Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tomorrow's News?

Interesting tidbit in my e-mail the other day, from our local bokashi retailer(!). Microbial Earth sends out periodic newsletters, not yet archived on the web site though I'm sure they shall be; for now, I hope no one will object if I just quote the relevant bit.

As this is, really, relevant to my situation and something I should very much like to try. Except that I kind of can't. The household feline has definite preferences in litter: sand, preferably raked in swirls.

Okay, so I'm not sure about that last part, but clean sand is completely irresistible to her, and plant-based litters utterly unacceptable. When she first came to me, we went through several different litters before finding one she found at all tolerable, and it took still longer to determine which sort she would use in preference to the area's informal bike paths where the grass is worn away. Small-grained clumpable litter is all that receives her, so to speak, her seal of approval, and the sharper the better.

Not the crystal litter. Not the attractively compostable corn-based stuff, not the newspaper litter that can be purchased or made at home. And not wheat bran. Nor even a mixture of sandy bits and something else. But for those felines who will use a bran litter:

One of the fascinating developments we have discovered at the farmer's markets is the use of the effective microbes in kitty litter. Since October, Microbial Earth clients have been using the solid form of the microbes (bokashi translates as fermented bran in Japanese) by applying 2 cups of bokashi to their cat litter boxes. This means that you don't have to buy new litter as frequently, and have less work every year due to the reduced number of changes, as well as expense.


Use 100% bokashi for your kitty litter and you can compost all of it in your yard, just like the bokashi food wastes.

Bokashi can be used in a litter box instead of other litters for cats to control odors from urine and feces. The most common litter on the market is made of clay and is almost always thrown in a landfill. Instead of landfilling, put the litter to good use as a fertilizer for your ornamental plants, trees and flower beds. Talk about a great way to recycle and save money!

Hmm. A bit more than a year ago, there was a kid who managed a worm-based kitty waste disposal set-up. I wonder how hard it'd be to convert a couple of those silly sieve-and-tray litter boxes into a wormery? But of course, someone else is going to have to do this one. I may be slightly obsessed with bokashi, but there's no way I'm borrowing a cat!

The household feline would not permit it.



{image from, a site I tripped over while searching for average bulk wheat bran prices}

Monday, January 18, 2010

After the Bucket: the Bag

Could be worse: at least it's not novelty saltshakers. But I am currently collecting dried leaves. Not, I hasten to say, for pressing! This is not a new hobby, nor am I planning on stockpiling the things for some eventual later use. Not even trying to gather every bag generated within an X-block radius during time-span Y.

I'm collecting leaves by the bag. Different leaves from the oak/pecan/elm/mulberry mix I sweep too infrequently from my patio; different bags than the paper leaf-and-lawn ones approved by the city. See, I'm trying to make sure some of my particular post-bucket techniques are not specific to my particular EC. And wondering whether some leaf mixes or bag types might produce better results. Eventually, I suppose, I'll have to break down and buy a few plastic bags of various sorts (black v. white v. clear; compostable/degradable v. industrial strength), but I figured I'd start with what my neighbors were actually using.

The clear plastic bags have a few benefits and a couple of disadvantages, so far:

+ If properly sealed with adequate space for expansion, plastic bags do serve to keep out pests, unlike the paper leaf and lawn bags which must be protected against scavengers.

- Plastic bags prevent volunteer macro-digesters from joining the fun. (Sow bugs, composting worms, earthworms, etc.)

- If inadequate space for expansion is provided, plastic bags can split open and spread material rather farther than one might expect, even before the scavengers get into the act. (Splitting is an issue with planter-finishing, as well. If sealing, remember to leave some slack!)

+ Properly sealed plastic bags hold moisture, so assuming a properly moistened mix went into the bag, no additional water need be added. Also, temperature variance within the bag increases condensation and re-absorption, which seems to speed the composting process.

- If too much moisture is present, the microbes cannot work to full efficiency, and the mix may go anaerobic--in the negative sense. As in, rot and stink.

+ Plastic bags withstand wet weather better than paper, and can be easily moved during the process or once it is complete.

- Some plastics may not degrade, and dirty plastic garbage-sized bags are difficult to recycle.

And one that may be either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the climate, situation, and desired end results:

Plastics can absorb and retain heat, and reflect or focus light.

I don't know, yet, how that will affect this particular post-bucket technique. Will a black plastic bag work as well as a black plastic planter? Might it work too well, and melt? Would the contents of a clear plastic bag placed in full sun solarize rather than compost? Etc. It's winter here, despite the day's garden-perfect forecast But I expect to be playing with bags for some time yet, especially though not solely in combination with the disposable buckets. At some point, I may even manage to try the long-delayed "office bokashi" test series with a commercial soil inoculant and shredded paper in place of dried leaves!

...novelty salt shakers might be simpler. But not nearly so useful. -G-


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

there's a hole in my bucket

...matches the one in my head, as in "I needed that like." Winter is not my favorite season, and I chose to live in a place with vast strings of 100+ days and no rain for months on end in exchange for not having to deal with much of that horrible below-freezing stuff. Sigh. But the recent record-breaking cold does have one benefit, looked at from the right angle: empty planters.

And I haven't sent in my seed orders yet.

The garden budget hasn't recovered from last year's excesses yet, so I really did try to keep myself within reasonable bounds. Tried. Failure has not yet been declared, but the year's still young. We'll see.

The focus was on filling in spaces in my collection, plus a few new-to-me leafy things and a great many multiple-harvest crops. (Okay, maybe a few flowers and some groundcover for the apartment grounds, but I mostly grow vegetables and herbs, with the odd grapevine for the fun of it.) That last category has me feeling like there's a great big hole in my learning, and it doesn't seem like there's any convenient well of knowledge from which to draw.

Here's the question in a nutshell:

For my zone and growing conditions, what sweet potato variety will produce the most succulent, tender leaves?

I'm utterly and completely fascinated by all the things I have grown before but didn't know I could eat. Last year, I was a worse garden pest than the locusts so far as the sweet potatoes were concerned, harvesting so many leaves and vine-tips it's a wonder I dug up any tubers at all (hey, the tubers are cheap at the store, and not too bad even at the farmer's market. The greens are hard to buy! No contest, not once I'd tasted them). This year, I want to play with a bunch of things like that, and there's a wealth of possibilities. Radish greens I already eat, carrot I'm not too fond of, but squash? I knew about the blossoms, but the leaves, too, can be eaten.

Why did no one tell me?

Are all squash leaves edible, or only some? If not all, how do I tell?

How do I pick a proper variety for my region and needs, considering the fruits, flowers, and leaves?

Clone that frustrated query-set for beans (the leaves arguably have more nutritional value than the parts we harvest), peas, tomatoes (do the leaves of heirloom tomatoes have more tomatine? Do romas have drier leaves? etc.), etc. Seed catalogues are no help at all when it comes to these--though I did see a passing mention to beet greens as a "bonus" harvest. But as to which variety might have the least bitter, tenderest, most heat-resistant leaf? Not a word.

So I'm making some more or less random selections, though I have decided one thing: I am not buying the snow pea variety listed as nearly leafless. Snow pea tendrils have begun to appear on local-food menus in season, and I'm a big fan--but the leaves are sometimes the best part! Also, if the vines have few leaves, doesn't that mean they need to keep them all?

Speaking of things I need like a hole in the head. Where on earth am I going to put more climbers? Guess I should add some more round tomato cages to the list, since they can be fitted into the inevitable buckets.

Oh, how I long for spring! Green sprouts promising more varied crops to come, migrating worms, and warm enough temperatures that the curing buckets don't have to stay in the kitchen, in an ever-increasing and increasingly alarming tower structure. How much more winter is there?