they did not produce anything that would have made a gardener's heart go pitter-patter!  Our garden produced a few tomatoes that we did enjoy, but overall we were disappointed.

Fast Forward to today:  My balcony garden has been expanded (no more little pots) and I have found the secret (I think it's the difference between the first year and now) to keeping my garden happy, healthy and producing more fruits than ever before.  

growing tomatoes on the balcony

So do you want to Know What Made the Difference?

As a gardener (we share what works and what doesn't work) I will tell you!  I have NOT used one ounce, tablespoon, teaspoon or any other measuring device, of fertilizer this year!  Yet, I have already picked, eaten and enjoyed at least 10 cucumbers since the beginning of July, and countless cherry tomatoes!

As you can see in the picture above and the ones below, there is no lack of little tomatoes for us to enjoy in the next little while.

Our balcony garden has been prolific in producing these cherry tomatoes for our enjoyment.  I attribute it all to the help I have procured for my containers.  The "help" is totally organic, pesticide free, natural and abundant.

What is this help that I keep mentioning? 

Red Wigglers (they get all the credit)  have made all the difference in my containers this year.  

As I mentioned earlier, I have used NO chemical fertilizers in my containers this year.  A dear friend of mine (Cheri Kochir Salt (owner and operator of  Mobius8Organics.) and I have been trying our best to minimize our carbon footprint on the earth.  Many people are interested in doing this and have no idea where to start.  If you are a gardener, you could start right here.
In many discussions with her, I found that red wigglers can make all the difference in the world to your gardens (whether in the ground proper or in a container). Helping the earth to renew, means (for me anyways) not adding any extra chemicals and getting rid of organic wastes, without adding to landfills.  

When you have red wigglers in your containers you can do both of these things.  Red Wigglers love to eat all your organic waste (peels, cores, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags and even your paper products).  Yes you should read that list again (and it's just a small list, there is much more they could eat if you have an outdoor garden and compost heap.)
red wigglers
These are just a few of my "Red Wiggler" family, who are enjoying their home on my balcony!  I have uncovered them for you to see how these guys and gals (actually worms are both male and female scientifically known as hermaphrodites) work.  Their home usually looks more like this picture below:
plants in a cardboard box

Red Wigglers and earthworms in general do not like the light!  They work best in a dark, damp environment.  So, I make sure that they are happy by covering the soil surface with damp cardboard or my weekly newsprint flyers!  You can also see coffee filters with the coffee grounds still in them on the surface of the soil.  My worms, like myself,  seem to love coffee.......

Now the only absolute must that you have to maintain is a certain level of moisture in your containers.  You cannot let them dry out, or your earthworms will dehydrate and die as well.  So far in my experimentation this year, that has not been a problem.  I water regularly and sometimes the rain helps too.  My worms seem to be happy and multiplying without any further help from me.  

What do these worms do that makes the garden grow so well?

Earthworms and red wigglers in particular are prolific at eating  organic waste.  When they eat this waste, the worms then expel the waste(worm poop) and if your garden is in a container, this waste becomes part of the soil composition. Vermicomposting is the "proper name" for working with worms in the garden.  For you homesteaders who are looking for a cottage industry growing  worms and selling Red Wigglers for both fishermen and farmers is a growing industry (no pun intended).  Once you have your vermiculture set up, there is nothing more for you to do!  

The worms will provide you with deep rich soil, full of nutrients and depending on how you set yourself up, you may even have worm compost tea to feed your plants.  This worm tea (my version) is the best fertilizer you could ever want.  It's rich in nutrients, has no odor and your plants will thrive. This worm compost tea won't burn the roots of your plants either.  I have a set up on my balcony that allows me to enjoy collecting this worm tea and if you are interested you can do this too. 
compost tea

Behind the picture of my worm tea, you can see my garden tower.  It has 50 different pockets to plant and a nice tower in the center to add organic waste without disturbing your plants.  There is a drawer at the bottom which collects all the extra water and worm tea (again my version).  The castings remain in the tower for your plants to thrive on.  You can watch a video here and see the difference between this and other vertical gardening options: Garden Tower 2 Project

There will be no need for Chemical fertilizers!  Chemical fertilizers, if they are incorrectly mixed  can sometimes do more harm than good.  Save yourself the time and trouble by using an Earth Friendly Natural Way to fertilize your plants. I know that this has made the difference between my first attempts at gardening 18 stories up and this year's attempt!  We've had a great year so far and I'm sure it will continue to prosper and grow well into the fall.

If you want to know more about Vermiculture or Worm Farming there are several really good websites and YouTube Videos that you can watch. 
Basic Vermicomposting or 
How to Compost are just two of the really good sites to learn from. 

If you want to get started you will need a good bin.  I use these ones for both growing my garden and I will use these for my worm farm too! 

My own experiment will continue in the fall as I try to bring my worms indoors so they won't freeze over the winter months.  I will let you know how it goes come spring of 2021.
Stay tuned there is more good sound ecological information coming up!

***All of the pictures in this Post are from my balcony garden, taken August 4, 2020.  


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  1. Very impressive balcony garden, Olivia. You have certainly discovered the secret to having a healthy and productive garden.

    I LOVE fresh home-grown tomatoes and have been buying them weekly at the Farmers Market. Sure would be fun to try once more to grow my own. If I could only find a way to keep the squirrel and rabbit population in my yard from 'helping themselves'.

    1. Sometimes you just have to go and help another farmer out. Buying from Farmer's Markets is a great way to get those fresh tomatoes. There is something special about growing your own though. My son has a rabbit problem and he still managed to get tomatoes by surrounding his containers with some inexpensive chicken wire. Kept the little fur buts out and let his tomatoes ripen for his use.

  2. Wow! I am truly impressed!!! Nature really is the best. When you first said "red wigglers" in this article, I immediately thought of fishing. It doesn't surprise me that they sell them for that purpose either. Of course, you wouldn't want anyone raiding your garden for bait. I assumed they aerated around your plants roots. Their excretion would not have been what I would have thought would make such a huge difference. That is truly educational and awesome! I don't know exactly how I would feel about bringing them inside for the winter, but I certainly applaud you and your fabulous garden.

    1. No need for anyone to raid your garden beds, red wigglers almost double their numbers (if they are happy) within a few weeks. So you could sell red wigglers and still have plenty for your garden. Vermicomposting if done correctly should not have any odor and will still take care of your vegetable scraps and such. I will let you know how it goes.

  3. Your tomatoes look great! We live in the Arizona and just finished up growing and dehydrating quite a few tomatoes.

    1. Great for you and your family. Tomatoes from the garden taste so much better and dehydrating them is a great way to keep that taste.

  4. WOW this is impressive! What an education! I had absolutely no idea about this type of gardening - and you did all of this on balcony - seriously girl, way to go. I love learning new tips like this, amazing. What a rich, healthy looking balcony. Oh, and I love that your worms love coffee grinds, hahaha - you're going to keep those critters up all night working!

    1. Indeed Barbara, that is exactly what they do. I drink coffee and they eat the coffee grounds and filters. I have had so much fun with getting rid of my kitchen scraps and knowing that my worms are getting "Keto" right along with me. No waste and nice healthy worms too. I've become worm obsessed, just ask my other half. LOL

  5. Olivia, this is absolutely fascinating! I've always wanted to grow my own vegetables. Unfortunately, there's only one small part of the land around our suburban home that gets direct sunlight (a narrow strip on our side of the dividing line between our lot and that of our next-door neighbors), and my beloved irises already occupy that sliver of "prime" real estate. I've considered getting an indoor glass shelving unit with grow lights, but I don't think I'd be comfortable housing a bunch of rapidly-multiplying red wigglers in plant containers in our living room, lol. I will, however, share this with my sister, who (unlike me) has a very green thumb and is into all things gardening!

    1. Margaret, I'm going to try bringing the worms indoors for the winter and continuing to feed them my kitchen waste. I won't be growing anything in their bin, just waiting for them to multiply up for the coming spring again. So long as there's a lid on their home, they shouldn't be trying to take up residence anywhere else in the apartment. We will see.....hope your sister is inspired to try.

  6. Wonderful! I love your gardens. (The book I reviewed today was very quick to affirm that even one pot on a balcony is a garden.). Such fabulous success... your gardening scheme. Red wrigglers are magic to a garden. They are often under-appreciated if you ask me. I also love your emphasis on living gently and in an earth-friendly manner. Kudos to you! Thanks for sharing the secrets of your delicious success.

    1. Yes one pot on a balcony is a garden for me too. My worms are appreciated and I talk to them every day. My husband thinks I've lost a few of my marbles, but just watches me and smiles as I say Good Morning to my worms every day. I'm just making sure they are comfortable and moist enough.....thank you!

  7. Olivia! I love this! Your balcony garden is amazing and I love that you are using vermicomposting. I have not had the time or energy for a balcony garden this year. But when I resume container gardening, I have planned on using red wigglers! Twice before I've tried to have a miniature worm farm (for the tea) but I didn't keep them cool or moist enough I guess. I can't wait to try again and I love seeing your proof that it works well.

    1. You were on my mind when I was posting this whole story about my vermicomposting experiment. I was thinking of you in the shack and a little sideline business. Do try it, the results as far as I'm concerned speak for themselves.

  8. Olivia, this is a brilliant article and you are brilliant for having taken the space you have available and putting it to work so safely.


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