Tag Archives: gardening

My Little Worm Project: Update #1

So on April 11, 2017 I started My Little Worm Project. So far, it has been a rousing success.

This was on May 3.

Apparently this is called parasola plicatilis. There is some debate as to its edibility and possible psychoactivity.

I didn’t test for either.

After two months, I was completely surprised to open it up and see this.

DO YOU SEE THAT?

That is a pile of worms. And a bit of fungi.

Some of the first babies are now adolescents that are over an inch long, but all of that spaghetti looking stuff is dozens of baby worms. In another couple of months, they should be close to full size.

I put a chunk of watermelon rind in there when I saw the first food start to disappear, and it didn’t take them long to get it down to just the skin. I think I grossly underestimated the breeding power of these red wigglers. I’m pretty sure that this Cool Whip container won’t last the year without having to split it.

I guess we will see.

Seeing as they have almost finished the watermelon, I threw in some cilantro that was starting to get mushy. I have some broccoli ends in the freezer, so I will probably try that as well.

I just put the cardboard in to dry it up a bit.

Okey dokey, let’s tap the brakes a bit

The four month mark has just passed, and I had to move the worms into a bigger tub. While I was sorting, I did a count and found 153 worms, that were big enough to count. I’m sure there were a bunch of babies, and I know there were at least 50 cocoons that went into the big bin with whatever scraps of cardboard and watermelon rind was left.

Here is a clump that obviously made a great nursery.

All of the yellowish ovals are cocoons, and you can see a few deflated ones as well. One was releasing a new baby as we were taking this photo, but we didn’t even think of filming it. It was just cool to watch, and give a squeeze to help out.

I’m really glad that I chose to do this now, because I think that the bottom was getting a bit too wet, and possibly turning anaerobic. For that reason, I threw a bunch of dry material in the new, larger bin, and in the CoolWhip container where the castings, cocoons, and any babies that slipped by will go.

That is the new bin, and this next one is the old one.

I’m starting to add in some of the siftings from other batches. I figure they will break down eventually. It’s mostly old spruce needles and twigs, but there is some dried clumps of castings that could be rejuvenated. I guess I will have to lay off the watermelon, and any other really wet food, plus an occasional turn wouldn’t hurt either. I put some more holes in the bottom as well, so we’ll check back in in a couple of months and see how it is going.

My thoughts on this type of project

I was really floored by the activity in the small container, but have learned through forums and YouTube, that the breeding will slow down when the space becomes cramped. I think that this would be an excellent school project for young kids, that might get them into a life with one less strain on the system. If they were allowed to get a bigger bin for home, it wouldn’t take long to have a good setup with the capacity to detour a couple pounds of waste from the landfill, while producing some high quality amendments for their gardens, house plants, or even just to throw on the lawn.

Kind of a win/win situation, there.

Chris

Hugelkultur Boxes?

Alright, so before we begin, this is all new to me. Actually, pretty much all gardening is new to me, but I’ve always been a bit adventurous and experimental, so here I am.

When I was a kid, my mom and my nana were gardeners. They had big gardens in the ground that got rototilled up at the start and end of every gardening season. I thought that was all there was to it.

Then my stepdad built some 4’x8′ raised beds instead of the traditional bed. They grew lots of food in them, and it seemed easier to look after. That seemed a lot better than packing down the soil in between the rows.

And now, since I have been looking into permaculture, I find out about hugelkultur. If you haven’t heard about it, click on the link. It’s pretty neato.

So, yesterday, we were at the dump tearing our trailer apart, when we found some pretty big crates. Once the deck was clear, we loaded them up and took them home. Gerri seemed a bit hesitant, but she is pretty good at letting me have my head.

When we got the boxes home, I set to figuring out what to do. I knew I was going to plant in them, but they were two feet deep, and I didn’t want to use that much soil or fill them up with rocks. Then it hit me.

Hugelkultur in a box!

I had just felled a couple of dirty poplar the day before, so I measured out the inside of the box and started sawing logs for the bottom. I also had a couple of dead birch limbs that went into the mix.

I didn’t say they were fancy.

I filled in the cracks with a mix of wet fruitwood chips and half finished compost. I figured it would help with the decomposition of the green wood.

Then I put in a layer of twigs and leaves.

I’m guessing that this is a decent nitrogen layer.

I don’t know if it was a good idea, but it seemed good in my mind, so why not? Experiments are for experimenting, right?

After that, some more soaked chips.

Should I keep going? Okay, I will.

I then put a few more inches of the composting mix, because why not? That’s what I’m making all of this beautiful, rich stuff for.

Mmmmmm, soily.

Now a friend, who shall remain nameless, grows in pots every year and then throws the soil mix out, because they think that they have used all of the nutrients in it.

Believe me, they haven’t. Last year I watched as they mixed their soil and there was peat moss, Pro-Mix® HP, some other organic fertilizer, perlite, bloodmeal, bonemeal and bales of compost.

It was absolutely beautiful. Then, in the fall, I was asked to help with a dump run and there were fourteen heavy black garbage bags in the pile. I asked what they were and was told they were full of the used soil.

So here they are now.

I’ve been mixing it into everything!

Other than it was full of roots and stems from the flowers, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. A few hours of picking through and composting the browns gave me a lot of excellent soil for this year. I only hope that they grow the same amount again. I have already called dibs on it, and helped for free to sweeten the pot.

I soaked it all pretty good today, and I was going to mix up tomatoes and green peppers in here tomorrow. It gets about 7-9 hours of sunlight in a few different increments of 2-3 hours each where it is and from what I read, that is probably enough.

What do you folks think? Will this setup work? Should I be planting something else in it? I also have a few cabbage seedlings. I’m open to any feedback I can get.

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.

Getting Ready For Winter

Well, I know it’s only the first part of October, but we have already had a couple of good snowfalls so far and it’s getting pretty frosty overnight, so I figured I had better get moving on this.

The Chickens

I have decided, after extensive reading and chatting with other hen fanciers, not to heat the coop for the winter. I will instead, winterize the waterer with a handy little water heater that I built from a design on The Chicken Chick’s website and throw an electric heater in for when it gets below -20C.

I bought a lamp kit from Amazonand a cookie tin from the thrift store, but then I found a working lamp with no switch for $1, so I grabbed it. I grabbed a second tin and might build another one for our friend Carol.

You just need to drill a hole in the side and insert the lamp cord through to the inside. Don’t forget to keep one of the screw on washers on the outside though. It is a pain to have to undo everything and fix it after.

Probably.

Not that I did that or anything.

heater2
I’m sure that somebody’s nana thoroughly enjoyed these imported cookies.

The lamp came with a 100W bulb in it,but after a couple of minutes of being plugged in, the paint started to smell a bit burny. I switched to a 60W and might even go to the 40W that she recommended. I just figured that being thousands of kilometres north of where she lives, we might need to ampwatt things up a bit. I guess that isn’t the case.

With the reflective inside, it also makes a powerful spotlight with the 100W bulb in it.
With the reflective inside, it also makes a powerful spotlight with the 100W bulb in it.

I also ordered the TC-3 Thermocube to help out with the system, because it will come on at 1.7C(35F) and shut off at 7.2C(45F). This will prevent overheating the plastic waterer, save on bulb life, and save on hydro by not running the light when it isn’t necessary.

I will probably get one of the TC-1 Thermocubes for the block heaters on the vehicles as well, because they probably suck back a lot of power running twelve hours or so every day. I guess the heat tracing on the pipes could use it as well.

So many handy things nowadays for making our lives easier.

The Worms/Plants

Because I decided against heating the coop, the worms had to be brought back into the house and put into what is now our soap/grow room.

I set up the Plant Tower and went to buy a 24″ sunblaster, but realised that I would need one for every shelf, so I bought the 48″ Sunblaster and put it on the ceiling to give the whole room some really nice, white light. What’s cool is that I can link up to eight of these on the one power source.

I bought these and the setup for sprouting grain from Dunvegan Gardens in Fort St. John, but if you aren’t near there, the prices are the same on amazon.ca.

Oh yeah, the grain sprouting is for the chickens to have lots of fresh grass to eat all winter. I bought an Aquascape 91026 320 GPHpump and a bunch of 1/2″ line to run up the Plant Tower with some 1/4″ line feeding down to the trays. It was probably overkill for the amount we will need, but we plan on doing more in the future, so we got all of the connectors and tools now, so we could learn more as we go.

For connecting the 1/4″ into the 1/2″ I had to buy a punch and some connectors

I have a bin of water on the bottom shelf  and I pump the water up every four hours into the top tray and it filters down through holes I drilled into the tray into the bottom tray and then through it back into the bin.

I am trying half a tray of oats followed a day later by half a tray of wheat.
I am trying half a tray of oats followed a day later by half a tray of wheat.

Well, it used to go every four hours, when I had the awesome timer hooked up, but I stole it for the lights and have to get a new one now. I just plug it in when I am thinking of it a few times a day, and it seems okay for now.

This video by The Straw Hat Farmer is what got me interested in this in the first place, and then got me interested in aquaponics. Check out his YouTube channel for lots of informative videos.

We also have a mango tree growing in the grow room, with garlic planted there as well. The mango was growing in the worm bin, so I transplanted it and it seems to be doing well.

I don't know what causes the crook in the bottom, but we'll see how it turns out.
I don’t know what causes the crook in the bottom, but we’ll see how it turns out.

It started sprouting new growth since we moved it into fifteen hours of light.

Hopefully in eight years we will be munching on our own mangoes.

Chris

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

Good Relations

I remember when we got here, we bought eggs from the grocery store. I knew that there were folks around that had eggs for sale, but wasn’t sure who they were.

One day, a PSA came out from a lady who had some wool to give away, and farm fresh eggs for sale. Gerri went out to see what the wool looked like and bought three dozen eggs while she was there. When we were getting low again, we both went out, and I got to meet Jane as well. She was pretty cool, and we all chatted about how great their little farm was, and we bought some more eggs. (She was the one who told us about rendering down fat for soap making.)

This went on into the winter, and this spring, I was out there getting some eggs, when she asked if I wanted some potatoes. There was a bunch of shriveled up purple and red potatoes in a pail on the floor, so I said that we didn’t really eat potatoes, but thanked her anyway. I assumed that she meant for eating, and I didn’t think the leathery little guys would be that tasty. I mentioned that I was going to be looking for seed potatoes as I wanted to try my hand at gardening, when she explained that they were for planting.

I felt a bit foolish, but got over it quickly and went home to plant the little spuds. They are now about two inches high.

This isn't one of them. I found this growing in the composter and replanted it in this bag.
This isn’t one of them. I found this growing in the composter and replanted it in this bag.

Since then, we have brought extra veggie scraps for her chickens, and gave her an in on our fat supply. We can’t use everything, but we don’t like seeing things go to waste, so we thought she would appreciate a little  bit of free stuff.

We were right.

Rhubarb, multiplier onions and horseradish that she had extra of.
Rhubarb, multiplier onions and horseradish that she had extra of.

She asked us if we wanted anything from her garden that was spreading around, so we said we would take anything she wanted to get rid of.

This was in there as well.

A few different types of strawberries. We'll let them get spreading this year.
A few different types of strawberries. We’ll let them get spreading this year.

This next one was a great addition to our perennial herb garden.

The chives from the side yard are in the bottom left and the white onions are from seeds. They are just filler.
The chives from the side yard are in the bottom left and the white onions are from seeds. They are just filler.

We got more rhubarb, so I planted it around to see where it did the best.

I guess we will see how it turns out. I'll be eating stewed rhubarb to keep regular over the winter.
I guess we will see how it turns out. I’ll be eating stewed rhubarb to keep regular over the winter.

I guess the point of this post is that sharing freely of resources for no other purpose than to help someone out, can really pay you back great dividends in the long run.

Not only did we feel great by helping out someone that we have come to know as a friend, but we got some free plants, and the lend of a great book. We’re going to start making things now. Really cool things.

Plus, we got great, fresh eggs, a tour of the farm, and got to watch Duffy and Lily fight over the tennis ball a bit. (It gets put away when we visit now.)

So if you get a chance to go to someone’s place and buy something that they have produced themselves, talk to them. Ask questions, and tell them about your dreams and plans. You just never know where you might find a new friend, or at the very least, a trading partner.

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