Emilie McVey

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since Oct 28, 2014
I am originally from (the great state of) Texas and have been an expat living in PA for 31 years, the last several of which have been in beautiful central PA. I love gardening and the outdoors and the concept of sustainable living; that said, neither my beloved of 33 years nor I are handy - we feel very accomplished to be able to paint a room and have it look nice.
central Pennsylvania
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Recent posts by Emilie McVey

Have you considered having a cat?  A few mice may die along the way, but mostly the scent of the cat will keep them away.  One house I owned had a dreadful, dreadful mouse problem. My doctor also was concerned that the mice were bringing in disease, since I am immune compromised.  Traps, exterminators, even sealing the house didn't seem to work (the critters can get through unbelievably small spaces, including inside the walls along wiring and plumbing).  Anyway, we got a kitten, and that did the trick. A couple of casualties, and then peace and a much better-smelling house. (We had noticed a faint underlying nasty smell always present, but never connected it to the mice, until the mouse problem was gone.)  When the kitten was away for 24 hours or so getting neutered, the mice came scurrying back--yuck!!  But once the cat came back in the house, no more mice! 😁😁😁
3 days ago

Purity Lopez wrote:This is my first Lovely reason why I live in the California Hi Desert.  Its still 90 here. Lived here 15 years now and winter starts on Thanksgiving.  Every single year....cold on Thanksgiving.  I absolutely love the weather here. I can plant from April and reap to Thanksgiving. We do get snow, I am at 3400', but its gone in a few days and that is enough snow for me, usually only happens once a winter, sometimes we get 2', then its gone.  I love the sunny warm days thru winter, then the cold nights. Wimpy.....I DO NOT LIKE cold weather - LOL.  Lots of layers of clothes make me claustrophobic.  So my answer is.....with this weather where I live, I don't have to be ready and that is great.....no stress living.

My sentiments exactly!
1 month ago

Shawn Foster wrote:      


I haven't laughed that hard in years.  My family kept say "Mom, be quiet!"
2 months ago

Cristo Balete wrote:Emilie, it's not that they escaped, it's that they left to find food they could eat.  Most likely the scraps weren't consistently wet enough, were big chunks of things  (worms don't have teeth, they just suck in mushy stuff that passes through their systems.)  Add the occasional couple of cups of soil in a layer once in a while.  They are attracted to wet dirt, and will do just about anything to get into it.   If water is added with each addition of kitchen scraps, the kitchen-scrap tea that comes off it will show them the way.  

Start with a good layer of wet soil in the bottom of the worm tower, then start adding scraps, then every once in a while add another 1/2" of soil layer.  You can add torn-up garden trimmings as well, which adds bacteria and yeast to the mix.

I keep kitchen scraps in a half-gallon pail and empty it almost daily, with water added before I dump it.  I cut up banana peels, chop chunks of carrot ends, chop onion skins, not super fine, but a bit so that they will break down faster.  It's the bacteria that breaks down the tough part of the scraps, and bacteria also need damp scraps.  A lid on the worm tower keeps the scraps damp.  The water going through it also sends out finished worm castings.  Keeping the interior of the worm tower dark is important, so a clear plastic bag over the top wouldn't help with that.  They want darkness and about 50 F degrees.

I have a lot of worms doing a lot of things for me, and I often find that they have climbed into a container where they weren't before because the water dripping out had what they wanted in it and they just followed the water.  Once they start laying eggs, the population increases so then they start going out into the damp soil surrounding the tower, and hopefully will find the compost we put there or the neighboring worm tower.  It doesn't happen the next day, but within a week you should see them starting to take residence.  

If there aren't worms in your garden bed now, it could be because it's not consistently damp enough.   If you can find some in wet soil around your yard, dig them up, transport them into the worm tower, they will stay under the right conditions.

I am so impressed with worms, I can't tell you how much work they have saved me in several circumstances.  

Wow, that's a lot different than I understood from the worm growing info.  I would toss in whole banana peels, mushy green beans, tomatoes, cabbage & lettuce leaves, etc.  I guess it was like giving them the grocery store without a can opener to access the food.
I used to have a food processor that I'd run a five gallon bucket's worth of scraps through.  The food broke down pretty well, I guess, although there was generally a mat of fibrous material laying on top of the area on which I had poured the slop, which hung around for a long, long time.  The food processor broke down eventually, and it was a extremely messy, smelly operation, so I didn't get another fp to continue.  Maybe I should try to find another cheap fp and whirl the scraps daily and pour the slop into the worm towers.  ("Feed them and they will come")  I still have those buckets with the holes.....
2 months ago

Cristo Balete wrote:

"...and the worms come and go from them. "

Thanks, I'd forgotten about this kind of idea.  I tried something like this about four years ago; all the worms escaped.  So maybe if I don't actively try to raise worms, but rather feed the worms that are in the soil now (and I know they are there, I frequently come across earthworms when I work in my garden), it would work better.  We generate a *lot* of fruit & veggie scraps, and I probably overwhelmed the poor worms.
2 months ago

Mike Haasl said,

"As for the browns, can you collect leaf bags in the fall and store them somewhere on your lot to use for compost or other purposes?  Or get coffee grounds from a coffee shop?  A layer of them might be close enough to a real brown to block the smell."

That's a great idea!  Both of them.  And there's a Starbucks onlya block away 😁. Thanks!
3 months ago

Mike Haasl wrote:How about if you dig some compost holes in your hugel that are maybe 1' diameter and as deep as possible (3+ feet).  Maybe insert a cage of chicken wire to keep the hole open.  Then just dump food scraps into the hole whenever you have them and cover with some browns (leaves, paper, straw).  That should keep the smell down to nearly nothing and allow the worms to put it right to work where you need it

My hugel has volunteer winter squash and zucchini growing out of it, as well as comfrey, mint, and wildflowers I planted.
So I'd have to wait until they die back or I'd kill them all.  My hugel was only 3 ft tall to begin with, and about 5 ft long....

Re browns, they've always been a challenge to get in the spring & summer, given that I use tree leaves.  I don't take a paper, and any straw I have (this is my first year using it) is keeping my beds from drying up.  

I'm not trying to shoot down your ideas, I'm just frustrated and don't know what to do without spending money.  And I dread having to deal with those buckets....
3 months ago
Cristo B. said,
"I think the absolute best way is to do hugel trenches (as opposed to hugel mounds), and bury the compost ingredients, preferably over rotten, water-soaked wood, then plant atop that.  I have two raised beds that I filled with soaked, rotted wood filled in with compost ingredients, and even lettuce in full sun needs less watering than a raised bed without the buried wood.  The rotted wood, depending what type it is, can last for several years.

A 6-foot/ 2 meter open trench, about the depth of a shovel -- or two if you are adding rotted wood -- works fine, and when it's full, make another 6 foot trench ready for dumping ingredients as they become available.  It's a lot less work digging a little bit, and the contents stays damp, the plant roots love it."

Ok, I have done a variation of this, and I could use some advice.  

A stationary compost pile didn't work for us (I won't go into why), so I turned it and a lot of branches from a downed tree into my first-ever hugel (I was so proud of myself).  I had the bright idea of putting all our kitchen scraps into a five gallon bucket and when full, having my DH dig holes in my garden beds to fill with the bucket contents.  That turned out to be a good way to destroy several portions of my garden during thegrowing season. ☚ī¸

So, this year I got multiple buckets so I could fill them up and then when the season is over, have my DH dig trenches down the middle of each bed and pour out the bucket contents.  Well, what I have is four buckets, lidded, that you literally can smell from 15 ft away.  At least one of the buckets is full of wriggling maggots, so despite the lids, flies have gotten in, and flies and wasps and assorted critters are constantly around them.  Needless to say, DH is not smiling and neither are my neighbors (I'm an urban gardener).

Any suggestions on what I could have done better or how to remedy the current stench?  I shudder to think of the smell when it's time to dump the contents....
3 months ago
I'm having the same issue with my rudbeckia and rhododendron.  I've put no new inputs into either of the beds involved.  I chalked it up to a virus and removed the leaves as I came across them.  The rudbeckia seems to have recovered, but it's come back a bit on the rhododendron.  Do all viruses kill plants, or is it like with humans, that viruses are troublesome but not necessarily fatal?
Regarding mulch, does anyone know of free options?  

The "mulch" at our township public works center is chopped up branches and sticks.  They still look like branches and sticks, although now in 2-4" lengths and up to about 1" diameter.  I've used it, once. Not really what I'm looking for in my veggie, or flower, garden.

I don't have much access to newspaper anymore, and I was never comfortable with the dyes anyway.  My fall leaves have all decomposed or blown away.