Category Archives: Worm Castings

Southern Exposure Comes Through

Open BoxI mentioned in an earlier post that my order of sweet potato slips never arrived. I had gotten the impression, from the seed company confirmation email, that they had been shipped. Apparently, this was incorrect. On Tuesday another email arrived:

Subject: Sweet Potato Order Update Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Your sweet potatoes have shipped today 6/4. They should arrive in 2-3 days.
Sweet potatoes should be planted quickly. If you’re not prepared to plant, place slips loosely in a flat of soil. They can be revived upon arrival by dipping in water or placing bottom half of slip in a cup of water.
You should expect the plants to look wilted after their long journey!

BowlsThey arrived on Thursday evening – and I was not ready. I opened the shipping box and placed the root ends in a couple of bowls full of moist vermiculite. I figured that would hold them till Saturday. As you can see they weren’t kidding about the wilting.

One reason (excuse) for my lack of preparation was named Andrea. This tropical storm sideswiped our area from late Wednesday to late Thursday – bringing heavy rains and strong winds. Between the two days I got over 4 inches of rain.

Saturday morning I was up bright and early to clean up from the storm. It was well past noon before I had all of the yard debris – mostly oak branches – raked up and shredded. While I was at it I mowed the lawn. The rain did wonders for my grass.

Okra CardboardAndrea’s winds had shifted the cardboard mulch on the okra bed, covering some of the plants. I stripped it off and noticed that more seeds had germinated underneath. Apparently the rain had washed them to new locations far from the holes that I had punched. The germination rate was better than I had first thought.

After a break for lunch I went grocery shopping. As a side note, Cornell University has just done a study proving that you should never go shopping when you’re hungry. I stumbled across this article on the Telegraph website. Don’t these people have anything better to do? My mom taught me this fifty years ago!

BuffyI began preparing the new garden bed about 3 PM, spacing the Beauregard slips 12 inches apart and the purple slips 24 inches apart.

VermiculiteI modified my planting technique this time (gardening is an art, not a science). In a 5 gallon bucket I mixed a couple of gallons of vermiculite with about a gallon of worm castings (measured by eye). I then dumped about a quart of the mix in each spot where I was going to plant. Using my hands I stirred this into the dirt along with a couple of cups of chlorine-free water, making a nice mud hole for each of my plants. Since we had just gotten 4 inches of rain the soil still had a vague hint of moisture. Talk about extremely well-drained! By the way, I purchase my vermiculite locally in 4 cubic foot (about 30 gallon) bags. An 8-quart (2 gallon) bag sells for about five dollars. The 30 gallon bag is about thirty-five dollars. It’s very convenient to have large quantities on hand whenever needed.

PlantedTwo of the slips didn’t look very good—one of each variety. Maybe they’ll survive.

I finished up about five o’clock. It began raining—a nice, steady downpour—about 5:30.

Having completed the planting, I decided to read the instructions that came with the shipment (it’s a guy thing). It was generic info that recommended a spacing of 9 to 18 inches. Close enough. It also recommended that I “transplant in the evening and water immediately.” Under the brutal Florida sunshine this is excellent advice.

As you can see from the date of this post I was too tired and sore to do any writing on Saturday evening. I retired early. The rain was still falling.

Planting Okra

Okra SeedsOne of the big problems with living in Pinellas County is that we aren’t sure what climate zone we live in. Most climate or hardiness zone maps show the Tampa Bay area as being at the north edge of zone 10 (or 10a). Unfortunately our weather is sometimes zone ten (South Florida) and sometimes zone nine (Central Florida).

Okra, according to many websites, can be planted in Central Florida from March to August. In South Florida, the spring planting season is supposed to be over in April. Since this has been a cool spring (still in the low 70s at night) decided to go ahead and get some okra in – even though it might theoretically be too late.

Ready to PlantI prepared the other end of the garden bed much as I did for the sweet potatoes. I used a four-tine cultivator, a garden rake, and my hands to get out most of the weeds and their deep roots. Then I did the trench/water/mix procedure until I had some dampness incorporated into the soil. In contrast to the way I handled the sweet potatoes I decided to add quite a bit of worm castings along the length of the row. as you can see, I added my cardboard mulch.

The seed packet indicated a spacing of 18 to 24 inches – so I spaced the first plant 2 feet from the nearest sweet potato seedling and used 18 inches for the rest. With my handy Swiss Army knife I cut out squares at the proper spacing. This time I left each cardboard sqare attached along one edge – a hinge. Since I’m planting seeds and not seedlings I want to retain as much water as possible in each spot.

VermiculiteI mixed some vermiculite (I always have some around) with water – making it pretty soggy. Each hole got a handful to act as “potting soil.” Seeds and brand-new sprouts don’t need any fertilizer – it can harm them. The vermiculite will insulate the seedlings from the worm castings until they grow their roots down far enough.

In each of the holes I placed three seeds – I’ll thin them once they’re up. I pushed them down a quarter inch deep – though the packet said they should be planted 4 inches deep! I suspect a typo.

Once the seeds were planted and covered in wet vermiculite I closed the individual covers to keep things nice and moist . I’ll pop them open in a couple of days to see if the sprouts are breaking through.

With much prayer,


Is today a good day to plant sweet potatoes?

I ordered some sweet potato slips from an online company. Unfortunately they never arrived. I’d rather not mention the company name until I get the problem resolved. Or not.

LayoutGardenBedAs an alternative, I went to Lowe’s and picked up a nine pack of Beauregard sweet potato plants. I’ve never grown sweet potatoes – I’ve rarely even eaten them – but they’re a traditional summertime southern crop. What the heck.

As you can see from the photo my backyard is not heavily overgrown with grass. After laying out a 4’x16′ bed I lightly cultivated and pulled most of the weeds. I’ll depend on a cardboard mulch to take care of the rest.

WateringCultivating talcum powder sand isn’t exactly hard work—but watering it is! For a fun experiment (if you don’t live around here) get some talcum powder and put it in a dish. Sprinkle a little water on top. Does it soak in? I didn’t think so.

Here’s how I did it. I dug a trench with a cultivator, filled it with water, and cultivated again. Repeat, over and over. The water just puddles on top of the soil unless you stir it in. Once the soil and water were mixed I added a cardboard and log mulch to keep the water from evaporating too fast.

What spacing to use? The little plastic thing that came with the plants suggests 12”. An online source suggests 9”, with 32” between rows. Since my bed is four feet wide (until the grass moves back in) I punched the holes 9” apart. I dug each planting hole with a stream of water Plantedfrom the hose, and stuffed the plant in the resulting puddle. I don’t need a trowel.

I also threw a handful of worm castings in each hole to get the plants off to a quick start (I’ll talk about my red worms some other time).  I checked online to see how much fertilizer sweet potatoes need – and it doesn’t seem like they need much. I’m going to try growing them with nothing added except the worm castings. We’ll see how they do.


One thing that I forgot to mention – something you always need to do when planting. Pray. It really does help.


Here’s a close-up of a sweet potato plant.

God bless