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We built a worm farm

20 Apr

Yesterday I decided to build a worm farm.

So I called my brother, and we went up the Kapiti Coast to collect a few bits and pieces. Firstly we went to a tyre shop and asked if they had any free old tyres. They had a huge pile out the back that we were welcome to help ourselves to. (Could also be useful for little herb beds or something.) Next stop was the Porirua recycling centre and our shopping list included corrugated iron, bricks, a piece of carpet, and something to use as a lid. We didn’t find any corrugated iron or bricks, but we did find a doormat and a heavy formica table which was about the right size. I bought the table, carpet, and a doll (for a different project!) for $5, and asked the guys at Trash Palace if they had a screwdriver we could borrow to take the legs off the table so I could leave the frame behind. They kindly did it for me.

We then drove further up the coast to Pukerua Bay, and bought some worms off a guy named Dave for $30 + $5 for some straw/manure/compost for them. The car was quite full on the way home, with two adults, a baby, 4 tyres, a table top, and a large box full of poop and a smaller container full of wriggly worms.

We chose a site near the garden (so it wouldn’t be far to carry the vermicast / wee), and found a spot on the bank which basically had 3 levels. The bottom level we dug out a spot for the bucket, on the middle level we set the worm farm, and the top level is where you stand to chuck the scraps in. There are some uses to living on a hillside!

The purpose of the corrugated iron is to create a drainage system for the worm wee / tea / rum – whatever you want to call it. However, as we hadn’t been able to find any, we poked around in the garage for something to improvise. (The previous tenants left a bit of a mess.) We found a tray with only 3 sides which was perfect, except it wasn’t big enough. So we used a laminated map of the world (thanks previous tenants) in combination with the tray.

It was getting a bit dark and cold by this time, so we called it quits and put the worms in the garage overnight.

The next day we laid the carpet inside the tyre, to make a ‘nest’ for the worms, and arranged the bottom tyre with our improvised ‘drainage system’.

We decided to provide a bit of extra support for the slightly sloping tyres by banging in some bamboo stakes (also found in the garage).

I had pre-soaked the newspaper, so it was now time to put the worms into their new home!

Then we covered the compost in a layer of soaked newspaper.

Time for the next tyre…

And so on and so forth for the 2nd and 3rd tyres. We decided not to use the 4th tyre at this stage because a) we didn’t have enough newspaper, and b) we didn’t think it was necessary.

All finished!

Close up of the drainage:

Three tyres, a tabletop, and a few bamboo stakes:

All up, we recycled and reused:

10 old newspapers, soaked

A cobwebby bucket (we left the spider there to do as she will)

A rusty tray

A laminated map of the world

Three old tyres

A formica tabletop

A pile of tiger worms

A pile of compost

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And there was rain

16 Apr

This is the second day straight we have had rain. So what better time to get my mulch happening? While doing the groceries I collected a bunch of cardboard, and went past the garden centre to get a bag of organic compost. I’m not even really the gardening type (yet. YET.) much less the gardening-in-the-rain type, so I’m proud of myself for going out and getting wet and dirty. It’s much easier to garden on a nice day when the plants are practically glowing. But the rain was soft and it wasn’t cold, so it was actually OK.

This is the before picture of the garden. Note that we have been using the bottom terrace as a compost heap.

Laying down the cardboard. I only got enough for the bottom terrace so will have to do the second one next time. I'm not bothering with the top one as it is too hard to get to.

The baby watches from the dry and warm... but really wishes he was outside with his Mama!

Then a layer of newspaper to cover any gaps.

A bag of compost seems quite big in the shop, but it looks like I'll have to get a couple more next time I'm at the garden centre!

And that’s my first mulched bed. Go to work, rain!

Sterile seeds

14 Apr

I learnt last night, towards the end of ‘Choosing Eden‘, that a type of seed has been designed to genetically switch off a plants ability to germinate a second time. It’s called Terminator technology, or the official wag: Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURTs). It seems strange that I never knew this before, but the very idea is unfathomable: that someone would be stupid and selfish enough to deliberately stop a plant reproducing in order to force farmers to buy seeds over and over again. It’s just another example of how money gets in the way of life.

Imagine if Monsanto actually got away with this. It strikes me as being a violation of human rights. Are company profits so much more important than farmers’ livelihoods? Sterile seeds are almost like forced sterilisations of women. Less immediately hurtful, but just as devastating.

I’m relieved to learn there is an international moratorium on field tests and commercial use, although according to the site Ban Terminator, the Canadian government is trying to overturn the moratorium. Apparently NZ and Australia are in on the act too. Shame on us!

When putting in my garden I plan to use heirloom seeds as much as possible and learning how to save my seeds.

Mulch, mulch, glorious mulch

13 Apr

Since we’re coming up to winter, I’ve decided that the most useful thing I can do for my garden-to-be (apart from plan it) is to get mulching. From what I understand of permaculture so far, mulching is a method of preparing the soil that doesn’t require any digging, and has lots of benefits. Not requiring any digging sounds like a benefit to me! But it also “improves nutrient and water retention in the soil, encourages favorable soil microbial activity and worms, and suppresses weed growth” 1. And the plants grow with ‘vigor’. Vigor sounds good! Given my poor track record of sustaining gardens for more than a month, I’d like to give this garden a good head start at least.

According to Wikipedia, this is what I need to do:

  1. The area of interest is flattened by trimming down undesirable and/or invasive plant species such as weeds and grasses.
  2. The soil is analyzed and its pH is adjusted (if needed). [Note to self: figure out how to analyse the soil pH.]
  3. The soil is moisturized (if needed) to facilitate the activity of decomposers.
  4. [Add in some manure.]
  5. The soil is then covered with a thin layer of slowly-decomposing material (known as the weed barrier), typically cardboard. This suppresses the weeds by blocking sunlight, adds nutrients to the soil as weed matter quickly decays beneath the barrier, and increases the mechanical stability of the growing medium.
  6. A layer (around 10 cm thick) of weed-free soil rich in nutrients is added.
  7. A layer (at most 15 cm thick) of weed-free, woody and leafy matter. Theoretically, the soil is now ready to receive the desirable plant seeds.

But first, I need to plan where and what I’m going to do with my garden.

Time for a list

12 Apr

I like lists. They help make things simple and clear. So here is a list of things I want to do this year to be more prepared.

  • Take a pottery class. I figure making bowls and things is a practical skill that I would also enjoy doing. Cost is $150 for an 8 week class so I may have to take it in term 3 instead of next term.
  • Study permaculture and put in a garden. I figure if I can learn from a small scale city garden it will be easier to put into practice on a larger scale. Our landlords are so lax with the many maintenance issues we have had with this place that I’m not even going to bother asking if I can put in a garden. From what I have read so far I really like the idea of zoning, and keyhole gardens, and spiral herb patches outside the door and whatnot. I have a poor track record of maintaining gardens so I’d better get practicing.
  • Build up my business. I am really passionate about my business and I believe it will work. But it is not an easy economic environment to be starting a business in, so it is an unknown. I hope to make enough money to save up for things like solar panels, electric bikes and woodstoves, while they are still being produced, and for a piece of land. That requires a huge amount of money, but I have hope that we can at least make a deposit…
  • Foster connections and join local groups, here in Wellington and in Motueka if possible. I want to sign the baby up for Playcentre and Steiner School, and I have already joined Transition Towns online. I also want to join a community currency group, as well as simply network with all the wonderful people out there who have so much knowledge and goodness that I aspire to.
  • Learn more about homesteading and self sufficiency. I want to know how to survive, like my ancestors. It makes me sad that my generation (in general, of course) hasn’t learned the useful skills that our grandparents and great grandparents and great great grandparents had. I want to reclaim that.
  • Get fit and healthy. This is such a broad term and such a common goal that it’s almost cliche. But I have started eating a mostly raw diet, and it is working wonders so far. I will write more about that in another post.

OK, so that’s quite a detailed to-do list, and fairly broad, but it still lays out my immediate goals in front of me.