Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Worm Composting for My Garden & the Environment

By: Kim Stemshorn

Vermiculture or indoor worm composting, is a great activity that reduces your environmental footprint, while creating useful fertilizer for your garden.

Kim Stemshorn with several children surrounding a small indoor worm composting bin.

Two plastic bins used as indoor worm composters stacked on top of each other in a kitchen.
Photo Credit: Kim Stemshorn

My two-bin indoor worm composter set up. I alternate adding my food scraps between the two bins. Resting one bin gives some time for the worms to process the food.

Why I Love Indoor Worm Composting 

Here are my top reasons why I love indoor worm composting:

  1. It's cheap, easy, and customizable! You can customize the size of your bin, where you want store it, and how often you feed it. If you find you are producing more food scraps for the size of your bin, upgrade the size of your bin or container or consider managing multiple bins that you can cycle through based on how much you feed them and how quickly your worms are processing your food scraps
  2. Red wiggler worms are the easiest pets you'll ever own! Red wiggler worms are shallow dwellers and can eat half their body weight in one day
  3. They don't smell! Sure, you're producing worm castings, which is worm poop, but your indoor worm composter will smell like soil on a wet day 
  4. Red wiggler worms eat the parts of fruit and vegetables that we tend to not eat. Red wiggler worms will eat banana peels, apple cores, spent tea leaves and coffee grounds, and the rough exterior of watermelons, cantaloupe, and avocados. More on what red wiggler worms can eat
  5. Once your worm composter has matured, you can share worms with your friends! You can easily split worm populations and within optimal conditions the worms will replenish their population to the size of your container 

Worm Castings 

Fertilizer and soil often look the same, but fertilizer improves the supply of nutrients in the soil. Worm castings, or worm manure, can be used with all types of plants, including vegetable and flowerbeds that might be in containers or in the ground. Worm castings is a gentle, effective, natural fertilizer that provides essential nutrients and beneficial bacteria to plants. By adding one part worm casting to every four parts of soil, worm castings can help liven up your soil.

Soaking your castings in water creates a liquid fertilizer or worm tea. When sprayed on your garden can help your plants thrive. More information on how to make liquid fertilizer from worm castings.

Starting Your Own Worm Composter 

There are many high-end indoor worm composting units on the market, which have been designed to make both the feeding and harvesting processes easier. I prefer the simple, do-it-yourself methods to indoor worm composting, here's everything you need to get started:

  1. A plastic opaque container that has more surface area than depth
  2. A power drill or something you can create air holes with, I've even used a pair of scissors in the past
  3. Shredded paper to create the bedding. I prefer egg cartons for their ability to absorb water and ease when tearing them apart, you can also use newspaper and cardboard as well. Interestingly, to thrive, red wiggler worms eat as much paper as they do food scraps. Paper absorbs moisture and helps keep moisture levels balanced in your bin
  4. Approximately 50 – 100 red wiggler worms, which can be purchased online or sourced from other Toronto-area indoor worm composting enthusiasts. Note: red wiggler worms are not the same as earth worms!
  5. Your indoor worm composter should be stored indoors year-round. Worms thrive in 12° to 24° Celsius – in temperatures outside of this range, the worms will eat slower and will not be as productive
Picture of the inside of an indoor worm composting bin with soil and ripped up cardboard.
Photo Credit: Kim Stemshorn

Indoor composter with lid on showing several holes for aeration.
Photo Credit: Kim Stemshorn

Kim Stemshorn holding a large stack of beverage cup holders.
Photo Credit: Kim Stemshorn

Reusing beverage cup holders for the bedding in my indoor worm composter.

TransformTO has set out the goal that by 2050, 95% of waste to be diverted from landfill (TransformTO, 2021). About 30% of garbage collected by the City of Toronto is actually organic waste (Solid Waste Management Services, 2021).

Additionally, indoor worm composting reduces the waste sent to landfill and helps Toronto work towards a circular economy by quickly transforming your fruit and vegetable food scraps into worm castings or fertilizer (check out this video which shows how fast red wiggler worms can consume a pumpkin).

Do you want to start an indoor worm composter? Feel free to ask questions in the comment section below & share with us on social media by tagging @LiveGreenTO and using the hashtag #GetGrowing.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Food Preservation 101

By: Candice Keast


If you're growing food this year, you've probably already started to reap the benefits of having a garden, and as we approach fall, harvests will become more plentiful. With this abundance of fresh crops, you might not be able to eat it all before it goes bad. One sure way to avoid food spoilage is to practice traditional food preservation methods. Aside from sharing your harvest with your friends, family and neighbours, you can preserve your food and enjoy it throughout the winter months. 

 

This blog post will cover several preservation options to consider. The following food preservation techniques have been practiced throughout history and are a valuable way to avoid food waste:

  • Canning 
  • Dehydration
  • Fermentation
  • Freezing

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Maintain a Thriving Garden this Summer!

 By: Candice Keast

During the hot sweltering months of the growing season, you can mostly sit back, relax and enjoy your beautiful garden. However, there are still things you can do to keep yourself busy. 

Firstly, check out the second video in our three-part Get Growing Toronto video series, which covers several frequently asked questions.

 

Continue reading to learn about the following: 

  • Watering tips and conservation
  • Succession planting
  • Hand pollination

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Attract Beneficial Insects to Your Garden

By: Candice Keast

Ladybug perched on a flower bud.
Adult Ladybug - Coccinellidae

Throughout the growing season, you'll definitely encounter a variety of different insects in your garden, depending on what you're growing. You might think that most insects are pests and bad for your garden but on the contrary: there are a number of beneficial insects that help keep your garden happy and healthy, naturally. There are three different types of beneficial insects: predatory, pollinators, and parasitizers.

In this blog post, I'll highlight a few garden guardians.


Ladybugs

Perhaps one of the most recognizable beneficial insects is the ladybug or lady beetle. Not just a pretty face, these bugs can eat up to 5,000 insects throughout their life. Ladybugs will eat aphids, scales, spider mites, and thrips.

 

Attract ladybugs by growing dill, dandelion, calendula, chives, cilantro, marigold, and yarrow.


Ladybug larva on a leaf.
Ladybug Larva - Coccinellidae

Have you seen this bug roaming your garden? Don't let its troublemaking look and spikey body intimidate you. I recently learned that these bugs are ladybug larvae - this is what they look like before they turn into the pretty red beetles with black spots. They're even more helpful than adult ladybugs because their appetite for aphids is even bigger!

 

Lacewings

Green lacewings are beautiful insects with large lacy wings and are excellent natural predators. Their  larvae consume aphids, caterpillars, cutworms, whitefly, spider mites, thrips, and mealybugs.

 

Attract lacewings by growing dill, dandelion, cilantro, and Queen Anne's lace. 


Green lacewing on a leaf.
Green Lacewing - Chrysopidae

Soldier beetle

Solider bugs are cousins of stink bugs and eat aphids, cucumber beetle larvae, caterpillars, and grasshopper eggs.


Attract soldier bugs by growing goldenrod, hydrangea, marigold, milkweed, and even catnip! 


Soldier beetle on blade of grass.
Soldier beetle - Cantharidae

Assassin bugs

Assassin bugs are beneficial to your garden as they eat aphids, beetles, caterpillars, flies and mosquitoes. If you see an assassin bug in your garden, let it be. They are known to bite if touched or disturbed. See link below for picture. 


Hoverflies

Adult hoverflies are often mistaken for bees because of their colouring, but you can distinguish them by looking at their wings. Bees and wasps have four wings, while hoverflies have two. They hover and dart about, looking for pollen and nectar. Also known as Syrphid fly, the adults are considered pollinators. However, the larvae are very effective predators as they eat aphids and mealybugs.

 

Attract hoverflies by growing calendula, dill, and garlic chives.


Hoverfly on a leaf.
Hoveryfly - Syrphidae

Native Bees

Did you know that Toronto is home to over 360 species of bees? Pollinators are critical to the survival of most food crops and flowering plants. In fact, it is said that 1 out of every 3 bites of food is because of pollinators. Unfortunately, native bees are in decline because of several factors, including habitat loss, invasive species, pesticides, climate change, and more. Furthermore, native bees are the most specialized and efficient pollinators. When native bees disappear, they disappear forever.


Attract native bees by planting native plants like Anise hyssop, wild geranium, nodding onion and New England asters. Check out our Wild About Bees page for more native plant ideas.


Toronto's Official Bee - the metallic green sweat bee on the centre of an echinacea flower.
Toronto's Official Bee - Agapostemon virescens


Braconid Wasps 

Braconid wasps are small, non-aggressive parasitoids. They sting and lay eggs inside of their prey's body. Their prey of choice are tomato hornworms, but if there's none around, they'll lay eggs in other pests like cabbage worms, aphids, beetle larvae, leaf miners, etc.  

Attract braconids by growing carrots, dill, lemon balm, and parsley. 

Braconid wasp on leaf.
Braconid Wasp - Braconidae 

Honourable Mentions 

Spiders and centipedes often get a bad rap because of their looks, but these insects are incredible for your garden. Centipedes will eat soil-dwelling pests like worms, slugs, and fly pupae. Most spiders you see in the garden are harmless to humans. If you see a spider in your garden, leave them be – they'll be doing you a favour by eating pests in your garden – including mosquitos! 

If you want a more in-depth look at the insects listed above, check out this page.

As always, feel free to ask questions in the comment section below. If you come across a beneficial insect in your garden, share with us on social media by tagging @LiveGreenTO and using the hashtag #GetGrowing.


🐞

 Get Growing Toronto Newsletter 

Did you know that Live Green Toronto has expanded the Get Growing program to include a monthly newsletter? Whether you're growing food for the first time or a seasoned gardener, there are always new things to learn and try. Our goal is to help you on your gardening journey with lots of tips and resources. Get Growing with us and sign up here!

Friday, May 21, 2021

Turn up the heat on your food garden!

By: Candice Keast

Are you excited to get your summer balcony ready?! Now is the ideal time to beautify your outdoor space by growing food -- and we've got all the info you need right here.

As a great intro (if we do say so ourselves), check out Live Green Toronto's 3-part Get Growing Toronto video series, which helps you along your container or balcony gardening journey. In the first video, we go through the process of turning a balcony that was largely unused into a food-producing space. If you don't have a balcony, not to worry. The video and the information in this post can be applied to any outdoor container garden location. You can grow food just about anywhere!



There are a few other things to keep in mind when you are getting your garden started. In this post, we will cover: 

  • Hardening off
  • Transplanting
  • Using compost
  • Spacing
  • Companion planting
  • Drainage/watering, and 
  • Vertical supports