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Norm and his Can-O-Worms

Norm Hirscheld

Twenty-seven years ago Norm Hirscheld of Greenfield visited a permaculture farm where he met his first red wigglers (Eisenia foetida). “I was awestruck by how you could get rich black compost from vegetable scraps right in your house,” he said.

He decided right then to become a worm farmer himself and built a wooden box, providing holes for ventilation, and put in a sufficient amount of wet shredded newspaper for bedding. He sent away for his pound of worms, but said that first shipment didn’t do very well. He ordered and added more worms: after that they were fine.

Hirscheld faced two probems. First there were fruit flies that found the fruit peels that he put into the bin. He also found that he needed to keep stirring or fluffing up the bedding otherwise there would not be enough oxygen and the bin would begin to smell.

“Marsha was very patient with me and the worms,” Hirscheld said of his wife Marsha Stone. “At times there were so many fruit flies I would have to get out the vacuum and suck them up.”

Eventually he bought the Can-O-Worms system which has worked well for him, though he still has some trouble with fruit flies. To solve this problem he takes a little lemon grass oil and mixes it with water which he periodically sprays over the top of the worms and their bedding.


With the Can-O-Worms system, the worms in the fresh food scraps (no meat or dairy) that are being eaten by the worms are separated from the worm manure, or vermicompost, which is the point of worm farming. Vermicompost is an excellent fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Worm castings (manure) also contain humic acids which condition the soil, has perfect pH balance and encourages plant growth the same way seaweed does.

The Can-O-Worms also collects the manure tea that is produced by the worms, the liquid residue. Hirscheld uses this liquid to fertilize his houseplants.

There are systems other than the Can-O-Worms, but they work on essentially the same principles. They are all made of food quality plastic which should be kept indoors, out of the sun. Hirscheld keeps his worm bin in his basement where summer temperatures are 65 degrees, and winter temperatures do not go below 55 degrees. Red wiggler worms need temperatures that do not go below 50 degrees.

He harvests the compost about once a year and uses it when he does his planting in the spring.

Recently Hirscheld has been making compost tea. He takes three or four gallons of chlorinated Greenfield water in a bucket and, using an aquarium aerator and an ‘air stone’ which disperses the pumped air, he aerates it for a full day at least to get rid of all the chlorine. Then he puts a cup or two of the vermicompost in an old nylon stocking and soaks it in the water for about 24 hours. He also adds about a quarter cup of molasses and some kelp concentrate or fish emulsion. Precision in measuring ingredients is not necessary. These extra ingredients help good bacteria grow over the next 24 hours. The mixture will need continual aeration.

After 24 hours the mixture needs to be used right away. Hirscheld strains the compost tea through another old stocking into a hand sprayer. Then he can spray his vegetable plants, or even the lawn. As a foliar spray, the nutrients are taken into the plant through their leaves. Hirscheld told me of experiments that showed that a foliar feeding of vermicompost tea encouraged grass roots, and presumably other plant roots, to grow two or three inches deeper into the soil which cuts down on the need for watering and makes the plant less troubled by dry spells.

Hirscheld uses this foliar feeding two or three times a season on his garden.

Hirscheld and I compared notes on our personal worm farms. At one point I was complaining to a friend about having fruit flies and she suggested I stop giving them fruit. That was an answer that worked well, but I did like giving the worms overripe bananas, one of their favorites, so it was not a total answer. I took to laying several wet sheets of newspaper over the worms and bedding. I think this has helped by covering the surface where fruit flies could lay their eggs.

Of course this raises the question of where the very first fruit flies come from, but I cannot answer that question. I’d love some one to explain that mystery to me.

Another mystery is the little white worms that appeared in my bin. I thought they were baby worms, but one of my Franklin Land Trust tour visitors, and Hirscheld, explained that these are entrachyadids. I have the same question – where did they come from?

Entachyadids will not harm the red wigglers, but they do indicate acid conditions. I’ll have to sprinkle and mix a little lime into my bin.

With the current trend towards using local agricultural produce and products, Hirscheld and I are taking this another step, and let the worms produce rich compost all year long. During the short summer season my bin lives outside in the shade: in the winter it sits in my kitchen. Fertilizer can’t get any more local than that.


Between the Rows   July 23, 2011

Fish and Flowers

Barton Cove Ice Fishing

The sky was blue and the ice was thick. I did not see any fish being harvested, but the fisher folk looked pretty happy and relaxed.  I peeked at them on my way to the Greenfield Garden Club Annual Meeting, this year at the French King Restaurant.

There was a good crowd. The room buzzed with the happy chatter of frustrated gardeners. The food was good and the conversation even better. The Greenfield Garden Club is a terrific organization of gardeners who put their enthusiasm for plants at the service of the community. Their fundraising events like the Plant Sale Extravaganza in May and the Garden Tour in July fund grants for area schools including a pizza garden at Frontier Regional, school gardens at Holy Trinity, Whately,  Greenfield Center School, and Erving Elementary, and a mushroom garden at Buckland Shelburne Elementary. That’s just for starters. The sponsor the Barrel Contest to encourage the beautification of the town, maintain the Trap Plain garden at the corner of Silver and Federal Streets, and prepare a beautiful exhibit for the Franklin County Fair.

Marie Stella of Kirin Farm Enterprises

Marie Stella, a landscape historian and designer, was our featured speaker. Her topic was Responsible Gardening for the 21st Century: The Sustainable Landscape. It was clear to me that as much as I already do along these lines, there is always room for improvement. It is easy to manage one’s one property responsibly, but it takes a little extra gumption to tell a nursery that if he doesn’t stop selling burning bush, or any other invasive plant you see on his plant list, you will not shop there – and you’ll tell all your friends not to shop there either. Still, it is something we can and should do. Businesses are more likely to respond to economic incentives than altruism.

For more information about the Greenfield Garden Club click here. You could have fun like this too. And maybe you’d win a flower arrangement like this at the next Annual Meeting.  That John LaSalle!  He is a Master of Flowers – and he supports the Garden Club – and other plant loving organizations.

Christmastime is Wreathtime

The Greenfield Garden Club held its wreath-making workshop last evening at Chapley’s Garden in Deerfield. Linda Tyler knew what she was doing and helped all the rest of us who didn’t.

Chapleys provided all manner of greenery from blue spruce to euonymus, rose hips, pine cones and I don’t know what all – except that a lot of different and unique wreaths were being created all around me.

Karen Helbig and I were working side by side. She was a novice, like me, but somehow her result was more impressive than mine.

Karen was a good sport and took this photo of me, trying not to laugh or look too embarrassed.

I did get some good tips for improving my second wreath which I will form on a wire coathanger.

* Make a generous ‘hand’ of greenery, the handfuls of green branches that will be wired tightly, hand by hand around the wire form – or coathanger.  The ‘hands’ don’t have to be long, but they should include several small branches.

* Different types of greenery can be used in a single ‘hand’. The differing textures can make the wreath more interesting and attractive.

* You can use the greenery right side up, or occasionally turn a branch over for a contrast in color.

* Pine cones can have a wire twisted around the base of the cone, as low as possible, and these can be wired onto the wreath for decoration.

* Essential note: make sure you tie a colored string or ribbon around your finishing loop, or you will never find it again!

I’m so happy to be a member of the Greeenfield Garden Club, where I find friendship and information, and a way to provide service to the community. For more information about the club logon on to the website which includes beautiful photos from last year’s garden tour.

Jane Markoski’s Garden

“I guess you can see I like water,” Jane Markoski said as she gave me a tour through her gardens. There was a birdbath in the shady entry garden, a trickling fountain as you turned the corner of the house, a bubbling faux millstone fountain at the corner of the barn, a lotus tub in the middle of a mixed shrub and perennial border, a small fish pond with a waterfall, and a larger fish pond with a little waterfall.

The piece de resistance, however, is the 40 by 18 foot lotus pond where dozens of lotuses were about to start blooming.

The lotus pond was the attraction for me as it will be for many of those who attend the Greenfield Garden Club Tour today, July 11. Tickets ($12) will be on sale at the Garden Club’s Trap Plain garden at the corner of Federal and Silver Streets between 9 am and 1 pm. The tour will end at 4 pm.

Two years ago I first heard about Markoski’s lotus pond. I couldn’t believe that they would survive in our climate, but they continue to thrive and multiply right there in Greenfield.

We first saw lotus growing during our years in Beijing. Unlike waterlilies lotus plants send their huge leaves high above the water on strong stems. In Asia the lotus is an iconic plant, symbolizing the purity that can come from the mud. We enjoyed seeing lotuses blooming in many of the parks and museum gardens. Even when not in bloom the enormous leaves are a stunning sight, held so sturdily above the water as they are.

Markoski grew her first lotuses in large tubs that were about 44 inches across. She had such success and enjoyed them so much that she felt confident enough to try a large pond. They excavated to a depth of about two feet and lined the pond. Then they refilled that space with 18 inches of soil and good compost. The pond water is only about six inches deep. “It really is more of a bog,” Markoski said.

Most of the lotus plants we saw in China were pink, but there are several varieties, available at Chapley’s in Deerfield where Markoski gets hers. Pekinese Rubra is red, Angel Wings is smaller and white. Mrs. Perry D. Slocum is a double lotus with petals that are a different color over the three days of bloom, first pink, then peach, then yellow. Each flower lasts about three days, closing in the afternoon the first two days and then remaining open and finally falling apart.

Markoski said that it is vital not to damage the growing tip from the roots. It is that tip that will produce new plants. That is why a fairly large tub is required if a lotus is to grow in a container.

Of course there are many other treats in the Markoski garden where there is “a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I don’t have a formal garden,” she said.

There is a bench for resting in the shade of a weeping cherry. The view from there of the daylilies, Asiatic lilies, astilbe and a dozen other perennials is breathtaking.

In shady parts of the garden Markoski has a varied collection of hostas, big ones, little ones, green and variegated ones. The effect is very cool and soothing. A lesson for all of us.

I was particularly taken with the dry rocky stream bed that even has a little arching bridge. The stream bed does handle run-off, but Markoski likes it just for the effect. So do I.

The advice she has for new gardeners is to prepare the soil. “If your soil isn’t good, you are always going to have problems. Good soil equals a good garden. Even if you put six inches of good loam on three feet of sand you’ll never be able to keep the garden watered.

She said she rarely waters her own garden, and admits she started with that good valley soil, but ads compost annually.

The Markoski garden, where refreshments will be available, is just one of 8 gardens on the self-guided tour which will run from 9 am to 4 pm. There will also be a daylily sale at the Glenbrook Gardens site. All proceeds from the tour go to fund the Greenfield Garden Club’s civic and local school projects.


For many of us the harvest is starting to come in. I’ve gone through one whole bed of lettuce, now replanted which some new basil seedlings I got at the Farmer’s Market. Most of my own basil died with all the cold and wet. I think I’ll be harvesting broccoli in the next few days and I’ll be donating a couple of heads to the Center for Self Reliance in Greenfield.

The Center is one of several food pantries that is participating in the Plant a Row program, accepting any extra produce that gardeners might have. We all know that sometimes the harvest comes in so thick and fast that we can’t process it all. It’s just too much all at the same time. I have been assured that no amount is too little for the pantries and food sites to accept.

If you have extra produce, or have planted a row specifically to donate, you can find a list of food pantries and their hours on the website, This is a great opportunity to do our bit to ameliorate the effects of these difficult economic times.

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Tours of Delight

These tours are over, but even these brief garden descriptions may be useful to others.


When I visited Mary Manilla’s garden in Hawley this week it was a ribbon of green along the stream that borders the garden. By the time the Hawley Garden and Artisans Tour takes place on Saturday, July 11, there will be a river of color along the stream as the hundreds and hundreds of daylilies in every hue come into bloom.

It is always fascinating to me to visit other garden’s and see the challenges they have conquered, like the impossibly steep slope that Manilla has invisibly terraced and filled with irises, roses, honeysuckle and I’ve lost track of what else. She explained that she wore special boots that helped her keep her footing on the slope. There are now books about arty vertical gardens, but she was way ahead of the curve.

The slope, and other areas of the garden are edged with stone walls that Manilla built, using stones that are so abundant on her site. I should no longer be surprised at the number of women who build stone walls, especially knowing as I do that wall building demands vision, endurance, enthusiasm and skill, not only strength.

Our gardens also hold our stories, and the stories of those who directly or indirectly made our gardens what they are. Manilla showed off the huge rhododendrons that grow by her balcony deck and explained that their parents came from the famous Kyoto temple gardens.

When she and her husband Jim were just starting to garden 30 years ago they saw an ad in The New Yorker Magazine promising plants for the connoisseur. They were not really connoisseurs at that point, but they found the nursery owner had been an Army officer in Kyoto after WWII. He made friends with the monks, and they gave him plants when he returned to the U.S. Later, when the temple’s rhodendrons died of a blight he was able to return plants to them to reestablish.

Manilla said she has always been fond of the Japanese aesthetic and that is apparent, not only in the planting of rhodies on a bank, as the Japanese recommend, but in the gentle curves of the beds, and the sculptural form of some of the trees.

This extensive garden was not built all at once. Trees were taken down one by one, and burned for firewood. Now there is an expansive lawn. When Jim became ill, the garden took another turn so that he could see what was going on from the deck.

For more information and tickets to the Hawley tour which includes vegetable and perennial gardens, an orchard with wind power as well as a quilt show, photographs, paintings and sculpture, call Cyndie Stetson 339-4231 or Margaret Eggert 339-4441. Tickets are also available the day of the tour at the Stetson’s Mountainside Farm at 108 W. Hawley Road. Proceeds benefit the Sons and Daughters of Hawley.

While the Manilla country garden is expansive, Ted Watt’s garden, featured on the Greenfield Garden Club Tour, also on July 11, packs a wallop of productivity, beauty and education on a mere third of an acre.

When he moved into his house in November five years ago he brought a number of shrubs, and a plan, with him. He immediately put the dormant shrubs into the ground, in an apparently random way. His neighbors have since commented that they had no idea what he could be doing, but now that the missing elements are firmly in place they can see the beautiful design Watt was holding in his mind all along.

Watt’s house is set on a typical flat suburban lot, with a little bit of space in front, two side yards and a back yard that is almost completely filled by a large vegetable garden, berry bushes, ‘enough rhubarb to feed all of Greenfield’, two peach trees and a ‘migrating’ compost pile. “I make deposits at one end, and remove compost from the other, so it sort of moves along. His composting technique is, “throw it in a pile and wait.” A man after my own heart.

His garden is divided seasonally, an idea he took from a Gertrude Jekyll exhibit he saw years ago. Jekyll was one of England’s most famous garden designers in the early 20th century, but many of her ideas continue to inspire.

Watt’s spring garden is in front of the house, with a summer garden to the east. He has a large collection of fragrant peonies that had gone by when I visited, but I can imagine them perfuming the whole neighborhood.

The summer garden has fascinating plants like ‘rattlesnake master’ a tall eryngium that is native to the west, and an unusual rudbekia with large roundly oval leaves. “It’s a native as well, but I don’t really specialize in natives,” he said.

He has a blue and yellow combination that run through the gardens, small delphiniums with a yellow achillea, and Nikki purple-blue phlox blooming with yellow Happy Returns daylilies in the summer garden.

Salvia azurea blooms in the fall garden with a late blooming daylily. Blue is not an easy color to come by in the fall, but he also has a late blue monkshood that blooms until frost.

There are plants not often seen, the multistem shrub Ninebark in both its burgundy and golden forms, a golden cotinus, Carolina allspice, the ornamental cherry Hally Jolivette, and a voodoo lily.

The seasonal garden idea is a way to always have things in bloom together without the level of planning that requires so much experience and expertise needed to have continuous bloom in a single bed.

The Greenfield Garden Club tour features eight gardens in town as well as a Daylily Festival at Glenbrook Gardens. For further information or tickets call Debran Brocklesby 413-648-5227.

Though these two gardens and gardeners are very different, what they have in common is the delight they take in their gardens, delight they are willing to share.

July 4, 2009