Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mucking about

Repulsive's waking (I was quite surprised to find active grubs in the dormant-grub boxes this weekend), so it's time to do something about his grubberies. Yes, that's plural--he had two last year, though not simultaneously. Unlike Verne, he is not allowed to colonize at his pleasure! I changed buckets early in the fall, as it was that or deal with the horror of emptying the "proto-compost" from an active grubbery, but while the stated intent was to let the stuff cure, and the actual intent to let any remaining grubs mature and move away, I think at this point it's just taking up space.

About three gallons of space. It's not all finished grub poo, as I use the grubberies for bone, which shouldn't yet be wholly decomposed, but the total bone volume can't be so much as a full gallon. All the rest is...not soil, but something not too unrelated to use for making mud-pies, assuming you were far less squeamish than I, or didn't know where it came from, maybe.

So if I have two-thirds of a bucket of aged soil-like material, why haven't I used it up yet? Two reasons. The first is half superstition: I'm afraid of the lure of the happy-grub pheromone! BSFL excreta is supposed to be prime worm-food, but I'm worried that if I add it to the towers, grubs will follow. A singular grub in the wormery isn't an issue, but I don't want Repulsive to feel welcome in the worm-homes. It's not so much of a concern as all that, considering that the towers are fed largely on dried leaves and there's a fair bit of soil in there, too, so BSFL wouldn't thrive, but I haven't the courage to risk it. The second reason it's still sitting around is consistency: the stuff Repulsive (ahem) leaves behind is more finely textured than espresso grounds. Far too finely textured to be of much use to me as a soil amendment, with my containers and reservoirs, though in-ground gardeners might well benefit from it.

What am I to do with it? I've used some in starter-packs, but can't make any more of those just now--the dormant grubs have awakened and left their boxes to roam uncontained! [Yecch.] Could just dump it, I suppose, use it to fill a ditch or pothole or something. It'd break down in time, but before that, might attract worms to the area. Perhaps I could dump it one of the area's unofficial dog parks, where a few BSFL would be helpful! Or, rather than carry it offsite, I could start a bog garden in a bucket or planter with rather more surface area than the grubbery, an idea I have to admit holds some appeal.

But I'm lazy, and there are so many different experiments running already! This time, I think I'll add a scoop of Verne and what happens.


today's image is from National Geographic; that's Arizona Slot Canyon mud, and I'm pretty sure there's no way to make BSFL produce anything that looks like that.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

intervention cannot be far behind

My winter wormery*, about which I seem not to have written (bad blogger! no chocolate), proved to be a hospitable home for more than Verne. The immature insects may or may not live through the planned solarization**--I'm baiting away such of the wriggle as is willing to be moved, but the rest shall be sacrificed. Had considered, briefly, trying the usual soil-cover/weight/time salvage technique, but it turns out I need the container.

See, the insulated cooler's a good size and well suited for large-plant hydroponics, and I've just learned of a variation on the aquaponics model I simply have to try. Not quite as described, of course; fermenting food doesn't require rabbits around here. I have buckets for that!

My adventures in low-tech hydro don't get a lot of space on the 'slope, mostly because they're neither wholly failures nor great successes, and therefore don't make great reading. -G- Also, they don't use a great deal of bokashi, though I have been known to add a few drops of very diluted bokashi juice to a feed-mix. But hydroponics has a lot of benefits for the soil-poor gardener. Beginning with the fact that it doesn't take any soil.

I'm far too lazy to be forever brewing up and aerating seaweed and vermicompost teas for optimum nutrition; hence the appeal of aquaponics, where my goldfish fertilizes the water for me. But my aquarium bucket's only good for a few heads of lettuce or other "wet-footed" plants at a time. Can't drain off much of the water for additional plants, either, lest the fish succumb to terminal stress.

Vermicompost tea is one of the more common non-commercial feed-mixes, but I found only one authority willing to substitute fermentation for aeration in the process. (Which doesn't necessarily mean it isn't possible. Someone has to be first!) For the most part, homebrew recipes for hydroponic nutrient solutions are relatively labor-intensive, though it's generally assumed that labor will be mechanical.

But this model lets the worms do all the work. No tea-aeration necessary. For that matter, no brewing. I absolutely have to try it. Or maybe I just couldn't resist the name. Vermiponics, isn't it great?

Now if only I could figure out where I'm going to put this newest experiment. To grow plants, I need sunlight...

Feeling rootbound and overly shaded,


Note that this image is of a blackworm, Lumbriculus variegatus, not Verne. But, hey, how many swimming worm animations have you seen lately? It comes from the Charles Drewes' collection of educational materials.

*The Igloo was an insulated cooler donated by a neighbor. ("It has a spigot. I thought of you.") No airholes added, but container not filled, to allow an airpocket of sorts. Mesh frame to allow for drainage; standard worm bedding of moistened cardboard and newspaper, soil for grit, etc. Started with leaves and bokashi, pre-composted in the container before the worms were added. Fed infrequent large batches of compostables. Happy worms, finished vermicompost with some patches of pure 'cast, babies, and more insects than I've seen in a wormery since I gave up on the indoor model. Not something I'm doing again!

**Simple plan: carboard over pavement, far away from my plants. Very thin layer of insect-ridden bedding more or less free of worms. Clear plastic cover. Weights. More time than you'd think.

Friday, March 19, 2010

great paper, but what sort of a name for a bucket is "ferm"?

Bokashi has far better acceptance rates in New Zealand than here, and it's beginning to move beyond the home! This Wasteminz paper has some interesting bits; as I was thinking about bokashi juice the day I found it, I was particularly caught by

...the juice is able to be utilised for direct
fertilisation of food crops without concerns of spreading common food pathogens.


The juice is highly concentrated with organic acids and a pH of around 4. It has a high
nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium nutrient content.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A drop in the bucket bottle

As I posted recently, I bought a two-gallon pump sprayer to make bokashi juice application easier this year. And the first thing I did (after rinsing out the bottle) was to hook a 1/8 cup plastic measuring spoon to the collar, with a note to myself written on it in permanent marker. It says, simply, 1x.

1/8 cup. That's how much bokashi juice goes into two gallons of water here at the house of buckets. It sometimes seem like too little, but it's right--the ratio's usually given as 1:100, but that ratio changes depending on the authority and intended usage. Specifically, for "pot plants" or container plantings, many of the retail sites recommend using only half as much as for trees and outdoor gardens. Outdoor container plants aren't addressed. By, so far as I can tell, anyone.

Argh. -G-

Naturally, I prefer a mix that's safe for what I'm doing, and bokashi juice is probably a supplement more than a primary food-source for my plants these days, so I'm erring on the side of caution. Don't want to burn any roots or wrigglers!

[image from Ace Hardware, as is the sprayer pictured.]

There’s a hole in my bucket wallet

Blew the garden budget again, though not by so much as you might suppose; aside from a pack of tomato seedlings I couldn’t resist, all this year’s new stuff has been or will be started from seed, much of it bought locally. Or produced and collected here on-site, like the shepherd’s purse, hyacinth vine, and amaranth. New purchases included a few different sorts of tomatoes—not that I expect them all to thrive, but so I can be sure of having any, and to try the different leaves—a couple of edible curiosities (eggplants shaped like miniature pumpkins? I couldn’t resist!), and a bunch of things the standard American grocery-shopper has never heard of, plus one or two sometimes considered weeds.

Sadly, I don’t think this is the year I’ll be growing enough produce to skip the greengrocers entirely (small spaces=smallish yields, though bokashi’s helping), so I’ve chosen as usual to focus on things I can’t get there or that I can’t afford to get there.

A few durable goods went into the virtual shopping cart, including a pressure sprayer to make bokashi juice application easier. Plus, I bought a few more bags of dirt—given the quality, I don’t think it merits the label soil—though not for immediate use. I am planning to refill the planter tower and let the feral worm colony play awhile, and to set up a test in temporary vermicomposting if I can talk a particular friend into loaning me the space. Also picked up, from the same retailer and brand as the dirt, some “humus” (those quotes denoting doubt) for a few different tests.

Can’t quite bring myself to admit the total here; more than I meant to spend, but less than the season cost of a single share in a CSA in this area. And unlike with the CSA, there’s no risk I’ll end up with a box full of things I don’t eat.

It could have been much worse. High-quality chem-free compost typically makes up a fair percentage of my total cost; so far this year, I’ve bought not so much as a single quart. Between bokashi and Verne (and George), there’s been no need—though that may change once the raised beds are in. Too, I usually end up buying eighty or so quarts of potting soil every spring, to replace the worst of the potted stuff and top off the permanent planters, and until this year have always bought the best I can afford, since I know how important it is. But thanks to last fall’s cheap-as-dirt test, that hasn’t been necessary either.

So wherefore the post-shopping-spree regret? Well, there were a lot of seeds. And though the local drought is officially over, that’s more likely a temporary condition than not, so I’m determined to fit out all my containers with some form of irrigation, preferably primary though I’ll take supplementary if that’s all I can get. Which in many cases equals additional cost, for clay pots to plant with the transplants, or hoses to connect to an external reservoir, or more nested-bucket sets and wicks and hollow pipes and things to make SIPs.

On the other side of the balance sheet, Verne has more than proved himself worth the one-time investment. I don’t think I’ll ever bother with an indoor wormery again, and neither are worms my choice for a primary landfill-diversion scenario, but outdoors, he’s doing his part to maintain soil health in the towers and planters, keeping me from having to replace soil as often (or at all? Too soon to say), and since he’s enthusiastic about his business, there’s no need for me to buy any vermicompost or vermicompost tea this season, either. Or, obviously, worms.

The bokashi’s worth the cost, too. Naturally –G–. Though EM-1 and molasses (and bran, for the standard recipe) are repeated costs, it’s cheaper to buy them than finished composts, fertilizers, and “instant” plant foods. Not to mention the non-monetary benefits.

One of these seasons, I’ll stick to my budget. Really. Maybe if I just start with a higher number…? Oh, that sounds like a bad idea!


[image from Botanical Interests, which is the right company, though mine were purchased from a local retailer]

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pardon me, can you spare some trash?

It's a temporary situation, but still extremely odd: I have a garbage shortage! Haven't been hauling my workplace organics home, as I'm just not that dedicated to the cause, so bokashi is from household stuff only. Add in a couple of meals out, plus a single-use press cup for those mornings when I'm running late (which would be all of them -G-) that means the grounds go with me, and the in-house organic's down to half a gallon or so per week. And then add in the fruit flies, I think from some too-cheap-to-pass-by citrus, and the situation becomes dire indeed.

The infested organics went into a salvage bucket--a planter, really, for the necessary bottom drainage, with a thick layer of soil, then lots of extra EM bokashi "bran" and the all-too-living bokashi, topped with three inches of soil and a weight, and stuck under the deck to rest for at least the next couple of months. Probably longer than necessary to get rid of the short-lived flying pests, but I'd rather not take chances.

Half a gallon of bokashi isn't enough to feed the en-towered iterations of Verne, let alone begin to replace the amendments I've been using in the spring gardening, and there are new garden spaces this year, so I'll need more still. Barring raiding the neighbors bins (eww!), whatever am I to do?

1) Change the menu for Verne's next meal. UCG and dried leaves, spritzed with AEM, should keep the wriggle happy--and it doesn't have to be at my standard 1:1 ratio, either. The reason I've been feeding bokashi to worms is to convert the fermented "waste" to something more useful given my particular needs, but that's not the only way to acquire that useful substance!

2) Substitute weeds for kitchen waste. Yes, that's what I did with the failed 100 degree bucket, but with temperatures not yet in the 70s, failure is unlikely. If I want a bucket of wettish fermented vegetable matter, cleavers past their use-by date and random thistles should do for a base.

3) Use the cured bokashi as a compost accelerator. That is, mix a larger volume of dried leaves and fresh garden waste, or some other combination of greens and browns, in the approved giant pile or bin, and stir in my few scant cups of ferment to kick-start the heating reaction. It's a little soon in the year to try the black plastic planter routine, but I do have all the supplies, and again, the 1:1 ratio I use for bokashi and dried leaves is a convenient guide, not a rule--if the goal is compost, perhaps 10:10:1 green/brown/fermented might do as well. Or 8:15:1, even.

4) Hit the coffeeshops. UCG is a lovely "green," despite its undeniably brown color, and is as well the only non-carbon source I've yet found to use as a carrier for microbes. Too, coffeeshops are used to gardeners asking for their UCG, so it's a little less odd than asking the neighborhood cafe if they wouldn't mind setting aside their food waste for me. Though, really, if this goes on...


[empty yellow bucket image from Doc's Frugal World, since the link seems to have vanished from the earlier post.]

Friday, March 5, 2010