18-Day Compost?

18-day compost

18-Day Compost? Possible?

Quite possibly. I watched Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Soils again the other night with Rachel.

In it, Geoff makes a few extraordinary claims about his compost.

He says it’s possible to make compost in 18 days, and if Geoff says it is… well… it is.

18-Day Compost

That said, 18-day compost isn’t a new idea; it’s what the Berkeley Method does, though you need a shredder of some sort (lawn mower, anyone?) to move the process along:

One of the main keys to making a fast compost pile is having the materials, mainly the
carbon materials, chopped or shredded into small pieces. This can be done with a
shredder or chipper, or just by running the lawn mower over it. The material decays best
when the material size is between ½ to 1½ inches. The smaller size gives the material
more surface area for the compost microbes to work, and allows more air and water to
get through the pile.
However, in Permaculture Soils, Geoff doesn’t shred anything, but he also doesn’t seem to have much in the way of slow-to-break-down carboniferous materials. He has a variety of manures – including humanure! – and cut grasses.

Following this idea, over at Deep Green Permaculture there’s a solid DIY post on 18-day composting which reports:

To illustrate the point, a friend with a small with only a courtyard (in a rental property) wanted to attempt hot composting, and I helped him out with the project. He gathered a wheelie bin full of fallen leaves from his local street, one wheelie bin full of weeds from his garden, purchased a small straw bale for the sake of it. I helped him collect a few garbage bags of cow manure from an urban farm. It took us under an hour to pile it all up in reasonably thin layers (under 5cm) of each ingredient to get a good mix.

It was his first attempt at hot composting, and in around 18 days, he had over 1 cubic metre of rich, dark, compost to use in his garden. You couldn’t distinguish any of the original ingredients in the final product either, and it had a very fine consistency. Best of all, it cost him next to nothing – the straw bale was just a $17 luxury, it would have worked just as well without it, and without it it would have cost absolutely nothing.

Just think that 1 cubic metre is 1,000 litres, and if you think how much you pay for a 30 litre bag of potting mix (over $10) here in Australia, you realise what value this entails.

Compost is valuable, and if you make more in a faster period of time it helps you get beds going. Right now we’re entering the rainy season and I want a lot of compost fast. Our beds are being dug and planted and having it available to feed the growing crops would be quite helpful.

The Experiment

I decided to try 18-day compost using what we have available on our homestead.

The first thing I needed to do was build another bin, as I already have a batch of compost going. It should be done in a few weeks, but I wanted to start NOW!

Here’s what I created:

See how fast you can build a compost bin when you just have junk laying around your yard? Redneck FTW!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough material to get a solid start on this pile. I need to go cut some grass and gather some manure before I can make a good go of it. I’m not sure mango leaves are going to break down quick enough, though they do seem to rot a lot faster than cocoa leaves. They are the main “browns” I have, so they’ll just have to do. Even if turning regularly means I’ll get compost in a month instead of a few months, it’ll be great. I have made compost pretty quickly in the past by getting more air into the pile and rotating non-composted materials into the center, so we shall see. Maybe we’ll make 21-day compost. Or 19-day compost!

Stay tuned – I’ll be hunting biomass and will start this experiment soon. Our internet is out right now but I’ve tethered my phone’s connection via bluetooth to my Mac so I can keep posting until the line is back in service. It’s burning through my data plan like a drunk through cheap wine, but I haven’t run out yet.

Have a wonderful Lord’s Day and I’ll see you Monday.

 

*         *          *

 

Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.

O my soul, you have said to the Lord,
“You are my Lord,
My goodness is nothing apart from You.”

As for the saints who are on the earth,
“They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”

Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god;
Their drink offerings of blood I will not offer,
Nor take up their names on my lips.

O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.

The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance.

I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.

I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.

For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

-Psalm 16, NKJV

David-the-good-books-revised

The Potential for a Compost Water Heater

Galvanized-tub-compost-bin-empty

Yesterday I walked up to the big galvanized compost pile I created and was amazed by how much heat was radiating from it.

That’s the pile I built in this video:

It got me thinking again for the umpteenth time about the potential for heating water with a compost pile.

At our house there is a sweet solar water heater on the roof which provides abundant hot water… except on rainy days. The compost pile made me wonder: what if the water from that heater were backed up by a compost pile water heater like this article describes:

“…the basic idea behind a compost water heater is that tubing is coiled throughout the compost pile and then filled with water, which in turn is heated by the compost pile.

As the below image illustrates, cold water goes into the coiled tube and hot water comes out. Not only that but it’s also possible to extract methane gas from the compost pile, which can then be used for cooking or heating.

Thermal compost pile

Looking back at the work of Jean Pain, his compost piles built with wood chips were massive. In some cases, he was employing 60 tons of compost in a single pile to provide his energy needs. More recently, however, experiments have used piles that are as small as 6’ x 6’ to create a similar effect. Some of these modern piles are producing temperatures of 150°F or more.

The trick to improving the original design is the use of more polyethylene tubing. In the typical 6’ x 6’ compost pile mentioned above, you might expect to use at least 300 feet of 1 inch diameter polyethylene tubing. This tubing is carefully coiled and layered in between the layers of compost to repeatedly heat the water as it moves through the various layers of the coil system.

As a general rule, the pile will start with a compressed layer of compost followed by a layer of coiled tubing followed by a layer of compressed compost until you reach the desired height.

Since a compost water heater does not have a hot water tank, the tubing becomes the “tank” in this example. This means that the more tubing you use, the more hot water you will have available at a given time. Think long, relaxing shower versus being the last one in the house to get a shower before work.”

 

Just thoughts for now.

David-the-good-books-revised

Trench-Planting Yams

trench-planting-yams

Let’s see if this works:

The clay here is very hard to dig, particularly near the house where the topsoil is thin and the clay and rocks are abundant.

A local told me to try planting yams in a trench filled with leaves and grass, so I decided to give it a try.

We’ll see how it turns out. Yams are an EXCELLENT tropical staple crop and figure prominently in my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening.

If you live in Florida and want a solid calorie crop that produces well and takes almost no work – give yams a try. The trenching isn’t required in a sandy soil.

Just pop bulbils or minisetts in the ground and wait.

David-the-good-books-revised

Dry Bean Varieties for the Tropics

kebarika-dry-bean-Southern-Exposure

A pastor from Haiti asks about dry bean varieties for the tropics:

“Recently, I was contacted by a small group of farmers who have secured acres of ground in Haiti and are diligently working to produce a variety of crops – utilizing a cooperative of Haitian farmers and growers to produce Plantain and Peanuts. 

They knew of my work and efforts in Haiti and asked my help in finding a variety of bean that can be planted in Haiti and the tropics.
(Soon) I will be returning to Haiti. They have asked if I might do some research and find one or two varieties of beans that they can grow…- ultimately for food…but currently to grow as seed stock to make available to other farmers in the area to produce a crop that will produce nutrient and protein to the needy in Haiti. They are willing to grow… but the options for growing varieties is somewhat a mystery.
Since I understand you live in a similar tropic…that you might have some possible suggestions…and BEAN varieties that may be able to handle the Haiti climate without dropping blossoms. As you may know there are a variety of beans favored in Haiti – black beans and white beans…and a type of lima bean. But these are normally imported – after having been grown in Michigan.”

The pastor further informed me that they are looking for dry bean varieties, not green beans. Think storable protein.

Pigeon Peas

Intercropped_Corn_And_Pigeon_Peas

I recommended pigeon peas and he wrote further:

“I have been reading about the pigeon peas and ordered the seed today to arrive in time to take with me.”

So that’s good – pigeon peas can take a lot of heat and humidity and produce crops for at least two years, provided wind damage doesn’t take them down.

Southern Peas

Another thought I had was the classic “black-eyed pea” or “zipper peas,” also called “crowder peas,” “cow peas” and “Southern peas.”

Their Latin name is Vigna unguiculata.

They take heat, poor soil, humidity and low rainfall and still produce crops.

BeansBeforeAndAfter

We had great success with them in dry and wet conditions and high heat.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has quite a few varieties for sale.

Kebarika Bean

There is also the Kebarika bean from Kenya that’s available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

kebarika-dry-bean-Southern-Exposure

We grew those in a hot and rainy summer in Florida and they were one of the few bean plants that produced dry beans for us.

The flavor is bland but the plants were strong.

LabLab

The pastor mentioned lablab (Lablab purpureus) in one of his emails – that could be another good option, though I have not grown them much myself.

Via Tropical Forages:

“Lablab is a dual-purpose legume.  It is traditionally grown as a pulse crop for human consumption in south and southeast Asia and eastern Africa.  Flowers and immature pods also used as a vegetable.  It is also used as a fodder legume sown for grazing and conservation in broad-acre agricultural systems in tropical environments with a summer rainfall.  Also used as green manure, cover crop and in cut-and-carry systems and as a concentrate feed.  It can be incorporated into cereal cropping systems as a legume ley to address soil fertility decline and is used as an intercrop species with maize to provide better legume/stover feed quality.  As a dual purpose (human food and animal feed) legume , it is sown as a monoculture or in intercrop systems.”

Worth trying.

Winged Bean

Winged beans are a Swiss Army Knife bean species. Edible leaves, green pods, roots and dry beans.

InfoGalactic reports:

“Winged bean thrives in hot weather and favours humidity, but it is an adaptable plant. It is reported that the winged bean can adjust to the climate of the equatorial tropics.[1] Winged bean production is optimal in humidity, but the species is susceptible to moisture stress and waterlogging.”

I have heard that dry winged beans need plenty of cooking to become soft and digestible but have not tried them as dry beans myself – they are on the list of test crops for us.

Final Thoughts on Dry Bean Varieties for the Tropics

If this were my project, I would gather a wide range of bean varieties and test them all over a few years to see which did the best. Sometimes a type will work that you thought wouldn’t – or a sure-fire variety just doesn’t do well under local conditions.

Experiment, experiment, experiment. If you have bed space, definitely grab some Southern peas, lablab, winged beans, pigeon peas and Kebarika… and then spin out from there.

Pintos may do well, or some variety of Roma bean from Italy – you don’t know until you try. I pray you find great success.

If any of you brilliant readers have any further suggestions on dry bean varieties for the tropics, please let me know in the comments.

If there’s something you’ve grown that worked great in the heat and humidity, share it. Let’s help this pastor have success with his gardening experiments!

 

*Kebarika bean image via Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

David-the-good-books-revised

Termite Nest Potting Soil Insanity

termite-nest-homemade-potting-soil

I read in an ECHO publication that you can use termite nests to feed crops.

Proving that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, that made me decide to do this:

These acts of Termitidae terrorism were perpetrated for the purpose of making potting soil.

I smashed us two termite nests over a tarp, then put the contents into a couple of buckets.

termite-nest-homemade-potting-soil

Looks like good material for a garden… or for potting soil, doesn’t it? I mean, massive swarms of tiny termites aside.

I’ve made/stretched potting soil before and did a video on it a few months back:

That previous batch of potting soil wasn’t totally from scratch. So while looking around for good fillers, my eyes fell on the big conehead termite nests down in the cocoa orchard.

Perfect!

What I didn’t expect was how interested the local wasps would be in these termite nests.

You need to watch the video to see just how crazy things got.

Anyhow, I figured the wasps would clear out after they’d eaten all the termites. I was wrong.

Check out this update video I posted yesterday – the wasps are still at it!

Hopefully they calm down eventually. You can see the various ingredients I mixed to make potting soil, which leads us to

My Experimental Homemade Potting Soil Recipe

 

Ingredients:

 

Smashed arboreal termite nests

Biochar (mostly from bamboo) charged with urine, seawater and Epsom Salts

Sifted compost

Rotted wood

Cow manure

Sifted grit

 

Directions:

 

Mix ingredients together on a tarp, smashing occasionally with your feet. Try to avoid getting carried off and/or stung to death by the ravenous swarm of wasps eating the termite nests. Wait until night when the wasps go home and pot your plants.

Serves 30 seedlings or 1,000,000 wasps.

 

Final Thoughts

At first I was happy the wasps were eating the termites, as my chickens were too dumb to come when I called.

Now, after a few days, as the crowd of wasps continues unabated, I’m concerned they may be eating up the termite nests themselves. Not sure. I talked to a local farmer today and he said something in broken termite nests always attracts the wasps.

I’m not surprised they keep coming as the termite nests smell surprisingly sweet, similar to a bee colony. That I did not expect.

Anyhow, I’m probably just going to pot plants in the dark if these wasps don’t go away soon. They’re really overwhelming.

Nature is nuts.

David-the-good-books-revised

Germinating Peach Pits is Easy: Check Out These Pics

sprouting-peach-pits-2

My video on germinating peach pits has garnered almost 30,000 views since I posted it back in July:

Since posting that instructional video, I have received multiple comments and emails from people thanking me for showing them how to grow their own peaches from seeds.

My friend Amanda, who is NOT obsessed with me at all, sent me these two pictures recently of her peach sprouting success:

sprouting-peach-pits-1 sprouting-peach-pits-2

Some years ago I discovered in some dusty corner of the internet that peach pits require cold stratification to germinate.

I put this knowledge to the test with great success, starting about 50 peach pits I found beneath an abandoned and squirrel-ravaged Tropic Beauty peach growing a few miles from my old place in North Florida.

SproutingPeachPits

I did this despite the fact that there are hordes of small-minded gardeners in the world who take great pleasure in lecturing everyone about the utter worthlessness of starting fruit trees from seed.

These people are wrong. And boring. And stupid. And they smell.

Here’s a video I did showing some of my seed-grown peach trees in fruit:

And here are two pictures of some of the delicious fruit I got as a result of germinating peach pits in my very own refrigerator:

lovelypeaches2 lovelypeaches3

In their SECOND year, my two seedling peach trees produced about five gallons of fruit. They continued to massively outproduce the grafted peach trees I planted before them, plus they grew with more vigor.

Growing fruit trees from seed isn’t a dumb thing to do. It’s a great thing to do. It’s a YUGE, high energy thing to do.

Sometimes the “experts” aren’t really experts. They’re just people who say things adamantly because they’ve heard other people say the same things.

Heck with that.

Better Gardening Through Experimentation isn’t just a film I made… it’s my modus operandi.

Thanks for the pictures, Amanda, and may your peaches grow and produce abundantly.

Finally, here’s how you germinate peach pits:

GrowAPeachPit-Update

Have fun!

David-the-good-books-revised

Supercharging Garden Beds with Biochar and Compost

DaveTurningCompost

Biochar and compost, my friends. That’s what I’m doing this time.

And… freshly tilled garden beds are irresistible to chickens. Little punks.

biochar and compost and a chicken

Yesterday I shared how we started working the garden beds, along with a video. Today I have a follow-up video, plus a deeper look at my experiments.

After seeing Steven’s success with biochar and leeks – and after getting really sick and tired of how gluey the clay can get here – I’ve decided to make lots of charcoal to add to my beds.

biochar and compost

I did an open burn and managed to get over 15 gallons of biochar. It’s mostly from fast-burning materials like palm fronds and bamboo, with a big of hardwood and random sticks thrown in.

Charging Biochar

If you throw charcoal directly into your beds it soaks up the minerals for a time, lowering or even eliminating your yields; however, if you “charge” it first with some minerals and nitrogen, it acts like a reserve in the soil. Or that’s the theory as I understand it.

Being rather insane, I decided to soak the biochar in seawater and Epsom salt. And urine. And some compost. I only soaked it for a couple of hours, though, which may not be enough.

Biochar wasn’t the only amendment I added to the garden beds. I also sifted some compost with my redneck compost sifter, AKA a carefully bent hunk of hardware cloth:

redneck-compost-sifter

Some of the compost is being reserved for a new batch of potting soil I’m going to make to pot up some of my compost pile fruit trees, but some of it we put in the garden beds along with the biochar. Biochar and compost – what a wonderful combination!

Rachel helped with this part, even after all her vigorous broadforking.

putting-biochar-and-compost-in-garden-beds

There are few things I enjoy more than working in the garden with my wife.

Having a task in front of us and getting it done together is better than watching a movie or hanging around smoking a hookah. I think. We’ve never actually smoked a hookah together, so that’s just conjecture, really.

Next on the agenda is planting… when we do that, I’ll share it as well.

Stay warm and have a great Sunday. We’ve been unable to make it to church for weeks now due to our car and I really miss it. I hope you are part of a good fellowship… and also have a working vehicle. Eventually we’ll be back to our normal Sabbath routine. Not worried. We have food, gardens, a beach within two miles walk… hard to feel too bad about a busted car.

And we definitely have “two or more gathered together” in the name of Jesus here on our homestead.

 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

David-the-good-books-revised

Back to Pumpkin Breeding

Two-crazy-pumpkins

I was unable to continue the Seminole pumpkin breeding project I began last year for a couple of reasons.

  1. We sold our property in Florida and missed the spring of 2016
  2. Bringing seeds into our new country legally is difficult

I could have snuck some seeds in with me (as one native told me, roughly, “no one expects you’ll follow those rules! You got to stick them in your clothes, in your pockets!”) but I couldn’t in good conscience sign a piece of paper on the plane stating I wasn’t bringing in plant material while bringing in plant material.

I’m hoping to get a special permit to bring in my Seminole pumpkin seed lines but thus far have been denied because the seeds are not “professionally cleaned” and packaged. Since they’re my own line of seeds, saved right from the guts of pumpkins and spread out to dry on a kitchen countertop, they definitely aren’t professionally cleaned. I’m not sure why this is important but I assume it has to do with the potential for viruses to some into the country, which would be terrible for local farmers. I’m okay with it – eventually they may let me bring some in if I meet the right people and/or figure out a way around the issue of cleaning.

For now, I’m gathering varieties of local pumpkin from the markets as I spot them.

Pumpkins like the one I just posted on my Instagram account yesterday:

Isn’t that beautiful?

This is the pumpkin I also feature in yesterday’s video, where I talk more about my plans to breed better varieties:

When life doesn’t let you take your Seminole pumpkin breeding project with you… make lemonade!

Or something like that.

David-the-good-books-revised

Growing Hops in Florida?

growing-hops-in-florida

My friend Pastor Joel just shared a picture of his happily growing hops in Florida:

growing-hops-in-florida

For home brewers, hops are very important. They give beer its unique flavor, balancing the sweetness of the fermented malt with their clean and evocative bitterness.

Growing hops in Florida is generally not done. Hops grow in colder climates, which makes sense since the best beers are usually crafted in temperate Europe.

My friend Bruce Bethke (who is a more famous writer than myself… and the one who urged me to write and not look back) grows hops in his Minnesota garden. The roots are frozen beneath the ice all winter.

That’s a far cry from Joel’s garden in the Gainesville area… yet Joel has gotten a half-pound of hops in his very first year of growing hops in Florida!

Growing Hops in Florida: How Joel Did It

 

I asked Joel how he grew these hops since I was wondering if the hot sun of Florida might be too much for them. Apparently not! Joel writes:

“Planted them along a full sun south facing fence running up bamboo. Only got about 10 feet in length but should do better 2nd year. No problem with pests at all.”

Some years ago I bought some hops roots from a large mail order nursery and planted them along my fence. They never got taller than a few feet and ended up dying after the first year or so. The problem in that case, in part, was that they were “out of sight, out of mind,” and didn’t get cared for.

The other part was that they lacked much vigor at the onset. When I first planted them they got water, mulch and compost… but still just crept along. I didn’t baby them after the first few months and they never really got going. I don’t think they were from good stock.

Joel is a meticulous and methodical gardener. He has been making plenty of compost from the abundance of fallen leaves drifting into his yard, plus he has deep mulched his gardens and mixed in old chicken manure and kitchen scraps.

We shall see how these Florida hops do in future years, but I’d say if anyone could pull them off, it would be Joel.

After all, have you seen his homemade kegerator?

Anyone else have experience growing hops in Florida?

I would love to hear your story – please share in the comments.

David-the-good-books-revised

Gardening Serendipity

St_Petersburg_Garden_Collards

Sometimes, all you need to do is steer while nature drives.

Or, as in the case of these cantaloupe seedlings, splatter a rotten cantaloupe across the ground and wait.

Splatter-planted-cantelopes

You can see us planting these cantaloupes in a recent video where Rachel and I decided to see how crazy we could get with scattered seeds.

You always get the best pumpkins, melons and tomatoes from your compost pile. They seem to like to sit in the remnants of the previous year’s rotting fruit.

Take this pumpkin growing on our fence.

Pumpkin-on-fence

We didn’t plant that. All I did was spot the little seedling there and make sure I missed it with the string trimmer. I have no idea what kind of pumpkin this is. It looks different than the tropical pumpkin leaves I’ve seen. We had nothing to do with it. My guess is that the previous tenants fed the guts of a pumpkin to their chickens some time last year… and then the rainy season awakened one of those seeds.

Since we’re on the topic of serendipity, I was given some yard long been seeds by a friend. Since I injured my hand before I could finish the bean trellis, two of my sons finished it for me and then planted the seeds. They have already started coming up and look beautiful.

Emerging-yard-long-bean

Beside the bamboo bean trellis, the second generation of purple podded Roma beans are also emerging.

Purple-beans-emerging

Our pastor also gave us some Malabar spinach cuttings and their vines are reaching for the sky.

Malabar-spinach

Quite a beautiful vegetable.

One final bit of fun: if you have read my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, you probably remember the appendix on planting a garden from your pantry.

Just for the heck of it, I’ve decided to demonstrate this idea in one of our garden beds.

To do so, I bought a 13 bean soup mix which is basically a bag of dried beans with a seasoning packet. I’m going to plant them all in a garden bed soon… and create The 13 Bean Soup Garden!

Why not? My luck has held so far.

Except with a machete.

David-the-good-books-revised
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