Category Archives: Compost

We Were Going to Rent a Chipper

Something like this one, but probably not from Amazon.

Between pruning and heavy snow damage, we lost a pile of our fruit, spruce, and lilac branches. Over the winter we tried to burn some of them in the fire pit, but that was  futile as it took more good wood to keep the fire going just to burn up a bit of lilac.

Sadly, this photo was taken today, April 20th.
This was April 19th. Way better.

We lamented about how nice it would be to have a chipper so we could mulch all of the piles up and at least get some benefit from the destruction.

 

We tried advertising locally to see if someone had one that they would like to rent out, but nobody responded, so we started looking at nearby rental businesses.

The problem is that the closest rental place to carry wood chippers is two hours away in Dawson Creek. There’s four hours of driving and at least $50 in gas on top of the $150 a day rental fee.

That’s for a chipper that will handle up to 3″ limbs or trees.

We couldn’t justify spending $1000+ on a new machine to mulch up a few piles of branches each year, so we started to look at local classified ads to see if there were any used ones for sale.

There wasn’t, but I did notice that there were electric chippers for as little as $200 when I Googled it, so I started to look into that option.

We really liked the design of the Earthwise GS70015, but it was more than double the price of similar units without the catch bin.

Then we found the same one with a different paint job at Canadian Tire for $199 and started to do a little research and comparisons. Overall, it seemed like a much better option, because we could easily trim our branches small enough to fit through the 1 1/4″ opening with the Cyndi Loppersand we loved the no cleanup aspect with the built in bin.

I had read a bunch of complaints about the product and the screws rusting into the blades and making it nearly impossible to get them out without stripping them, so I took the advice of one reviewer and put anti-seize on all of the screws before use.

Then we went out and fired that sucker up. It made great sized chips for mulch, and once the branches were cut down to size, it gobbled them up quite fast. It didn’t take too many crabapple branches to make this little box of gold.

I kind of want to roll around in them.

I’m going to do up enough to get 8″ of this stuff in the chicken’s run and let them work it around and build up some good compost. I wanted to try it in the coop for bedding, but I’m told that it isn’t a good idea for a few different reasons. All of the reasons include the girls’ health, so I don’t want to chance it. I was just hoping to save a bit of dough, because the bales of shavings are $10 a piece at the local feed store (which doesn’t seem bad after looking at Amazon), and that all adds up.

We also plan on making some good mulch for around the trees and in the gardens, so I will play around with the green/carbon ratios when I’m doing the chipping. I’m sure that I can find the right amount somewhere on YouTube.

Another thing we want to try is hugelkultur, so this is another way we will be able to use the chips and the bigger wood together.  I am going to  look further into it, but I do want to get at least one bed going this year.

I also got thinking that we might get a smoker and see if we can dry the fruit wood chips enough to use them for that. We have a bunch of crabapple, plum and apricot branches to do, so it would be free fuel. I mean why bury them when you can smoke meat to go along with your fresh veggies? 😉

Anyhow, if you are in the market for a little chipper, and you don’t mind a little extra work, you can save yourself quite a bit of money and hassle by shopping around for a small electric one. I can’t vouch for any of them right now, but this one seems like a good deal, and works really good so far. I will definitely update this if things go awry though.

Chris

P.S. If you get the Canadian Tire one, look at my review there. It will tell you about getting new blades from the company. What it won’t tell you is that they will send you free ones if you call before you have had it for two years and they wear out. That is all done over the phone, so you don’t have to take them into CT.

That’s if they weren’t lying to me, and if things don’t change in the next two years.

What A Year

Yeah, it’s been a year since we packed up the Cool Bus and moved to Hudson’s Hope, BC.

A year ago, our yard looked like this.

Minus the swing set
Minus the swing set

Note the lack of garden, chickens, and big composter. We were really starting off our homestead with bare bones. There were two black compost units there when we bought the place, but one was missing a lid and both were dried out ant condos. We started composting everything, and with some heat, weeds, and a garden hose, we got them to producing some nice, dark compost by the fall.

This is what the backyard looks like today.

yard2016

Yeah, there’s some brown patches from where I left the trailer for too long, but I’m hoping that the chickens will help to  get things green again.

Speaking of the chickens, here they are.

Upgrades for the tractor are coming.
Yeah, I ended up getting two more. They seemed lonely as a pair.

I’m going to add a couple of nesting boxes on one side and keep the main box as a roosting/dining area. I added wheels from an old lawn mower at The Share Shed and a handle, because I think dragging it was going to start wrecking things.

We also built some raised bed garden boxes, and there’s stuff in them now.

It's not well planned, but we threw in whatever was free or cheap that we came across.
It’s not well planned, but we threw in whatever was free or cheap that we came across.

We have been hitting Walker Greenhouses for their half price vegetables, and we also got some plants from The Rustic and the Social Responsibility club at the school. Everything is growing well, except for the jalapenos, but I think I planted them in too much shade.

This is part of the front garden. We dug up and sifted out a whole bunch of lilies from it, and next year the rest are going.

Most of these were free from Jane, our egg lady.
A lot of these were free from Jane, our egg lady.

We moved one of the composters from the back to the front, because it’s nice and sunny in the afternoons there. In the spot we moved it from, we put in our soap drying rack that we don’t need anymore and wrapped some chicken wire around the open spots.

Waste not, want not.
Waste not, want not.

I was getting tired of throwing the spruce needles and dog poop over the fence, and saw that the David Suzuki Foundation says we should compost it, so this will be used for yard rakings; dog, chicken, and hamster poop; and any dead animals or birds that we come across. We just can’t use the compost for any edibles, but that’s okay, we can spread it around the yard to replenish the soil and work it’s way back into nature.

We have also started a soap making company; started breeding Red Wigglers, European Night Crawlers, and mealworms; and adopted a second dog named Dover.

Before and after losing a much needed twenty pounds.
Before and after losing a much needed twenty pounds. A lot of that was grey matter.

When we got Dover, we knew he was a sweet dog, but we didn’t know that it was his only redeeming quality. He is quite possibly the least intelligent dog that I have ever met, and we have to rub antiseptic on his gums once a week to prevent his teeth from falling out. I think he was pretty badly neglected, health-wise, and I’d say from his head shyness, he’s been booted around a bit.

I mean, when it takes a month to learn how to sit, there may have been a few hits to the brain. Nevertheless, we still love the poor wretch, and we will keep putting up with his incontinence until it ruins the floors.

Also, we both found gainful employment and there have been some academic accolades for the kids, so all in all, I think we have had a pretty productive year of semi granola-ism.

Next year we will maybe start scoping out some property.

Chris

Trouble In The Worm Bin

So, as you may remember, I have a few different kinds of worms. No, not pinworms and tapeworms. I’m talking about mealworms and composting worms.

Red Wigglers and European Nightcrawlers are the composters, and so far the Euros have far outdone the wigglers as far as breeding and composting goes. That might have something to do with me though, as I have sort of messed up with their housing arrangement.

Pretty roomy digs.
Pretty roomy digs.

I took them out of the plastic bin they were in all winter, and put them back in the bin they started in. The trouble is that the wooden bin is far too big for the amount of worms I havehad. I say had, because I got a bit of an infestation of mites, flies, and rove beetles. I was trying to keep the paper and food moist and out to the edges, but because there is four square feet of space, but only nine square inches of worms, I was overfeeding and while everything was good in the centre, the outsides dried up and the food went moldy. This attracted a totally different bunch of pests to the bin. Some of which caused the worms to do not quite as well as they could have, had I thought things through.

The one that was the scariest looking, was the rove beetle larva. It turns out that it’s not scary, but if I was a worm, I think I wouldn’t want it lurking around my place.

rove beetle larva
Now you see why I was frantically crushing them when I found them. Right?

Now, I hadn’t seen any of the adults, so I wasn’t aware of what this thing was, and went on several insect identifying websites looking for a clue.

Absolutely nothing. I caught one and pinned it to some cardboard to get photos of it, but after I sent them off to the various sites, I saw a picture and realized that it was larvae that I was smushing all over the place.

Larvae that were probably helping me out by eating the ticks and stuff, instead of the worms.

You live and you learn.

I did harvest the castings from the Euros. I got over five pounds of this.

 

Yes, I get excited about poop.
Yes, I get excited about poop.

I promptly mixed it in with some peat moss and then mixed that into the gardens. I then harvested over a hundred pounds of strawberries from the newly fertilized plants.

That was all true, except for the strawberry part. There are lots of flowers and some little green berry nubs on there though. Everything is doing great, but the jalapenos aren’t getting much growth yet. Maybe they won’t, but I see them opening up a bit and possibly some little flower buds coming out, so I cling to hope.

We’ve decided that we won’t sell any more worms until we have a healthy population and are getting our compost needs met. We want to get our soil as healthy as can be, and when that happens we can look at branching out. The organic matter alone is worth what I paid for the worms, and you can really tell from the way things are taking off for us.

We have lots of excellent growth in the gardens, we aren’t throwing out any organic waste, and if I ever decide to go fishing, I won’t be paying $7 for a dozen worms. (Yes, it’s really that much.)

The other plus side is that I really enjoy being a worm rancher. It totally relaxes me, and it keeps me on my toes. I’m always researching about them, and I think that everything you can learn about your future is probably the best investment you can make with your time.

Researching led us to John, and he has got us fired up even more for growing our own food. Check him out and if you like him, subscribe to his channel. We try to watch a couple of videos a day.

He really does teach you a lot about all sorts of things related to growing your own food. I learn something new every day.

Chris

Almost Free Raised Bed Garden

So last fall I was working in the bush and went by this huge burn pile about ten times a day. Normally I wouldn’t pay much attention to a fifteen foot tall pile of trees on a pipeline right of way, but this pile had a lot of short 2″x8″ planks all over the base of it.

I was thinking that it was a huge waste, so when the job was done, Gerri and I went out there and packed up the minivan with over seventy of these little beauties.

That's what they call rustic. People pay big money for rustic.
That’s what they call rustic. People pay big money for rustic.

We weren’t sure what they could be used for, but we figured that we could find something better than global warming, so we stacked them on a pallet and covered them in a mattress bag that we had saved for just such an occasion.

Then, the other day I was repurposing part of our flower garden. It was completely choked out with lily of the valley, and I wanted to put something a little more useful in it, so I cut out a corner that gets pretty decent sun, sifted out the roots and shoots, and mixed in vermiculite and some of the worm castings that I’ve harvested over the winter.

I love picking handfuls out of the bin and sitting on the kitchen floor with a couple of tubs beside me. Sorting the worms and organics from the rich compost soothes my weary nerves and also helps to fight ISIS. Don’t ask me how, but nobody has been killed by ISIS while I was sorting worms. Probably.

This is the screen I made for sifting dirt out of two refrigerator shelves crossed and zip-tied together. They were free from the Share Shed. It’s also the repurposed flower garden.

Hey, it's not fancy, but free is free.
Hey, it’s not fancy, but free is free.

I then dug up some of the wild chives that were growing at the side of the house and transplanted them to the new herb garden at the front.

There were a lot more than I needed, so I turned the chunk of old manhole by the street into a new home for the rest.

I don’t know how I got so far off track, but let’s get back to the story.

I was wondering what else I was going to use my castings for, when I thought of building some raised bed gardens out of logs. That would be a problem, seeing as we don’t have a truck to haul the logs in, or any machinery to get them to the back yard. We also don’t have the money to hire it out, so my gaze fell on the pile.

20160421_092201
Mattress bags are a very handy thing to have around.

I cut one in half, and then ripped them in half to make corner supports, and then I just made walls two boards high.

Yeah, I know it's basic. That's why I was confident I could do it.
Yeah, I know it’s basic. That’s why I was confident I could do it.

Now one of the huge problems with gardening in this area is the deer. They are everywhere. If you don’t put up an eight foot high fence, or cover your garden with deer netting,  then you are just courting disaster.

Another Share Shed treasure we got was an 8 person dome tent that had some pretty large holes in the roof. We kept the base, because it was a good tarp with eye holes already sewn in, and we kept all of the poles. I drilled a 1/2″ hole in the top of each support, and Voila!

We don't know if it will work yet, but in theory it looks good.
We don’t know if it will work yet, but in theory it looks good.

I’ll cover that in the Ross Deer Netting that I bought, and then maybe some poly so I can start planting a bit earlier. I am going to build two more of these, so I should be able to fit quite a bit of the food we are hoping to grow in them. It’ll be about 30 sq ft of garden space, and I think that’s good for our first time.

So all in all, we spent:

  • $15 for gas to get the wood and Share Shed goodies
  • $4 for the screws
  • $30 for 100′ deer netting(I could’ve got used chicken wire for $2)

Under $50 to build and deer-proof your garden seems pretty good to me, if it works. I shouldn’t count the gas, because we just love driving around together, and it was our day off, but I figured it would still be a bargain and I’ll still have 50′ of deer netting for next year.

Let me know what you think. Should I change anything?

Chris

Desertion Or Sedition?

I’m having a hard time with this. At first I thought of it as an exodus, but I think an exodus is a mass departure. I don’t consider 20-30 as much of a “mass”.

I guess I should explain.

I woke up the other morning at around 5:00 am. I won’t get into the details of why I got up that early, but I am getting older, and sometimes my body tells me things. This particular morning, on my way back from the kitchen, I saw that the door was open to the worm room and there were a couple of worms on the floor. I walked over and saw that I had left the screen off of the top and there were some dried out worm husks there. I also saw the sides covered in worms and castings, so I stepped closer to shoo them back in and put the lid on.

Squish!

Now I have stepped on lots of worms in my life, but it’s different when you are in your bare feet and on a wood floor. I looked down and saw a line of worms heading for the exit. They got crisper, the closer to the door that they were, so I knew that it had happened gradually over the night.

I was reminded of a story that I had read in the Old Testament about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt.

The difference between the exodus of the Bible and the worms was that the worms were scattered out, there was only a handful of the worms that went with the leader, and it wasn’t 40 years of wandering. I would be surprised if they made it 40 minutes.

Oh, and I have evidence that the worms tried to escape.

No, it wasn’t an exodus, but it was something. Maybe sedition?

sedition

After, I started thinking about whether the first worm was trying to incite some sort of disorder amongst the rest of the worms, I realised that it might not have happened that way. It might just be like the worm websites tell me, and they just weren’t settled in to their new home.

Apparently they get used to a certain way of life, then they are bagged up in their own poop and some shredded cardboard and shipped off to some weirdo that stares creepily at them while digging around their new home with a pair of rubber gloves.

This brings me to:

desertion

This seems more like what happened. They actually liked living in the bag of poop and going for car rides. They don’t want the freedom of choice and they are perfectly happy eating moist cardboard. I guess they are like Domino’s Pizza customers in that regard. The shipping bag was just outside the room, so they might have been heading for the familiar scent of synthetic burlap or whatever it’s made of.

Real burlap is better

Well, they don’t have to feel the emotional turmoil any longer, because now they are dead. May they rest in peace.

I placed their lifeless, crumbly bodies back into the bin with their friends and family. Not because I wanted them to get a proper burial, but to let the others know what happens to deserters in this dictatorship.

It’s been two nights with not one attempted escape, so I guess it worked. Everybody is just quietly munching their lettuce shreds and banana peels, and acting like worms are supposed to act.

Civilised, unlike people at Donald Trump rallies.

Switching To European Nightcrawlers

Yes, that’s right. I’m getting out of the Red Wigglers for greener pastures. I am not getting rid of all of the little fellas right now, but I am selling a couple of home setups to some friends and limiting my production of them. The only reason is that they are too small for bait. This is not what I was led to believe as a young lad growing up.

It says right there that they catch the big one every time. You all heard it. They’re the Cadillac of worms.

Well, I’m here to tell you that they may be the Cadillac of worms, but these Euros are the Rolls Royce of worms.

This is coming purely from inexperience and a money standpoint. Let’s compare the two.

Red Wiggler

  • Compost like nobody’s business
  • Breed like crazy
  • Are able to squeeze through tight spots, making them an excellent candidate for sneaking cameras into buildings for top secret spy manoeuvres
  • Can be used as bait, if you have a tiny hook
  • Can be sold by the pound, or fed to the chickens when your bin starts to overflow
  • Look like this:
I still really like this guy, but he just can't carry his weight.
I still really like this guy, but he just can’t carry his weight.

European Nightcrawlers

  • Still a good composter
  • Not as prolific a breeder as the red wiggler. Kind of like a red wiggler after 9 beer
  • Can speak four different languages, making them excellent bait worms in tourist areas.
  • Will fit on almost every size of hook
  • Can be sold by the dozen to local fishermenpeople, by the pound to fellow composters, or fed to the chickens when the bins get full.
  • Look like this
Just look at the lad. Er, lady. Er, both.
Just look at the lad. Er, lady. Er, both.

The Verdict

The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is probably going to be made of red wigglers if these things keep breeding like this. It is pretty nice to have the little eating machines around though, so I may cut them a little slack for a bit.

 

Apparently these are a pretty sweet setup.

I was also thinking of putting on a workshop when I get enough for ten single family setups. Maybe get them to choose the type of bin they want, or to build one, and I could supply the red wigglers and the bedding to get them started on the road to less waste and healthier plants.

I think that would work well for me, and then I won’t have a bunch of locals competing for the town’s bait business, because it sounds like I’ll have a hard enough time to make $300 a year at it myself.

Minus the $110 I paid for the initial batch of nightcrawlers, and the $217 for 1000 compostable soup bowls and lids.

Wait a minute…

Oh well, I’m going to have some great fertilizer, and maybe I can turn a profit next year. At least I know that I won’t have to see those styrofoam bowls with the plastic lids floating around our beautiful lakes. These are supposed to break down within 45 days, and from the sounds of it, I can feed them to the worms if I run out of kitchen waste.

Chris

Backstory – The Worms

I’ve been looking into getting composting worms for many years now, but never had the time or space for them.

Then I found some.

I was hauling clay out of a guy’s yard where he was building a new house, to some big pipeline company’s new yard, when I saw a bunch of 1″x4″ spruce planks about four feet long in a burn pile.  I asked the guy if I could have them, and he said to take all I wanted, so I started loading up the dump truck. There were a lot of them, and as I got deeper into the pile my smile just got wider. I figured there were about ten or so of them at the start, but there was a fire ban on, so I was able to load about twenty armloads into the box.

All in all, I filled the trunk and backseat of the old Corolla to the top and got home with dreams of making worm boxes and changing the small, insulated shed into my wormy empire.

I just needed worms now.

I started looking online, but saw that red wigglers were going for about $60 a pound, plus shipping. I really couldn’t afford that, as we had just moved here from Ontario, and it was a pretty slow year, work wise. I figured that there had to be  a better (cheaper) way to do this.

I called the Northern Environmental Action Team in Fort St. John, while I was in town and asked if they knew anyone locally that had red wigglers for sale. They said that they had some for sale at their office, so I boogied right over there and bought a pound. They had them in one of these

I wished I had the cash for one of them, because they told me it worked pretty slick, but it kind of defeated my purpose. I’m trying to keep as much plastic out of my life as I can, so I’m kind of glad I was broke and couldn’t buy it.

When I got home, I poured the worms into their oversized new home, but it was mostly castings, with very few wigglers. I went back in a few days later and stopped in for some more. There were more worms in this batch, but it was still not as many as I was expecting. It didn’t really mater though, as I was still $20 under the pound from the internet, and there was no shipping costs.

I started to read a lot about composting worms, and watched a bunch of videos on them. The first book I read was

I might have made my box a little big at 2’x2’x10″ high. A pound of worms could easily fit in a tube sock, so I had quite a bit of overkill for the first several months. I ended up putting them in an old laundry tub that a friend was throwing out, and I really like it. They seem to be quite comfy in there, and as long as I mix it up every few days, it doesn’t get too wet.

It's a pretty good home for a few pounds of crawlies.
It’s a pretty good home for a few pounds of crawlies.

Anyhow, it’s been about six months, and I have probably six times as many worms as I started with, so they must like me alright.

Chris