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

 

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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.

Getting the Gardens Going Again

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

Howing-garden-bed

I apologize in advance to those of you dealing with January cold. Maybe this will send some warmth your way.

Back on Wednesday I posted that I was going to say “heck with it” and plant garden beds again even if the house sells before I can harvest.

I liked this comment by dfr2010:

Sounds like you made the right choice. Possible outcomes:

1. You get to harvest what you’ve planted, without moving.
2. You have to move, but get to harvest anyway.
3. You have to move, and someone else moves in … you’ve given them quite the potential house-warming present!

Doesn’t sound like there’s any real downside to me.

Heck, I’ve planted fruit trees across multiple previous properties at this point. People are harvesting and enjoying fruit now that they didn’t have to plant. No loss.

On Wednesday after finishing up some office work I took to the gardens and brought the camera with me.

You can see how I use a garden bed as a compost pile for a period of time, then rotate to another bed. I first did this on a lousy, sandy bed back in North Florida. The crops had done horribly in it, so I thought “hey, why not make THIS space the compost pile instead of piling up compost somewhere else?”

This is a crazy idea I like to call

Using a Garden Bed for a Compost Pile

This works great, as I share in greater detail in Compost Everything.

I don’t bother turning compost anymore.

I just pile up compostable materials and let them rot down over time.

If you do this in a garden bed, all the good nutrition that seeps out of the compost goes right into the soil beneath where your crops will find it when you later rake away the compost and plant the ground. Worms are also drawn to that area by the delicious rotting kitchen scraps.

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Look at this beautiful stuff!

rough-compost-in-garden-bed

After letting a bed rot down like this for 6 months to a year, you can then plant right on top… or steal some of that compost for another project, making sure to leave a bit behind for the crops to come.

I sifted out about 3+ gallons of good compost from this bed using a piece of hardware cloth. You can still see some eggshell pieces, or as Rachel calls them, “slow-release calcium”:

beautiful-sifted-compost

This finer compost gets used when I prepare beds, make potting soil and as food for my potted fruit trees.

The rougher chunks that don’t make it through the screen get thrown into the new compost/garden bed. I also chopped-and-dropped a self-planted moringa tree I’ve let grow there.

new-compost-bed

Moringa leaves can be used as a fertilizer all by themselves, so it’s great to have some growing near or even in your garden area.

As for the previous compost bed, I broadforked it with my trusty Meadow Creature broadfork to loosen the soil for planting.

broadforking-old-compost-pile

Look at me! I’ve literally broadforked my head off!

Man alive, it feels good to get in the dirt again. As for the other beds which weren’t covered with compost, I used my grape hoe to get those weeded, then broadforked them as well.

Now I need to supercharge all these beds with long-term soil-building materials.

…but you’ll just have to wait to see how I do that.

Composting a Rat

rat_cam

Yes indeed, you can compost rats.

This one made the fatal mistake of irritating my wife by invading the kitchen at night.

Dead-rat

Rat. In. Peace.

That’s what you get for eating my pumpkin seeds, vermin.

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And of course, I made a video:

Though I didn’t build a full “melon pit” with all the trimmings as described in Compost Everything, this rat will still feed the Seminole pumpkins I planted above its corpse.

Don’t let any potential soil fertility go to waste.

Compost everything.

Could You Fertilize After a Collapse?

CornOverMulch1

I was recently invited by my friend William to post over at The Permaculture Apprentice.

If you’re not familiar with William, he’s a hard-working permaculture-minded market gardener in Europe who shares his abundant knowledge freely on his site. We first met thanks to our mutual friend Justin Rhodes and now we compare notes regularly and have decided to collaborate on a few projects.

If you’re establishing a new homestead or hoping to make some money off your garden, I recommend you hang around William’s site and sign up for his newsletter to get his permaculture farm guide. His posts are very good, very meticulously researched and make for a much more thoughtful place than my slice of gardening anarchy.

Could You Fertilize After a Collapse?

If you can’t fertilize your gardens, your gardens will eventually fail.

There’s only enough fertility in the soil to last through a crop, or a few if you’re blessed with excellent local conditions – but after a time, your roots, grains and vegetables will simply refuse to feed you.

I once planted a row of corn in some infertile sand to see what would happen. The resulting stalks were ridiculous miniatures, looking as if they were created to complement someone’s model train collection. Worse than that, they failed to bear a single kernel. After lifting a few tiny blooms to the sky to scatter a few anemic grains of pollen, they died.

If I had decided to plant a nice big garden in that space, it would have done terribly… unless I had a way to feed it.

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Ideally, a gardener would build up his soil first, then plant later. Sometimes, though, we just want – or need – to obtain a yield quickly.

If the grid collapsed tomorrow and the grocery stores closed, which option would you choose?

Option 1: Take a year to dig beds, observe the land, make compost, sheet mulch and improve the soil… and starve

Option 2: Say heck with the soil, till a huge area, throw down some 10-10-10 and plant a big plot so you can eat

Organic purism often gets thrown out the window when we face a crisis or an economic reason for gardening.

All we really want is food!

Yet the two choices I gave you aren’t really fair. Sure, you can’t build the soil into rich, high-nutrient loam with a perfect amount of organic matter and a wide range of beneficial microorganisms and fungi in a quick period of time… but you CAN feed your crops organically and get good yields with a lot less material and time than you might think…

Click here to find out how over at The Permaculture Apprentice!

Fertilizing 8 Fruits and Vegetables for Outstanding Flavor

Turnips3

There’s a new post over at The Prepper Project, written by me on a topic of considerable interest: making homegrown food taste better! – check it out:

Fertilizing 8 Fruits and Vegetables for Outstanding Flavor

Fertilizing for growth is common… but fertilizing vegetables for flavor? That’s a different animal, but it’s something we need to consider.

If you were to spend a year eating potatoes, corn, beans and cabbage – without much in the way of seasoning – I’ll bet you’d be longing for some good chicken curry or a plate of fettuccine Alfredo at the other end.

Heck, I want both of those right now and I had eggs, bacon and fried plantains for breakfast.

In a survival situation, we may not have the luxuries or even the common spices we desire. You may, Lord willing, be able to grow all the best survival food you need for the table – but you also might get very tired of bland food over time.

Let’s face it: some vegetables just aren’t that exciting. I’m not going to name names, but…

Turnips3

Fortunately, there are ways we can improve the flavor of our food without stockpiling gallon-jugs of Texas Pete and Adobo.

The key? Fertilizing for flavor!

Fertilizing Vegetables for FLAVOR? What?

Let me start by telling you a story that I’ve told before.

One year I dug a new garden bed on unused ground at my old house in Tennessee and planted a bunch of potatoes I “reclaimed” from a grocery store dumpster. I wondered how they would do in the hard, red clay, but I knew that the woods nearby and the wildflowers were always abundant, rich and green so I guessed the soil was fertile.

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I was right.

When we later harvested those potatoes and prepared them in the kitchen, I was amazed. Unlike the potatoes I’d been eating all my life, these had a rich potato flavor that had to be tasted to be believed.

The mashed potatoes were heavenly.

The French fries were gourmet.

My wife’s stew was divine.

Yet remember: these were grown with boring old grocery store potatoes as the seed spuds. There was nothing special about them genetically; they had the exact same genes as the run-of-the-mill potatoes I’d been eating for years. It wasn’t like an old, half-blind farmer in the Andes had handed me an ancient heirloom variety and as I took it from his trembling hands I felt the weight of history.

No, these were just boring potatoes that had somehow turned into superb potatoes.

The key was the soil.

If there’s a proper spread of micronutrients in the ground…

(Click here to read a whole lot more of this post over at ThePrepperProject.com!)

Does Biochar Really Work?

BiocharPile

does biochar really work?

Does biochar really work?

I’ve asked that question and have been asked that question many times. But I never bothered giving biochar a real test. I threw some into my gardens and some into my compost but never really made a lot, added a lot or paid any real attention to the long term pluses or minuses.

Fortunately, I have friends that do conduct experiments… like Steven:

It’s interesting that his lettuces died… and then in a subsequent year, the leeks went nuts.

Raw charcoal/biochar does seem to have a negative effect when first used as it sucks up the nutrition in the soil.

Later, however, it acts as a soil reserve for those good things as well as in-ground condo developments for beneficial bacteria and fungi.

Biochar Plans

I plan on making a big batch of biochar and then soaking it in my anaerobic compost tea before adding it to some of my struggling garden beds.

Alternately, I’ve heard you can soak biochar in urine to turn it into a long-term fertilizer. Or just use urine right in the garden, as I demonstrated in yesterday’s video:

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Throwing biochar in a compost pile and then later applying the finished compost to your garden gives your plants both the benefits of biochar and the benefit of compost. This is a method I know many gardeners practice.

Simple Biochar Making

Though you can create special biochar kilns and really geek out about making biochar, I approach it more like I approach most composting and just light a big fire, then let it burn a bit, rake it around, then water it out with the hose and gather the charcoal.

Steven has a nice trench method for making biochar I would try if it wasn’t so devilishly hard to dig holes here because of the clay and rocks:

Biochar, no matter how you make it, has promise as a long-term soil amendment. Steven’s experimentation is pushing me to try some experiments of my own. It’s monsoon season right now so I haven’t gotten together enough dry wood to really make awesome biochar, but one of these days it will be clear for a few days in a row and I’ll get to light up a nice fire.

Then it’ll be time to start some crazy biochar action in the garden. So, to answer the question “does biochar really work,” it seems the answer is “yes” based on Steven’s research. More testing is in order, however, as these is a wide range of application amounts possible and great differences in soil and crops.

Anyone else feeling like making a fire? I’m psyched.

This compost will destroy your garden!

GrazonDamageAminopyralids5

I’ve written many times on Aminopyralid contamination in compost, on herbicides in manure and on the danger of bringing amendments from outside on to your property. Unfortunately, Karen Land didn’t find out about me until it was too late. After posting a heartfelt YouTube video (subscribe to Karen’s gardening channel here) on her ruined plots of tomatoes, Karen discovered a video I’d done and contacted me personally about the issue. After hearing her terrible story of killer compost, I asked Karen if she would share her story here. This is a serious problem and I don’t want any of you to go through what she went through or what I went through a few years back.

-David The Good

Karen’s Story

 

Karen Land got hit by aminopyralid

Karen Land

Many of us have heard the term “herbicide drift.”  Some of us have experienced it.

Herbicide drift is when a neighbor or nearby farm sprays an herbicide like Round-Up or 2,4-D on a breezy day, and some of that herbicide gets picked up by the wind and lands on someone else’s innocent plants. The result is herbicide injury, which can cause deformed leaves and even death of the plant.

Not cool.

There’s something even less cool lurking in our midst.

Unfortunately, most people have never heard of it. This thing that’s even less cool than herbicide drift is compost contamination. Specifically, herbicide contamination of compost.

This just happened to me, and I’m not happy about it.

My main garden consists of six 4×24-foot raised beds. This year, I needed to raise the soil level about 4-5 inches, so I ordered 7 yards of compost from a local supplier and had it delivered to my house.
My awesome neighbor then spent hours moving it, tractor scoop by tractor scoop, from the front of the property to the back, and into my raised beds.  The next day, my husband tilled the new compost in with my existing soil.  It was a beautiful sight!!

Contaminated-compost-Aminopyralid-Karen-Land

A few days later, I began planting out my tomatoes (which I’d been growing from seed in my house since January).

Tomatoes-ready-for-planting

I got about 20 plants in the ground and for the first week or so, everything was fine.

After a week or so though, I noticed some slight distortion on the new growth on the plants. I tried to ignore it and pretend I didn’t see it, but that became increasingly impossible.

Contaminated-compost-aminopyralid-effect-on-tomatoesSo I began researching and Googling every tomato virus I could think of, and comparing hundreds of images to my plants’ new “look.” I finally decided my plants had sadly suffered herbicide injury from herbicide drift. But because my knowledge of herbicide names was limited to Round-Up and 2,4-D, I spent another few days trying to decide which of the two was the culprit, and finally decided it was 2,4-D.

In this midst of my obsessive researching, I was also continuing to plant out my other tomato plants. About 50 more plants went in.

(Can I rewind my life at this point?)

Unbelievably, after about two weeks, every single plant had the same deformed new growth.  And I was pretty much freaking out.

Here are some of the possibilities I contemplated during that time:

Tomato Mosaic Virus

TMV causes new growth to come out deformed and curled up beyond recognition (that symptom, by the way, is impossible to differentiate from 2,4-D damage).  Check!  However, TMV also causes other symptoms, like, you guessed it, a mosaic pattern on the leaves.  I don’t have this on a single plant.  Moving on.

Nitrogen Toxicity

With nitrogen toxicity, while you may have some burnt leaf edges and that sort of thing, you’ll also have a massive blast of new growth.  My plants are completely stunted.  Not that.  Moving on again.

Some Other Virus Spread by Bugs

I will begrudgingly say this is “technically” possible, but with viruses that need to be spread by a bug (in other words, not a virus that can spread by contact or soil splash), it’s not very likely that all 70 of my tomato plants would simultaneously fall victim to such a disease.

The Answer Appears

At this point, I’d done as many different Google searches, rearranging words and phrases as many different ways as I could think of, but I still really didn’t feel I had a definitive answer.

Leaning toward 2,4-D, I finally called on my local extension office to get their take on the situation.

I told them the whole story and sent in pictures. Within minutes, I received an email telling me it was definitely herbicide injury, but not from 2,4-D. Instead, they blamed it on a word I’d never heard before: Aminopyralid.

I wish I could go back to never having heard this word.

What is Aminopyralid?

 

Aminopyralid is a broad leaf herbicide. David the Good goes into this issue in multiple posts on this site.

In a nutshell, if it’s sprayed where livestock grazes, the manure from said animals is not to be used as compost.

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Why?

Because the herbicide goes straight through the animal and into their poop. It doesn’t break down or deactivate at all. So it goes into the poop, and there it stays for years. Yes, even in aged, fully composted manure.

St_Petersburg_Garden_SquashSidebar: Not all plants will show signs of aminopyralid damage.

 Plants like squashes and cucumbers will likely appear just fine.

 My tomatoes and potatoes were the canaries in the coal mine. The sacrificial lambs. If I hadn’t planted them in that compost, and only planted less sensitive plants, I would be feeding all of that poisoned food to my family.

 So, in a bittersweet way, I’m grateful I put my beloved tomatoes in first.

So let’s say you’re lucky enough to be BFFs with a super cool farmer who you KNOW doesn’t spray herbicides on their pastures or fields, and he’s offering to give you composted manure for your garden.

Think you’re safe? Think again.

Unless your BFF farmer friend is BFFs with his hay supplier and knows for an absolute FACT that that hay was never treated, you’re really not safe. And, even if your BFF farmer friend is super great and never sprays herbicides, and knows for an absolute FACT that his BFF hay supplier doesn’t treat their hay, what if you super cool BFF farmer friend lets his cows graze all the way down to the ditch on his property, where herbicide has been carried down to from the not-so-cool farmer next door who sprays herbicides?

Guess what you have… herbicide laden manure.

So what’s the answer?

 

Compost_960I have no flipping idea.

Oh wait, yes I do. Read David’s book  Compost Everything and stop buying compost from outside sources.

One last little shove of info for those still skeptical that this was herbicide-contaminated compost.

Remember my initial theory of herbicide drift?

Well, guess what: my potatoes have the exact same deformed new growth.

Here’s the kicker . . . my potatoes are nowhere near the tomato beds. In fact, the potatoes are on our deck in pots, about 50 feet from the tomato beds, and are among a myriad of other sensitive nightshade plants (tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos), and none of those plants have any issue.

(Ed. note: look at how Karen’s potatoes exhibit the same deformed growth as the tomatoes pictured above):

Contaminated-compost-aminopyralid-effect-on-potatoes

Herbicide drift would not come onto my property, only land on the tomatoes, ignore the cucumbers that are four feet away, then hang a left and make a beeline for my deck, but then ONLY drop into my potato pots and spare every other plant.

How could this be, you ask?

Because the potatoes are the only thing on the deck that were planted in the same compost as the tomatoes.

So this probably isn’t the most uplifting story you’ve read today. But don’t worry.  I haven’t wasted this enormous learning opportunity. I’ve not only learned about this herbicide and how to avoid it, but I’ve also learned how to improvise and grow in containers.

On three-quarters of an acre, there aren’t many reasons to learn how to in containers, but now I am! I had a few pots of tomatoes that hadn’t yet gone into the raised beds, so I potted them up!

I’m also growing peppers, rat’s tail radishes, bush and pole beans, lettuce, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, and a few different squashes… all in containers!

It is my dearest hope that my story will help you avoid having this issue yourself, and to show you that, even when really bad things happen in the garden, you can always plant another seed somewhere.  Soldier on and keep growing.

~Karen Land of Love Your Land

 

Karen is an accomplished gardener and highly knowledgeable on a wide range of horticultural topics. Despite her catastrophic encounter with aminopyralid she isn’t giving up. Subscribe to Karen’s YouTube channel here and visit her Facebook group here.

Get my FREE booklet Stretch & Grow Your Compost – click here to subscribe to the newsletter!

Proper Fertilizing

beautiful-sifted-compost

Some said this video wasn’t proper fertilizing:

Many took offense at my use of 10-10-10, which I understand. Sure, it’s not “proper fertilizing,” if you’re an organic gardener. And it’s not mainstream permaculture, either.

Here’s the problem: many people will stick to their organic guns at all costs which means they lose sight of the goal.

What goal?

Food!

If you need food, which we all do, and you want it to grow in your yard, taking the EVIL CHEMICAL option is better than letting things die in the sand while sticking to your principles.

Most of the time, though, you won’t have to bust out the 10-10-10. And I’m going to take that tack today and argue that you can feed everything without going to the store for chemicals.

In the case of the South Florida garden in the video, I was visiting family and they had very little available that I could use in the short period of time I was there so I went with the “let’s save these plants before they die as stunted little things” option.

If you read yesterday’s post based on the contact I received from H. D., you saw these pictures:

proper fertilizing proper fertilizing

Does anything stand out to you in those photos?

Two things are there that I noticed immediately:

Patchy sand and pine trees.

Both are usually indicators of less-than-perfect soil for gardening and orchards. When even the weeds aren’t happy, cultivated trees and shrubs need more love than might be the case in someplace rich.

When I helped Dad create The Great South Florida Food Forest Project, we piled up all the yard “waste” around all the trees, turning sand into crumbly black compost-enriched soil in a matter of months:

DirtBeforeAndAfter

So, what’s a gal supposed to do when she has a ton of space and a wide range of species to fertilize?

Let’s jump in.

Mulch and Microbes

 

H. D. wrote in a follow-up email: “All of my plants are in desperate need of more love. I plan to begin fertilizing them asap.”

After watering, fertilizing is the next most important part of getting your orchard established.

My yard in North Florida was much like hers. It was a patchy, weedy, pasture-like expanse of stickers and grass. I used chemical fertilizer because I was so frustrated… and little happened. It may have been “proper fertilizing” by the modern farming book but there was something still missing.

The biggest change happened for my trees when I mulched them all heavily with the mulch from a tree company that was clearing the lines along our road.

I’m starting to see that the fungi and bacteria in the soil are at least as important as the minerals we add. A forest stays green and happy without any fertilizer being applied. All of the organic matter that is falling to the ground is utilized first by microorganisms and then reabsorbed by the roots of plants.

I would give each one of those trees a foot of mulch around them, at least up to 4′ out from the trunk of each one. A big ring.

Do this after a really good rain or after you soak the ground, then water that mulch in really well as well. Adding some handfuls of leaf mould gathered from around the base of happy trees in the nearby woods is a good idea as well. Sprinkle it around the trees, water, then mulch immediately so it doesn’t dry out. There are relationships happening between trees, fungi and bacteria that we hardly understand. Getting trees growing in pasture takes time but it’s jump-started by the invigoration of the soil around them with the type of organisms that live in harmony with trees.

Lactarius_Indigo_Blue_Mushroom_Edible

Think of it like eating live foods, such as yogurt, kombucha, homemade vinegar or sauerkraut. The organisms in those foods make your gut healthy. A wide soil web makes your trees healthy and helps them “digest” the nutrients that are available.

I’m actually experimenting right now with this method of culturing microbes and will post more on it tomorrow.

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Check out the video I just posted:

Mulch as Fertilizer

In my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting (now available in audiobook, by the way), I have a chapter on growing your own compost.

Mushroom12

I view mulch as both a covering for the ground and a fertilizer, which is why I like to mulch with materials that are organic and do not take a super-long time to break down. A mix of species, as found in tree company mulch, is great. It might have pine, oak, cabbage palms, vines, bay trees and who knows what other species. Hard and soft woods, large and small pieces, different plants with different mineral contents: this is great for nutrition, worms, fungi and your trees.

Even just letting patches of weeds and grass grow, then chopping them down and throwing them around the base of your trees is GREAT!

I grow Mexican sunflowers for this reason, letting them grow large, then cutting them down, then letting them grow back again. All the chopped pieces are thrown around my fruit trees and act as a year-round slow release fertilizer. You can see me doing this in my film Compost Everything: The Movie, in which I demonstrate and talk about many of the methods I share in my book.

Plants work hard to grab what they need from the soil. When they grow large, you can just cut them down and feed them to your trees. A perfectly mown and tended lawn isn’t good for gathering this kind of biomass, but tall weeds and forests are.

BeautifulWeeds

So – lesson one for getting trees going: mulch!!!

Feeding Faster

When trees and shrubs really look like they need a pick-me-up, or if you’re just getting a system started, as H. D. is, it’s time to pull out the big guns.

proper fertilizing

My favorite way to feed trees, shrubs and gardens is with a big barrel of liquid anaerobic compost fertilizer.

You can read more about my “recipe” in this post.

I put barrels near where I’d like to feed plants and let them sit out in the field, topping off with water and new ingredients as needed.

Manure, compost, urine, fish, seaweed and Epsom salts make for incredible fertilizing power. Make it and pour it around your trees, right into the mulch, then see what happens.

Some Final Thoughts on Proper Fertilizing

Intelligent-GardenerThough you may feed your trees and green them up, there’s always the possibility that there are still some micronutrients missing. This concept was really driven home in my mind when I read Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer’s book The Intelligent Gardener.

Before reading it, I never thought all that hard about the many minerals our plants need and how they relate to our own health. I scattered as many different sources of fertilty around my gardens from kelp meal to eggshells, stew bones to weed tea… but Solomon and Reinheimer literally turned it into a science.

They advocate fertilizing to specific ratios as based on complete soil tests, which if you’re a data geek and love that sort of thing, you may want to do.

I just keep switching all the ingredient in my compost tea barrels like an anarchist since getting that deep into numbers isn’t good for me.

Here are my final thoughts:

Mulch well; then get some rich tea going or a good organic mix of fertilizer; then hit your trees every month from February through August; then quit so they can safely enter dormancy.

For blueberries, throw on elemental sulfur and all the coffee grounds and mulch with all the rotten pine bark you can scavenge.

Don’t throw away any logs or leaves. Instead, put them around the bases of your trees to feed the fungi and good guys long-term.

You will succeed – it’s just a matter of growing trees like they grow in a forest… plus giving them a good hit of fertility so they can win their battle against the grass and the brutal Florida weather. Proper fertilizing the way nature does it – with a few tweaks – will make it happen!

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Best Composting Toilet System?

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Boonjon Best Composting Toilet

This guy invented the best composting toilet I’ve seen yet.

I recently discovered the best composting toilet system I’ve seen yet.

Today’s post may go outside of the comfort range of my more delicate readers, but remember… I literally wrote the book on extreme composting.

Compost_960-webALL ORGANIC MATTER MUST RETURN TO THE EARTH – TERRIFYING AND HORRIBLE THINGS INCLUDED!!!

There’s a gap in our thinking when it comes to our own waste. For some reason, recycling banana peels and coffee grounds is “great” but recycling sewage is “oh heck no I’m not doing that! Gross!!!”

I understand, really. It took me quite a while to come around to the idea of composting everything.

The first guy that changed my thinking on the subject was Joseph Jenkins, author of The Humanure Handbook. I built one of his “lovable loo” composting bucket toilets and installed it in our Tennessee house for a year as an experiment. It worked decently, but had problems with attracting some flies and odor. Close, but not quite what we wanted.

The_Humanure_Handbook_CoverGranted, the problem wasn’t really in the design so much as the fill material we had available. Peat moss worked great, but it consumed too much peat moss. I couldn’t find any safe sawdust locally, so that option was out, leaving us stuck with wood chips. Not great.

There are other composting toilet designs, ranging from quite expensive dehydrating Biolet models to the collection of cool outhouses Paul Wheaton covers in this video.

Now I have a new favorite… and have to say, I think it’s the best composting toilet system I’ve seen for both ease-of-use and simplicity of design.

The Best Composting Toilet System?

A few years ago, a man named Sandy Graves dropped me an email after finding my old Florida Survival Gardening website. He told me he’d developed a different composting toilet system and that I ought to come out and see it at some point.

I get emails from kooky people now and again, so the idea of going to see a stranger’s toilet wasn’t really all that high on my list… until I did some more research and realized he had something new and interesting going on.

Before the videographer who was helping me on the Crash Gardening series quit, I was going to go over with him to see Sandy’s system so we could film a pro-looking video. That never happened… and time moved on. I corresponded with Mr. Graves a few more times via e-mail but no solid plans ever firmed up. His office was about an hour from my homestead and it never seemed to be a good day for me to pack up and head off out of town to look at composting toilets.

Until a couple of weeks ago when we sold our homestead.

I’d loaded up a trailer with all our worldly possessions and we were heading down 40 towards I-95 when my wife says, “Hey – isn’t this where the guy with the composting toilets has his place?”

“Yes,” I said, “I should just stop now and see what he has going on… we could just film a spontaneous video!”

Rachel thought that was a great idea, so when we spotted the sign for “C-Head, LLC,” I pulled in.

Boonjon_Best_Composting_System

Out front was a U-Haul trailer remarkably similar to the one being pulled behind my van, and I noticed it was being packed by a solidly-built, gray-haired man with glasses.

“Are you Sandy Graves?” I asked.

“Hey – I know you!” he replied, “David! Welcome! We’re just packing up for the Mother Earth News Fair!”

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Never have enough of the good stuff?

CLICK HERE to get David The Good's free booklet Stretch & Grow Your Compost!

You'll transform your garden forever!

I asked if he had time for a video, so leaving the packing behind, Sandy took me to see the best composting toilet system I’ve seen yet.

Check it out:

The system began as an experiment on Sandy’s boat… then moved to land… then became an entire business with a variety of models.

Row of the best composting toilets I've ever seen

 

The BoonJon composting toilet system ties in nicely with a backyard compost bin. Sandy encourages soldier flies in his compost piles and told me he keeps discovering new things about the species that makes him appreciate them more.

I was amazed how little fill material was required for a BoonJon composting toilet. Quite affordable! Back when I built my composting toilet, it consumed a lot of fill material.

A Unique Way To Fertilize With Urine

 

The diversion of urine into a separate receptacle is also a very good thing. That allows you to use it as a liquid fertilizer in your garden or orchard.

Urine_Fertilizer_Fertigation

The way Sandy irrigates his beds with urine is quite clever (don’t you dig inventors?) and grows some of the biggest tomato plants I’ve seen in a Florida garden.

He also grows some good-looking raspberries:

Raspberries

Final Thoughts

When you think about how much water we waste – plus all the fertility we literally flush away every day – composting toilets make a lot of sense.

Why would we use clean water to dispose of… fertilizer?

Everything is upside-down when you think about it. I’m glad for people like Sandy Graves who are using their talents to make a difference in the world through simple technologies. Decentralizing waste management makes a lot of sense.

Imagine how much water we could save!

How many gardens we could feed!

How many wastewater plants we could close!

So…

What do you guys think – is this kind of composting too crazy for you?

The Marvelous Citrus of Spring

SpringCitrus

I’m enjoying bringing in the last of 2015’s citrus harvest while seeing the many blooms that will bring new citrus for this year.

The calamondins are long gone but there are still plenty of blood oranges.

Blood_Oranges

They never become fully red in my climate like the blood oranges you may have seen in photos, but they do have some beautiful streaks of deep red through their centers. I have considered grafting them here and there onto some of my other citrus just for fun but never got around to it.

The other day the very last Ponderosa lemon on the tree by my south wall fell to the ground, fully ripe. Rachel took it and a few Myer lemons and made some amazing, fresh homemade lemonade for the children.

And even as that last fruit has come in… the blooms are vying for the chance to replace it many times over.

Though I don’t recommend planting citrus anymore thanks to the diseases, it’s really hard to keep my own advice.

Stretch_And_Grow_Your_Compost_Cover+sm

Never have enough of the good stuff?

CLICK HERE to get David The Good's free booklet Stretch & Grow Your Compost!

You'll transform your garden forever!

I did write a sad song about greening, though. So there’s that.

The last citrus I planted was the Pineapple orange I mentioned in my post on fighting greening with a citrus tree guild.

If you’re interested in getting rapid production from your citrus trees, you might also appreciate my post on fertilizing citrus the way the commercial farmers do it.

That got my trees kicking this last year; however, I’m not sure how sustainable their long-term health will be if I did that year after year. I mix in compost and other good organic matter for them, too, so it’s not quite like the groves where you have a big patch of sand and the only food given to the trees is chemical fertilizer.

Generally I’m an organic gardener… yet the power of 10-10-10 is amazing.

Must… resist…!

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