Note: The above was determined to be an ordinary earthworm - sedate and almost sleepy when I lifted it from the soil in my blueberry patch.
Jumping worms have been in the US for quite some time, imported to the US probably on plant roots. However the recent concern has arisen because they seem to be spreading quite rapidly at this time. They resemble the "normal" earthworms and nightcrawlers which we are accustomed to seeing in the garden. It is interesting to note that earthworms are not native either. Because they can be helpful in speeding the decay of humus (decomposing leaves and other plant material) into soil nutrients, we have come to think of them as beneficial.
The difference with jumping worms is that they tend to appear in much greater numbers and have voracious appetites. This can create soil devoid of all nutrition affecting plant growth. These worms are likely to be devastating to the forest landscape here in Vermont as it is dependent on very slow decay which consistently feeds the many native plants and trees. Areas where they have invaded show a lack of low growing plants in forested areas. Some groves, such as hemlock stands, are naturally devoid of low growing plants, so look for a change from the norm.
As a gardener, jumping worms can cause slow growth, plant failure and reduced harvest. They can also destroy the earthworms and nightcrawlers to which we are accustomed.
A first sign of jumping worms can be an unusual texture of the soil, which looks like coffee grounds. This is the worm castings (poop). You would also likely note an absence of bits of decaying matter - bits of grass or other decaying matter that you typically see in your garden.
If you are digging, pulling weeds or harvesting root vegetables and see a worm that is more active than the normal earthworm, you can suspect it is likely a jumping worm. I have developed the habit of picking up any worm and having a look at it before deciding it is benign.
Jumping worms are often present in numbers in an area. Pick the worm(s) up by hand or with your trowel and place in a container. Relax, take your time and have a good look. These worms are not poisonous nor can they hurt you so there is no need to be nervous about handling them. They are pretty good climbers so don't leave them in an open container as they can escape pretty quickly.
When disturbed by a touch, a jumping worm will thrash around. This is the most identifying feature of jumping worms. A regular earthworm may move but with a slower, sedate movement.
Examine the worm closely. On a jumping worm, the clitellum (band of tissue near the head which contains reproductive organs) closely encircles the entire body. In an ordinary earthworm, it is raised and is only on top.
Jumping worms often arrive on plant roots. Purchase bare root plants and grow your own vegetable and flower seedlings if possible.
You can wash potted plant roots in three changes of water but because the eggs are minute, it can be difficult to be sure you have eliminated all of them. Also, the eggs may still be present in the wash water, so your wash water could spread them wherever you dump it. Heat is the only known way to kill the eggs (100 degrees +) for several hours.
Don't buy worms advertised as jumping worms, crazy worms, snake worms, Alabama jumpers for any purpose. When buying worms, ask!
Watch carefully for jumping worms and the coffee grounds texture in any material You are considering for addition to your soil. They love compost, manure, leaf litter and mulch because of the high volume of organic matter.
Solarize bags of potting soil by leaving them in full bright sunlight for 3 days. Temperatures above 100 degrees will kill the worms and eggs.
Solarize compost by laying down a tarp. Place material 4 - 6 inches deep on the tarp. Pull in the edges and add another tarp, tucking the top tarp under the bottom one. Leave for 3 days in full sun.
Solarizing in the garden can be helpful in killing eggs, but the worms likely just leave the area if they find it too hot.
If possible, take photos and video and also photos of the soil where you found them.
Place in a tightly sealed plastic bag and either leave it in the sun or place it in the freezer. Then discard the entire bag in the trash.
Drop them into alcohol, vinegar or water mixed with a squirt of dishsoap.
It won't completely solve the problem, but can help to control the population in that any you kill will not reproduce.
Solarize the area where you found them:
Solarizing probably won't kill adult worms as they will probably just move on to a cooler area. But it will kill eggs. The adults will die over winter.
Solarizing is likely most effective in the spring because the adults will be dead and the eggs unhatched. But solarizing the area can help at any time to reduce the number of eggs.
To solarize the area, cover the area with clear plastic and leave it there in the heat of the sun for 3 weeks.
Upload photos of jumping worms you find to inaturalist.org to help track the invasive species.
We've just experienced quite a flood here in Vermont! And still most days have a mild to moderate rain shower. The hours for gardening have been brief for weeks and one must optimize them. After a recent rain shower and more in the forecast, I decided to harvest some garden herbs. As the rain came down, I worked indoors to clean and preserve my harvest.
My little herb garden has grown each year and now contains some hearty perennials -
Note the branching growth pattern of this mint (Before). A new shoot emerges above each leaf. You want to clip the stem just above a leaf joint - where the leaf meets the stem (During). What remains are two side shoots which will develop rapidly (After). Many herbs grow this way and benefit from this same type of pruning.
This mint is crowding the horseradish and because of all the recent rain, one of my goals with this harvest is to let the sun in and improve airflow around the plants to help them recover from excessive rainfall. The mint will make a lovely tea, fresh or dried for winter use.
The spots on the horseradish leaves look like Alternaria or Cercospora spot, both are common fungal pathogens affecting horseradish and worsened by wet weather. Horseradish will not be harvested until late October or early November.
Collect your herbs in a towel lined basket or basin and add a fresh towel between types of herbs to make separating them in the kitchen easier. The black spotting on this thyme will be clipped off in the kitchen before washing. As the rain begins to fall, it's time to head to the kitchen to clean and dry the harvest
Now to the kitchen to clean and preserve our herbs!!
Here in Central Vermont, the snow is long gone. The nurseries are packed with plants and seeds and you may be wondering if it is time to start planting.
The answer is YES!
Mid April - Some plants do fine at cooler temperatures. You can plant them as soon as the soil can be worked. Here in central Vermont (zone 4b - 5) about mid April. Some of these are beets, carrots, cilantro, dill, leaf and head lettuce, parsnips, peas, arugula, radishes, shallots, spinach, bunching onions and onions from seeds or sets (tiny bulbs).
First of May - you can put out transplants of cruciferous vegetable plants (such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chinese cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi). and continue planting the seeds mentioned above.
Some seeds should not be planted until the danger of frost is past. In my area, that is around June 1. Memorial Day weekend is the traditional time for gardeners in my area. These include planting green beans, dry beans, corn, potatoes, melons, squashes. You can transplant tomatoes, peppers, and other transplants.
There are still plenty of things you can plant during summer, but the above will get you started.
Read your seed packets! When shopping or at home, consult your seed packets. They have lots of helpful information including when to plant.
Note: Get to know your garden! There are variations in these dates. I usually don't put out plants tender to frost on June 1. My farm is located in a little valley and the cold has a tendency to settle in. I wait one week longer and often avoid that one last frost that would destroy my work.
A frost can kill your tender plants. Cool weather after planting can cause your plants to be vulnerable to pathogens and to topple over and die even without a frost. Two years ago, I tried pushing the date back because it had been so warm and I lost 28 tomato plants!! Heat loving plants like tomatoes, pepper and basil will make up for any time lost by waiting that little bit longer.
For your grow zone, consult this USDA Map. Enter your zipcode to reveal your plant hardiness zone. This will help you to determine at the nursery or in seed catalogs which plants will grow successfully in your area.
For your last(and first) frost date, enter your zip code on the National Gardening Association website.
Let’s get you growing!
Whether you want to grow a tomato in a pot, some flowers or a vegetable garden, you're in the right place.
Gardening in Winter
Winter is no time to plant outdoors in Vermont. It might seem like gardening is done until spring. But I say not. There are plants you can grow indoors.
Want to give it a try? Find some ideas here - Growing Food in Winter
But for the most part, winter is the time for resting, contemplating, enjoying food you’ve put by and planning for next year.
Many companies will send you a free copy. They are full of color and beauty and hope that spring will come again and the spirits are lifted.
Since the middle ages, people have recognized the soothing effect of looking at plants and flowers. Even looking at a scene out the window or pictures in a hallway or gazing at a seed catalog, are uplifting to the heart.
Practically speaking, you need to know :
What you want to grow. (that’s where the seed catalogs come in)
How much space you have and how you will use it
How much time you have to give to your garden
Planting Method: I use a very simple planting method that optimizes garden space and has many benefits. The method was created by Mel Bartholomew. Once I tried Square Foot Gardening, I have never veered very far from it. I have never found a better way.
Mel Barhtolomew’s book Square Foot Gardening is a great guide to this space effective, fun manageable gardening method whether you’ve been gardening all your life or are just beginning.
The above assignments will fill your winter with inspiration, hope and education (and if you are very lucky a cat snoozing on your lap and a warm blanket or woodstove to keep you cozy. Somewhere in the midst of all this coziness, consider ordering a few packets of seeds.
Late Winter / Spring Gardening
Here in Vermont, we plant in the ground around Memorial Day. We start garden plants indoors 6 - 8 weeks before that date, depending on the plant.About the first week of March, we begin planting seeds indoors. Peppers come first as they take a long time to get started, then come tomatoes a week or so later and finally broccoli, kale, etc which grow much more quickly.
Seed packets tell you when to start seeds indoors, relative to the weather in your area, often in relation to your last date of frost. Pay attention to this. Plants will tend to get leggy and weak if you start them too early. You will need a simple light setup and start your own plants.
Go to this website and enter your zip code. Easy peasy.
The benefits are having living things around you 6 - 8 weeks earlier, greater choice of varieties and the pleasure of tending the plants and knowing where they come from and what soil is used. The downside is fussing around with plant lights and watering for months before planting in the ground.
You may opt to plant no seeds indoors. You can also buy your plants at a quality nursery in your area close to the time of planting.
Determine whether the timing is right. Here in Vermont, we plant in the ground around Memorial Day. We start garden plants indoors 6 - 8 weeks before that date, depending on the plant.
Get Step by step instructions for indoor seed starting.
Next you need a spot to put your plants or seeds.
To start a vegetable garden, you can have an area tilled. You can turn it by hand with a garden fork or shovel, removing grass, weeds, large stones.
You might need a fence to keep out those who would eat your garden faster than it can grow.
Another way to start a veggie garden is with raised beds. Dig out existing plants or solarize with black plastic until plants there are dead. Dig out any roots. Build a boundary for your bed out of untreated wood. Hemlock is inexpensive in my area. Untreated pine or spruce is also a good choice. Yes they will rot eventually. But pressure treated wood is toxic and will leach chemicals into your soil (and food). Fill the beds with garden or potting soil. Use organic potting soil to avoid the many problems of high nitrogen fertilizers. Don’t line your raised bed with any kind of barrier. It prevents proper soil life.
Watch Joyce talk with WCAX about Getting Garden Beds Ready
No land? Grow a Garden right on your front porch or patio
Container Gardening 101
Sitting on your porch or patio in summer, surrounded by plants, ripening tomatoes, ever bearing strawberries, peppers, flowers, is simple delightful. It is also a great option if you want to grow food or flowers and can't or don't want to plant in the soil around your home.
Truth is, though, plants perfer to be in the ground where they can stretch their roots out into the soil to get the nutrition and water they need, where they benefit from the antural mineral and living elements, the warmth and cool of the soil. That doesn't mean you can't grow lots of great food adn flowers in pots, But you will need to give them a bit more care as containers limit their options for self care.
Here are some tips to get you started.
The options for containers is limitless. You can purchase a wide variety of ceramic, terra cotta, plastic containers. They can be decorative or ordinary. You can keep expenses down or spend a lot. An interesting option is a series of pots made of plastic recovered from the ocean.
You can repurpose many containers as long as the size is appropriate for your plants and you provide adequate drainage.
Size: 8” or deeper will allow roots to expand and also hold enough soil so the roots can get adequate nutrition and moisture from waterings.
Herbs and flowers can be quite at home in a ½ to 1 gallon pot, while fruiting (such as peppers and tomatoes) plants need more space. A 5 gallon bucket is not too large for a tomato plant. Peppers need a little less space – a 12” pot is fine.
Safety Note: Never use a container that has EVER held any substances toxic to humans or animals.
Preparation: Wash new or repurposed containers with hot, soapy water. Leave in the sun to dry.
Plants need water, but roots that sit in water will soon suffocate, rot and the plant will struggle or even die.
Remove any drainage trays that come with your plastic pots. They protect your patio, but are very likely to ruin your plants by holding water in the soil. Some pots have drip trays that cannot be removed. If you want to use these, make sure you don't over water. Watch carefully for water sitting in the drip tray. If this occurs, prop the pot up on one side so the excess water can drain out. Avoid using such pots where they will get rain or be very sure to check on them to make sure there is no standing water in the drip trays.
Here are two ways to create drainage holes in plastic pots depending on the sturdiness of the pot:
1. For really sturdy pots, get out your drill, turn the pot upside down. Hold it firmly with one hand and drill drainage holes:
6 – 8 holes with a 3/8” drill bit for a 4 – 6 “ pot.
For larger pots, drill 8 or ten holes with a 1/2” bit.
For very large pots, 6 – 8 holes with a 3/4” bit. Always drill holes in the lowest area for the best drainage.
2) For lighter weight pots that flex when you press a drill bit against the bottom, it may work better to use a hot soldering iron to make drain holes.
Often new plastic pots do not have drainage holes in them. They may have spots you can push out to create drainage holes. Turn the pot upside down and press on the spot with a screw driver. Some would be holes are marked and you will need to drill them. Always be generous with the drainage holes.
Terra Cotta (red clay pots) generally have adequate drainage. They also dry out faster which is perfect for plants like peppers and tomatoes that like hot temperatures and slightly drier soil. These can be hard on more tender plants like spearmint and lettuce. They can work fine, just attend to keeping them watered.
Garden soil is not a good choice. It generally has some degree of clay in it and will hold too much water thus excluding the air that plant roots need and lead to root death.
Choose a high quality organic potting soil. I use one called Moo Grow that is formulated here in Vermont.
Choose a spot where your plants will get 6 – 10 hours of sun per day. Morning sun is preferable to afternoon sun. The sun in mid summer from 3 – 6 pm can be really harsh on some plants. If you have full afternoon sun in your location, consider how you could add some shade.
If your pots sit directly on a porch, patio, asphalt, stone or other surface that collects heat in the sun, you may need to put something under your plants that create a small air space underneath.
Many plants do well in containers. Some that don't do as well are root vegetables and some herbs. Horseradish, carrots, beets. But if you want to try these, do it! Experimenting is fun! You can get varieties of carrots that are shorter.
When to plant:
Here in Vermont, our official last date of frost is around the first of June and varies some around the state. One of the benefits of container gardening is that you can easily cover or bring in your plants if a frost is forecast. If you are willing to watch the weather forecast and protect your plants, you can get an earlier start on the gardening season.
Hardening off your plants:
If your plants were started indoors or in a greenhouse, they must be gradually acclimated to sunlight. Sunburn can badly damage or kill your plants. It looks like dry brown spots. Put them out in the morning for a couple of hours and increase by an hour or two every day. I do this by placing them where the shadows will fall in an hour or two and then move them gradually out to where the shadows fall later.
If your plants get wilty in the sun, get them into the shade and water them. They will likely revive and you can begin again and make the changes more slowly. If they are sunburned, you can remove the badly damaged sections and leave them in a shady location for a day or so to recover. They may or may not survive.
If you plant seeds in containers and they come up I their permanent or similar location, they do not need hardening off.
Damping off is a situation caused by a variety of naturally occurring fungi which attack sprouting seeds and newly emerging plants. It can also be problematic with plants set into the ground before the soil warms.
The fungi thrive in wet soil.
Sprouting seeds and slow growing or weak plants are more at risk than vigorous plants. Cool soil temperatures slow seedling growth and give the fungi an edge. Even if it does not kill the seedlings, it may stunt the plant's growth.
If an attack occurs, but the seedling can get its roots established faster than the fungus can decay them, the seedling will survive and be healthy.
To control damping off, there are things you can do!
1: Avoid soil that is too cool for germination and plant growth to happen quickly.
2: Pasteurize your soil: Place soil in a pan, 3 to 4 inches deep. Place in an oven preheated to 200 degrees. Check the soil temperature with a meat thermometer. When the soil reaches 160 degrees, turn the oven off and leave the door closes for 30 minutes. (You are not attempting to sterilize the soil here. That causes other problems.)
3: Clean tools, containers and work areas with a 10% bleach solution.
4: Put your newly planted seed trays or pots (indoors) in a warm location for sprouting (65 - 75 degrees). You can use a sprouting mat for this purpose, but I find that the top of the fridge or the room where the woodstove is located is sufficient.
4: Grow out your indoor starter plants in a warm, sunny location and/or under plant lights.
Wait for soil temperatures to warm before planting or transplanting. Ideal temperatures are 50 degrees for cool weather crops like cabbage, kale, broccoli and 65 - 70 degrees for tomatoes and peppers.
Starting seeds indoors 101
Starting your own seeds is a great way to save money, get a jump on the gardening season and a great way to get the kids involved.
You can spend a LOT of money starting seeds, but I am going to suggest that you start simply and inexpensively and let experience be your guide for adding equipment.
How to avoid the dreaded Damping Off
You can get seeds from:
When choosing seeds consider:
Will you be saving seeds from the plants you grow for next year's planting? If so, purchase "heirloom" or "open pollinated" varieties so you can be sure of getting the same result as the plant/fruit you started with. Hybrid seeds are a mix of varieties and the seeds you grow may not grow out to resemble the original.
Most Hardware stores and gardening centers carry various kinds of potting soil. I prefer to use a high quality organic potting soil. A gardening center/nursery can be a great source of reasonably priced organic soil. My favorite is "Moo Grow" which is made right here in Vermont. I like that it has a varied texture which resists compacting, allowing space for roots to develop.
While I have great results with high quality potting soil, let's talk about another oft suggested soilless starter mises. They generally contain vermiculite which makes a fluffy mix for good root growth. They also contain peat moss. The idea here is that it is antimicrobial and some feel it helps prevent disease such as damping off. I don't use peat moss for several reasons, not the least of which is the environmental cost of mining peat bogs. It takes a peat bog thousands of years to regenerate after this assault. Additionally, these mixes seem to me an unnecessary expense.
Alternatively, you may wish to pasteurize your soil to prevent damping off.
If your potting soil is very dry, you may need to moisten it. Put an amount appropriate to your use in a bucket that will leave you room for stirring with hands or a paint stick.
Add a cup or so of water and stir. Keep adding water thus until you soil is moistened, not wet.
When you think you've just about got it, reach down in the bottom of the bucket and grab a handful of soil and squeeze. If water comes out between your fingers, it is too wet.
Don't worry! Soil often needs a little time to absorb the moisture. Let it sit for half an hour and stir again. If it is still too wet, add more dry soil.
What you want to end up with is soil that is dark in color and holds together when you squeeze it but falls apart at the touch of your fingers.
If you are purchasing containers, I recommend small, durable pots with lots of drainage holes. You can get them in various sizes and shapes.
If you are reusing pots, wash them well with hot soapy water. Soak them for a few minutes in a 10% bleach solution (1 1/4c bleach to 1 gallon water). This helps to prevent damping off.
You can use small, well washed single-use plastic cups of various sorts – yogurt tubs, for example. Make sure you provide plenty of drainage. A simple way to do this is with a soldering gun (HOT! Be careful and for adults only. Melted plastic can make serious burns). You need about six 1/4” - 3/8” holes per pot.
I avoid pots made of compostable materials. It initially seems like a good idea. But if you set them in the garden at transplanting time, the roots can fail to break through the pot and the plant becomes root bound and fails. Also any of the pot that remains above ground after transplanting must be trimmed away so that it doesn't wick water away from the roots. So you must trim the top and peel away the bottom or slice it to make way for the roots. They are a single-use expense, make extra work and can't be reused.
If you are placing your pots under a light, it can be helpful to use pots of a consistent height as you will want to be able to keep the lights close to your plants as they grow.
You will need a drainage tray of some sort so your surfaces below won't get wet when watering. You can re-use meat trays or purchase plant trays at a gardening center. Some lighting setups come with trays.
To Provide enough light, you will need either a very sunny south-facing window or a plant light of some kind.
Plants without enough light grow leggy (tall and thin) and weak
- Fill your pots loosely with soil, near the top but not heaped. Make sure your soil has had a chance to warm to room temperature. If your pots are too full, watering may be difficult later on.
With an index finger, make small indentations in the soil, about 1/4” deep. When I am using 3” pots, I usually put two plants per pot in case one doesn't come up. (If both come up strong and sturdy, I transplant them both into bigger pots once they have a second set of leaves.)
-Plant 1 seed in each in indentation and use a finger to put a bit of soil over the top and press lightly down with all fingers across the width of the pot. Don't overly compress the soil.
- I generally add a teaspoon of water, spooning it out of a cup of water into each pot. Using a watering can here is likely to cause over watering. Over watering is a big contributor to damping off / seed rot.
-Place the pots in a drainage tray. Cover the entire tray with a kitchen trash bag and fold the end under the tray. This keeps the soil evenly moist. Tiny sprouting seeds are very vulnerable to too much or too little water.
-Check your plants every day. You should begin to see sprouts in 5 – 15 days. Cruciferous (Broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, etc) plants are quick to sprout. Peppers take quite a lot longer.
When you first see leaves, remove the plastic bag and move your plants into the light.
Check soil moisture daily. Get accustomed to noticing what the soil feels like when it is moist and when it is dry. Make sure pots don't sit in water for long periods of time. Let soil dry slightly between waterings. Watch very carefully for wilting. Set a reminder to check your plants.
I water my plants about every other day but it depends a lot on temperature, how much water you added last time, the size of the plant and the amount of soil. Don't worry. You'll get a feel for it.
Transplant your plants into bigger pots if they become root bound before the it's time to put them outdoors.
Transplant into the garden our outdoor pots once the danger of frost is past and the soil has warmed.
TIPS: If your plants sprout up and die soon after, you may be dealing with damping off.
If they never sprout, you may be dealing with damping off.
Spouting seeds is a great way to have fresh food in winter or any time of the year. Let's face it, when you live in Vermont, lettuce trucked in from California is not that fresh. The lively flavor of sprouts you just pulled from your sprouter is a great source of fresh nutrients. They are delicious added to a salad or sandwich.
Growing sprouts provide a wonderful way to connect with nature. All you need to do is give the seeds fresh water daily and watch the magic happen. In about 1 week, you've got fresh food. No growing lights required.
A sprouting jar is a great gift for a child! Growing sprouts for the family can foster feelings of confidence and contribution. They are a great science lesson and as well as a lesson in where food comes from.
It is important to give your sprouts a cool rinse every day and let the water drain out. If they get too dry or sit in water, they will fail. I like to put mine by the sink which makes it very easy to remember to water them when I do the dishes. A really cool room may delay sprouting.
Growing Sprouts in a Wide Mouth Canning Jar
Place 1 - 2 teaspoons of sprouting seeds in your jar. Fill the jar about 1/2 full of cool water and give it a gentle swish and swirl to rinse and irrigate the seeds/emerging sprouts. Let the jar drain. Repeat daily.
You can also make your own sprouting lid by cutting a circle of a couple layers of cheese cloth or 100% organic cotton fabric a couple inches larger than the lid and use the canning ring to hold it on.
Note: Some cotton fabric may contain chemical residues best kept away from your food.
Seeds for Sprouting - Some seeds meant for growing in soil are treated with chemicals to help them sprout or protect them from insects or disease. Make sure you get seeds intended for sprouting. Many food co-ops or "natural food stores" carry them.
Sprouting seeds are readily available online.
High Mowing Seeds has a great selection of sprouting seeds and is one of my preferred companies for all kinds of seeds. You can also get them at Johnny's Seeds, another great business I know and trust.
Growing Sprouts in a Tiered Sprouter
I love that you can grow in three individual tiers that allow a staggered harvest and the ability to grow several types of seeds at the same time.
Add a heaping teaspoon of seeds to one tray of the sprouter. Assemble the tiers. Add water and allow it to drain. Remember to empty the drain pan at the bottom. Repeat daily. I like to start a new tray every 3 or 4 days for a continual supply of fresh sprouts.
My favorite tiered model is the Bioset Sprouter
Sprout are usually ready to eat in 5 - 7 days. I usually wrap them lightly in an absorbent kitchen glass towel and put that in an airtight plastic container. They tend to retain some water from the sprouter and keep better with the towel in there - keeping them damp but not wet.