Waste Not, Want Not…

The title for this piece, “Waste Not, Want Not, is an old proverb dating back to 1872 and found in “Under the Greenwood Tree” by Thomas Hardy.  The idiomatic expression is noted as, “If one is not wasteful then one will not be needy”.  In a later writing (1910) by Edith Nesbit in “The Magic City” we find the following usage, “They take the cocoa-nut@s to the town kitchen”, said the captain, “to be made into cocoa-nut ice for the army breakfast; waste not want not, you know.”

The phrase, Waste Not, Want Not is seemingly simplistic and practical.  In the days when goods and services were less abundant it was natural for one to be frugal, resourceful and not wasteful.  Although, in the 21st century, Americans have become much more affluent with ample access to food and goods.  Well, perhaps it’s time to once again take stock in this earlier saying.   Quite frankly, I believe it has greater significance now than it did in 1872.  It embodies the essence of recycling as something important for us to consider in everyday life.

I have recycled the typical home-waste products (newspaper, glass, plastic, food scraps, metal, etc.) for almost 45 years.  We must rethink our role as a consumer of stuff and come to grips with being better stewards of our planet.

Although recycling alone is a critical effort toward the protection of our environment it seems that a more wholistic approach is in order.  Yes, I know this isn’t a new concept, but I believe that I may have something to add to this important environmental topic.  Evaluating what, how and why we consume goods is equally as important.  That’s where the rethink component comes into play.

When it became possible to recycle plastic bags, I promptly began to store all our veggie and grocery plastic bags in a blue recycling bag.  I was amazed at the quantity of plastic used by only two adults!!  During a period of two-years, we filled approximately 1 dozen blue recycling bags which were taken to Walmart’s drop off zone for plastic bag recycling.

If I hadn’t started recycling plastic bags, I probably would have never come to the realization that by doing so would make a difference toward the protection of our environment.  Take my lead here and begin stuffing a blue bag today.  I promise that you’ll be surprised at how much plastic you’ve been discarding to the landfill!

The second thing that occurred to me is the way in which I think about recycling, so I began to reconsider a more closed loop approach.  I understand that I have not created something new and am perhaps only borrowing other’s ideas, regardless, it’s a topic worth speaking about since the pollution of our environment effects every living organism on the planet.


Red Wigglers – Getting Acquainted

Well, after reading perhaps too much on the topic of raising “red” worms I started a small vermi-composter in my basement.  Keep in mind that this took place some 2 years ago.  I went through the typical start up learning curve of how much water is sufficient, how much food is too much, type of background music, etc.  The first thing a novice wormer will experience is the not so pleasant odor generated by the worm farm.  It is easily taken care of by covering food scraps with soil.  This also takes care of the fruit fly population.

The main objective of having the vermi-composter is to generate the main ingredient for home brewed compost tea.

The container is modest and measures approx. 2 cu. ft.  Based on several recommendations I’m using red wigglers.  I started this system with about 100 worms then after 2 months added another 100 since it seemed that the initial population dwindled fairly quickly (2 month period). After the addition of the second batch of worms it appeared that the same thing occurred. However, the worms that remain appear healthy and continue to devour the food scraps given them. I add about 1 lb. food scraps per week. Anyway, the system seems to be working fine and the worms, as well as a host of other soil microbes, are doing their job.

The main reason for starting the worm bin was to have a fresh source of worm generated compost in order to produce worm tea (liquid fertilizer). So, after 4 months (two weeks from now) I’ll harvest the worm compost system and make several gallon batches of worm tea. During the harvest process I plan to segregate as many worms as possible in order to start a new bin of red wigglers. If the worm tea shows to invigorate plant growth as is claimed by many I will setup multiple bins so that I have the luxury of making worm tea once a month. Not only will I fertilize the vegetable garden with worm tea I also plan to do so for house plants and various plants in my landscape.

What one should consider when using worm tea is that it isn’t only a means to deliver certain macro and micronutrients to your plants but also replenishes the soil environment with beneficial organisms that have a positive effect on root and plant development. I guess one can say that you are improving the ecosystem, on a micro-scale basis or perhaps taking a wholistic approach to plant culture (husbandry). Of course there is a lot of literature on this topic and I hope this writing encourages you to dig deeper into the matter.

One avid gardener remarked that raising worms in a bin, located in a basement and fed weekly allocations of food scraps didn’t make much sense to him. Rather, he suggests that one should build a working compost, located outside and which houses red wigglers. By this approach you will have a much larger mound to work with and with the added ability to compost more food scraps then let’s say 1 or 2 lbs. per week. Granted, the worms won’t reside at the top of the compost pile, especially in cold weather, so you’ll have to be willing to dig a hole to deposit the food scraps where the wigglers can access same. Having said this, I did inspect my compost pile, which is 80 cubic ft, and dug down to the well decomposed material but did not see teams of worms as expected. So, I began to consciously deposit food scraps in certain areas of the pile to attract worms. However, it isn’t yet obvious that the worms are coming up from the soil layer to feast on the goodies. Keep in mind that I was making these observations between January and March of 2016 in central MO.

Another gardener mentioned that she tested worm compost tea versus compost tea made from her back yard’s compost pile without seeing evidence of any difference in plant growth or productivity between the two types of tea.

It is now late summer of 2017 and I have come to the conclusion that the time and effort it takes to make compost tea in your basement can’t be justified if you have the ability to maintain an active compost pile on your property.  I did enjoy raising worms and appreciate the richness of their compost but, quite frankly, I can achieve the same end result via my compost pile in my backyard.



Soil Texture – It’s Important to Every Gardener

Because gardeners are in a hurry to plant seed in the Spring, we sometimes overlook the importance of first examining the soil we are going to work with.  Soils vary considerably from location to location and even so within a location.  For example, on a single farm it is often the case that said property will contain soils of varying textures and productivity.   Even though most vegetable gardeners have a small area to work with, and most likely the plot will be uniform for soil type, it still remains important to become familiar with your garden’s soil.  This topic will address soil texture which can have a profound affect plant productivity.

A single definition of soil is being borrowed from a USDA publication located on the Internet as follows:

soil – (i) The unconsolidated mineral or organic material on the immediate surface of the Earth that serves as a natural medium for the growth of land plants.

Going a step further, a soil used in agriculture is said to be made up of the following constituents; Porosity (air) – (25%), Water holding capacity – (25%), Minerals – (45%) and Organic matter – (5%).  The organic fraction is typically comprised of Humus – (80%), Roots – (10%) and Organisms – (10%).  However, please use this as a guide only since many arable soils have 1 to 3% organic matter content thus reducing their water holding capacity below 25%.

Within the soil’s aforementioned “mineral fraction” there are three classes of soil particulate; sand, silt and clay.  Sand is the largest and clay the smallest in diameter.  The soil’s textural classification is based upon the quantity of each type of particulate.   For instance, a soil containing 15% sand, 50% clay% and 35% silt is classified as a clay soil.   This was determined by plotting the respective percent particulate content with the use of a soil textural triangle (Soil Conservation Service, USDA, Soil Survey Manual, Agricultural Handbook, No. 18 (1951).  However, there is good news ahead, when you perform a soil test with a University Extension Laboratory or private environmental lab you will typically receive analyses of macro and micro soil nutrients, pH, CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity), organic matter (%) and a soil texture classification.

OK, so what’s the big deal about soil texture and what can be done about it should you want to make improvements to your garden’s soil?  For instance, if you learn that your soil is 50% or greater in clay content you may be wise to add generous amounts of well-decomposed organic matter in addition to building raised beds.  Adding some excellent quality topsoil* would prove useful as well.  Working with a clay soil is possible but for the less experienced gardener it can prove to be disappointing.  A clay soil is tuff to dig, turn and/or hoe especially when it’s wet or dry.  Additionally, clay soils typically do not have good soil structure thus reducing good porosity and water relations between soil and developing root systems.  On the opposite side of the soil textural scheme, having a soil high in sand content also offers challenges to support a highly productive garden.  For example, sand has poor water holding capacity and will retain less plant nutrients to its colloidal surface.

In my opinion, soils with the following textural classifications; clay loam, sandy clay loam and silt clay loam are ideal garden soils.  These three soil types have a nice mixture of sand, silt and clay making them easy to till and generally have good retention of nutrients and excellent water holding capacity.

*Caution, avoid adding sand to your clay soil as this actually worsens the situation by creating concrete like structures in your clay soil.

There’s a lot more to be said on soil texture, so, if you have interest to dig deeper, I recommend that you locate a few used textbooks and/or search the Internet.  Good luck!

Selecting Hybrids, Varieties and/or Heirlooms for your Vegetable Garden

An important consideration when planning the vegetable garden is to select plant material (heirlooms, varieties or hybrids) that are adapted to your area’s growing conditions.  Although local plant nurseries strive to carry adapted plant materials you shouldn’t assume that they have made all the best selections.   Recently, this was the case when I was shopping for apple trees.  I found some healthy-looking trees at one of our local nurseries however, upon close inspection, I discovered that the original vendor stated that certain of their varieties are not recommended for my region of MO.

Adapted, locally grown plant materials typically have the advantage over other plant varieties due to their resistance to disease, ability to complete their life cycle in a particular climate and favorable plant development under local weather conditions.  In general, proven cultivars and hybrids for your area will be a good choice year after year.  However, keep in mind that newly tested plant materials are frequently introduced so it is wise to save room in your garden to test a few new lines of your favorite veggies.

i enjoy comparing productivity of heirlooms, common varieties and hybrids.  My goal is simply to utilize the best genetic material that suits my expectations for good yield, quality production and resistance/tolerance to major plant diseases.


Brain Hatchery

Brain Hatchery is a place to explore used and new ideas in gardening.  It will be a culmination of what gardeners are doing on a worldwide basis while adhering to organic cultural practices.  Additionally, if you’d like to share an idea of your own on The Garden Dreamer, you are welcome to send it to me for consideration.  Of course, if your Brain Hatch is added to this blog, we will certainly include your name, business name, etc.

The first idea (#1 Brain Hatch) explores vertical gardening with repurposed wood pallets.  This idea is great because anyone can do it and space is not an issue.  By the way, when I get up from my cup of coffee, I plan to repurpose a pallet to start a vertical herb garden or perhaps a strawberry patch (click on patch).

#2 Brain Hatch:   This idea relates to increasing vegetable production efficiency on a micro-local basis. It departs from a single grower producing everything under the sun to a small network of growers each with the responsibility to raise a handful of select veggies. In theory, if an individual is focusing on growing lettuce, spinach and carrots it is conceivable to assume that this person will have greater production success than if they are tasked with cultivating 10 to 12 crops.

So, let’s say that in a relatively close-knit community there are 6 growers (g’s) who raise vegetables on slightly different soils, have different levels of expertise as gardeners and have restrictions on land use. Thus, it is reasonable to believe that overall production could be enhanced by planting certain veggies (lettuce, turnips, onions) with g’s 1 and 2. To continue, g’s 3 and 4 might be tasked with tomatoes, sweet corn and zucchini while g’s 5 and 6 culture cantaloupe, peppers and eggplant. Why two growers are tasked with growing the same crops is a matter of risk management.

Let’s also assume that crop rotations at each location could take place at each garden location so that each g will eventually work with all of the crops elected for production by their particular group.

Anyway, this is simply an idea which has perhaps been done many times before.  However, I don’t hear folks talking about it. I’m hoping that this blog will draw many comments as I’m certain that variations on the theme exist.  All ideas, suggestions and critiques are welcome.  


pH and Soil Amendments

Now that you’ve read my post on “What’s a pH?”, you may want to know what can be done to either lower or increase your soil’s pH.  Of course, the first thing you need to do is have a reputable university or private laboratory test your soil.    Once you have the lab results, you’ll know if pH needs to move up (more basic) or down (more acidic).

In all my years of gardening, I can safely say that the vast majority of garden soils that I’ve encountered were either too acidic (pH 4.6 – 5.5) or already in a suitable range for plant growth (pH 6.2 – pH 7.2).  However, it’s always possible to encounter a soil with a high pH (pH 7.6 – 8.8) as well.

By no means, will the following suffice to fully explain the dynamics relative to soil pH/soil chemistry/soil type and amendments.  There are complete texts devoted to these topics and some knowledge of basic chemistry is needed to weed through the facts. Hence, the following should be seen as a guide to amend your soil, if deemed necessary.

Should your soil test result in an acidic reading (pH 4.5 to 5.5), it is likely that the test results will offer guidance on the quantity of gypsum (CaCO3) to apply.  This is an easy task and product (CaCO3 / lime) can be purchased at a big box store.  As to knowing how much CaCO3 to apply to your garden, this depends on the soil texture, the soil’s pH level and the target pH you’re hoping to establish.

In the event that your soil’s pH is basic (pH 7.5 – 8.5), the means to lower pH is not as straight forward.  However, the use of fertilizers designed to benefit acid loving plants is one way to temporarily offset the effects of high pH.  Additionally, adding large amounts of compost to your garden will also lower your soils pH, but slowly.  A third factor involves incorporating green manure crops in your garden plot.  Although not considered as an “organic” amendment, fertilizing with Ammonium Sulfate helps to lower soil pH while also adding nitrogen to your garden.

Please, don’t be shy to reach out with any questions or comments regarding this post.  Managing your soil so that its pH is in a suitable range (6.2 – 7.2) for optimum plant growth and development is every gardener’s goal!


Vermiculture (Worms) – Vermiculture Composting

Honestly, I’m not an expert on vermiculture but I do have an immense appreciation for these type soil dwellers and understand that they play a critical role in keeping our soils healthy.  Yet, I can’t claim to have purposely managed these critters accept through generous contributions of compost to my garden.  For this reason, I am borrowing the following text from…. http://www.worm-farming.org/vermiculture/vermiculture-composting for our collective enlightenment.

Vermiculture composting, also known as vermicomposting or worm composting, is the procedure of using worms and micro-organisms to recycle food scraps and other household waste into a nutrient-rich black soil.  This rich soil (worm castings) is the product of the worm’s digestion.  Worms are capable of eating between half to their full weight in waste each day. The worm castings are a natural fertilizer that provides a wonderful source of nutrients to plants, flower beds and gardens.  The castings are extremely valuable to the texture and fertility of the soil and can add 10 times the nutrients back into the soil that have been taken out during harvests.  Vermicompost increases the water-holding capacity of the soil and improves the overall soil structure. Your plants will grow stronger and have deeper root systems for better drought tolerance and disease resistance.

Red wigglers, manure worms, tiger worms, blue worms and red hybrid worms are used in  the vermiculture business and the vermicompost process.  These worms can be purchased on the internet, in a bait store or from your local worm farmer.  A pound of worms is all that is needed to start a worm farm.  These worms will reproduce quickly.  They have big appetites so expect them to eat their weight in waste every day.
Vermiculture bins can be basically a box with a lid.  They can be made of wood or plastic.  A loosely fitted lid will allow the worms the proper oxygen they need.  Always have drainage holes in the bottom of the vermiculture bin.  Vermicomposting worms like moist, dark and cool places.  Without the proper conditions and temperature the worms will try to escape the worm bin. Building a worm farm is easy and anyone can set up a worm farm.
Commercial vermiculture is the breeding of worms for re-sale. For many years worms were raised solely to sell in bait stores. Now with the new shift to commercial vermicast composting in the past two decades, the demand for worms has greatly increased.
A vermicomposting business solves two very important problems.  It takes care of organic waste and it produces an enriched soil that is extremely helpful for plants, gardens and lawns. Vermicomposting, through the use of worms, changes organic waste into a product that can be harvested regularly and sold.  The need for more vermicomposting sites around the world will continue to grow. Schools, institutions, military bases, prisons and other facilities can set-up vermicomposting bins right on their site to recycle food waste.
Vermiculture is an easy way to recycle food waste, help the environment, put nutrients back into the soil and make money, too. One third of household waste can be recycled through a worm farm. The environment is helped by keeping tons of waste out of landfills and vermicompost is an all-natural fertilizer that eliminates the need for harmful chemicals.  The worm castings add important nutrients back into the soil. This aids in stimulating healthy root growth, control erosion and enhance soil fertility. Worm composting can even be turned into a business with the right vermiculture technology.
 Since writing this piece on Vermiculture I have initiated a humble vermi-
composter. It is a 10-gallon plastic tub containing compost, 200 – 300 red wigglers and food scraps.  The system is kept in my basement where the air temperature stays between 55 – 65 F.    The plastic tub remains covered with a plastic lid.  So that a fresh supply of oxygen is available I drilled 1/4 inch holes around the sides of the container.  The holes are located approximately 1 to 2 inches below the top of the tub.
I monitor the moisture level within the system so that it doesn’t dry out or become too moist.   By the way,  I elected not to make drain holes for this system.   Regarding the addition (1 lb/sq. ft. of system’s soil surface area per week) of food scraps, it is important to keep these covered with soil to reduce the fruit fly (FF) population.  Additionally, I have introduced a FF trap which is a plastic cup, plastic lid, and plastic straw.  By placing a small amount of wine in the cup the FFs will make the long journey to nirvana and not return.  This system, created by John Allan, a well-known vermiculturalist, provides for a zero FF zone.  By the way, red wigglers sourced from California prefer Zinfadel while NY worms seem to enjoy Pinot Noir.
I am happy to be reducing our contribution of waste to the landfill while manufacturing a useful bi-product destined for the garden.  I will also conduct an experiment or two to study the effects vermicompost tea (liquid fertilizer) on plant growth and productivity.
More to come!!!

Planting a Tree in Central Missouri

You might think that planting a tree in Central MO requires limited skill, however, I have learned that without taking certain precautions it is likely that your future sapling will have some difficulty in getting established.  Based on my communications with several experienced landscapers it appears that the most common  mistake made is planting too deep.  Because soils in this region are high in clay content the roots of a deep planted tree may not develop correctly due the constraints by a predominantly heavy soil.  Heavy soils can cause curling and/or stunting of the newly forming roots.  A general rule of thumb is do not plant a tree deeper than it is in its pot or ball.

The other procedure which requires attention is the preparation of the planting area.  You’ll want to dig a hole at least double the depth and width of the ball or pot and add in some excellent soil plus well composted manure to insure that the developing roots have ample opportunity to grow without being restricted and in an environment rich in nutrients.  This holds true for all trees!  I had a landscaper put in a red bud tree in my backyard and it took his staff three attempts to get it done right.  On the third try the owner came on the job to instruct all staff how to properly plant such a tree in clay soil.

This past Fall 2015, I planted two apple trees and took into consideration the two planting points mentioned above.  Two years later each is producing fruit.

By the way, early Fall is a great time to plant a tree 🤓.




About this Blog

Upon gardening for many years, we have decided to share ideas and cultural practices related to backyard vegetable gardening.  As well, we are interested in hearing what others are doing in their garden plots so that we may continue to try different ways to garden.

The Garden Dreamer is about two gardeners sharing their garden experiences with others.  If we can help even one person, then this blog will have achieved much.   Truthfully, we are dreamers on many levels however the best dreams are usually related to being in the garden and sharing with others.

Our goal is to work with folks who enjoy the garden as much as we do.  The scope of our blog will include topics about vegetable gardening, soil health, composting and many other garden related topics.

We still have a lot to learn……..

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The Garden Dreamer

“Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years”

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Should you be interested in being contacted about new posts please provide your email in the box above. Your email will not be shared with anyone nor provided to any organization (public or private).

Contact us directly should this be of interest to you.

The Garden Alchemist, email: thegardenalchemist@thegardendreamer.com

Johnny L. Dose, email: JohnnyLDose@thegardendreamer.com

Chickens in the Garden

Yes, even the Garden Dreamer requires a little help to improve a garden space.  Over the years, I have utilized chickens for their manure and, of course, their eggs.  During the late afternoon I would let my birds forage for insects and whatever else they found of interest.  Although, I can’t say I am absolutely certain of this critter’s contribution to my garden’s success, I am considering making their presence become a permanent and integrated feature in our community garden.

The literature provides many examples where gardeners capture the richness of this bird’s manure while also enjoying their egg production.  We plan to keep 3 hens, on a 4-year cycle, in an attempt to evaluate their added value. in a vegetable garden.  Main points studied will be their contribution in both insect and weed control.  Most likely we will utilize either Rhode Island Reds or Orpingtons.  That’s right, absolutely no rooster!

My first task is to design a portable chicken coop so that our birds can be moved to any section of the garden.  It is my desire to introduce these birds by late Spring 2022.  I will be updating our blog as we make progress with this project.