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October 01, 2008

Eco-gardening: A how to

Worms an earthy catalyst for condo composting

Gerry Filipski

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Being a green gardener in a condo means more than having your plants’ leaves the right colour.

There are many ways to garden in an eco-friendly way even if your garden only consists of containers on the balcony or your indoor plants. Some condo gardeners think that the scale of their gardening is small and that their going green would not have a large impact on the environment. If you factor in every condo garden and their pesticide use alone, for example, the impact is indeed a large one. 

Anyone who gardens knows that insects can prove to be more than troublesome if not controlled. Controlling insect pests is another area in gardening that now offers eco-friendly approaches to many problems that were previously dealt with solely through the use of manmade chemicals. The time-honoured ways of controlling insects still apply. If the pests are present in small numbers, picking them off by hand or spraying them off with a sharp stream of water are very good green techniques. Setting out sticky traps is another alternative.

There are times when the invaders are in such large numbers that hand picking or other non-pesticide methods just won’t work. You can try an insecticidal soap but usually in cases such as these I recommend using Doktor Doom Botanics. This pesticide is an environmentally friendly product. The Botanics spray is pyrethrin based. Pyrethrins are natural insecticides that are derived from Pyrethrum daisies. The spray is effective against many insects and is readily available in all the major garden centres.

Many condo gardeners lament the fact they have neither room nor the capability to produce their own compost. Townhome owners can dedicate a corner of their yard to a small composter such as the one manufactured by Scepter ( ). This composter is made of 100 per cent post-consumer recycled material. See photo bottom left.

But what about those condo owners with only a balcony? Vermicomposting is the answer. Just what is vermicomposting? Red worms are put into a plastic bin with moist shredded newspaper, peat moss, brown leaves or straw. Food scraps like apple cores, vegetable peelings and coffee grounds are buried in the bedding. The worms eat the scraps and produce a great compost that can be used to enrich the soil of your house plants and containers.

Vermicomposting is usually done indoors and is a great way for condo dwellers to compost. It is odourless and can be done in something as small as a plastic tote. By producing and using your own compost you will eliminate the need for using manmade chemical fertilizers and your plants will love you for it. Plants love growing on compost.

Another green idea for condo owners is to use recycled containers to grow their plants in. Some of these containers are made from recycled material similar to those used in the composter we discussed earlier. Others are containers that may have been used for another purpose that can make interesting and very useful plant containers.  

Some other ideas:

-  Using antiques as planters. Take a tour of your local antique stores and look for antiques that would serve as plant containers. These might include galvanized washtubs, milk cans, earthenware crocks and much more.

-  Cracked or broken kitchenware can make a great container. Things such as old teapots can hold a small plant and be an outdoor or indoor table centerpiece.

-  Coffee cans or other kitchen cans. Punching a few holes in the bottom of the can and painting the outside can create your own custom made container. You can customize your colours to fit into a colour scheme or even texturize the container with one of the many textured paints on the market today.

-  Conserving water is one of the main ways we can be mindful of the environment. Water is a precious commodity and gardeners can certainly do their part in helping to conserve this resource. Using plastic containers rather than terra cotta will help to cut down on some of the loss of moisture due to evaporation. Condo gardeners can also conserve water through the use of mulches. 

    Mulching the exposed soil at the top of a container will help to cut down even more on the evaporation. This serves a threefold purpose. Firstly, the conservation aspect is an important one and secondly, it keeps your plants happy because they have an even source of moisture. This is especially important on those hot and dry summer days when some containers need to be watered two or three times a day. Lastly, it keeps the gardener happy because you will find yourself having to water less. If you are like more and more condo gardeners watering less is significant because of the number of containers you own.

Small changes in your gardening habits and methods can make a large difference to the environment. The beauty of some of the suggestions is that they require very little effort and are cost efficient as well. Be a true Green thumb. 

Compostable Materials

Good for composting:

• Yard and garden waste (grass clippings, fallen leaves, flower and vegetable waste, small twigs, straw, hay, peat moss)

• Kitchen waste (fruit, vegetable peelings, tea bags, coffee grounds)

• Wood ashes (from a stove or fireplace, not from chemical logs) can be added in thin layers

Do not add these materials:

• Meat, fish, or bones

• Fatty or oily foods

• Cheese and dairy products (These can attract animals, create odours and take considerably longer to break down.)

• Pet litter (e.g., kitty litter, dog feces)

Weeds with seed heads, or persistent 

roots (e.g., quack grass)

• Diseased plants

• Coal ashes

Maintaining your Composter

Add fresh materials often. Be sure to mix the new materials with at least the layer just below the top.

Turn your pile once every week or so. Water vapour may be visible as you turn it - evidence that heat is being produced. High internal pile temperatures will help destroy weed seeds, pathogens and insect eggs (though it’s less risky to simply keep weeds out of the pile). Turning will also “refluff” the pile and bring materials from the outer part of the pile into the centre to enable more even rates of decomposition.

Monitor the moisture level. Add drier material or water to maintain the proper moisture level.

Remove finished compost. If you add fresh material into the pile from the top, the more finished material will end up at the bottom. Finished compost is dark brown in colour, crumbly, lightweight and has an earthy odour. The origin of some material may still be evident but these will break down further after the compost is dug into the garden.


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