Sunday, September 25, 2011

Link Love





While I'm still focused on rebuilding, others are doing more exciting things with bokashi:

http://myfanwe.xanga.com/755077309/bokashi-books-and-broody-hens/ This industrious blogger collected windfall citrus to add to bokashi. “After” photos here, with a link to the “before” post included.

http://harlemgarden.org/tag/bokashi/ A community garden program that offers classes in vermicomposting and bokashi? Okay, probably a bit of commute, but...

http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/11432/build-an-outdoor-bokashi-worm-composting-bin In my next life, I am going to be a carpenter! This box is so much prettier than anything I've made.

http://sustainabilityquest.blogspot.com/2011/09/kitchen-bokashi-series-part-4.html A nice instructional series with clear writing and clear photos from a site worth exploring for more than just bokashi.

And “waiting on the rainy season”perfectly describes my situation, too.

DSF

image is linked from Palmer Web Marketing, who would probably appreciate it if you checked them out.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tales from the Bucket: Dirt Nap




Dirt Nap

No, that's not the reason I've been silent (fortunately), but the current bokashi-bucket tweak.

Some disciplined container gardeners "rest" mixes between use in order to prevent pathogen transfer, discourage insects, and limit the spread of pot-weeds. I'm not often that disciplined--typically, if I have a container full of potting mix, there are three plants on hand I could put in it! But this hasn't been a typical year.

There's a depth factor for sun-sterilization, and I haven't bothered with anything like proper procedure, but something like fifty days of 100+ heat and sun, following after yet another season of drought, has left a bunch of pots filled with dry mixes but largely devoid of life. Plant, animal, insect, or, just possibly, microbe.

Obviously, can't have that. Not at the house of buckets. -G- The usual procedure for using bokashi in container mixes is simply to layer mature bokashi between inches of soil-based mix, but that assumes a mix that's damp enough to work with. I'm not planning on watering dirt weeks before planting-time! We're under watering restrictions.

Understand, we're talking dry, dry former soil, some of it baked into rocklike chunks and the rest all dust and flyaway clumps. I did try digging a hole, scooping some bokashi in, and filling it back up; but the dirt was so resistant to absorption that it was still all powdery when the crepuscular scavengers came by for dinner... The only saving grace was that it was easy to clean up; just took a broom.

So now I'm doing the initial bucket-fermentation stage with that dry-as-ashes dirt.

Call this an advanced technique, because I certainly wouldn't recommend it to a beginner! There's a decent chance it will fail according to one of my basic criteria: presence of insects, due to eggs or estivating critters. Or even, if you have a deep enough pot that some moisture remained in the bottom, worms. Verne and company are only really welcome outdoors; I can tolerate a closed wormery indoors in some circumstances, but would rather not. And they don't tolerate the pH in a working bucket, so they have to be carefully repotted once hatched or revived.

There's also a more-than-slight chance of starting a hot-composting reaction in the container, not necessarily a problem but certainly something to watch. (I'm mostly thinking about the paper towels soaked in bacon grease, or the glistening fast-food bags, and wondering just how thick the soil layer has to be to exclude the oxygen a fire would need.)

And if you're fermenting things generally not considered compostable in a home setting--that is to say, meats--there's always the need to ensure a quick and thorough fermentation, and that can be a bit more difficult with changing volumes of organics and inorganics. In practice, that means you may have to more actively manage the planter-bucket than you would a more standard bokashi bucket set-up. Not too much work, mainly a matter of juggling additions to be sure you have a few inches of fermentables all at once, with AEM. Still, one more thing to pay attention to, as opposed to the standard "dump, cover, forget" easier-than-trashing method.

But on the positive side, this entire bucket-to-garden technique uses no water beyond the cup or so to mix up sufficient AEM or bokashi bran for a single bucket/planter. There's no draining required (usually). And at the end, if you've been sufficiently generous with your ratios, you have a bucket full of just-moist-enough, oddly pickle-scented soil-and-fertilizer mix ready to be inoculated with worms or dumped into next season's raised beds or containers on top of a layer of leaves and poor soil, and covered to rest again until planting-time.

Only this resting time, the microbes are all awake and chomping. The fall tomato bed's starting to look really nice, and the first bed I constructed with this stuff is growing nice, bushy basil on only two quarts of greywater per plant per week (olla pots, naturally).

Basic procedure:

If you've got a deep container full of dirt, may as well use that. Bag the base in case of seepage or bugs.

*Partially empty or fill container so it's about half filled with dessicated soil.
*Apply EM as in a standard bucket.
*Add fermentables and EM as usual, at least a few inches worth.
*Add one inch dry soil.
*Repeat until out of soil or space.
*Lest rest until a nice thick acetobacter mat connects the whole.

Note that the top layer of soil should be moist at an inch down after about a day, from absorption. If it is not at least damp, add a small bit of moisture. Very small, and not too soon.

Don't forget to keep this covered! It may not look like a standard bokashi bucket, but it's still fermenting in there. I covered one working soil-bucket simply with a plastic bag, figuring the soil would work to exclude oxygen. Came home to an apartment permeated with Eau de Pickle Factory Explosion.

Really a better idea to do this outside, but 1) the heat outside my door would dry the fermentables before the microbes could do their thing, and 2) I'm too lazy to carry my kitchen waster across the threshhold even once a day. Easier to keep the bucket next to the garbage and recycling. Covered. Lesson learned.


So far, I haven't used the resulting white-threaded enriched soil for direct-planting, but I'm planning to; I'll simply stop fermenting with three or four inches of space left in my planter, let the concoction rest, then top with an olla pot and transplant in moistened unfermented potting mix.


This isn't exactly the all-in-one bucket I'm still dreaming of, and seeing as it requires horrible lifeless soil I'd rather not be in a position to ever use this technique again, but...did I mention toil-free basil in August? Hope for the fall garden even when all is dry and sere? And not having to rinse out bokashi buckets when it's 105 is also a plus, I think.

Hey, look: the garden's alive! And so is the blog.

Image from an article titled RIP: Recycle in Peace (Yes, that is an urn-planter!)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fly Paper




Sorry, couldn't resist the joke: Repulsive's on ScienceDaily.com Or his kind, anyway. Industrial-scale black soldier fly larvae processing: 20 million steroid-abusing maggots in their articulated armor chomping their way through a literal ton of organics every day.

Repulsive to the nth power. Still, nice to see someone trialing alternatives to burying organics in concrete-lined pits!

Saturday, June 11, 2011




image from Animal Diversity Web

This year's hands-free tomato garden was supposed to be rather more ambitious than last year's, but I got discouraged. Early in the spring, I built three small (4'x2') raised beds, filled them with dried leaves and soil and a little wet organic matter, dosed with AEM, covered, and let rest. Two of the three worked well, so I did get to plant some tomatoes--but the third was invaded by fire ants.

The cover wasn't well secured, and I hadn't bothered with weights, so it was my own fault; next time I'll know better. But that was no help for this time! Couldn't re-cover it, with the ants only too willing to defend their home, not that I was sure it would have helped. I don't do chemicals, flame is too risky for our persistently drought-ridden climes, and I didn't want to pour great quantities of water into the bed to try to chase the ants away, so I decided I'd disturb the ants every chance I got and just build another bed for the next tomato planting.

Stirred some odds and ends of half-decomposed material into the infested bed while I was disturbing the unwelcome resident ants, since I don't yet have a proper compost bin at that location. And a while back, my odds and ends included the last crumbles of cheap bagged soil that had sat around in a dampish corner.

A bag one of these Texas Blind Snakes had adopted for a home.

Scared me silly--but I'd already emptied the bag into the bed, and the worm-colored scaly snake had slithered beneath the leaf-mulch, so that was that. Stirring up the ants did not appeal at all that day, or for the next few weeks; didn't bother to water the bed, either, as that would have meant standing too close to it.

But I'm a gardener with only limited space, and the presence of a raised bed full of largely composted matter eventually proved too great a temptation. So I grabbed the longest-handled shovel to poke around...

And discovered what would not have been news to anyone who'd bothered to look up the Texas Blind Snake instead of just squeaking like a small child and running away. Turns out, this wormy-looking snake eats ant and termite larvae. Not a single fire ant came out to attack the shovel, no matter how vigorously I stirred the bed. The materials are not wholly composted, but it's far enough along for my purposes. With or without a worm-snake, though I hope not to see it when I'm planting.

Wearing gauntlets as well as gardening gloves, I think. -G- Not that the worm-impersonating snake would hurt me, but I'm squeamish.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Introducing Nigel




The vermi-family has grown: I have African Nightcrawlers now. Actually, have had for a couple of months, though not many to speak of at first...so I didn't. But now Nigel's a definite presence.

The image above, from localharvest.org, is nothing at all like the material I started from. Local bokashi-and-beyond purveyor Microbial Earth offers an "African Nightcrawlers & humified compost mix"--according to the label, approximately 200 to 300 cocoons packaged with coir and compost for direct-to-garden application.

My vermigardening's mostly containerized, so I potted some herbs with a little of this mix added in, and set up a planter tower after my usual practice but without any actual worms, just the cocoon-and-compost stuff.

Well, in the interest of accuracy I should mention the two or three thread-thin hatchlings I found in the bag. But no breeding populations, you understand.

So at first, I assumed the worms I saw in the new tower were volunteers from the established colonies. But African Night Crawlers (ANC) are larger than the others. Much larger. When, on lifting the tops off two worm-homes, I saw worms in one that were twice as large as those in the other, I knew Nigel had established.

Still not quite as impressive a tangle as that image, but he's expanding quickly enough that I'm planning to divide him this weekend--probably a little soon for that, but he's just so big. It looks like he's cramped for space.

Haven't yet found any in the olla pots, so he may be brighter than Verne (EF). Or maybe it's the size thing again, or age; it tends to be larger, presumably older, iterations of Verne who move comparative mountains to get into the damp, cool clay containers between waterings.

So far, no vermi-battles have been observed. Verne mostly stays in his containers; Cousin Clem (Indian Blue) wanders a bit, but Repulsive (BSFL) has claimed all the good spots, so he retreats to the undersides of saucers. George the earthworm (no idea, possibly more than one species), sniffs around wherever any excess bokashi juice or Repulsive effluent has been diluted and applied, and sometimes finds his way into a recently wetted planter to become the worm equivalent of the crotchety old man in the corner house. "Hey, kids! Stay out of my burrows!" Or so I assume from the occasional vertical airspace in some of the less-tended and more populated units.

Nigel has yet to make his way out into the larger world. Which, you understand, is just fine with me! Worms that large disturb me a bit; I'll be just as happy never to encounter one without advance warning.

Though he's certainly welcome in the garden.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

How many buckets would that fill?




From the text on the poster--details and a gallery can be found at GrowNYC--I'm assuming that little if any of this collected material is composted; clean dry and paired suggests reuse, not reclamation. And that's great! But what about filthy, torn, disreputable shreds of former garments?

Let them eat cake couture.

Verne et cie happily munched their way through the post-season potato bags, not quite waiting until the season was over before starting; Repulsive's nearly through the denim I decided was too worn to save for next year's insulation, and it's only been a couple of months; there are still bits of terrycloth in the slow-compost after nearly a year, but only bits, sufficient to add a bit of structure but nothing more. And the fabric bokashi bag (filled with matured ferment and buried at planting time) was only root-tangled threads when I repotted that particular item.

It's hardly news that natural fabrics are compostable in a home setting; the trouble is that so few of us think to do it! So, I'm trying. Dishtowels and cleaning cloths, old clothing and shopping bags, bits of fabric too small to make decent patches...into the mix they shall go.

Cleaned if needed (though I'm not much for chemicals) and tossed in after fermentation, I think. Unless I'm feeling experimental. 'cause, you know, that happens sometimes.

Been reading about the soil industry lately, picked up a new-to-me-term: low value soil-like materials. Paper waste and sand and things. Bulking and structural items, to me, since for nutrients I have bokashi. Seems strange to think of silk or linen as "low value" in any way, but a stained or torn shirt is trash, so, okay.

If we each saved one shirt from the landfill...that'd be a lot of space we didn't use. But I'm selfish, I want a personal benefit. So: if one shirt could replace one gallon of soil in a planter... Yeah, that'd work for me. Soil's expensive, relatively speaking.

Anyone need help cleaning out their closets? -G-

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Got K-Cups?





[sorry for the formatting—I'm having blogger issues again. Image from espressoplanet, no connection though I lost some time browsing their offerings.]

Single-serve = more packaging. I know. And K-cups are ridiculously easy to throw away, all neatly packed even after use, while being nearly impossible to dispose of responsibly.

If only they didn't make such good coffee! -G-

So the workplace now has a Keurig. It also has two Solofill reusable filter-cups, but I'm the only one who'll use those; everyone else uses the packaged cups. Before I started agitating for folks to toss their K's into the compost collector [“my worms are hungry! Please feed them your tea bags, fruit peels, etc.”], I figured I'd better make sure the foil-topped plastic cups with coffee and filter inside were, in fact, bucketable.

Turns out...they're not suitable for a standard bokashi bucket. (As a general note to myself for future experiments: Impermeable additions mess with bucket health. Treat separately if at all.) Nor all that desirable for my bucket-alternatives. Even leaving the chemical concerns out of it, plastic in a slow compost pile is never recommended; it will break down into smaller pieces, but not truly degrade. The worms don't appreciate foil, though it isn't enough to make them flee from an otherwise suitable planter, but it takes a surprisingly long while for any worm to get brave enough to wriggle into a cup, and in the meantime, other critters may decide to colonize. Bad enough having to remove slightly degraded plastic cups from your vermicompost, but a cup full of centipedes? Eek! Repulsive doesn't mind them if the foil's torn a bit, and cohabitation's far less of a concern there, but small cups can hold waer, which could stagnate, and then there's the mucky mostly-intact plastic to fish out of the grubbery. Ick. And Ugh.

If you take the foil off the top, the worms are happier, though the other concerns still apply. Sigh. I scrounged a covered tray that would fit half a dozen or so unlidded used K-cups; spritzed EM/AEM/AIM on the UCG and let it ferment for BSF bait or “breath freshener” or compost boosters—nice fermentation, but in order to use the stuff, you still have to separate the organics from the plastic. Let me just say, it's a pain: the filter's glued into place. I resorted to kitchen shears.

And gave up on trying to salvage the organics from them in any organized sense. Hey, I divert my own UCG, isn't that good enough?

...which argument would sit less uneasily on my tongue if not for the fact that the workplace Keurig is actually my personal property, installed there for office use because I could.

Oops.