Category Archives: Eco-friendly living

Worm “gardening” in my backyard

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Some people have rose gardens. I inherited a worm “garden” from a friend of a friend and have stuck with it out of curiosity.

The basic premise of worm gardening is simple: Worms are fed compostable kitchen and yard waste (and in my case, lots of coffee grinds) and their castings, excrement basically, are used as a rich (and in my case, highly caffeinated) soil amendment.

The castings are so “nutritious” for plants that people make worm tea out of them. WikiHow says “worm tea lets you fertilize without adding bulk to your soil.”

The downside of worm gardening is only the gross factor. My mom won’t touch the worms, though she did take the photos in the slideshow above.

The worms don’t bother me. In fact, my beef with this “hobby” is the technical difficulty in actually collecting the castings without also inadvertently gathering worms.

My other challenge is figuring out what to do with my growing population of wigglers. I’ve read that they can double their numbers every 90 days, and it seems like they are.

If anyone wants to try worm gardening, all you need is a giant, lidded tub with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. Collect your veggie and fruit scraps, dead leaves and coffee grinds (everything but citrus rinds); dump them in the tub and add worms. I can give you some!

Like composting in general, I’ve been told that the worms need a source of carbon and that adding shredded paper or dead leaves will do the trick.

The rest should be pretty intuitive. You want to make sure liquid can drain out the bottom. Otherwise, you will nourish a low-oxygen muck that smells like rotten eggs. You’ll find out fast the worms migrate to the top of the bin and that their castings are in the bottom of the tub.

Worms love water, so make sure the lid stays on and the bin is sprayed with water regularly to keep them from drying out. They also love watermelon rinds cut up in little pieces. I think they have a sweet tooth, which is a metaphor because worms don’t have teeth. I’ve been told they gum their way through our refuse and appreciate a sprinkling of dirt on their meal to help them grind up their food.

But, that is getting way too technical for a fun, personal blog post.


3 ways to lower the price of organic food

bell peppers

Organic bell peppers are pricey but their conventionally grown counterparts are also on the Dirty Dozen list.
123RF Stock Photo

Organic food has become elitist.

At my local organic food coop, bell peppers are $7 a pound and that’s just the beginning. Loose green teas, $40 a pound. Chocolate chips, $15 a pound. It’s crazy.

I am rebelling.

For the last few months, my goal has been to lower my food bill, without compromising a mostly organic, plant-based diet.

It’s an act of defiance.

Healthy, good food doesn’t have to break the bank. Organic food can exist as part of a sustainable food movement, not as merely an addendum to gourmet living.

Here are 3 ways I have lowered my food bill, substantially (by about 20 percent).

1) Beans rule. Organic dried beans are cost-effective, high in fiber, totally healthy and deliciously satisfying. You can eat them hot or cold, and it’s easy to make a huge pot early in the week for fast dinners through the week. Bonus: By cooking dried beans, you don’t expose yourself to the bisphenol A (an endocrine disruptor) in the liners of most canned foods.

2) Frozen organic veggies. Stock up when they are on sale and you will never run out of spinach, broccoli and all the other wonderful veggies we should all be eating daily. Bonus: A full freezer helps reduce your energy bill.

3) Know the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. The Environmental Working Group ranks produce with the highest and lowest pesticide residues. You can use this guide to selectively buy organic and conventional produce. For easy reference, download a copy of the wallet guide!

For all the chocolate lovers out there, a birdie told me that Trader Joe’s sells a mean, dairy-free, super dark chocolate bar that is only $2 for 3.5 ounces. 

Going Native

Native coastal flowers. Credit: C. Johnson

Native coastal flowers. Credit: C. Johnson

Native coastal succulent.

Native coastal succulent. Credit: C. Johnson

People may say that “all the pretty plants” in Southern California are from somewhere else – that San Diego is a desert and beautiful because we water it. It’s not true. There are lots of beautiful, water-friendly native plants, and by planting them in your yard you can help preserve and protect our open spaces.

In fact, the line between landscaping and habitat restoration is becoming blurred as nurseries are now selling locally native species. By planting the right assemblages of species, you can literally recreate  valuable wildlife habitat in your yard. Granted the “wildlife” may be small – pollinators and butterflies, for example – but these animals are important to the whole ecosystem.

Yet another trend that is catching on is ocean-friendly gardening. The idea is simple: you design landscapes that capture and percolate runoff, instead of letting it flow straight into our beautiful ocean. The gardens are a favorite of mine because they often use lots of zen-garden-like rocks and have a minimalist feel.

Ocean-friendly gardening at the new NOAA fisheries science center in La Jolla. Credit: C. Johnson

Ocean-friendly gardening at the new NOAA fisheries science center in La Jolla. Credit: C. Johnson

If the ecological reasons for going native don’t resonate. There are yet other economic ones, like, I recently got my first water bill in a new home.  That lawn has got to go!

To learn more about the benefits of native plants and why invasive plant species are thwarting efforts to preserve and protect our last wild spaces, check out: Plant this …  not that! and Top 10 Native Plants in San Diego.