Sunday, February 6, 2011

What's the thread count on that stuff?

It's edging on toward spring (despite Friday's snow!), and I'm making plans and preparations for the season's gardening. Just realized I haven't posted all that much about one of my favorite supplies here in the land of buckets, so here you go.

Spanish moss is pretty easy to find around here. It's at craft stores and floral shops, if you're in a retail mood--and online, naturally; today's image is from you can simply go pull it down from oak trees, free but for the labor. Fluffy, clean, and moisture-retaining, it's used as a mulch for potted plants and as a compostable rooting medium in some hydroponic systems.

Last year, I decided to see how it would do 1) as worm bedding; 2) in an ultra-low-tech vermiponics system; 3) in a traditional compost bin; 4) in post-bokashi quick composting; 5) as a carrier for microbes aka bokashi “bran”

Lost the specifics in the fire (the computer melted!), but here's what I found:

1) Worms love Spanish moss once it gets wet. They tangle themselves up in it and chow down. As bedding, sprinkled with soil and eggshell, it works as well as dried leaves, though the soil is necessary both for grit and microbes (I think; never tried a gritless wormery). Spanish moss is less prone to compaction than paper/cardboard bedding, and decomposes quickly except for a wiry residual structure. It also seems to encourage reproduction; that or fewer worms out-migrate from a unit with Spanish moss than one with other bedding materials. Or maybe both. Lots of worms of all sizes.

2) Spanish moss plus worms probably won't last through a long growing season, though it's fine for a short one. It is not wholly sufficient to nourish worms and plants without some additional food source, but both liquid (diluted bokashi juice) and solid (compost*) foods can be used with this system.

3) Spanish moss will break down in a bin, but provides no additional benefit over other dry materials so far as I can tell.

4) Spanish moss works to normalize moisture levels for quick, thorough composting, not as well as dried leaves (with their added freight of microbes) but far better than shredded phone book pages.

5) Spanish moss is not a reasonable substitute for bran, as it's too much work to resize and has a greater tendency to self-compost rather than simply fermenting.

I tried using it as a barrier against insects, but it's no help at all there; can't have everything, I suppose. Nor is it an odor-blocker. Out of curiosity, I put a thick layer of dried Spanish moss in the bottom of one planter, a few inches below root-level, and mixed a cup or so into the potting mix in another, to see if it would cause any nutrient sequestration—but then I forgot and fed those plants bokashi juice, so I can't say. (The nutrients in bokashi juice are so very bioavailable that I'm planning on testing it as a solitary nutrient source this year, with no soil or worms or anything.) I can say, however, that the moss was wholly decomposed by the time I repotted the plants, and the soil in both held water very well without bogging down.

In a spigot-alternative bucket, Spanish moss is less likely to heat up than fresh coir. It makes a really nice mid-ferment addition, too, in any bucket wet enough to have condensation on the lid. And what brought this post into being today was the mixing of equal volumes of Spanish moss and cured bokashi, that shall after a rest period be used to start this spring's first vermiponics unit. Soil-free gardening being one of my many fascinations, not entirely in anticipation of what some of my favorite bloggers have taken to calling TEOTWAWKI [The end of the world as we know it].

I'll be testing the pH of the mossy-bokashi mix before use, of course; verniponics -G- tolerances lie somewhere between soil and hydroponics, and I'd really rather not melt any worms or burn any roots. We shall see...

Dreaming of spring,


*Standard gardener's definition of compost; haven't yet tried bokashi without that additional step. This season, though...

1 comment:

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