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Cristo Balete

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since May 23, 2015
Long-time Permaculturist
In the woods, West Coast USA
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Recent posts by Cristo Balete

One more detail about the worm box....I was most worried about the heat that might collect in the box on hot days when the sun is directly on it for hours.  As great as the rock work around the box is in that photo on this thread, I don't know how thick it needs to be to be more like a cool cave rather than a hot oven.  

I put a wooden covering over the plastic box with a couple of inches of air space on all sides and top, with 2 inches of space between it and the ground, up on little blocks.  It's dark, so it won't be so obvious, but it seems to be okay, as the worms are staying there.
2 weeks ago
Sounds like a packrat or roof rat.   They are very active, very noisy at night.  Whatever it is, it's pooping up there.  Rodents can climb vertical surfaces easily, but also can jump onto the roof from nearby trees, or trellises.  All rodents need to chew wood to keep their teeth at a workable length.  It's the droppings that carry disease and their love of electrical wires that cause the main problems.   If you go up there, wear a mask and Rubber gloves (which are good to have around for lots of reasons.)  Don't crawl around or use a broom, as that could possibly send germ/bacteria/virus particles into the air.  

Spray the surface ahead of you with a 50/50 water/bleach mixture, wiping with newspaper or paper towel to create a clean pathway across the area.  Don't stray from that path while investigating, and bag the paper before leaving the area.   Wash all clothing and gloves immediately, do not rewear them until they've been washed.

Hanta virus is a very serious respiratory disease that can get dangerous in just a few hours.

The most hidden openings are often under the bottom of trim on the outside corners of a house or shed.  Use a mirror or feel up under and see if the siding had been chewed.  If you have a critter camera, or borrow one, place it in the attic and see what it gets.  It often shows where they are coming and going from.
2 weeks ago
This seems like a good thread with good info, so I'll just add in here that my worm humanure setup is one of the most amazing things I've ever done.  I've schlepped my way through handling sewage for 30 years, from RV tanks  (ugh) to septic tanks, composting toilets of several styles....and the worms handling it is beyond wonderful!

The main advantage is that there are flush toilets in the house, which makes everyone happy in the long run, especially visitors.

A funny aside, I noticed we always had Daddy Long Legs spiders in the house, up in the corners of the ceilings, couldn't figure out how they got in.  Just assumed it was because we were in a rural location.  Also lots of ladybugs got in.  After all of the compost potty weeds stopped coming inside, no more spiders/lady bugs inside.  

One observation about composting toilet height vs. flush toilet height, never realized this, but the low seat level of the flush toilet is conducive to making everything work nicely.  The composting toilets are very high, often with legs dangling straight down, which is not conducive to things working well.  There's actually something called a Squatty Potty that is said to be a preferred style.  So another plus for the flush toilet.

It's a pretty simple system, like the typical box arrangement pictured in this thread.  The ground does not freeze here, so I can't vouch for keeping the setup from freezing.  I know some friends in Canada have this method in a cesspit so the worms can go down below the frostline in the winter and survive.   Cesspits might take some special care not to pollute ground water or provide too much fertilizer for large trees that might grow shallow roots and fall over in a big wind storm.  Had friends who had this happen, not because of a septic setup, but because of grey water discharge, too much water on native trees.

Kept an eye on the gravel at the exit end for the first month to make sure it was draining properly and the worms were not drowning.  

Here are some specifics:

1.  No special worms, just worms found in my soil.  They do a great job, multiply like crazy.  Started with about 100 worms, and in just a couple spring/summer months they were everywhere in the box, and much bigger/healthier looking than when I put them in.

2.  Lined the sides of the box with native soil so the worms could recognize the environment.

3.  I use 1 1/2" rock at the outflow end of the box, wrapped in a large rectangle of chickenwire, folded over several times to make it strong, to block the end, but allow water to escape.  I am not a woodchip fan, because they break down and get into the waterline and plug it up.   Rocks worked well in my greywater reed beds, are easy to take out and rinse off and return if necessary.

4.  The water from the washing machine does not go through this box, because it seems like a lot of water in a day (sometimes 4 loads)  that might cause issues with the worms and draining too slowly, or flushing the vermicompost out too vigorously,  so we rerouted that water to come in farther down the line.

5.  The original setup of the interior of the box was to line the sides with native soil, then fill the middle third of the box with shredded paper, shredded egg cartons, about half the depth of the container.   All torn/shredded paper can be thrown in here.

6.  Added a smaller box downhill/downstream from the first main box that catches any worms that sneak out, and compost that washes out.  This is an experiment just in case using the compost in the landscape was possible, and to make sure the worms were collected and moved/managed easily without having to go into the main box.  

Six months later, the box contents looks like vermicompost, no odor, the worms are everywhere.  The contents stays at a level of about half full.  Not a lot of vermicompost gets collected in the second box.   I just can't say enough how impressive this is, and would highly recommend it over a plain composting toilet.
2 weeks ago

Since nutrition is something good when it comes to food trees, your own soil, plus compost, plus compost tea, and leaf mulch would be a desireable mix, and you want the roots to "recognize" the soil you put it in once you put it in the ground.   Potting mixes are fine for starting things, but once they have sterilized the mix, it's just not the same as really healthy soil from compost/worms/trace minerals/soil critters that mature plants need.
4 months ago
Mike, a half barrel is probably the size of container you'd want for a citrus tree if you are not going to put it in the ground, and want it mobile.  Wood and soil are pretty good insulators, but not sure just how cold your winters get.

Yes, 6.5 should be fine.  Too much water and stress (wind, repotting) can also make leaves yellow.  Make sure the soil drains really well, they like sandy loam.  Citrus has its fussy moments, so get it stable, in a big container, keep it in one place as consistently as you can, let it have a "home" location, then see what the new leaves look like.

All you have to do in a greenhouse is keep it from going below 35 F. , not necessarily try to keep it warm in the winter.   Day length in the winter is too short for most perennials to do much growing then, even if it is warm.  They are getting a lot more cues than just temperature, so Nov-Feb only needs to be not freezing.

Roots will probably grow between 1-2 feet per year if they are in the ground.  You can tell what they are doing by the length of the branch shoots you are getting on top.  If it's 2 feet from spring to fall, then the roots are probably doing the same.  In a container, once the roots hit bottom, they will start to circle, and the branch shoots will shorten.  
4 months ago
The full-sized concrete foundation blocks sold at the local lumber/hardware type stores make great raised bed edges that can be insulation by filling them with soil, and planting in those edges.  That creates a good 6 inch insulation barrier, two blocks high.  Just make sure the top block straddles the space between the two blocks below it.   Planting annual flowers in the edges if there's any concern about them leaching something into the soil in them.

Any vegetables in the actual big raised bed will be sending their roots down, more than to the side, so there wouldn't be much contact, rootwise, with the sides of a concrete block raised bed.  And you can change your configuration anytime you want.  

There's even a great looking bench made out of these blocked, painted and sturdy enough for outside.  They are always handy blocks to have on hand.

4 months ago
And here's a question:

If something is recyclable, into the same or other usable products that can also be recycled, and we take it out of the recycle loop by sticking it in the garden, isn't the demand for the original ingredients going to go up?  In the case of cardboard, more trees need to be cut down, which requires diesel-belching sawing machinery, and diesel-belching trucks to haul cut trees to sawmills.  
5 months ago
The important thing about gardening is to have a mix of ingredients, not just one that overwhelms all the others.   Cardboard is carbon and commercial glues.

However anyone wants to spend time breaking down cardboard is up to them.  But applying it to the garden, the soil needs to be mixed in or the cardboard  buried.  It's the soil critters that break it down, and if it's dry, or not under thick leaf mulch or several inches of soil, they just can't be in that environment.

And what nutrients are being added to the soil by cardboard?   3" deep leaf mulch, maintained at that depth, checked weekly, will suppress weeds, keep moisture in the soil for worms, not just soil microbes, and add nutrients, create the soil food web that we are all looking for.

These days I have no idea what kind of glues they are using to make cardboard, but odds are it's not non-toxic.  A lot of cardboard is required to stay in a sterile state for X amount of time, depending on regulations.  

Where it doesn't rain in the summer it's a real struggle to keep it wet enough, in any form.  The corners curl up, even under a few inches of soil (unless the soil is saturated regularly, which means by hand, which means another chore in the summer) and wind/air gets underneath it, dries it out.  I've found it to be very ineffective if I have to provide the moisture.

5 months ago
Mike, those also look like very small containers for a tree.  Picture the roots being a mirror image of what's on top, and needing to go very deep, at the tap root, to get water and nutrients.   If the tap root starts to circle, rather than go straight down, it will stress the tree and you'll see similar results on the leaves.

Plus those clay pots are alkaline and when mixed with water put off their alkalinity.  

That tree will take off in the summer, so a 2-gallon plastic pot will stay ahead of the roots, for a while.  Sometimes the local nurseries will sell them at a decent discount, or an avid gardening friends will make some available.  Once the roots get a good rootball in a 2-gallon pot, it should be planted out, with thick leaf mulch around it to try to keep the moisture at an even level, not going from dry to too wet and back to dry, on a small tree like that.

5 months ago
The quickest way to get some more acid in your soil is to water with a 50/50 solution of leftover coffee and water, and put the used grounds, under leaf mulch, around the base of the plant.  Or tea, and put the tea bags on the soil, under some leaf mulch so they won't dry out.  It's going to take about a month.   Collecting any leftover coffee and tea from glasses every day will give a good supply of acidic liquid that can be added to the garden.

Checking the pH of your water and soil is important, too, because they play a role.  Citrus likes very sandy loam, so if it is in clay soil it may not do well and show some of these same signs, too much water around the roots.

Other solutions, because they are much slower, like gypsum, can take up to 6 months to take effect.

Those leaves might fall off, so don't worry about that.  As long as it is putting out new leaves that are green.  A mature citrus tree might have some leaves that look like this, but if it's 10% then it's not a problem.

And any fans of using pee as a source of nitrogen and rich environment for soil critters, be aware that pee can tip the pH into alkaline when used by itself.   It, too, can be mixed with coffee or tea.
5 months ago