Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bee Happy

Ever since I got in to this whole sustainable agriculture thing, I have wanted to keep bees. This is stark difference from my childhood, when I just wanted to get away from bees. So here I am, hanging out on Permaculture demonstration farm, where its great to have bees. They pollinate all of your plants and they make plenty of honey to share with us humans. All they ask for in return is some deluxe accommodations.

As I was working in the orchard which is located on a hill just below our resident bees, I noticed some increased insect activity. Busy as a bee, was brought to a new level. The bees were active and flying about in large numbers and their was an audible buzz from 20 feet away. So just after lunch we came out to the orchard to find a great big ball of bees hanging out from the bottom of a lemon tree. This was a swarm.

Bees swarm when they have grown to big for their hive. When the hive recognizes the lack of real estate in the area, a new queen will be born. A series of scouts are sent out to check out new possibilities for a home. When they return, they do the bee dance, which is their version of a reconnaissance briefing. The queen then comes out of the hive and is surrounded by all the workers creating a giant ball of bees. It is interesting to note that the bees also gorge on honey for this event and are so full that they are unable to sting.

The trick for the beekeeper is to get the big ball of bees into a new bee hive that you have prepared. So upon noticing the swarm, us aspiring beekeepers went and found Penny Livingston-Stark, permaculture superstar and veteran beekeeper. Penny guided us through the rest of the process and did some of the more intense work.

They are are a series of bee boxes already on the property. They are standard manufactured hives. A hive box is kind of like a filing cabinet. There is the bigger box that is filled with slat frames that the bees construct their homes in. The slats are similar to a folder that would hang in the filing cabinet. The bees build their honey combs in the frames that hang vertically in the box. So we had a new box, with 8 frames in it, with two blank pieces to take up the extra room on the sides. It is important to have only the allotted amount of space between the slats (enough for a bee to pass freely) and not more, because the bees will build their comb outside of the slats and then its all a big mess.

So we made sure the slats were all clean and we put in some wax honey comb starters, so the bees would have a guide. We also took a blow torch and lightly brushed the flame throughout the box to kill any germs.

In order to catch the swarm, we had to remove a few slats from the box so that the big ball of bees would have space to get in. We donned our stylish bee suits and went up the hill to the lemon tree and the bees. Conveniently the swarm was close to the ground. We positioned the new hive box underneath the swarming ball. Then Penny, bravely, shook the branch and the bees fell in to the hive box. The important thing is to make sure the queen gets in, because everybody else just follows her. Apparently she made it in, because the bees stayed there. Penny slowly replaced the rest of the slats and covered the hive. Then we left it alone. Later that evening, Penny returned and duck taped all the openings to the hive and moved the box to its spot next to the other hives in the orchard. More bees, more honey.

Penny also showed us how to harvest honey from another hive. Using a smoker is essential, because unlike when they are swarming, they can still sting. It calms the bees down and they don't mind as much when you take a whole slat out of the hive. Penny brushed off the bees and then we brought the honey comb inside. Fresh honey from the hive is amazing. Sustainable hedonism at its finest. Its a simple process of putting the honey comb in a strainer to allow the honey to separate from the wax.

So that was my first experience with beekeeping. Perhaps by the end of the summer, I will be harvesting honey and catching swarms on my own.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sustainable Sunday: Corvallis Hydroponics and Organics

If you read the lovely post we got from guest blogger Stephanie "Working Homemaker" Duckett, you would have noticed a new business mentioned that provides for gardeners here in Linn and Benton Counties - Corvallis Hydroponic and Organics. Out on Philomath Blvd., the store promises "a one stop shop where they [gardeners] can purchase all the needed supplies to successfully start and maintain their gardens."

Stephanie was excited about this place because it was where she found vermiculite for her square foot garden. I am excited about its wide variety of items aimed at helping people grow quality organic produce at their own homes. I also enjoy that the company aims to educate people about hydroponics - the science of gardening without soil.

Though hydroponics often gets a bad rap because of its association with growing marijuana (we make no judgments either way), it can be an excellent choice for people living in cities because it does not require that people have soil in their yards. Hydroponics can be done indoors, on rooftops, in empty lots, and in places where the soil has been too polluted for growing veggies. The folks at Corvallis Hydroponic and Organics also make note that despite the fact that it seems hydroponics would use more water, that it takes about 10% of the water in traditional gardening. They also argue that one can yield the same amount of produce in 1/5 the space.

I feel a hydroponic experiment coming on...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Semi-Urban Homesteader...Meet Working Homemaker!

We looooove to get posts from people who are out there doing, working, creating things related to sustainability, environment, and recycling. Here is a post from guest-blogger Stephanie "Working Homemaker" Duckett, my colleague, friend, and fellow ladies' garden club member!

I am challenged with (among other things) a small garden space. This winter to alleviate my discontent, I passed the time thinking of how to make my summer garden more glorious. I came across the All New Square Foot Garden book by Mel Bartholomew touting a revolutionary way to get more out of your garden with not only less space (ME!) but less time, less money, less work (me, me me!).

You see, I’m a working mom, so my regular home-making activities of laundry, feeding, bathing, cleaning, reading, cuddling, kissing, have to fit into narrow hours of the day like a Cirque de Soleil contortionist (which incidentally is also how we five fit into our tiny house). Where does one find time or space to garden?! Beats me.

But, on Tuesday, I got lucky. Nephew John had a “fever” on Monday when I picked him up from school and they wouldn’t let me bring him in on Tuesday morning, EVEN THOUGH HE WAS FINE. So instead, I had a whole sunny day to garden, with help.

We started by digging out all the old dirt from our raised beds and transplanting it to future beds. Then we added the very specific soil mixture of 1/3 compost (bought, since my composting days began mere months ago) 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 vermiculite. What’s vermiculite you say? Well it’s sorta like those white pebble things you find in store bought plant soils (which is called perlite). Except its gold and very hard to find. Home Depot didn’t have it in store. Yes, yes, I know the evils of corporate mega marts, but let me brag on the HD for just a minute. When I went to find the elusive vermiculite in store, a kind attendant told me they didn't carry it in store, but I could buy it online. But he said don’t bother doing that, because I could get it at Corvallis Hydroponic in larger bags for cheaper. And I’ll be dammed, he was right. $20 for 4 cubic feet (compare this to another place up the street that sells theirs for 2qt at $12.99 and you know you’ve found a deal.).

John and I mixed it all together and (fingers crossed) I now have weed free, highly efficient garden beds.

Now Mel really wants you to do square grids on your garden. And, now that I’ve bought into the soil, I see no reason to stop there. To save money, John and I stopped by the Benton Habitat for Humanity ReStore and bought 8 foot blinds for $5 instead of expensive wood. This was the best idea ever. They’re lightweight, cheap and you can staple them to your boxes with a staple gun and they trim up with a plain ‘ol pair of scissors. And, should I choose to do a SFG next year, I have hundreds more in my shed now (anyone need blinds?)

The overall effect is cute, and adds such a level of organization that I wish I could square foot everything. I don’t yet know how my garden will grow, but I’m very excited to find out.

Total cost:

Peat Moss: $44

Compost: $30

Vermiculite: $80

Blinds: $5


Friday, April 15, 2011

Recycled Candles

I love candles. Most days, the first thing I do when I get home (after putting my stuff down and greeting my dog of course) is light up a candle in the room where I am about to spend time. I find it a calming way to introduce cleansing and energy flow into my space. I also love when I light candles throughout the house. I can walk from room to room and be invited by a warm glow and pleasant smell wherever I go.

That said, candles are EXPENSIVE and they never last as long as I'd like. Plus, once the wick is gone there is still so much wax left that I feel badly tossing it. So...what does a good semi-urban homesteader do? She reuses old candles and makes them into new ones!

The process starts with wick making. Today when I got excited about making candles I was sad to learn that this process would take me about a week. So I got started as quickly as possible as the candles I have right now are getting low. I went to my local co-op and got myself a baby food jar full of borax. I got a recipe off of ehow.com - 4T of borax, 2T of salt, and 1.5 cups of warm water is all you need to get these babies started. Oh, and you need cotton string. I decided to use some of the leftover string from when I made my pea trellis.

Mix all the ingredients together and soak the string it it for 15 minutes. I was upset to see that the proportions were such that there was precipitant in the bottom of the glass. This means that the solution was saturated and no more of the solvents could be dissolved. To me that seemed a waste, and in the future I will use less of each. Perhaps when you are making your own you could add the borax and salt in proportion to one another at increments and see when you reach the saturation point. If you are dedicated enough to do that, you are certainly dedicated enough to let us know what amounts of salt and borax are actually needed for this project.

Once you have soaked your strings for at least 15 minutes, you need to hang them to dry completely. This is what takes so freaking long! The ehow article said it would take about 5 days to make sure that the strings are dried completely. This being Oregon, I decided it might not hurt to wait until the following weekend to finish the project. We shall see...

I hung the strings on the handles of my kitchen cupboards. I think it looks pretty. We shall see what kind of nuisance I have created for myself this week!

It took just shy of a week for those strings to be totally dry. I imagine that if I lived in a less humid part of the world this would not have taken as long. In the end the strings were dry, stiff, and coated with crystallized borax and salt.

The next part was the fun part! I needed to melt down my old wax so I could turn it into candles. Now let me tell you, candle wax is flammable, so you don't want to toss it into a pot on the stove. Most of the ways I know of to melt the wax call for a double boiler. Yeah...I don't have one. So what I did was place some similarly-sized, flat, river rocks in the bottom of a saucepan. The idea is that the container into which I am placing the wax does not come into contact with the burner.

I just tossed all my wax into the pot and boiled the water around it. It took about 30 minutes for all of this wax to boil. As you can see I have a couple of different colors in here. I don't actually care about the color of my candles as much as that I get flamy goodness. If you do care it should be an easy fix to just keep the colors separate.

While the wax was melting I prepped the strings for becoming wicks. I decided to hook each one onto a large safety pin. I then dipped each string into the melting wax and hung them up to dry.

Being able to just stick them into the bottom of my kitchen cabinet to hang was a nice bonus of using the pins!

The strings dried stiff and straight. Then I had to prep the wicks to be in the center of the candles when I poured them. I did this by trimming them longer than the depth of the container. I then used the stiff stickiness of the wax-covered string to bend it around stainless steel skewers. When I set the skewer down over the top of the container I could center where the string hung down.

Once the wax was totally melted I poured it into the containers. I spilled a lot which made me sad. I probably could have gotten 5 candles out of what I had, but instead I got 4.

I let the candles sit out until they were hard enough to pick up without sloshing. Then I put them in the fridge to harden faster and turned to cleaning up my mess...sigh.

Once the candles were hard I trimmed the wicks to 1/4" and lit 'em up! I think they are very pretty, and even with a big mix of colors and scents, they ended up smelling great too.

I will say the one thing I noticed is they give off a bit more smoke than store-bought ones.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Out of Ground Experience

So for those of you who were surprised by my post about doing kale, spinach, and chard starts indoors, this post is for you. Usually one does not plant these seeds indoors and then transplant them. They germinate at cooler temperatures, and conventional gardening wisdom states that one should sow them directly into the ground. However, we are all about experimentation at S-UH, as well as cultivating (no pun intended) ways to make gardening more accessible to people in climates less mild than the Pacific Northwest. I wanted to see if there was a way that my family in Central New York, or our readers in Chicago, Minnesota, and Alberta could get their plants going before the outdoor growing season starts.

Hence the article in which I planted kale, spinach, and chard into egg cartons to get the growin' goin'. These little sprouts are leafy and happy on my start shelf, but beautiful weather and the need to turn them EVERY DAY due to sun coming from only one direction finds me putting them out into the raised beds in the backyard.

First off, if you are following the blog, you know that the beds themselves are experimental. They have been out back rotting away for a while now, and I am please to report that the peas I planted recently have been growing well out there! Here's how I am going about planting in the sheet mulch, as well as details about the transplantation experiment.

The sheet mulch is not soil. It is a partially-composted mass of striated compost, straw, soil, and manure. To increase the success of anything I plant here I am digging a trench into the bed, and filling that trench with soil before putting in the transplants. In this pic I show the trench I dug today to put in the pea starts that I kept indoors for an extra week.

I used the cardboard egg cartons to plant in, which meant that I could just cut them up and place the plants into the soil inside the cups. Here is where the experiment starts getting interesting. The plants came up in the egg cartons just fine. I planted one row of each plant by scooping the start out of the cup and planting it bare into the soil, one row with the cups still intact, and one row I sowed seeds directly into the ground. Now all I have to do is water, fertilize, and watch to see what happens with each row. Not the most scientific, controlled experiment but hey, I am no scientist.

The plants are in! Will report back to see how it goes. At the moment I get to enjoy the happy kale, chard, spinach, and pea plants out back in the sun. Oh, and the cucumber starts are popping up!!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Garlic Gone 'Bad'

We've all done it. I've done it, you've done it (admit it!) - it happens all the time.

We buy something, we forget about it, and it goes bad.

I try very very very very hard not to do this. I work with people who deal with food insecurity. I believe in sustainability. I hate waste. I think food is a precious gift. Yet despite all of these tenets I do find bizarre science experiments in the back of my fridge, and spend a fair amount of time convincing myself that the floppy carrots are OK to eat.

I will say that my commitment to composting makes things easier. At least I can take that bad food and put it to good use as worm food and soil. That said, there are some times when people determine that a food is not good to eat, but it need not be compost-bound. Today I am going to talk about one such food - garlic.

I LOVE garlic. It has medicinal properties, tremendous health benefits, and tastes amazing. However there are days when I just don't want to take the time to peel and chop it up into my food. I usually buy a bulb of garlic and get through only about 2/3 of it before it starts to move on. When I say move on what I mean is that it sprouts. You know, those tender green shoots that come out the top of the cloves. Once this happens the garlic IS edible, but not nearly as good. It tastes green, loses its bite, and is just not as appealing.

I realized this morning while making an omelet that the garlic in the kitchen was sprouted. I've been thinking about planting garlic for a while now, so I decided instead of composting it I'd put these babies in the ground! The problem: garlic is not included in the garden plan. I don't have space allocated for it. Hmmm...

I'd been thinking about getting some container gardening going for a while now, but have been working mostly on the raised beds. This seemed like a great opportunity to get something going. When I lived in Utah, I had a garden that was 100% in containers - buckets, plant pots, milk crates, and cardboard boxes. What I found was that the plants in the cardboard did the best. I think it was because in the hot Utah sun the boxes held in moisture the best. Though Oregon is not hot like the Utah desert, I do know that it turns up the sun and temperature in the summer, so I decided to put my garlic into cardboard boxes.
Lovin' the Hop Czar Box!

I cut the boxes to make them shorter. Garlic needs at least 6" of soil depth to yield well, so I cut the boxes to 10", and lined the bottoms with newspaper. I find that when planting in cardboard it helps to put the paper in the bottom so that less water gets lost out the bottom. I added 8"-9" of soil into the boxes on top of the newspaper. The soil we are using is about 50% potting soil, and 50% compost. It is very light, loamy, and drains easily. I find it great for plants once they grow, but know that when you are germinating in it you might need to water more often because it dries out very quickly.

I have made a personal commitment to plant all of my sprouted garlic from now on.

I planted the garlic in the boxes with 6" in between each clove. The planting depth is important for garlic - no more than 1-1.5" into the soil. Too close to the top and they don't root well, and too far underneath and they don't grow. As I was planting, the ones that had long sprouted "tails" I planted with the tip of the green sticking out of the soil. Be sure to plan the cloves right side up. The green sprouted end needs to point up, and the flat end that was attached to the rest of the bulb goes down.

At the food pantry I manage we have a whole bunch of potatoes that are sprouting. We are going to have to toss them per state laws (totally understand this), so I am going to bring a bunch of them home to cut up and do the same thing!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sustainable Sunday: Benton Habitat for Humanity ReStore


You may have read the glowing article about the ReBuilding Center up in Portland...well, here in Corvallis we have another amazing place that does the same thing - the Benton Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Located at 1327 NW 9th Street here in Corvallis, this rambling maze of a warehouse and home furnishings store provides people in the Willamette Valley low-cost reclaimed building supplies. I frequent their back rooms and outdoor lot scanning for doors, lumber, chicken wire, plant pots, and other items I can use or reuse in my projects. Recently I went in to pick up the stakes I used to put up my pea playground. I also bought the screens that I used for my start shelf and drying rack.

The staff at the ReStore are friendly, fun, and helpful. Many of the people I have met there are volunteers who come in to help out. Monies made at the ReStore are also recycled - they go toward Habitat For Humanity projects in the area. It's great to see materials AND money staying local.

I really enjoy places like this. Even if you are not here in the Willamette Valley I encourage you to see if there are any places that sell reclaimed building supplies in your area. It is a great way to keep things out of the landfill, do projects on a budget, and give back through your purchases.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Towering Piles of Potatoes

Posted by Jason

I wanted to share two alternative methods of planting potatoes that I experimented with today, down here at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas CA. A potato tower and a Hugokultur.

Planting potatoes straight in to the ground works great for most people, but down here in California there is a major gopher issue. So you either have to be smarter than the gophers or use poisons (definitely not organic) or traps.

I would like to believe that I am smarter than a gopher. After all, I went to college. My co workers here on the farm also have the firm conviction that we will not let these ground burrowing rodents destroy our root crops. So we have endeavored to create two different methods of potato cultivation.

The Hugokultur (pronounced Hoo go kull toor) or Hugo Culture or just Potato Mound was a method that I read about in Gaia's Garden, by Toby Hemenway. Its way of composting twigs and brush and growing vegetables simultaneously. Or as we say in permaculture, stacking functions. The idea is that you get a pile of brush (small branches etc) and throw some compost able materials on top and plant some potatoes in it.

I began by clearing out an area of the garden that had been overgrown. I pulled up the weeds and put them aside. The area was about 15 square feet. Then I put down some wire mesh to keep any underground invasions ( I am taking no chances). Then I placed twigs and branches across the mesh about a foot thick. I stomped on the pile to compress it a bit. Then I threw on all the uprooted weeds on top of the pile. I proceeded to water the pile to the consistency of a run out sponge. Then I shoveled on some soil and some compost. Then I planted the potatoes in the the pile.

I have read, but not yet proven, that you can plant your potatoes earlier than normal using this method. This is because the pile starts to compost and creates heat that warms the potatoes and helps them along. The decomposing matter will also give a slow feed of nutrients over the course of time. I hope it all goes well.

The pile of twigs and branches

The finished mound ready for the potatoes

The other operation undertaken was a potato tower. Why do just one method, when you can try two. Its pretty simple. I had some help from my co workers Brandon and Patti. We found some old fencing, that was just a couple different kinds of chicken wire and made them into a large tube about 5 feet high and 3 feet in diameter. Then we folded the bottom under and secured it, to make sure the gophers would not be able to access it. Pretty simple structure. You could probably make it out of some poles and light gage chicken wire as well. The potatoes need to be able to send leaves out of it but the holes can't be so big as to let the soil fall out.

So we put some straw on the bottom and then about a foot of soil and compost mixed. Next we placed some potatoes on the soil. Then we added another layer of soil and compost. Then we placed some more potatoes. Then more soil. The idea is that potatoes can grow out from the sides of the tower. This a great way to grow more potatoes with less space and its easy to make.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Piping Hot Lasagna Compost

Hey all - finally got Jason to write us up a post!!! Here's the second part of the series on composting...

As I was wandering up in the hills of coastal California today, I could not help but think about lasagna. I was not thinking of that wonderful Italian American dish that my grandmother used to make with those delicious layers of sauce, pasta, cheese, meat and more cheese. Although, now that I am writing this I am getting hungry. No, I was thinking about part 2 of a 2 part series on compost. If you are an avid follower of our blog (c'mon its ok to admit it) you would know that we previously wrote on the wonders of vermiculture, or worms eating your food waste and turning it into superfood for plants. Today, I will give you a brief outline on building a 'hot' compost pile.

In regards to compost, it is always important to remember everything breaks down eventually. For instance, it takes Mother Earth about 75 years to build up an inch of top soil through good old fashioned natural processes. If you don't have that long, there are ways of speeding it up. Such as creating compost piles. Which brings us back to lasagna.

The concept is that you are creating a compost pile that is based upon alternating layers of carbon and nitrogen. The goal is that you end up with a combined ratio of 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. It is important to keep in mind that that is the ideal, and not the rule. Compost, can be a very exact science, and require all kinds of subtly. Trust me, I have personally observed that there are all kinds of really thick books on the subject. Just check out the bibliographies of many gardening books. Then go out and build a compost pile, and don't really worry about it too much.

So you might be asking, how do I tell what has carbon and what has nitrogen? Simple, carbon is brown and nitrogen is green. Now granted it really is not that simple, but for our purposes we'll say it is. This is a good way to think about whatever plant matter you might have kicking around your yard. Those grass clippings after you just mowed the lawn are a great source of nitrogen, and the big pile of leaves makes a good source of carbon. Food waste that has not yet broken down makes a good nitrogen source, as well as animal manures (horse, goat, chicken). In fact if you want to make a really good hot pile, and you have a source of manure, it makes a great addition.

So what is a "hot" compost pile and what is a cold pile. Composting is a process of creating an environment for microorganisms to break down organic matter and turn it into humus. A hot pile is when you create your "lasagna" layers all at once which allows the nitrogen to heat up the pile to a temperature high enough to allow the micro-organisms and fungi to multiply and break down their food source, the carbon material, faster and potentially kill any pathogens or weed seeds in the pile. A cold compost pile is just piling up your carbon and nitrogen material as you collect it. This process does not immediately trigger the nitrogen to activate the pile, therefore, the carbon will take longer to breakdown.

How to make a layered hot compost pile:

Take your time and make some soil!

  • Pick a spot in your yard that you don't mind things rotting and perhaps smelling a little (if you make it right and maintain it, it should not smell too bad )
  • Think about access to the pile. You will want to get future materials to the pile and the ability to distribute the pile back on your garden after it has become humusBulleted List
  • Access to water. You want to have the ability to water your compost periodically if it dries out.
  • Ideally it is on bare ground, which allow earthworms and other critters to come up and eat and contribute to the process.
  • If you have a chicken coop, you might want to think about all the wonderful nutrition they could get from feeding off the bugs and worms that live in the pile.
  • To create fully functioning 'hot compost' you need to start with a minimum of a cubic yard. 3 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 3 feet high. Or a little under a meter if you are metric minded.
  • If you are making a hot pile, it is recommended that you have a system in which to contain it
  • The three bin system is popular and works well. The idea is 3 adjacent boxes, that are 4 cubic feet (or bigger). Pallets work really well for this and you can often get them for free or cheap.
  • You can also build a frame and then use chicken wire to contain the compost material.

Making the pile
  • Start with a layer of small branches and or brush and twigs. Something that allow air to get under the pile and circulate in. Make sure that your base footprint is 3 square feet.
  • Then put down your first layer of carbon. Maybe those leaves you raked up last fall. You want your carbon layer to be about 4-12 inches. It depends on whether it will compress with additional weight (ie leaves you might want to go pretty thick).
  • Add some water. Not too much, but you are going for the consistency of a rung out sponge. If your materials are already wet, then don't add water
  • Then you add a layer of nitrogen about 2-3 inches. Grass clippings, wet food waste, manure (dry food waste tends to lose most of its nitrogen).
  • Then add another carbon layer
  • Then more nitrogen etc.
  • Water every layer or every other layer as appropriate
  • Do this until your pile is a a minimum of 3 feet high
  • Top it of with some straw or leaves or something to suppress any smell.
  • Add some soil to the top to prevent the nitrogen from escaping.
Turning the pile
  • If possible, track the temperature of your pile ( a meat thermometer works well) . You are looking for a temperature of 131-150 degrees. Anything higher means you have too much nitrogen and are losing it as methane gas and killing the beneficial micro-organisms. After three days above 131 degrees, it is beneficial to turn the pile to re-ignite it. You should turn the pile several times a month for the first 2-3 months. Once the temperature cools down to ambient air, then it is time to let the pile sit.
  • Turning the pile will continue the process that you have started. Using a pitchfork you want to move the pile to the adjacent bin. Because the middle of the pile is the hottest, it is important to activate the entire pile so turn the material from the outer edges into the middle of the new pile and the hotter material to the edges. If you need to add more nitrogen sources it is good to layer them in.
  • Turning will aerate the pile and restart the microbial activity
When is it done?
  • Composting is a very variable enterprise. It can take from 1-6 months or longer
  • You know that you are done when you have a rich dark brown humus instead of a bunch of identifiable rotting parts.
  • It's a good idea to put it through a sifter before using in soil.
  • Keep it covered if it is raining so valuable nutrients don't leach out and the pile does not become saturated and stop the composting process.
A few notes
  • If you have manure, it's better to put it in the middle layers or towards the top
  • Keep your pile moist, but not soaked. You are trying to create an ideal climate for microorganisms. Like plants, too much water and they drown and too little and they die of thirst
  • If you are putting weeds in your pile, make sure that they have not gone to seed. If they have, you may get your pile hot enough to kill them off, but you might not.
  • A great time to build your pile is after harvesting in the fall. You will have plenty of great nitrogen (from the freshly pulled plants) and it will have the winter to break down.
So get out there and start composting!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sustainable Sunday: Youth Garden Project

Starting off, if you are reading this (and of course, if you are reading this you are reading this) please know that if you have a favorite business dedicated to sustainability please write in so we can highlight them!!! Our hope here is that we can cover businesses all over as opposed to those in Oregon and Utah. We know there are places out there in Chicago, and New York, and Europe, and anywhere else you might be checking in from!!!

This week we wanted to touch on a Utah nonprofit that is near and dear to the heart. The Youth Garden Project is dedicated to the cultivation of personal growth, self responsibility, and and community awareness in young people through the understanding and practice of organic gardening. Deep in the heart of Moab, UT, YGP is tucked up against the high school grounds (go red devils!), and offers a series of programs and events meant to teach children about health and sustainability.

Most of the staff are Americorps volunteers - young adults learning about themselves while putting on events such as a multi-week summer camp with weekly themes such as superheroes, recycled fashion show, and putting on a play. During the school year they offer after school programs and host field trips. They also host after school clubs.

YGP also does community events not aimed at children. They host workshops such as chicken coop tours, canning, baking bread, and bee keeping. Over the summer a bi-weekly weed and feed program provides a free meal to community members who come and help out for a couple of hours. Every Saturday you can find them pedaling their amazing veggies, pastries, jams and other items at the local farmers' market that they host. They also bring in local chefs to put on fund-raising dinners with locally-sourced food.

When I lived in Moab I was very privileged to be able to work with the incredible people over at YGP. If you are ever in Moab stop in to see the geodesic dome, earthbag walls, veggies, and incredible people!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Playground for Peas

It has not taken long for the pea starts to shoot up (no pun intended) and start to tip over. I was not expecting to put them into the ground so soon, but I was worried that they would not continue to grow up if I did not move at least the tallest. So...I went out today and got the requisite materials for building a pea trellis.

Vertical gardening is an excellent way to maximize space when you are growing things in a small backyard. We will be doing a number of projects that utilize this tactic. Peas are nearly always grown vertically (I only say nearly always because there MIGHT be someone out there doing it differently, but I don't know any other good way to grow them). So as soon as my peas were tall enough to start bowing downward I knew it was time to get them outside.

Building something for peas to climb on is really really really really really really really (you get the point) simple. If your garden is up against a chain link fence you don't even have to make something - just use that unless you are worried about animals (or your neighbor's children...or your neighbors for that matter) stealing your peas through the links. I took a trip to the Benton Habitat for Humanity ReStore downtown to get scrap lumber for my project ($1.25 baby). I chose 5 pieces so that I could keep the string tight over the 8 foot lengths of my raised bed.

I got my string at Michael's - an arts and crafts store in town. My friend Stephanie put a bug in my ear about using nylon string, but my gut wanted to go with cotton. I picked up some cotton yarn meant for crocheting dish towels. I made sure it was non-toxic. i picked red because I thought it would be pretty with the green peas climbing it! I rounded out my supplies with 2" screws left over from Jason's coffee table project.

I used the screws to attach the poles to the outside of the raised bed. If you do this be sure to use two screws per pole. If you use only one it will tip back and forth (and, as you will see at the end of this project, two screws does not ensure this issue either). Why did I not put them on the inside of the box? The answer it simple - it was way easier to do it this way.

While I was working on this I got a chance to check out the sheet mulch up close and personally. The straw has sprouted, so there are a number of weeds, but they are easy to pull. Under the cap of leaves there is rich, dark soil. I also found the bed teeming with insect life - ants, arachnids, lady bugs, and worms. Still not sure how this stuff is going to support plant life, but I am happy with it so far.

I wove the string in and out around the poles, wrapping it around each pole as I passed it. I did it at approximately 1" intervals, and alternated from which side of the poles the string wrapped each pass I took. The result is a ladder of tightly-wound string that goes from soil level up about 3 feet. You can see in the picture below that the posts on the North end started to tilt over with the tension of the string. I went in and added another screw to each after the string was put up to ensure that they don't tip over with the weight of the pea plants.

Other ways to set this up would be to use chicken wire, cheese cloth, mesh, or any other porous materials you like. I put any of my pea starts that were tall enough to reach the string into the bed after building the trellis. This week I will go out every day and check to make sure the peas are attaching to the string to climb. Once I had the materials lined up, the whole project from start to finish took me 3o minutes.