Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Worm Wrangling Update

We've harvested 3 times so far and started 6 new bins. There are still worms squeezing up through the screen. How many more are there? I wonder about the drive and commitment
of these laggards. Will they do their jobs and eat quickly and efficiently or are they better suited for fish or chicken food?
Time will tell!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Worm Wrangling

According to my meticulous(?) records i have no idea when i started my first 2 worm bins. However a search through my previous posts revealed that i started them on April 19th which was 32 days ago. Wow, those worms were hungry! I predicted that it would take 60-90 days for them to finish off the materials in the bin. Some digging in the bin at the end of last week revealed that it is time to harvest them and start some new bins. The method i used the last time i harvested a bin was to shovel the material onto a table, let the worms crawl to the bottom to escape the light (they hate light. Can worms hate? I hope not!), scrape off the top inch or 2 of castings and repeat over and over until most of the castings have been separated from the worms. 
It took hours to do each bin!
Will Allen at Growing Power in Milwaukee showed us a much simpler method which i employed this time. Since the worms have consumed almost all of the food in the bin they are looking (hoping? Can worms hope?) for something else to eat. So the idea is to put some food on top that the worms will crawl up into to begin eating. Here is the amazing part!
One puts a window screen on top of the bin and then places the fresh food on top of the screen and, believe it or not , the worms will squeeze up through the teeny tiny little holes in the screen to get to the fresh food. 
After as couple of days one can then dump the worms into a new bin and start the process over again. When i removed the screen there were lots of hungry worms waiting in line ( well not really in a line) for their turns to squeeze through the screen and get to the food so i replaced the screen and covered it with some more food. We'll wait and see how many times it takes to get all of the worms out of the old bin and into new bins.
I can only imagine how hungry they must be after having all the contents of their guts squeezed out as they squirm through that teeny tiny little hole. More poop for me!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bugscaping Practiced Here

We like to encourage our friends to do our work for us here at The Funny Farm so we provide them with food and drink as an incentive to help us out. That's why we practice Bugscaping!. We grow specific plants to attract beneficial insects to do battle with the evil pestilence that comes out of nowhere to devastate our crops and piss us off. We're talking about flowering plants, particularly those whose flowers are in the form of umbels (you know shaped like an umbrella). Okay who has umbels? Dill, yarrow, queen anne's lace are some who do.  We want flowers with lots of nectar for the beneficials to feed on easily. Other good ones are goldenrod in the late summer (not an umbel), garlic chives, cilantro as it transforms itself into coriander. The key is to grow lots of different flowers and have something blooming in all seasons. We grow greens through the winter here in Georgia so in early spring we let some of the kale and mustard go to seed to feed the early appearing beneficials. We adapted this from Dr. Richard McDonald's farmscaping concept, scaling it down to garden size. He has a crazy but informative web site that explains the concept in detail and has lists of good plants to grow.
Whom do we want to invite to join our army? Wasps, flies, lacewings, beetles, bees, lightening bugs ( that's right they are predators too). And don't forget the birds. They eat lots of insects like beetles and worms. When we gardened in the city there were lots of mockingbirds around. I once saw one pluck a tomato worm right off a tomato and swallow it down. How cool is that? Birds need bushes and houses for nesting sites so keep some areas wild for them.
Who needs chemicals when there is a huge army out there just waiting to enlist in our army. Fight bugs not people!
Oh yea, the Nanking cherries are ripe. Yum!

Monday, May 12, 2008

All We Need Are the Chickens

We finished up the hen house and chicken run. We divided the run into 2 paddocks so one can recover while the chickens churn up the other. We made nest boxes accessible from outside for egg gathering and there is a hinged board on the outside too that drops down so the boxes can be cleaned from the outside as well. The pop out door can also be opened from the outside by pulling a rope that runs through a pulley. Can you tell i want to spend as little time as possible in the hen house?
Does anyone know how old they should be when you clip their wings to keep them from flying over the fence?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy

We've been really busy, tilling, planting, pruning, harvesting, selling, learning, teaching and having fun. Where to begin..... Ok, remember that poplar stump we inoculated with oyster mushroom spawn last summer? Well we harvested our first mushrooms from it last week. Put them in an omelet. Yummm!
Speaking of omelets, I went on a tour of urban chicken coops sponsored by Georgia Organics. I saw 8 different coops and lots of different chickens and some goats too. My conclusion was that chicken raising is pretty simple so we should go for it. The hen house is done except for adding a roost and a latch for the door. All I need to do is add some fencing and we're ready for a flock. I think I'll start with 6. That seems like a manageable number.
Speaking of tours, last sunday we went on a tour of Spring Valley Ecofarms in Athens, Georgia. It is a research farm owned and operated by Dr. Carl Jordan. Dr Jordan is doing some interesting research in ecoforestry but what caught my interest was the experiments they are conducting using perennial legume hedgerows interplanted with annual crops. They idea is that the legume ( they were using mimosa and amorpha), if the roots are colonized by nitrogen-fixing bacteria, will share some of the nitrogen with the annual plants. It seems to be working they said. I decided to try it out in our garden. I have interplanted baptisia australis with my tomatoes. I am inoculating the baptisia with alll the different commercial rhizobium bacteria i can find in hopes of finding one that will colonize the roots. This is not a carefully designed experiment. I don't have control plots. How will I know if it works? I won't know for sure. I will examine the roots of the baptisia to determine if they have been colonized but i can't determine if the tomatoes have benefitted from the companion planting. I chose baptisia because their flowers are good cut flowers and the foliage can be used as greenery in arrangements so they have economic value to us. By harvesting the foliage, we will force the plant to slough off roots to compensate for the lost foliage. Those roots will get broken down by the soil microorganisms which should make any nitrogen in the root nodules (assuming they exist) available to the tomatoes. Anyway we know that diversity is good so we're giving it a whirl.
The next step is to figure out a crop rotation that will work with the perennial planting. I'm thinking cucumbers next year, then maybe greens....
One more thing. Michelle and William from the Weather Channel came out to the Funny Farm to shoot a couple of segments for a series they do called Forecast Earth. One of the segments is about growing worms and the benefits of wormcastings. The second one is about Bugscaping, growing specific plants to attract beneficial insects. We released 1500 ladybugs and played with the worms. Of course Penny the cat star had to get in on the action too being such a ham. Michelle asked me if we used natural cat litter which we do. She's also doing a segment on natural pet care so Penny got to pose for the camera and I got to pour corn based litter into her litter box. 
It was a fun time. The segments should start airing in Late June or July.