King Of The Worms

Posted Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 at 12:44 pm

All of my investigations into organic fertilizer have led to a single consensus: worm castings are the shit.  Rich in nutrients and microbeasties, many people believe that it is the best amendment a soil could hope for.

Realizing that this organic garden gold could produce miracles in the clay soil of my yard-share, I had a bee in my bonnet to get me some on the double. I got up bright and early Sunday morning, and hurried down to the Main Street Farmer’s Market, where I heard there would be a woman who sold it – only to find out she no longer had a booth there.  Crap!

But a quick search on Craigslist turned up Steve Gottlieb, owner of a worm-growing outfit way out in Northridge called Golden Wiggle Worms.  Responding to my inquiry, he said he sold it for $1 per/pound.  That seemed like a fine price.

I did some sloppy math and figured I’d need about 35 pounds to cover the garden.   In retrospect, I think I bought way too much. But perhaps there’s no such thing as “too much” when it comes to worm poop.  Okay – does anyone want some worm poop?

I called Steve in the morning to tell him I was coming over.  His voice was scratchy, his words were slightly slurred and he spoke with the hint of a Southern twang.  “I have it out here waitin’ for ya.” He said and put down the phone.

Suddenly, I felt insecure about driving out to a strange worm farm in the Valley.  My husband, not nearly as excited about the merits of worm defecation as I was, declined my invitation to join me.   I was on my own.

Since I was heading all the way out to this far flung outpost of garden treasure, I figured I should at least try and share the wealth.   I called all of my gardening friends and asked if they wanted me to pick some extra up for them.  Only one said yes!  I couldn’t believe the benefits of the fecal matter of worms was lost on so many.  It’s just sad.

After braving the freeways, and navigating my way through the wide boulevards intersecting a typical suburban valley neighborhood, I finally turned into the right cul-de-sac.  I pulled down the driveway of a ranch style house that blended into the landscape.  Parked out front was a pristine, Dodger blue Ford sedan, circa 1982 or so. Well at least I knew Gottlieb had style.

Steve came to the door, a skinny, disheveled man who looked to be in his early 60s, dressed in a bright purple shirt.  The smell of kitty litter and stale cigarette smoke wafted out.  Behind him I could see a dim living room in its own organic state of decomposition – filled to the rafters with decades of junk.  My suspicions about him being a character living on the fringes of society were confirmed.

Though his pale blue eyes were glazed over, he still managed to look at me with a gentle intensity as he instructed me in using his precious natural fertilizer.  He explained that the soil should never be more than 20% worm castings, otherwise it will burn the roots.  With wonder in his voice, he told me that the castings will hold five times their weight in water, so I would need to water much less.

“So can I see the worms?”  I asked.

He was only too happy to let me witness his red wiggley money-makers at work.  We cut through the house. The backyard was a disaster zone too and looked as if it hadn’t been picked up in decades. He led me around the side of the empty pool, which had a brown puddle of rain water laying stagnant at the bottom. Overturned lawn chairs, broken pots, empty buckets, and detritus of every sort littered the patio.

Finally, he showed me the long row of trays where he kept the worms.  They were neatly laid out, with a clean plastic cover over them.  He may have been struggling, but his worms were livin’ the life.

Picking up one worm with a whitish band around his body he looked at me and said, with a proud smile, “Preggers.”

It  dawned on me that, as weirded out as I was by that house, Steve may actually have himself the easiest  job in the world.  He could just sit back and let the worms do the work for him.

I emerged unscathed with about 20 plastic shopping bags filled with worm castings.  Of course one spilled all over my backseat on the freeway, and now my trusty Civic has lovely a Farm Fresh Scent.

Oh, the things I do for my garden.


Happy 2010

Posted Friday, January 8th, 2010 at 7:16 pm

It’s been awhile since the last communication.  I just came back from the East Coast the other day.  I am so happy to be back in warm Southern California where I don’t have to wear pants under my pants!

I’ve hit the ground running here with three new garden projects to begin.  Here at the Farm Apartment I am going to transform the front window in our living room into an indoor garden.  The Window is the entire reason I moved into this place.  We have the corner apartment on the second floor and our view is filled with giant, lush trees.  At the moment, my husband and I have our desks set up against the glass so we can look up from our writing to gaze out at all the action.  All day long we watch busy hummingbirds, fat bellied bees, daring squirrels.  My favorite spectacle is the majestic flock of crows that swoop, dive and swirl as they zoom past  every day at sunset.

I plan to reorganize the space so that we can still enjoy the view while having room for lots of edible plants.  Whenever I’ve tried to grow anything in here in the past, it has been immediately attacked by aphids, so I’m ready for battle.

Out back, I’m going to start a container garden on my teensy, shade shrouded porch and in the common space of my apartment building.

Also – I found a yard to garden! All of my whining about not having space has paid off.  My friend’s mom, Judith (a truly inspired painter of animal portraits) offered me her entire backyard!  She only lives about 10 minutes away.  So I’m going to get a raised bed garden going.  What should I grow?

My third gardening project is one that is truly inspirational to me. Along with a few other volunteer gardeners, I am working with the nonprofit WISE and Healthy Aging to transform a previously unused space into a vegetable garden for their Adult Day Service Center.  The WISE Center provides a safe place for elderly adults with all stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Creating a garden for the benefit of those at the end of their lives will be a powerful manifestation of many of my own beliefs and values.

I heard about this opportunity through Santa Monica’s Garden Registry program.  Turns out, this is going to be their first big yard-sharing project.  How’s that for being on the van-garden?

So there you have it.  From zero to three gardens in 1.5 months flat.

Let the apartment farming begin!


Business Delivers Christmas Trees for Rent –

Posted Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 at 12:14 pm


Rent – A – Tree, buy some peace of mind.  A brilliant idea!

Business Delivers Christmas Trees for Rent –


Farm Apartment Calendar

Posted Monday, November 30th, 2009 at 4:56 pm

The days of an apartment farmer start with the sunrise and end with the last dying flicker of John Stewart on the Daily Show.  Many have asked how I fill the time between my weekly CSA harvests.  Well, the wondering can stop.  I’ve posted a calendar on my sidebar which will be regularly updated with good green stuff I’ll be immersed in.  Perhaps we’ll see each other out on the range?


Fall Fruit

Posted Thursday, November 12th, 2009 at 11:55 am

November. Persimmons, apples, pomegranates, squash (acorn, spaghetti, butternut).

This morning I took great pleasure in creating this arrangement. A flourish of marigold orange persimmon slices in the center, surrounded by the cream-colored flesh of apples.

Fall Fruit Plate

These past two years of shopping at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, and especially after joining CSA California I have become aware for the first time in my life of what’s in season. I find myself looking forward to the bounty of fruit in June and July. This Fall, I have been perplexed as to what to do with all this squash. I’ve been astonished by the largesse of a single pumpkin, which I turned into two pies, one pot of soup, and two loaves of pumpkin orange bread.

And now persimmons. For the second week in a row, our CSA has given us a total of 8 of the orange-yellow fruit, which I have to say, I found intimidating. I knew nothing about them. I did some research and discovered that there are two varieties.

The first, Hachiyas, are acorn shaped and can actually kill you if you eat them before they’re ripe. I was relieved to discover that Fuyus is what we ended up with. Fuyus can be eaten at any time, without the threat of early death.

So I peeled the leathery skin to reveal the sunny flesh inside and timidly took a bit. Crunchier then I expected, the flavor intoxicated me. For the synesthete, it tasted like the smell of honeysuckle. A hint of maple syrup, summer sweetness in the middle of Fall.

As I write this, I am distracted by the the fall delectables in my fruit bowl, which are profoundly pleasing to gaze upon. A pomegranate peaks over the rim, it’s magenta gourd curving toward a star-shaped tip,  filled with a galaxy of sand-colored sepals. Next to it an apple, a timeless fruit that has fallen off the tree and into the middle of our culture. Here it sits, acorn shaped, its deep rose skin flecked with pale yellow-green. And beyond that a persimmon, a shade of orange only slightly deeper than the sugar pumpkin that sits, so sculptural, just outside the bowl.