Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Partners in Compost

First of all, Minneapolis- we love you.

We (meaning our smart uncle) did the math one day to figure out how many pickup truck loads of manure we needed to haul in for the garden. The grand total? Upwards of 1,200. Now don't get me wrong, shoveling horse sh*t is great fun and all, but that number was a little daunting and I had a moment of doubt. Some of those loads of manure could be lifted into the truck if our friend's bobcat was available. But each load needs to be manually shoveled out of the truck once it arrives as the garden. We're young and spry and whatnot, but we work all week and do this stuff on the weekends. We have our limits. And you only get one back and set of shoulders per lifetime. Our mode of operation started seeming pretty impractical. Math don't lie*, so I started thinking.

Then we watched Fresh and saw the impressive work Will Allen does at Growing Power (which we blogged about here). He uses waste from local coffee houses, breweries, restaurants, etc. and composts it with worms.

We needed organic matter that was easier to come by.  Lo and behold, an idea: partnering up with restaurants in our neighborhood for a steady stream of compostable kitchen scraps. We can pick up the bins of veggie matter on our way from Northeast Minneapolis to the farm site.

NPR recently published an article titled For Restaurants, Food Waste Is Seen as a Low Priority. In Minneapolis, this does not seem to be the case.  I got on the phone and in twenty minutes found out almost any place in Northeast worth eating at already composts, mostly through a local waste management company. Bravo! However, a chef/owner I spoke with saw our need as a great opportunity to form a relationship. We now have a wonderful composting partnership with Gardens of Salonica

These folks are real gems. The food they make is fantastic. I especially recommend the gyro. And the compostables they give us smell so good it's tempting to eat some of them... I kid, I kid! Kind of...

*The said math, just for kicks and grins

1/3 acre (14,520 sq. ft) covered 4" deep in manure = 58,080 cubic feet. 
Truck bed carries 48 cubic feet of matter, so we'd need to make the trip 1,210 times. 

If anyone finds these figures to be flawed, feel free to become our math consultant!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Home Vermicomposting

Last Friday, we got worms to start composting with!

These types of worms are commonly called Red Wiggler worms. They are one of several types of worms people use for vermicompost (composting using worms). 

We have some awesome new friends named Leslie and Peter who keep a great blog called Think of It As An Adventure.  They have been using worms to compost some of their kitchen scraps and introduced the idea to us.

Peter made a great step-by-step photo album that we used as our guide. Making their house was really easy. As always, there's more than one way to do things, but here's how ours is set up.

Disclaimer: my walls are not purple, they just look that way in the picture.

Start with three bins of the same size. Drill holes around the collar and in the bottom of the top and middle bins. Leave the bottom bin alone. Nest them inside each other, using something to space them. We used empty yogurt containers.

The top and middle bin have holes in the bottom

The top bin is where the worms live. The middle bin is where they will migrate to when the top bin is full of their castings (aka worm poop). The bottom bin collects the worm, er, ahem, "juice". The juice and castings are valuable for fertilizing plants.

The cover for the worm house

The top bin was furnished with coconut husks, damp shredded newspaper and some veggie scraps. You basically just bury a handful of coffee grounds and veggie scraps every now and again, the worms eat it, and that's about it.

For now, we are just using vermicompost for some our kitchen scraps, but I'm already thinking about how we can adapt this idea for farm use later on. More on that later! For now, we're just having fun with our low-maintenance composting buddies.

So when our worm population is big enough, who might be interested in having some for their kitchen?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Weekend Project: Constructing a Hoop House

This weekend a little dream came true. We started the hoop house! I'm marveling that the first weekend of December is still warm enough to work outside without gloves in unfrozen ground.

The hoop house will extend our growing season dramatically. We will also be using our solar-heated blessing as a compost haven for the winter. We're about to enact a major composting program, but more on that later.

Colton and Andrew designed the hoop house based a video series and this diagram from the National Gardening Association. There's also a companion materials list here. The house we made is 9' high, 14' wide and 20' long.

Each of the hoops are sitting on rebar that is hammered about 1' into the ground. 

Andrew dug a 6" deep trench around the whole structure. 

Boards sit in the trench and add stability to the structure. Also, all the joints are secured with duct tape, because duct tape fixes everything.

The hoops are affixed to the boards with pipe clamps.

Next weekend's project will be putting the polyethylene cover on the hoop  house, building the ends of the house, and adding in the door and window. Next weekend is also the start of our composting relationship with a local restaurant, but more on that later.

Viva la weekend.