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Worm Apocalypse

March 9, 2010

This past weekend was very sunny and nice, up until about 5 pm on Sunday when it started hailing like crazy! I was outdoors most of the weekend, and I noticed a wind come up on Sunday afternoon, followed by an extreme temperature drop. At first, I didn’t realize why I was so cold. My nose started running and my hands were freezing. I had to go inside and put on long underwear, a long sleeve shirt, and a sweater, because previously I was only wearing jeans and a tank top. I almost put on gloves! It was so cold!

Before this crazy temperature shift, I built my garden. It consists of siding from the ReBuild Center, compost from the place where Adam dumps brush from his work, and bird netting to keep Oz from using the beds as his outdoor litter box.

First, I dug into the ground under the beds, to break up the clumpy clay soil and remove the top layer of decaying grass. Wow, there were a ton of worms in the ground. That’s a good thing – worms are indicators that a whole ecosystem of bacteria, insects, and fungus live in the soil, all of which are great for plants. Also, worms dig tunnels in the soil which the plants can use to send down roots and which can help with water drainage. But wow, poor worms. They really had their lives turned upside down.

After tilling up the ground, I put in the sides and shovelled compost on top. The compost was very warm still, so I now have to give it a couple weeks to settle and cool off, otherwise it could cook my seeds!

Over the top of the beds I laid down bird netting. When I plant in the beds, I’ll need to put in some stakes and raise the netting 6 inches off the soil, according to the recommendations of the packaging the net came in. Until then, it was freezing and I just wanted to get that stuff down so Oz wouldn’t ruin the beds.

It looks great! It was a lot of hard work, but fun to be outside all day with Sophie and Oz and the chickens next door. We all had a fantastic time. Can’t wait to plant!



March 8, 2010

My seeds have sprouted! I have about 800 leggy lettuce starts, reaching toward the window for sunlight, and one little tomato sprout.

The picture above is the lettuce I started in egg shells. Below is a picture of the starts in the ice cube tray. The lone little sprout in the back row is the tomato! Hang on, little tomato!

I’m Lookin’ At You, Trader Joe’s

March 5, 2010

This study in Consumer Report Magazine tested a bunch of bagged salad greens for bacteria and yucky stuff. They found 39% of the bags had coliforms, a type of bacteria found in human and animal fecal matter, and also in soil, submerged wood and “in other places outside the human body”, says the EPA. They also found 23% of the bags contained enterococcus, a more specific bacteria to human feces.

The study found higher instances of bacteria in bags that were 1-5 days before their expiration date. They theorize that the longer the greens are closed up in the bag, the more time the bacteria has to grow and spread to measurable levels. Although the greens haven’t gone bad, they’re also not in a sterile environment and therefore, bacteria trapped inside during the sealing process is growing every day.

They didn’t test fresh lettuce or lettuce that has been in a vegetable bag in your fridge for 3 days, or any other circumstance in which lettuce is contained before we eat it. I think we can all safely and happily jump to the conclusion that bagged lettuce is dirtier or not as good as other types of lettuce containment, such as picking up fresh lettuce and putting it in a bag in the fridge, but the study is not saying that nor could prove that. Your fresh fridge lettuce could have human feces in it too.

The reason the Consumer Report people chose bagged salad mix for the study is because the packaging claims the greens are “washed 3 times” or “prewashed”, implying that the eater doesn’t need to further wash the greens. And they found that, no matter how many times the bag claims to have washed the greens, it’s still a very extremely smart idea to wash the greens again. You could even say that the labels are misleading.

Even items that aren’t claiming to be more clean than necessary even before you bring them home can have the same problems. For instance, if you shrink wrap a bouquet of broccoli, you’re creating the same conditions for growing bacteria as a bagged salad mix. The broccoli may appear to be safer and cleaner, because it’s been protected from dirty containers and handlers before reaching you. But really, that broccoli was handled by a bunch of dirty containers and handlers before being shrink wrapped and delivered to the store. In addition, the plastic barrier between you and the produce makes it much more difficult to see if the item is fresh.

Packaged and pre-processed food may or may not be healthier and cleaner than fresh food. Wasn’t there a study that found kitchens to have more fecal matter in them than bathrooms? Food’s not that clean, and the fecal matter mentioned in the bagged lettuce study won’t kill you. The problem is that packaged and processed food suppliers make claims, both outright and implied, that their food is cleaner. And it’s not.

Starting Seeds Indoors

March 3, 2010

I’m starting some lettuce and tomato seeds indoors. The benefits of starting seeds indoors is that you can get the plants up to a certain maturity before planting them outside, giving them a head start. They’ll start producing sooner, and you don’t have to wait until the danger of frost has passed and the ground is warm enough.

I saved eggshells to plant the seeds in, which is super cool. When they’re ready to go outside, you just crack up the egg shell and plant it directly into the soil, rather than transplanting the little start. It’s the same idea as a peat pot or other biodegradable seed starting pot, except it’s made from garbage (or compost). Egg shells release yummy plant nutrients as they decompose, so they offer some of the same benefits as a peat pot.

I filled the eggshells with seed starting potting mix, because seeds should be started in sterile soil, which means??? The tomato seeds looked just like tomato seeds from the inside of a tomato, because of course that’s where they came from. The lettuce seeds were long and blade-shaped, in different colors because I got a lettuce mix rather than one specific kind.

I also planted some seeds of each in an ice cube tray I found in the back of the cupboard. I thought, hey, why not? It’s the same size and shape and idea as a seed starting tray you’d buy at the store.

I overwatered the soil at first and had to dig the stuff out and add more dry soil to get a less-soggy consistency. The how-to-plant-seeds-indoors directions specifically say not to make the soil soggy or the seeds can mold before germinating. Of course, the first thing I did was make the soil soggy. But I think it worked out in the end.

Now the trays are sitting in the window, soaking up the sun and hopefully germinating into beautiful and amazing little sprouts which will survive to be starts which will survive to be planted outside and turn into food! I’m worried, though, because I don’t know if I can keep the temperature of the soil up high enough to succeed in this experiment. It’s not really that warm in my house and the tomatoes prefer soil temperatures of 70 degrees…we will see how it goes. I didn’t use all the seeds, so I plan to try again if it doesn’t work.

Garden Time!

February 28, 2010

It was a beautiful sunny weekend and we worked outside in the yard a lot. I got my seeds in the mail, and made a whole plan of when to plant and how to do the garden.

I decided that I won’t be in this house long enough to amend the clay soil enough to plant directly into it. Clay soil, I read, has good drainage and can have good nutrients for plants, but in winter can become waterlogged, and in summer can become super dry. Another problem is compaction, which makes it hard for little plant roots to dig deep in the soil. It’s best to till up the soil in the spring to break up all the clumps that have formed through heavy winter rains, making the soil loose and almost sandy in texture.

So, that sounds good to me. If this was my house, I could work hard to amend the existing soil so that there was less clay and more humus or good top soil, after which I could do some wild, no-till gardening. But under my circumstances, it’s best to go with a quicker solution. Which is: raised mounds.

Adam and I went to the ReBuild Center today and bought some long pieces of siding (all matching 🙂 Adam’s going to paint paw prints on them :). We’re going to check out some kind of tilling tool from the Northeast Portland Tool Library next Saturday (they’re only open on Saturdays from 9-2), and till up the rows which I lasagna mulched in the fall. There’ll be lots of good old chicken manure and compost to mix into the soil. We’re also going to go get a yard of garden soil mix from Grimm’s Fuel, which has compost and other stuff in it (only $25! Not bad!), and throw that on top. The siding will support the mound on either side, but not on the ends, which is why I’m calling it mounds and not beds.

When we’re finished, there should be 3 10’x2′ rows and one 8’x3′ row. Those, along with the existing raised beds I planted in last year, will make up the bulk of the garden. In separate areas there will be a potato tire, a bean teepee, and a bunch of different squash. It’s going to be so AWESOME!

Worm Bins: Easier Than You Think!

February 23, 2010

I started a worm bin this past summer. It was a huge project, in which I took the WSU Master Composter/Recycler program in 2006, then spent 3 years meaning to get a compost started, then built a worm bin with my dad, which sat in the backyard for a couple months, then finally got the worms and started up the bin.

There is, I’ll have you know, a 140 page book called Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, which is generally known to be the go-to book on building a successful worm bin, and I followed all the instructions. I built the bin to the correct ratio. I measured my food waste by bringing a plastic bag with a week’s food waste to my work and weighing it on the mailing scale.

I ran into a problem when I first started the bin, which was that I didn’t have enough bedding and I was too lazy to go get more. For most of the bedding I used ripped up newspaper, also some dirt, wood chips, and leaves. Still, the bin was only half full of bedding. So, I dumped my kitchen waste on top, and kept meaning to get more bedding to put over it, thus burying the food waste as you’re supposed to do.

Well, as you can imagine, after a time of not getting the bedding, I stopped saving my food waste, because I didn’t want to add more until I got the bedding. Fast forward to this past weekend, which is the time I got up the courage to open the lid of the worm bin, after it’d suffered, neglected, all through the fall and winter. No one to make sure the bin was kept moist with water, but not dripping, and not too dry. No one to feed the poor little worms. I knew that all the little wormies had died, and I was a terrible composter despite having taken the Master Composter/Recycler Program, and ALL WAS LOST.

And guess what I found when I opened the bin?

Worms! And lots of castings! The worms had dutifully eaten up most of the bedding and food waste, leaving a thick layer of dark brown, grainy dirt underneath some decomposing newspaper strips, egg shells, and, strangely, a piece of thick yellow plastic.

I can compost after all! I shovelled all the bin contents into half the bin, piled decaying leaves on top, gave it some water, and set up a Brown Cow yogurt container with a lid next to the sink to resume saving and composting my kitchen scraps. What a surprise and success! Who knew? Who knew it was so easy to compost?

Eggs Come From the Inside of a Chicken!

February 22, 2010

I’m watching my neighbor’s chickens for the next couple days. They need to be locked in their coop at night and let out in the morning to protect them from raccoons and other predators who think backyard chickens make a tasty midnight snack. There are six chickens, and they each lay an egg pretty much everyday. So, in payment for watching the chickens, we get the eggs they lay while I watch them.

I got my first egg today. It’s white, and it was a little sticky. Because….it just came out of a chicken! The eggs need to be washed first, to get the chicken insides off. It wasn’t a big sticky mess, but you could definitely tell the egg wasn’t clean, not like the smooth eggs from the grocery store.

I’m excited to deal with the chickens and steal their eggs to have for breakfast. Fresh eggs straight from the chicken coop. Gourmet breakfast!