Posts Tagged ‘composting’

They saved me $9. Or made me $9 worth of organic compost.  That’s what this 5 pound bucket of organic compost would cost me at Home Depot.  I just harvested this in less than an hour.  It cost me nothing to make.  Labor was free.  The earthworms did it for nothing.

I didn’t do anything except put clippings from the garden on a pile and the occasional kitchen scraps.

The paper is from the bottom of the birdcage.   This is my version of ‘add manure’. I used a loosely applied facsimile of the lasagna method to compost. The lasagna method is a layer of green stuff, grass clippings, lettuce, kitchen scrapes, then a layer of brown stuff, dried leaves, coffee grounds, parakeet droppings and one time one pound of earth worms.  I hadn’t done anything to it for about 3 years. I mean I never turned it or tossed it. I just piled stuff on it.

This is all the doings of hungry little earthworms. They work for scrapes. Earthworms are different from the red wigglers, Eisenia fetida that we use in our worm bin a.k.a. red worm, manure worm or fish worm. Red wigglers love being confined. Earthworms on the other hand, cousins to red wigglers, Lumbricus (genus) terrestris (species), nicknamed Lumber Jacks, would rather live outdoors footloose and fancy free in your garden or compost pile. Earth Worms: Have the power to move stones that weigh 50 times their own weight. They also ingest soil and organic matter equal to the amount of their body weight each day.

A friend of mine recently broke her ankle hiking and was not able to get to her usual spring time chores. So she put out an APB to anyone that could lend a hand in the garden until she got back on her feet.  I volunteered and my first assignment was to sift and turn her compost pile(s). Something I had never done before.  I could compost piles like a champ but what is this sifting thing all about?

She has 4 huge compost bins about 5 feet by 5 feet in varying stages of decomposition.

“First, Sift this pile into the bucket,” she said.” Right”, I said and got to sifting. I lifted up the little door and started pulling compost out and onto the sifter that sat on top of a 5 gallon bucket.

After about an hour of this we had a bucket full of compost. Nice beautiful rich and sweet smelling compost.

“Next,” she said  “we are going to put all the stuff from this compost bin,” she pointed to the next bin in line,

into the compost bin you just emptied.” “Right” I said and started shoveling all the semi-composted stuff into the last stage composter.  There were twigs and cut up tree trunks, and avocado seeds.  It was all brown and all decomposing. This bin was different. It was open. I had to lift from the top. Using a different set of muscles here.

“Next,” she said, O.k. by now I am thinking this is a lot of dang work. What do you mean next? Does Mother Nature really go through all this? I don’ t think so.  Anyway, next meant layering all the green stuff just collected which was about half a ton of nasturtiums from her river bank, with all the left over sifted parts from the first bin. I needed a pitchfork for this job.  And oh yes she had the pitchfork so I got to work. Green stuff is lighter so this only took about 30 minutes. Now, it was layered and it was beautiful.

This is the layered look and what we were going for.  Not quite pretty as a picture but close enough. Composting is not rocket science. However, it is a science and the University of Illinois Extension can tell you all about it. http://tinyurl.com/268ub52

There is something for everyone when it comes to composting. Die hard scientific types that have nothing but time and money to spend on composting. Then there are those like Donna who have the science down but tweak it to make it work for them. Then there are people like me who just more or less let nature take its course. I play around and learn some things just by accident.

1)   A cup of java or at least a cup or two of the coffee grounds added to the compost every now and then and  those little worms will work their little hoofies to the quick. Now, don’t be reporting me to the humane society. It is not really the caffeine. It is the organic makeup of a coffee bean that they love to munch on. It’s dessert. It keeps them happy and regular.

2)   The PH in coffee grounds is around 7.0, that’s neutral and all the caffeine was pressed out the first go around. Starbucks or most coffee shops give away their coffee grounds. Just ask. While you are at it give your roses a shot too. Mulch with it and it will keep the snails at bay.

3)   Comfrey leaves and stinging nettle can do things to the compost pile no other plants can. Check it out.

Donna finally announced that we were done for now.  “Right,” I said only slightly wondering how long ‘for now’ was.  Donna confessed,   “Jeanne,” she said, “I am a really lazy composter.” Lazy? I queried. “Yup, I don’t do half the stuff the books tell you to do.” Yikes. If Donna considers herself lazy then I must be catatonic.

I don’t know what you call what I am doing, maybe just slave driving cause the worms were doing all the work.

I bought potting soil last fall to repot my bamboo. Now it’s spring and time for another round of planting. I looked at my compost pile and decided it’s time to get the dirt out.

I borrowed Donna’s sifter and finally worked my pile. There were a lot of Lumber Jack earthworms in there doing their thing.  Good sign that they like the accommodations. Not only do the worms like it  every seed I throw in there was sprouting. I had Avocado seeds, apricot, bamboo, comfrey, and a cherry forest growing in the compost pile. I had created a breeding ground. Good temp for sprouting but not hot enough to cook the pile down. I potted everything up that was sprouting.

Forest of cherry trees

Apricot and cherry tree

This time around I put in an oven thermometer I picked up at Goodwill for a buck, gave everything a big drink of worm tea to start the microorganisms working and covered it with some black plastic to warm it up.

The Kahala Hilton Worm resort

Some like it hot

If it gets too hot for the worms they can just mosey on over to a cooler area. They will be back when the microbes are done doing their hot number.

A compost pile that is really cooking should get to about 135-160 degrees. Maybe it will get hot and maybe it won’t. Either way hot or not I am fine with it. I get dirt no matter what I do. And I do as little as possible and that works for me.

Dirt cheap and loving it.

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We’ve finally managed to get all the boxes (mostly) unpacked and I can tell you it feels VERY nice to be settled. The furnished apartment was pleasant, but it wasn’t home. Now those things that make a home what it is are in their proper places and I feel like I can breathe deeply…

…and get to work on transforming this place into sustainable central. First, the worm bin. We picked one up for free on Craigslist. And I found a red wriggler supplier in Marilyn, the owner of Zippy’s Java Lounge. (I’ve heard she has the best in Everett. It’s good stuff). I plan on stopping by this weekend and picking up a pound or two. Then we’ll start converting our table scraps into brown gold. The worms will love us, especially when we start giving them the leftovers from our gorgeous new stainless steel Juicelady that Denette picked up at Goodwill for $20. Have you ever had fresh carrot juice? It’s the nectar of the gods. Seriously. You have to try it.

Next, the garden…and beyond. I’m going to go a bit more Permaculture up here—create an edible environment throughout the yard. And speaking of yard, I talked with one of the landlords and he said we had creative free rein. He might not have said that if he was aware of my knack for yard transformation. We have a beautiful section of south-facing lawn that—once leveled—will make a perfect spot for some raised beds. No tomatoes, though. I’ve been told by a couple of old salts that it’s just not hot enough for them. Of course, that sounds like a challenge to me, so I’ll have to find a solution. I like my fresh tomatoes too much to give up without a fight!

Speaking of transformation: Denette transformed an empty house with little furniture into a fully-furnished home in three weeks. And virtually for free. We now have a couch, a guest bed, an entertainment center, two chairs, and an end table, all acquired through craigslist/freecycle. Now when I get home from work I can collapse on the nice comfy couch instead of the hard wood floor.

I can’t tell you how nice it is to be four blocks from my place of employ. I walk down in the chill of the morning and arrive with lungs full of fresh air and my heart pumping. People at work think I’m irritatingly chipper at 7:30 AM. I just smile and nod. Even better is the return home, when the kids come racing down the hill on their scooters to meet me. Then we go for a walk. Well, I walk, they ride their scooters or their bikes. I have to take my bike in for repairs (Kaia has grounded me because of my lack of brakes), but once I do I plan to use it as my primary means of transportation to both hospital campuses and around town on the weekends. The city center in Everett is perfect for biking.

Not only am I four blocks from work, the kids are four blocks from the home school facility. I know, it sounds a little oxymoronic, but the home school program up in WA is an extension of the public school system, though they have considerable autonomy. They offer structured classes for those who want them. It’s really kind of like college for primary-age kids. Logan is loving his classes in math, science, social studies, and tae kwon do. He spends an hour a week in class, the rest of the work he does independently. Kaia should be in the program as well, but she just missed the cutoff date for kindergarten, so the goal is to get her tested into 1st grade next year. When one of the teachers at the home school facility saw her reading, she thought Kaia was already in 1st grade.

Final topic for this post: when we moved up here I set a goal of creating a home gym for free. When we were still in Cali, we had canceled our gym membership and I had created a pretty nice setup with cinder blocks, a couple of iron bars, and some free weights. I wanted a bit more up here, but I was determined not to pay for it. I knew of there were lots of people who had bought a treadmill, used it for a week, and then were desperate to get rid of it to assuage their guilt for letting it gather dust. Well, I’m proud to say that we accomplished my goal within the first two weeks! We now have a Nordictrack, an elliptical, a multi-use home gym (pulldown, bench/flye, leg extension/curl, low row, and stair stepper), a flat/incline bench with a preacher curl connector, a barbell, and two dumbbells with about 190 lbs in plates. This incredible haul was due mostly to Denette’s amazing craigslisting/freecycling skills. She would find it, I would call on it, and we would go and pick it up. I’m totally inspired. In fact, I think I’m going to have to get a quick ski in right now.

With that, I raise one well-muscled arm to you in farewell. Until next time!

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It’s true, the sunflower has mutated into some hydra-like plant that seems to produce an endless number of sunflowers. Not that I’m complaining, because I now have dozens of little sunbursts to ogle at, but it’s truly amazing how much it is producing. In fact, it’s producing so many sunflowers that the sheer weight of them is overloading the branches and causing them to break off. It’s a bit mind-blowing.

But not completely inexplicable.

You see, when the sunflower was still a wee lass, Denette mistook it for a weed. And pulled it. Denette is very industrious and efficient. I love you, sweetheart. When I came out to the garden and saw the poor little sunflower splayed out on the ground beside the bed I cried a little.

“Oh,” said Denette, “I thought that was a weed.” (I’ve already told you this part, but the dialogue seemed important).

“Hmm…” I said, “…it wasn’t. It was a cute, innocent sunflower and you murdered it.”

Denette gave me one of her oh, puh-leeze looks, picked up the dying sunflower, and jammed it back into the soil of the raised bed.

“There,” she said. “It should be fine.

I did not concur. And I fully expected it to find a shriveled stalk the next day. But what I found instead was a sunflower that knew it had a second chance and threw all it’s energy into making as many descendants as possible as fast as possible in case it was again mistaken for a weed in the future.

The bees are certainly happy.

They’re also happy with my pumpkin. Yes, that’s one pumpkin. Growing out of a mound of compost.

And taking over.


I have had to hack it back with a pair of clippers to keep it in line. So far, it’s tried to kill pretty much everything else in the garden, save the tomatoes, which can totally hold their own. My poor little Stars and Moons melons are surrounded and feeling very claustrophobic. “We didn’t sign on for this,” I can hear them saying.

Every day the pumpkin grows another foot. Seriously. A foot. Now it’s into the cucumbers we planted.

And the actual gourds themselves? Yeah, there’s already a dozen of them. One is as big as my head. Already. I have no idea how big it’s going to be by Halloween. Or, more importantly, where it’s going to fit.

The rest of the garden is going crazy, too, especialy the tomatoes which have boldly resisted our attempts at control, but that’s a subject for another post.

Oh, and here’s how the kids “help out” in the garden. Gotta love ’em!!

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We have a wonderful, shiny new episode for you! It’s summer garden planting time, and that’s just what we do. We’ve learned a lot from last year’s planting and we use that to make this year’s garden even more prolific.

But wait, there’s more! In this episode we have a lively discussion about sustainability and government with Adam Hill, newly elected county supervisor. He’s also a former English professor of mine from Cal Poly, so the conversation is an easy and a fun one to have.

And if you act now we will even throw in a segment about building a clothesline, complete with all of my struggles, mistakes, and brilliant recovery. In the end, it actually works. And five months on we’re still hanging clothes exclusively. FYI, major money savings! Check out the Project Expense Tracker and our Energy Savings Tracker to see how our savings are adding up.

But you must act now! Hurry, my mom is standing by to hear your opinions of our latest endeavor!

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The wigglettes!

Hey gang! Here’s a bit more information about the worm bins we created in the last episode. So now you have NO excuse not to start one. 🙂

  • First, make sure you get red wigglers for your bin. They like working in close quarters. Earthworms are just the opposite. They hate being confined and are much better out in the wide open spaces.
  • Next, our dear little babies don’t like light; that is why we painted the drawers black. To keep it dark. Even though they have no eyes they are light sensitive. Too much light exposure paralyzes them and they dry up and die in less than an hour. Then you cry. Then you have a little wake, with music and a nice glass of wine…. Anyway, keep the bin in a shady cool spot with good air circulation.
  • Now, make sure they have enough “bedding”, i.e. wet newspapers. No glossy or fancy paper. Keep it simple. They will eventually digest all the bedding into compost also.
  • Tip: The ratio is 2:1. Two pounds of food for every pound of worms. There are about 1000 worms in a pound. One pound of worms can eat 2 pounds of food in a day. Yes, that’s a LOT of kitchen scraps!
  • Finally, don’t give them any moldy or spoiled food or the bin will start to smell and attract flies. Keep it fresh. And remember no meat, dairy or citrus. They are picky eaters in that respect and will just high tail it out of there.

If you want to make worm tea or wrangle give a holler. We got people and places for you to go to learn more. Tell us how you are doing, too. We’d love to hear how well (or not) it’s going!

I wrangled for the first time about a month ago. Because it’s more precious than gold, I used the worm tea for my favorite plants and I started some tomatoes with the compost. It is, without a doubt, the BEST, MOST COMPLETE compost you can find. And you can grow  your own!

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And what a beautiful weekend it was for shooting scenes and planting veggies!

First, we prepped:

  • We soaked the beds thoroughly
  • I tilled to loosen the dense loam
  • We sprayed worm “tea” (read: poop) on the soil and then tilled it under

Then we planted:

Lots o' bounty!

As you can see, the right-hand bed still has some hangers-on from the winter planting. We’re going to make the plants in this bed multi-seasonal.

The mound in the middle is comprised of a) my failed composting efforts and b) my successful (though unintentional) greenhouse efforts: the little cantaloupes had started in the “compost” so I just transplanted them to the mound. I’m a genius (also unintentional).


Finally, we planted some potatoes, some already started—again, from my composter-turned-greenhouse.

Now we water, we weed, and we wait for the sweet, sweet rewards!

How about you? Have you planted your summer garden?

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Thank you, Freecycle! We just picked up two real (as in designed for the purpose) worm bins. And we even got the red wrigglers. Now, along with our homemade bin, we will have plenty of compost and castings. Plenty.

Worms and all!

The woman who freecycled the bins told us that she had gotten them for free from the City of SLO. Time to put on the Deerstalker and investigate!

Hercules and Catwoman are thrilled!

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First, for those of you with RSS readers, I fixed the blog title so it shows up on the feeds again. (Thanks for the heads-up, Chris!)

And now, the next episode! It’s a  jam-packed one. My mom and I are really starting to get the hang of this—except maybe for the whole indoor lighting thing. You’ll see what I mean.

Wait until you see the garden! It’s insane how big the veggies (and the sunflowers) got. I mean it. Insane. We also get to the SLO Farmers Market, where I interview some of our local farmers (and a bee keeper). Logan and Kaia track down some lizards to show us, and my mom and I have a coffee and talk about the triple bottom line philosophy. Like I said, jam packed!

I’m totally stoked at the momentum we’re building for Hole in the Fence. There are great things happening here and I can feel the energy! I hope you do, too.

Let us know what you think in the comments. We love your feedback!

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So I am sitting in my favorite coffee house, Black Horse (which used to be called Uptown and which is where I used to work in my college days sooooo long ago). After the euporia of my latte began to wear off and more pragmatic thoughts began to filter through my brain, a conversation I’d had with my mom bubbled back to the surface. It was about coffee grounds. Coffee grounds and gardens. And reusing. And not wasting.

You see, coffee grounds are GREAT for my garden. And Black Horse has LOTS of coffee grounds. Therefore, getting LOTS of coffee grounds from Black Horse would be GREAT for my garden. Oooooh, I LOVE logic! (You can tell that by now my latte high has completely dissipated).

Seriously, Eric makes the BEST lattes.

I asked Eric—the manager and coffee hero who created my nectar-of-the-gods—if Black Horse recycled its grounds. His response was measured and polite.

“Hell no. We have way too many grounds for that.” He pointed to the trash bins where they deposited the steaming remains of brewed and espressoed coffee.

“But you would give them to someone who asked?” I pressed.

“Sure. In fact, we have a few people who come in for that already. Why, were you thinking about some for your garden?”

My opening arriveth on golden wings.

“Yep. And I have a few other friends who might like some, too.”

Do I ever. Here’s the deal: if you live in SLO and you need grounds, feel free to stop by and ask for a bag of grounds. Better yet, bring your own bag. Tell Eric that Samson sent you. If we get enough interest, I’ll formalize this with Eric and we’ll create an actual Grounds for the Garden program, which will benefit everyone involved:

  • Us gardeners will get some beautiful high-quality grounds for free
  • Black Horse will reduce their trash fees and get increased customer pass-through
  • We’ll be taking waste bound for a landfill and reusing it to produce necessary commodities

If you’re NOT from SLO, have you considered asking your local coffeehouse about reusing their grounds? They’ll probably be up for it if you explain the potential benefits.

Huzzah for community involvement!

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Okay, so The Moose is Up again! Unbelievably! I actually feel like I know what I’m doing with Final Cut, which is certainly a sign of the end of the world.

In this episode we get out and mingle with other people at a free faire and a bike kitchen. I also update you on the garden and the state of the compost. Oh, and I get to make some insalata caprese! Which is great, because then I also get to eat it.

Let us know what you think of the latest installment. And if you have any ideas for content, leave it in the comments.


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