In this newsletter, I discuss earthworms in container gardens; risks and safety tips for using bagged soil mixes; introduce a new herb and medicinal plant guide; share tips for changing seasons and moon gardening timing. Grab a cuppa and dig in!
Earthworms in Pots
Earthworms provide incredible benefits in the garden. They help aerate the soil with their tunnels, opening soil pores and improving soil structure and drainage. This helps plant roots access oxygen and allows moisture and nutrients to penetrate. They digest organic matter and leave their castings (‘vermicast’ or poop) with soluble nutrients plants can access immediately, improving crop yields. Vermicast is humus and a pure plant food and soil conditioner. Earthworms are wonderful soil workers indeed!
If you have container gardens and add garden soil or compost to your potting mix, then you may sometimes find an earthworm or two. Whilst earthworms perform many valuable roles, they can occasionally be problematic in pots, especially small ones. If you have just one or two worms, it may take a while for their tunnels to make an impact. However, if you have a community (yes they will breed!) then the plant roots may become exposed to too much air in the potting mix.
The other thing to watch for is if you are raising seedlings in a small pot and there is little organic matter in the potting or seed raising mix, any earthworms present may resort to eating the plant roots if all the organic materials are consumed. I was doing container garden maintenance once and picked up an old pot that was very heavy. Curious, I discovered it was almost pure worm castings that were retaining moisture and the pot was filled with earthworms! They had turned all the potting mix media and mulch into vermicast.
Feeding Earthworms and Repotting Plants
If you notice fresh worm castings on top of the potting mix or mulch, or around the base of the pot, these are a clue of their presence. If you notice a potted plant declining and suspect you have earthworms in your potting mix, you have a couple of options. Keep providing plenty of alternate organic matter like mulch to the top of the pot for the worms to eat instead of your plant roots.
Alternatively, repot your plant. This is simply a matter of upturning your pot and gently setting aside your plants in a cool location. Give them a quick soak in liquid seaweed as a boost. Then look for a network of tunnels in the potting mix and worms squirming around. If you can, rescue your earthworms and add them back into your garden soil where they can continue to work for you. The worm castings are indeed beneficial, so you want to retain this valuable free plant food in your potting mix.
Get your own easy DIY Homemade Potting Mix Recipe Guide using worm castings.
Learn more about the business and biology of worms with the Worm Farming Secrets eBook.
Herb & Medicinal Plants Growing Guide
I’m excited to now make this comprehensive summary of Culinary and Medicinal Herbs chart available as your go-to reference guide. This laminated fold-out 8-page full-colour chart provides an overview of 72 herbs with photos, growing information, medicinal properties, uses + more. Watch this quick video preview to learn more.
9 Tips for Using Bagged Soil Mixes Safely
If you use bagged potting mix or other commercial growing mixes like compost, gardening soils, mulches and soil conditioners, then it’s important to handle these products safely. It’s commonsense that any organic matter contains microorganisms. While bacteria can be helpful in the soil, breathing in dry dust particles has been linked to Legionnaire’s disease, a serious form of pneumonia that can lead to death. Although limited studies suggest the risk may be low, Legionella longbeachae bacteria can cause serious and potentially life-threatening lung infections.
Middle-aged and older people with a weakened immune system, males, smokers and heavy drinkers appear to be more at risk. One study indicated this bacteria is more common in wood-based potting mixes and composts than those made from peat. The UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand commonly use bark as a primary ingredient and have more reported cases of the disease, whereas the US uses more peat with lower incidents. Few patients are correctly tested to link their specific soil mix bacteria with their disease, so there is likely a much higher incidence than the cases actually reported. A Scottish study clearly confirms humans can contract the L. longbeachae disease from bagged potting mix.
There are warning instructions on bagged products, but few gardeners bother reading them! When bags of potting mix and soils are in retail stores, they can often dry out. Whilst you may think it’s overkill to wear a protective mask, it’s worth considering the potential risks.
Simple potting mix precautions when handling bagged soil mixes:
1. Wear good quality sunglasses or safety glasses and gloves.
2. Use a particulate face mask or at least a disposable dust mask to help avoid inhaling airborne particles.
3. Avoid opening the bag or using it when windy. Choose a well-ventilated area.
4. Avoid shaking the bag before opening it, as this creates dust particles.
5. Carefully cut open a corner of the bag (don’t tear) and water gently to settle any dust particles. Keep the mix damp while in use.
6. Punch a few holes in the bag to reduce any pressure build-up caused by heat.
7. Wash your hands and clothes afterwards.
8. Avoid storing potting mix in direct sunlight or a hot car. Keep in a cool place to discourage bacteria growth.
9. When re-using old potting mix or handling dried-out pot plants (such as when repotting), water down or pre-soak pots first.
Keeping things in balance, we gardeners love our soil. There are now studies showing beneficial soil bacteria like Mycobacterium vaccae have been found to help our wellbeing and reduce stress. So with commonsense practices, we can enjoy our gardening without risking our health.
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“What Gardeners Can Do: 10 Best Practices for Healthy Gardening” provides steps you can take to avoid contact with contaminants and improve your soil.
Tips for Changing Seasons
In the southern hemisphere, it’s time to sow seasonal crops and make the most of favourable weather conditions before the heat of summer arrives. Read this article if you’re not sure what to plant when. Gardenate has some useful sowing suggestions and planting information for many countries too. In the northern hemisphere, many gardeners are thinking about harvesting their crops; mulching their gardens to build and protect soil and growing plants indoors, like microgreens and sprouts in coming cooler months. These are year-round solutions for all of us to enjoy fresh ingredients.
As gardeners, no matter where we live, our weather conditions and gardens are rarely perfect! We need to adapt and plan ahead so we can be ready to take advantage of the best growing times of the year. Keeping a garden journal in one form or another is one of the most valuable tools we can use.
Prepare your garden well at the start of any new season or before planting. Apply compost, feed your soil, top up with a layer of mulch and sow seeds or seedlings regularly for a continuous harvest.
What to Plant Now in SE Queensland
In subtropical SE Queensland where I live, we are now in our fifth season that I call ‘Sprummer‘ – a transitional period over October and November, where the weather dishes up just about everything. It’s a time to ‘be prepared’ for heatwaves (just had one for 2 days), back to winter cold snaps (this week), windy and stormy weather, rain (oh yes, please bring more of that on) and even mild perfect days! A totally mixed bag. With a change of seasons, it can be confusing what tasks to do when. Locally, I created a Subtropical Planting Guide to make it easy to plan forward and sow confidently at the right time. For what to plant now, check out my SE Queensland October planting tips and seasonal advice.
Moon Gardening – Get your Timing Right!
We are approaching the end of the new moon phase so be quick to sow any above-ground plants for optimum growth – seeds, seedlings or transplants. If you haven’t yet pruned or taken cuttings, get to it for better striking rate and regrowth! With the full moon phase following soon after, that’s an ideal time to sow quick-growing microgreens and sprouts. A few easy microgreens to start with are rocket, basil, coriander, buckwheat and pea shoots. When the moon starts to wane, light decreases and moisture will be drawn down into the root zone with the gravitational pull of the moon. So save your root crop planting for later in the month when there will be days ideal for sowing crops like beetroot, radish, onions and carrots.
Use the perpetual Moon Calendar for the best dates during October and November for faster seed germination and root growth. My best harvests and healthiest plants come from working with nature rather, than taking a ‘hit and miss’ approach. If you’re not yet following a Moon Calendar to TIME your planting, fertilising, propagation and optimise seed raising success, then learn more about the benefits you could be enjoying.
Preparing to plant?
Take a shortcut to success with these tips and tutorials.
- Seed Starting Guide: Quick Tips for Starting Seeds Successfully
- How to Plant out a Herb Garden
- 3 Steps to Prepare Your Garden for Planting
- Design Tips for a Productive Kitchen Garden
- Easy DIY Potting Mix Recipe
- Revitalising and Re-using Old Potting Mix
- How to Use Compost and 7 Benefits of Composting
- 20 Reasons to Mulch your Garden
- How to Make Potting Mix Guide (Laminated for easy use with a whiteboard marker)
- Subtropical Planting Guide (Laminated for easy use with a whiteboard marker)
- Moon Calendar (Perpetual – buy once/use forever and works anywhere in the world)
- Microgreens Growing Guide Chart
- Garden Journal Planner & Workbook (Perfect for planning your garden)
- eBooks, Special Offers and Gift Vouchers in my Shop.
When you make a purchase, you are making a difference by helping support my education work to teach people how to grow healthy food.
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I look forward to sharing more news and ways to grow good health next month.
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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2019. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.
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