Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tales from the Bucket: The Stone Soup Bucket

[image from the Florida invasive plants site]

I could work up a serious dislike of chinaberry trees. Actually, it wouldn't take too much work--the fruits are poisonous, the trees sprout like weeds from seed or sucker, and they're nearly as discouraging as walnuts when it comes to plant biodiversity in their immediate vicinity. Granted, their flowers smell nice, but that's not enough to earn their keep.

Before moving to Texas, I had never encountered the term “trash tree.” Until chinaberries and scrub elm, I'd never thought to use it. But chinaberries...well, I suppose they have their place, but there are far too many of them in my limited growing space.

Porch sweepings in this season are mainly those sticky chinaberry fruits with their hard centers, plus a few dried leaves, oak pollen, unripe mulberries, and assorted other detritus. It's not a great mix, and without serious hot-composting or some intervention, the result will have so many chinaberries-in-waiting as to be more trouble than it's worth.

Unless, of course, you're short on composts, funds, and resources altogether. Or are trying to be wholly self-sufficient in anticipation of TEOTWAWKI. Or have hungry grubs to feed...

Repulsive's active laying period has begun, but I don't have all that much to give him just now. He will not eat chinaberry fruits left to decompose where they fall, but put them in a container with a seasoning of bokashi and he'll chow down! And while the fruits are toxic to mammals, they don't seem to bug him one bit. So I swept the porch-fall into a series of flat, stackable containers--shallow dishpans--and added a cup of bokashi'd kitchen waste to each one. Bokashi plus sweepings will self-compost to some degree, though not significantly in this scenario, with so little moisture or pressure. But there is enough moisture for mama layers to consider the mix a decent foodsource, and it turns out the small volume of bokashi I used as a start, plus the occasional addition of a small bit of bokashi juice or anything else in the vinegar range*, is sufficient to keep the grubs happily chomping their way through those fruits and churning the leaves toward their natural end, with the help of EM and other IMOs.

There are already saplings appearing in this mix, so apparently chinaberries don't object to dilute acids and disturbance. But they're easy to uproot now, can be tossed right back in to provide more food for microbes and macros, and if they sprout and die now then the eventual soil amendment will not have tons of saplings. It will have a whole bunch of seeds, but after sprouting they're not nearly so pebble-hard as when they're still encased. Cooked stones are a bit softer, maybe? -G-

Being rather squeamish about Repulsive, I'm still planning on aging the grub mix and/or letting the worms have it, but it looks like it should be usable to a less grub-averse gardener in about two months from sweeping, finished enough to use as container fill for an outside planting without further intervention.

And if you weren't doing retail bokashi, this would still be perfectly feasible; a purely lacto fermentation will attract BSF layers. The current favorite among non-bokashi-ing BSFL “wranglers” seems to be fermented corn. Come to think of it, chinaberries in water might well ferment...

There is one major disadvantage to my stack-of-dishpans set-up--I do not believe Repulsive should be allowed to free-range--but now that I know the chinaberries can be useful, I'll build a case or something. The minor disadvantage, that the relatively open stacks require additional moisture, I consider a trade-off, as the relatively high rate of evaporation means I don't have to drain reservoirs of grub muck. Also, the neighbor's AC unit drips more than sufficient water onto my porch, and unless you're using clay or filters, AC water is not recommended for watering plants, so what else am I going to do with it?

Goes well with the whole something from perceived-nothing idea, too.

Are your grubs awake yet? What are you feeding them?

*vinegar, kombucha, bokashi bran mixed with water, even sauerkraut brine, if it's real kraut.