Saturday, November 15, 2008

Step-Mother Nature?

Gather round, kiddies. "Once upon a time..."

Okay, maybe not. But once upon a time there was a bucket that failed. An outdoor bucket with a not-quite-good-enough seal, it was invaded by insects. Blecch. Those insects turned out to be Black Soldier Fly Larvae, unsung darlings of the non-landfill waste disposal world in temperate regions, and I've been trying, reluctantly, to accept them into my pre-garden practices since--the cost is right, and it beats feeding the landfill (if only by a hair). Besides, the grubs ate the failed bokashi. What else was I going to do with it?

One retailer suggests trenching the contents of an unsuccessful bokashi bucket fermentation with massive quantities of EM bokashi bran, others simply say to bury it in an area well away from plants or gardening. But I'm an apartment-dweller, soil- and land-poor; that's not an option for me.

Leaving the grubs to gorge was, so I did, albeit in a habitat halfway designed to kill them (ignorance, not cruelty! Though I wouldn't have minded if they'd died or "magically" disappeared). The end result of that was a mass of fat and happy grubs, and a bunch of partially decomposed matter you could smell from a mile and/or week away. My failure had gone epic, sealed up away from fresh air.

So what then?

Well, I sifted out some of the matter--wearing gloves, holding my breath, and not all that carefully, to be honest, but sifted nonetheless--to put in a planter. Tossed about an inch of old dirt in the bottom, then the leaf-and-bran-and-mess muck the grubs had been half-swimming in, then a three-inch layer of mediocre soil. The whole planter was then placed into another, larger container with some dried leaves at the bottom for padding (to keep the possums from tipping it over) and the drainage saucer placed on top, to keep the soil in place should the wind pick up.

Two weeks later, the result is a planter full of something that looks like it could have been dug up from beneath the pecan tree on the property: soil, a couple of limp and tattered leaves, small bits of stem or shell or something, a suspiciously rounded late-season gecko hastening away...

Is it compost? Not hardly.

Is it usable? Definitely.

If I were going to plant something in it immediately (first freeze warning tonight, so that's not going to happen, but if it were), I'd want to amend it with mature compost. Since it's going to rest until spring(ish), I'll be adding some AEM in the late winter, but leaving it otherwise alone to continue to break down or stabilize. And then I'll amend it with tired potting soil or soil-based mix and mature bokashi compost.

Am I pleased? You have no idea. Many years, I have more pots and planters than planting material to put in them. Dried leaves are free, so are BSFL, and that batch of bokashi'd matter had been failed anyway, so there was no additional cost there. From reclaimed matter, a bit of time, and the suppression of my shudder reflex , I MADE DIRT!!! And I can make more, too, if the weather cooperates. Without the stench, now that I know how to go about it.

Would I rather have compost? Yes. But I'll take this, too, and gleefully. It means a few more acid-loving crops are on the agenda for next year, what with all the dried leaves; this matter would not be suitable for some tender plants; and of course it couldn't be sold, as there are specific criteria for retail products. But you know what? I don't care about any of that. It's dirt!

Or a reasonable facsimile. And I made it. Granted, with the help of some disgusting wriggling things that still look, to me, like steroid-abusing maggots wearing articulated armor, but with a couple of inches of dried leaves on top, I can't see them anyway.

Grubs don't have faces "only a mother could love"; they don't have faces at all, so far as I know. (Don't ask me to get close enough to check!) But I could get seriously fond of their effectiveness.



P.S. Yes, there were grubs in the sifted-out muck; they migrated to the leafy padding beneath the planter, presumably eating as they went, and bedded down in the bottom container, where they were easy to harvest when the experiment was finished--I fed them, still in their leafy bed, to the landfolks' chickens.

P.P.S. Anyone know if there's an upper limit on the quantity of grubs a chicken should be allowed to eat? Seriously.

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