Q: I saw a bag of vermicompost for sale in the garden section of my favorite hardware store. What is vermicompost used for?

Answer: Vermicompost is the waste product of the red wiggler worm. Research at several land grant universities has shown that when vermicompost is added into greenhouse plant growth media it can increase the production of greenhouse crops, produce faster germination rates, seedling growth, increased leaf areas and plant heights, increase the numbers of flowers and fruits, and increase overall yield. It is best used as an organic soil amendment that has a high level of microbial activity. Like all high-quality organic matter, it will help improve the moisture-holding capacity of your soils and provide a low level of such nutrients as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium. It will provide humic acid to the soil, a major component of organic matter. The material can be mixed into the soil in a garden and around landscape plants. It can also be used as a top dressing on container plants or sprinkled on a lawn as a conditioner. It is best to protect the vermicompost from direct sunlight by incorporating it in soil or covering it with mulch. You can also make a “compost tea” to feed to your plants. Simply add two tablespoons of vermicompost to one quart of water and allow it to steep for a day, mixing it occasionally. Water your plants with this “tea” to help make nutrients in the soil available to the plants.

Q: How late can I plant half-runner beans and expect to have a good crop. I like to can green beans in September when my schedule is more flexible.

Answer: The days to maturity for half-runners is between 65 and 70 days. The beans grow best when the soil temperature is 50 degrees at a minimum. If you plant your beans by the end of July, you will be able to harvest in early September, around Labor Day. Some of the best green beans that I have ever grown were planted in late July and harvested in early September. Be sure to provide water and optimum fertility, and plan to scout regularly for insects and disease to ensure a good crop. You have time to collect a soil sample and have it analyzed if you have not done so this spring. You soil report will give you recommendations for any nutrients you need to add for your bean crop.

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Mary Jac Brennan is the agent for fruit and vegetable horticulture for small farms and local food for the Forsyth Cooperative Extension. Contact Mary Jac about commercial production, local foods, and sustainable agriculture questions. For information on home and gardening issues, contact the Forsyth Cooperative Extension office at maryjac_brennan@ncsu.edu or call 336-703-2850.

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