Monday, August 30, 2010

Eye of Newt?

image from Cartoonstock, and I want it on a T-shirt!

Been re-testing my IMO recipes lately—that's Indigenous Mico-Organisms, also known as Beneficial Indigenous Microbes or BIM, and searched for most often on this blog by folks searching for a wholly non-retail solution.

In other words, EM you don't have to buy every so often. Or ever.

Not all IMO is EM, but by definition, all EM is IMO; the formulation of retail EM differs by region or country. If you live in an area with glorious, gorgeous, healthy “plant a seed and stand back” soil, you probably have all the IMO you need for everyday purposes. Maybe a little extra dose of rhodobacter(s) if you wanted to process manures, or for indoor fermentation, but otherwise, at least for outdoor composting & gardening, you're set.

I do not live in such an area, and even if my part of Austin were as lush as virgin, unpolluted rainforest, my soil comes in bags from the store and spends its useful life in plastic planters, aka buckets, wholly divorced from the soilweb. So I need microbes. EM bokashi bran suits my situation well, and buying a bottle of EM-1 every year, plus molasses and wheat bran (and scrounging/buying assorted other possible carriers) is still cheaper than buying decent quality bagged compost from the garden center. I've even been known to spring for the packaged EM bokashi bran*, though it really doesn't take much longer to mix a baby batch of bran than to log on to an e-tailer site and place an order.

So if I'm happy with the retail model, why do I play with IMO? The same reason I'm still playing with this blog-project—there aren't enough answers out there yet! Bokashi is still relatively new, and it's the retailers who are driving such limited education as exists. Some of those retailers...well.

I've had several very positive interactions with bokashi-product-related retailers. I've also run across some who would have kept me from ever trying bokashi had I been unlucky enough to encounter them first. (Naming no names, I shall say only that “if you don't have a house, bokashi is not for you” is not a helpful message, and “composting equals polluting” isn't exactly the right approach, either.)

But worse than retailer-roulette is the idea of no retailers at all. My local Whole Foods used to carry EM-1 in the floral department; no longer. Austin has a local bokashi producer now, but the company's summer hiatus can be a problem—and what about all those places without a local source? Also, yes, okay, there's the fact that I could buy more seeds or starts with that EM $$.

So sometimes I play with IMO recipes. [I promise, those posts are coming.] Checking on one my tests at some impossibly early hour of the morning when the sun wasn't even up yet, I caught myself muttering to remind myself of what I was doing, and even to my ears it sounded a whole lot like some fairy tale witch's shopping list.

Piloncillo, kombucha, vermicompost, coir, lactobacillus serum, acetobacter, SCOBY and PNSB--these aren't words normal people toss around before the first cup of coffee!

But it's years too late to worry about what that longago president used to refer to as normalcy. I'll be happy with verdant--and yummy. And a short-term foliar application of my AIM** just successfully resurrected a drought-crisped potted herb, so verdant and yummy is very much the order of the day.

Happy brewing!


*someone remind me to buy a second bag of the bran that got recalled, so I can finally post those results. Kthnx

**light mist, all over the plant's crisy-toasty leaves (hey, to all appearances they were dead anyhow), let sit about fifteen minutes and followed with a slightly heavier mist of water. And a camera wouldn't have helped this time, since it would never have occurred to me to take a picture of a dead herb, but I might have to stage a recreation, just for the before-and-after WOW!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Eat Your Words?

Friend of mine sent me a link to this great piece on Treehugger.

And now I'm thinking about green art installations again. My new job involves lots of paper, and a more anti-recycling place you'd be hard pressed to imagine (I'm working on it!)...perhaps a wall of old meeting minutes growing woodears? Hardly a Garden of Knowledge, but perhaps a learning opportunity.

Also, mushrooms are yummy. -G-

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Leaping Lizards!

Okay, so the Mediterranean House Gecko didn't jump--but I did. Opened the temporarily rampless grubbery and found one of these guys clinging to the side and chowing down, presumably on the baby grubs as I don't think his mouth is large enough for big ones. I was braced for the sight of disgustingly squirming banded grubs, but not in a starring role as breakfast! Yecch.

Note to self: duct tape. Since apparently plugs are not sufficient protection against intruders, though they do keep the grubs from wandering. (Of course, I could just go install that ramp, but where's the fun in that? -G-)


[image and species ID linked from California

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tales from the Bucket: Rip Van Bokashi

Some days, the less I have to deal with bucket-contents, the better; other days, it's no big deal. Must not have been feeling squeamish that particular Saturday afternoon—I decided to try mini-bags of bokashi with different dry matters to see if they all worked. My favorite dried leaves were my control here, but what about shredded paper with a sprinkling of vermicompost? Or those wood shavings sold as small-animal bedding?

Went with a half and half ratio, mostly for convenience with the tiny little bags I was using (so that I can put them in more places!). But space is always a concern, as are the raccoons and all their ilk, so I ended up stacking all fifteen of my filled-and-tied #2 bags into the same lidded bucket. This is not good scientific practice, but I'm not a scientist. -G- I did put the leafy bags at the bottom, so that gravity couldn't help move their microbes into the other bags, but otherwise, I figured that the test for success would come after planting anyway.

Which rather requires my removing the bags from their bucket...

What can I say? It wasn't really planting season. Sowed few seeds by way of prep for the fall madness, sprouted the odd microgreen, did a bit of rooting from cuttings, but otherwise, I'm more into side-dressing and watering with food than the whole sub-surface slow-release thing right now. So I've got composting planters going for my immediate use, plus soil-topped trenchless buckets for later, plus Verne in his towers and bunking below Repulsive, and I just forgot about the bags awhile.

Until now, when it's time to start planning those fall beds.

The bucket wasn't rocking, nor were there any toothmarks or litters of BSFL casings. Positive signs all! Within: a bunch of white-haired Rip van Winkle bags, sagging with age and bearded with acetobacter growth. The bundles on top are intact enough to move, the middle row and below more disintegrated, and I haven't gotten all the way down yet, but I expect they're in slightly soggy pieces that might need to be half-scooped as much as lifted by their strings. But no worry; there's no off-odors, no insects, no bucket-strain, and they're completely viable—half-composted and half-finished, there's still enough carbon to create a hot-composting reaction, but little enough that it won't even stress transplants assuming the requisite inch or two of soil between. Enough plant-accessible nutrients that starved bean leaves turn green again (one of my favorite low-tech tests!). Enough microbes to replenish the soil web, or to stand in for one, and enough undigested nutrients to sustain the microbes and the plants awhile.

All of which can be had simply by planter-finishing the bokashi, without bothering about the bags. But the bags allow me to use carbon materials that planter-finishing doesn't, for those times I'd rather not bother with composting—or for those settings in which even small-batch composting might not be possible. Plantable bags can reduce the total volume of soil needed in a container or bed, which helps when you have to buy your soil, and they can be used, with some care, in a soil-free container mix, where planter-finishing may not be possible*. And bags are portable! While I suppose I could take a bucket of ferment off-site, I really don't like the idea. Bokashi is unaesthetic at best. Small bokashi bags can be tucked discreetly into each deeper-than-usual planting hole, and they require no special handling.

Nor, apparently, much in the way of special storage. Moisture-conserving and pest-proof seems about it. A versatile, scalable, at least short-term-storable solution that can be made and kept in the same small container. Am I dreaming? cup's empty, so I guess not. But I'm still thrilled.

Happy bucketing,


*Generally not recommended, anyway. Soil-free mixes are too light, but you can add a weight for that; the other issue is lack of complementary microbes, but mature compost or other sources are available.

Monday, August 9, 2010



One afternoon during loquat season, I sat out back with my prep scenario: decent music, cat for company, bag of just-picked loquats I'd hit with the hose by way of washing, big bowl of acidulated water, knife, and an empty planter for the culls and pith and stems and seeds. When I was finished, that planter was nearly full, mostly of seeds but with the odd bit of more easily compostable matter. Seemed kind of silly to carry the planter out to the apartment compost bin, and it would have overflowed a worm-tower tray, so I tossed some worms into the planter instead. Added an inch or so of soil to keep out bugs, and stuck it on top of the current pre-composting worm-food unit.

A few months later, I had a young thicket of loquats outgrowing their birthplace. A coworker mentioned a need for some saplings, so I harvested a handful for her, then more for another woman who saw me delivering the first set. That didn't go nearly enough toward thinning the planter, so I sat down the other day with a bunch of homemade container mix and seedling pots. An embarassment of riches—I ended up with three dozen individually potted loquat saplings, plus several clumps too intertwined to separate into singletons. Keeping them watered is something of a challenge! They take up much more room this way, and I don't have a single place suitable to put them all even temporarily. Some friends with land have offered to take many of them off my hands, as they don't like their privacy fence and would be happier with plants to obscure it. I just have to figure out how to keep them watered in situ. Lots of organic matter would help, but I'm running short again. Suppose I could buy some compost from the local organic garden center, but I was really trying not to do that. Of course, I didn't have three dozen trees in mind when I was figuring how much I'd need this year.

Note to self: the answer to that question is always "more." 'Nuff said.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Cabinet Garden

Garden cabinet image from Luxury Housing Trends, which has managed to put ideas into my head though not (yet) any new holes in my wallet

Some friends offered me a bit of space in which to garden, with very clear guidelines: their space, but my project; do not ask them to do anything with it; tomatoes. I started small, using a repurposed old wooden kitchen cabinet with the doors off to frame a side-by-side-by-side test where failure would be nothing worse than dead plants--no off-odors, no insects, nothing weird. Used mostly scrounged materials, plus bokashi and composts made in Bucketville (not enough of those, as I was trying for equal volumes and ran short of one). And because their place isn't exactly next door, I set it up to require no more than weekly attention.

Which to me means raised bed with slow-release nutrients mixed in + olla pots + covers. One quart olla per tomato plant seems to be the practical minimum, and when the days are routinely 100+, twice a week watering is a really good idea, but until the triple-digits hit I'd been averaging ten days between waterings and the plants were still producing fruits. Not, mind, as many as I'd have liked, but I've never yet had enough tomatoes, and considering the cheap soil base and inadequate organics volumes, I'd call it promising enough to be worth extending the test.

As, apparently, do my friends, who have given me permission to put in a few other plants. Including some fall tomatoes, naturally, with which I shall be planting bokashi bags made for the purpose, with ratios of 4:1 and 8:1. The 8:1 test produced earlier and more tomatoes than the compost or vermicompost with or without worms, you see; I'd like to know how much wiggle-room there is in that recipe, and whether different ratios produce results different enough to be worth noting, but mostly, I just want more tomatoes, so this time, every plant gets an olla and a bag. if only I had a few more cabinets...

Grubbing Around

Image from Hooks & Lattice, with which company I have no affiliation--but there's an anniversary coming up... (hint, hint)

Weird week here in Bucketville. Among other things, I had multiple requests for BSFL! Not all this week's requests were for grubberies, some folks just wanted grubs: To try out as feed for a particularly fussy pet reptile, for a fishing trip, and to replenish an industrial-sized retail unit from which I'm guessing there's been some over-enthusiastic harvesting, plus a pet waste disposal unit and a bird-feed "farm" (that's two separate things, at different locations, even).

So I spent Saturday morning playing chauffer to Repulsive's offspring, after a session of harvesting the disgusting things. Seemed like a good time to retire the various and sundry experiments, since 1) I've settled on a permanent design, and 2) it's a lot easier to secure a single unit against raccoon and possum incursions. Since the standard adapted bokashi-bucket design works, though it's no longer my preferred model, I just handed that one over to the folks who wanted a bird-feeder hatchery. The coir-liner test works very well, too, but I used scrounged materials for the first model, and the result was far too large for my space or needs. Rather than deal with the nightmare of separating hatchlings and feeding grubs from the exploded coir mat, I passed that on, plus such harvested grubs as I had left once all the other requests were filled, to the folks with the Bio-Pod. Hey, they asked for grubs, they didn't specify mode of delivery!

But I liked the results of the coir so much that I actually went out and (gasp!) spent money buying a smaller coir basket liner for the grubbery's permanent installation. Not just a mat to go on the bottom, a natural alternative to the synthetic mesh I've seen in Bio-Pods, but a large enough single piece of matting to cover the bottom and sides, all the way up to the single row of small holes I've had to admit are necessary for practicality.

Apparently, laziness beats squeamishness in the end--I used to set out bait bags for the layers because I couldn't handle the thought of grubs using air- or laying-holes to escape a feeding unit; but bait bags have to be emptied and refilled, not to mention protected from the cursed four-foots, and I got tired of it. Other grubbery models have pipes to let layers into the bucket, but that was way too much for me. So I watched the adults awhile, to see where they preferred to lay. Which seems to be into tiny holes with free space behind them and damp protected space just below, plus the food source, naturally. Explains why I never had much luck with cardboard laying disks: I left them too accessible. Sigh.

The only problem with the coir liner--unless one has a sudden need to harvest immature grubs in significant quantity--is that the material expands more than you might expect, reducing the bucket's effective volume. But I'd rather have a slightly larger container with no escapees than a smaller one that requires warning labels. And this is about as close to hands-free as I'm likely to get; the necessary maintenance during a working season has been reduced to feeding the grubbery, and exchanging a full catchment bottle for an empty one and hanging the birdfeeder. No draining reservoirs, no grubbing about with eggs or feeding populations, no need to remediate for moisture or carbon levels. Assuming the occasional addition of EM in some form, there's no off-odors. And almost no chance of grubs on the lid when you open it, though I can't say no risk ever of seeing the things. (Drat! And it was so close to perfect. -G-)

Probably ought to buy a new camera so I can post pictures of things. Ah, well. Repulsive's permanent home consists of:

1) A small lidded bucket with holes in the bottom and around the bottom inch of the sides, plus a single row of small holes beneath the rim.
2) A coir bucket liner reaching up to the row of holes.
3) A collection ramp, in this case half-inch tubing and threading to fasten into a soda bottle, with the part of the tube inside the bucket cut in half to create a U shaped ramp the maturing grubs can climb.
4) A largish planter filled with cheap dirt or soil-based potting mix (at least as much soil as the bucket would hold, though in a large enough planter you could mix some carbon after that requirement is met), into which the bucket is set at least three inches deep and as far down as desired so long as there's no chance of the upper row of holes being buried or completely blocked.
5) Optional but recommended, a two-inch layer of good potting mix and some plants. It looks better, but more importantly, it helps keep the predators away. Between the grubs and the worms that will move in even if you don't add any, it's a protein-rich feast--and birds, raccoons, possums, toads, and lizards have all found Repulsive in some of his less-protected iterations.

Considering what I choose to feed Repulsive, I'm going with decoratives rather than edible plants around his tower. It's not my usual preference, but I do have a few, gifts or volunteers or flowers to keep the landfolks happy, and some of those should be tolerant enough of salts and acidity to work here. (Salts from the foods; acidity more from the EM I add than anything.) If I were less squeamish, I suppose some edibles might be possible. Red orache springs to mind, but it's certainly not the only likely crop. Guess maybe I could try it. There's no requirement that I actually eat what I grow, right? Well, maybe.

And maybe there's another experiment to try: coir liner on the sides but not the bottom of the bucket. Which would allow the worms greater access to what the soldier fly folks have taken to calling "grub pudding," while still giving the mama layers their preferred egg-despoting space.

Just what I needed, more grubbing around. They do sell coir by the roll...