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MAYTime Composting News

May, 2014

Cycling Food Waste Back to Food

Many years ago I read an article about a farmer in Ohio who had a 5-acre pond full of bluegill (“bream” or  “brim”). He would collect road kill and place it in wire baskets suspended over his pond. The maggots and other insects growing in the road kill would fall into the pond – right into the mouths of hungry fish. As a sideline to his farming, he supplied many LARGE bluegill fillets to local restaurants.

Anyone have a pond with bluegill handy? I get a lot of food waste that ends up breeding lots of – bluegill food if it is not composted right away.

I recently saw an interesting video by Geoff Lawton, a permaculture teacher from New Zealand. He designed a “Chicken Tractor” with roosting space for 36 chickens. Behind the “tractor” is a trailer that contains an active compost pile, made entirely from waste from the farm, including manure and a good bit of food waste. In the morning, he opens the trailer (compost pile) lid, and then opens the chicken tractor door – and the chickens go to work foraging for insects and other food in the compost pile. And they add their manure to it. After some weeks, the compost pile is unloaded to finish and cure, and a fresh pile is started. Meanwhile, the chickens supply meat and eggs to the farm – with no cost for feed.
I am looking for other ways to turn our “wastes” into resources. I get 120 lbs a week of spent coffee grounds – these can grow oyster mushrooms.  I’m experimenting with that.

Maybe the “chicken tractor” idea can be adapted to turkeys?

If you have an innovative idea for turning food “waste” into food, I would love to hear it!

What Did You Do To My Cucumbers!!!???

Last August, a friend asked me to help her move some of her mother’s furniture. We drove to Waynesville and helped move desks, a freezer, and much more. While we were there, my friend's mother (Jean) asked me if there was anything I could do for her cucumbers. I went out to the garden to look at them. They were yellow, had no flowers, and no cucumbers on them at all. I had a few sample bags of worm castings in my truck, so I sprinkled about a half-cup of castings around the base of each plant. I knew it would be raining later in the day, so I didn’t water them or anything.

36 hours later, Jean called me on the phone, and said, “WHAT did you do to my cucumbers!?!?”. “Why, is something wrong?”, I asked. “They are all green and they have flowers! What did you do?”.

Jean had cucumbers all fall.

Until recently, agricultural science has tended to define “soil fertility” in chemical terms. “What are the NPK numbers for your worm castings”? is a question I often get.  Compost and worm castings are usually round 1-1-1. So how is it they are so effective?

Agricultural science is moving toward a view of soil fertility that is often called the “Soil Food Web”. This newer scientific viewpoint says that it is a complex web of living organisms in the soil, along with adequate organic matter, that makes soil fertile. Yes, Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus are important – along with many other minerals – but that is not the whole story. Worm castings contribute many important things to the Soil Food Web, often leading to results that can seem miraculous.

Our 2014 Insect Control Team

Last year, MAYTime had a pair of tree swallows renting our “bluebird” nestbox. They kept busy all year patrolling the property and demonstration gardens for annoying insects. This year, a pair of bluebirds arrived early, and inspected the nestbox. I think our cold spell in March put them off, because they did not take up active residence. In early April, the Swallow family arrived and began inspecting their home again. Then the Bluebirds started looking again. For a while I thought there might be a fight, but any disputes seemed to be settled quietly, and the Bluebird family now is busy feeding their hatchlings. Meanwhile, the swallows have found other homes – including, I think, one of the other two Bluebird nestboxes on the property.

Not a great picture, but that is the male Bluebird with his head in the nextbox, and the female sitting on the roof:

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