GARDENING INDEX: (please scroll down for articles)
  • Cold Frames for Winter Harvest
  • Fabulous Fava Beans
  • Vermicomposting

Cold Frames for Winter Harvest - Dec 22, 2016

A neighbour very generously donated a large piece of plywood and four old storm windows to this project! My new cold frame (made by a friend) is 12" high at the back sloping down to 8" high at the front, and wide enough to fit two storm windows inside the box. 

If you want to extend the gardening year past the first frost, then maybe you are ready for a cold frame. It is a bottomless box with a removable glass or plastic lid that protects plants inside the box from really low temperatures. Using a cold frame creates a microclimate a zone and a half warmer than the rest of your garden.

This year, because I was away for most of August, this project and the planting did not get underway until the beginning of September. For best results and continuous harvest of veggies and greens the plants need to have reached a harvestable size before the first frost. But if you missed this window the plants will hibernate successfully in the shelter of the cold frame - for an early Spring harvest.

The cold frame on the far right has chard, beets, and some kale already growing. The newest box (pictured here) has spinach and winter greens growing. Some of the best winter greens to grow are spinach, kale, tatsoi, claytonia, arugula, pac choi, mizuna, cress, and cilantro.

Fabulous Fava Beans - June 28, 2013

I'd never come across fava beans until I moved to Vancouver Island last year and started my first organic veggie garden. When I noticed the people at the local Seed Savers meeting talking about these giant, puffy beans I decided to try growing them. The real eye-opener came when I harvested my own crop and tasted my first fava beans.

To my delight, I discovered that favas are a creamy, buttery soft bean that can be eaten like green peas without cooking. Perfect for me since I am a raw food chef.

A nutritional powerhouse, fava beans are super high in protein and fibre, low in fat and carbohydrates, and a great alternative to meat. Fava beans can be dried or cooked, but many prefer to eat the beans and their leaves, fresh and raw.

Marinated Fava Bean Recipe
Fava beans, double shelled
Olive oil and Apple Cider vinegar, in equal amounts
Red onion, diced
Jalapeno pepper, diced
Red Pepper, diced
Garlic clove, pressed or finely diced
Himalayan salt
  • Quantities depend on the amount of favas, e.g. a handful needs only small amounts
  • Double shell the fava beans (see info below)
  • Mix all ingredients together in a bowl
  • Cover and marinate overnight, then store in the fridge

Composting was another new experience for me this year, and I was definitely doing the happy dance when the first of my two compost bins was ready to use. With this compost I began by building up the soil in the raised garden beds. The fava bean seeds were then soaked overnight and planted into the soil in March. In May the perimeter of the bed was staked with two rows of twine to support the weight of the vines and prevent wind damage.

My late June harvest involved not only picking the large puffy pods, but double-shelling the fava beans. The first shelling simply removes the bean from the pod. The second shelling peels the outer coating from the bean to reach the succulent fava bean inside. The outer coating is a pale green colour, while the actual fava bean is recognized by its bright green colour.

You won't be disappointed with this two season, early producing crop that is so easy to grow. My plan is to plant fava bean seeds again in September for a fall cool weather crop. If this Newbie Gardener could do it . . . you could too!

Vermicomposting - May 10, 2013 

Worm composting requires only a few components and is amazingly simple! You need some red wiggler worms, a ventilated bin, bedding for the worms, food for the worms, and the time to harvest their nutrient rich castings. For anyone who does not have an area for backyard composting, vermicomposting is the perfect solution!

One of the best soil amendments available is worm castings, which contain five to ten times more available phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium than the compost you get from your outside bin. And since a bag of worm castings can be very expensive, why not make your own!

More information can be found at Compost Education Centres in your city. For the Comox Valley BC area you can contact Patty Rose at 

Here's what you need to get started making your own Worm Bin:
  • One-person bin - 36L plastic storage bin (21.5" L x 9" D x 15.5" W) that is dark not see through as shown in the pictures, with a lid
  • Two-person bin - plastic storage bin (24" L x 18" W)
  • Family of 4 - plastic storage bin (36" L x 12" D)
  • A drill with 1/16 drill bit for making drainage and ventilation holes (using a 1/4 inch bit may allow the worms to crawl through)
  • Shredded newspaper (I used black and white pages only so as not to introduce dyes into the bin)
  • About 1 pound of red wigglers
Step 1 - Drill about 6 evenly spaced 1/8 inch holes in the bottom of the bin - I added extra holes in the corners. These holes will provide drainage.
Step 2 - Drill ventilation holes about 2 inches apart just below the top edge of the bin. This will allow air to circulate in the bin and do not drill holes in the lid.

Step 3 - Prepare the bedding for the worms by shredding newspaper into 1 inch strips. Check if the local newspapers in your area use vegetable based inks. Worms like bedding that is moist but not soggy. Moisten the newspaper strips by spraying or soaking in water, and squeeze out the excess water. Cover the bottom half of the bin with about 4 inches of shredded and moistened newspaper that has been fluffed up. You can add half a handful of sand to help the worms get started.

Step 4 - Place your bin inside in a well-ventilated area away from direct heat - mine is kept in the kitchen. Red wigglers like a warm environment similar to ours, and thrive well indoors. You can place the bin on top of blocks, upside down containers, or a couple of thick pieces of wood, anything solid to raise the bin and allow for drainage. My stand for the worm bin was built for me by Brian of Bloomfield Flats   An inner ledge holds the bin up off the floor, and I'm really pleased with the finished look which blends well into my kitchen (next time I'll get a brown or tan bin and it will be hardly noticeable).

Step 5 - Make sure your bin is high enough off the floor to be able to place a tray below it to catch any moisture that may drain from the bin. I picked up an aluminum roasting pan for $1.00 that will do the trick. Although I did not have any liquid worm tea, if you are lucky enough to get some, it is best to dilute the worm tea to make liquid fertilizer - try one of these ratios - 1/3 worm tea to 2/3 water ,or 50/50 worm tea/water.

Step 6 - Add your red wigglers to the bin. Although you can buy red wigglers, that can be an expensive way to start. An easier alternative is to harvest red wigglers from a large outdoor compost, if you already have one. To do this, I buried 1/2 a cantaloupe rind (with the insides mushed) in the outdoor compost and left it for about a week. When I dug it out of the compost it was loaded with red wigglers ready for my worm bin (thanks to Patty Rose for this tip).

Step 7 - Start by feeding your worms slowly at first. As they begin to multiply, you can add more food. Bury food under the shredded newspaper in a different corner of the bin each week. Worms will follow the food scraps around the bin - and burying the scraps under the newspaper helps to keep fruit flies away.

  • Worms Like - bread, grains, cereal, coffee grounds and filter, tea bags and loose tea, eggshells, fruit, and vegetables
  • Worms Dislike - garlic, onions, leeks, citrus fruits, dairy, fats, meat, feces, and oils
  • The things that worms dislike can be added to your outdoor compost where over time everything will eventually break down (although I wouldn't add cooked food, dog or cat feces, fats, grease, oils, fish, meat, bones, or especially cat litter to the outdoor compost).
  • Worms feed off the bacteria that grows on food, therefore by chopping the leftover food scraps into small bits there are more sides for the bacteria to grow on.
  • Since I eat raw vegan food only and my scraps do not include dry bits like bread or cooked pasta, there is a lot of moisture in my bin. Removing wet clumps of newspaper and tossing them into the outdoor compost does help. Then I add new shredded newspaper and mix it through the bin.
  • When it rains outside (or the bottom of the bin is really wet) the worms will protest and try to escape by climbing up the sides of the bin - they do this to prevent drowning.

  • DO NOT feed the worms the week before you plan to harvest castings
  • When the newspaper is almost gone and the most of the bedding has turned to moist black worm castings, it is time to change the bin
  • Timing is important, because the castings are toxic to worms who will die if left too long in their castings
  • Take the bin outside in the daylight and remove the lid - to get away from the light, the worms will go to the bottom of the bin
  • Scoop out top layers of the nutrient-rich castings, leaving behind any undigested bits of food and a layer of worms at the bottom of the bin
  • Refill the bin with fresh shredded newspaper over top of the worms
  • Add food scraps to one corner of the bin and cover with the shredded newspaper
  • Put the lid back on the bin and bring back inside

  • Worms Escaping - if too wet, add more bedding; if too dry, moisten bedding; if bedding used up, harvest the bin
  • Fruit Flies - cover bedding with shredded newspaper and bury food
  • Bin Smells - not enough air, drill more ventilation holes; too much food, do not feed for 1-2 weeks; too wet, add more bedding
First Harvest
I started my single-person worm bin on March 18, 2013 with my first harvest on August 2, 2013. This endeavour is something I am really enjoying and I can't believe how dark and rich, yet light and fluffy the soil is! Composting, feeding the soil, reusing kitchen scraps, and waste reduction was a comfortable transition for me. I am enjoying getting to know what food the worms prefer - and providing them a warm environment while keeping them happy feels so good!
Patience is needed when starting your first worm bin, since you can expect to wait approximately 6 months (mine took 4 months) for the worm colony to get established. But once the worm colony is on its way, you can look forward to harvests every few of months when the bin is at capacity.

My little family of worms are now voracious eaters who go through everything they are fed in three to five days!

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