Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Composting with worms-building a worm bin

I wanted to get a worm bin for a long time, so last year I finally built one after I came across a nice bin design which was using Rubbermaid bins you can easily get at any Target or Hardware store. Making your own is just the right thing for the person who wants to try worm composting without making a big financial commitment.
What are the benefits of worm composting?
For one the worms can recycle your kitchen-waste into one of the best soil amendments nature gives us, which are the worm castings, during the winter when your compost pile outside slows down or stops composting. Worm castings are supposed to have 7 times the nutrients than your outdoor produced compost. There is no turning and no watering, although you are supposed to keep it at a certain moisture level, not too wet and not to dry. You also will get some nice compost tea, which you can drain to water your house plants with.
I am diluting the compost tea half with water and water my house plants with that, since it seems to be so rich and my houseplants are responding nicely to it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Composting and sustainable living

Composting to me is a big part of being a responsible gardener, it is an important part of becoming sustainable. Composting my garden scrap, my chicken manure keeps everything I produce in my yard and I recycle it right back into my garden. It is the perfect cycle of life. The more compost I make, the less I have to get from outside my doors. The less fuel is needed to sustain my garden, the better it is for the environment.

Even though in my community all the yard waste gets recycled into garden compost and I also can purchase the garden compost from my local composting facility, I think my homemade compost is much better then what I can buy there. These large composting facilities are not just composting yard waste, they get most of their compostables from the forest and wood industry, which means it is very heavy on wood, very little green vegetative matter in there. Too much wood in compost throws the balance of nutrients out of order. I was not too pleased with the quality of the purchased compost. I know we can produce better soil at home.

I have gone through different composting set ups, since ever I had a garden. When I first started, money was still tight so we couldn't afford any of those new recycled plastic compost bins. But you actually don't need them to be successful in composting. It is more important what you put in the bins then what kind of bin you use. Back then my husband was able to get some wooden crates and wood pallets, so we easily put two together with steel ties from the hardware store, with the help of the rabbits we were raising then, we made some wonderful compost for this garden. When we started our first garden this compost in just 2 years turned the barren, clay, compacted soil into a rich, dark vegetable garden soil.

I am using now several bins and have them on both sides of the yard because we have a large double lot on a hillside which made it difficult to haul all the yard waste from one side of the yard to the other.

In my vegetable garden I use 2 wire bins which we wrap inside with cardboard, so the yard waste does not fall through. The cardboard is compostable so does not contaminate your compost.
I use another bin just like those right next to my chicken yard to collect the chicken-manure and the yard waste until I can shred it and use it. 
They sit in a corner of the yard which does not get as much sun and in the winter is a bit cooler then the rest of the vegetable garden, so not very useful for growing.

 I also have another bin which right now sits temporary outside of the vegetable garden area, because I have to first move the old in-ground sprinkler you see in the picture to make room for it. It is a green, made of recycled plastic bin and I will be using it to finish the almost finished compost.

After I have collected enough material in the first wire bin, I use bin # 2 in the vegetable garden to start the compost, layering the different vegetative materials in the proper amounts. As it starts composting down, which usually is by the time my first bin has collected again enough material for my next batch. I scratch the partially composted material through a wire sieve made of  hardware cloth into bin # 3 and throw the stuff which still needs more composting back into the same bin it came from. After the bin # 3 is almost done composting, but still shows some non composted material I again sieve it through a finer hardware cloth into the plastic bin # 4 to finish it off. This for me eliminates a lot of the constant turning the compost and works just fine for me. I get some nice looking compost with it and now since I have my chickens it will be even better dirt for my garden.

My other 2 compost bins I have on the other side of my upper garden.
This garden is mostly ornamental aside of a herb garden and is closer to my house, this is where I put all my vegetable scrap from the kitchen and what ever compostable clippings are coming from my upper garden. It makes it a lot easier to clean up the upper garden and because it is close to the house I don't have to walk through the whole yard in the winter rains just to throw my kitchen scrap in it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Recycling and composting comparison

I have always composted, since ever having my own garden. Part of the reason probably was, what do you do with all the garden waste you get from your garden, the clippings, the cleaned up plant material from your vegetable garden in fall, the weeds you pull, the fall leaves you rake, if your community does not offer yard waste pick up.

Back then in the early nineties most communities in the US did not offer yard waste pick up so you either had to start your own compost bin or throw it in the garbage. Lot of people in Los Angeles area threw the yard waste just in the garbage, I assume the same was in many other communities. To me it seemed to be almost a crime to throw all that in the garbage, filling up land fills with it.

I always thought it to be strange when I came here first, that in this rich industrial country like USA there was no recycling whatsoever. Everything was thrown out, trashcans were huge compared to Germany and talking to people nobody really seemed to care back then. Some told me 'America is such a big country, if we mess up this place, we can just move to another part" this opinion I got many times when living in Los Angeles.
Shocking! If you think about it.
Luckily things are different now, most cities have now yard waste bins for your yard clippings and many cities pass out cheap composters to residents and promote backyard composting. Things surely have improved since I first came to the US; but for recycling in good old USA, we are still doing baby steps compared to most European countries. Don't get me wrong I am glad they are recycling at all, I just wish more could be recycled. Still too many things are going into the landfill, which shouldn't.

Germany, who some years ago overhauled their waste management rules, is enforcing strict recycling, making it a legal offense to throw recyclables in the garbage and forcing manufacturing to reduce their packaging. Recycling your waste is just part of live over there.
Germans do not recycle because they 'have to' or 'could face a fine' if throwing recyclables in the trash, people there recycle because they think it is the right thing to do, it is something they learn about in early childhood and through adulthood and they care about their environment.

In the years since Germany started the new waste management legislation, Germany over time has become one of the biggest recycling countries in the world. In Germany almost nothing goes to waste, they are the most prolific waste sorters in the world now. Each recyclable item gets it's own color coded bin. So it is pretty straight forward once you know the system.
          'These are the recycling bins in my brothers multi family building'

It's so ingrained in everybody and part of everyday living for Germans, that nobody even thinks about it, it has become a completely automatic action, like walking. They sort everything now, my mother has a tiny garbage can it is all she needs for regular trash, all the other stuff goes into large bins. All paper, even the smallest scrap, candy wrappers, glass, plastic and organic waste is sorted out and recycled.

Most bottles, glass and plastic, aluminum cans has a deposit on it, vendors who sell these, even the smallest kiosk booth by law have to take them back.

This is not really a new rule, they just improved on it, even as I grew up there were deposits on bottles. If you bought beer and carbonated beverages you usually bought a box of twelve bottles, the box made of hard plastic had a deposit as well, as you returned the box you just grab a new box with full bottles and as long no bottles are missing the old deposits are transferred to the new. No charges for deposits are exchanged. This is still the system most stores do. Almost all families in Germany store boxes of their drinks in the basement or storage rooms.

All other glass is sorted by color: green, white and brown and gets placed in designated bins which are all over the towns and cities.

All Paper, every little scrap of paper, magazines included, cardboard and paper based packaging go in the blue or green recycle bin, color depends on where you live (Altpapier-Old paper) or in special paper recycling containers in your neighborhood.
Also the supermarkets and stores by law have to take back almost all kinds of packaging. Every supermarket has garbage cans for the different trash. So when you shop you can just unwrap your purchase and leave all the cardboard or Styrofoam there. The point in Germany is not just to recycle but also to not produce so much waste. By requiring companies to take care of the trash they produce, waste has greatly been reduced because companies are using less packaging.

Recyclable plastic wrappings and containers, aluminium, tin cans, polystyrene, things made of composite materials like beverage cartons or spray cans, go into the yellow bins. If it is supposed to go in that bin the product will have a symbol looking like a green Yin and Yang-called in German "der Grüne Punkt"
There are also some very strict municipal laws that ban plastic dishes in government buildings, schools and universities.

Compostable kitchen scraps, peels, leftover food, coffee filters, tea bags and all the garden trimmings go into a green or brown bin, depending where you live called "Biotonne" - bio-bin or a special compost bin found somewhere in your area you live. The 'Biotonne' waste accounts for about 50% of all waste produced in Germany.

It is against the law to throw out old batteries, unused pharmaceuticals, waste oil or old varnish and paint into the regular trash. All stores selling these products have to accept the return of these products to properly dispose of them.

Old unwanted appliances, televisions, old furniture, ironing board and other large household items are picked up three or four times a year on at "Sperrmüll" - bulky trash day.  In some cities you have to arrange a pick up with your local trash collector. For all other times if you have bigger items or computer cities have special recycling facilities (Recyclinghof) set up, easy accessible where one can deliver these things. Some fees apply to certain items.

Old clothing and shoes are picked up on regular basis at your curb by different charities run by volunteers, the Youth Red Cross is one of those. It will be usually announced a few days ahead by fliers or newspaper announcements.
But there are also containers for these items set up by commercial companies around town.

 Even your Christmas tree gets a special pickup day. This usually happens early or mid January and the dates are announced in your local newspaper.

If you have anything left after sorting out all the other trash you put it into the gray bin, which is called "Restmüll" -leftover trash. This includes personal hygiene items, textiles, diapers, cigarette buds and other non recyclables.
If you followed all the recycling rules, you probably will not have much left to put in there.
I know every time I visit my family in Germany I am amazed how little trash they produce that goes into the Restmüll. They really now recycle almost all waste.

Let's compare some numbers:
The numbers of Britain and Germany are from 2007, the US numbers are from 2005 because they don't have any newer data, because the EPA releases numbers not very frequently.
Germany even they are a highly industrialized country produces only 30 million tons of trash a year, of this 50 percent is bio waste, meaning it does not go into landfills.  We also have a population 25% larger then Britain, still Great Britain managed to produce 36 million tons of trash and the US 246 million tons of trash. The recycling rate in Germany is now 74.9 percent. While Great Britain only recovered 23.5% and the US in 2007 was able only to recover 33% of their total waste, nevertheless it is small improvement from 1985 when only 10% got recycled.

In other words, the Germans are recycling much more of their garbage than the British or Americans.
But this is not all, Germany used to have more then 50.000 landfills in the 1970s, now they have less then 200. Anything else, that can not be recycled is incinerated in high tech incinerators or undergoes mechanical biological treatment. By the time it goes into the landfill it amounts to only 1% of all waste.

This is how much household recycling has improved in Germany over the years

United States recycling statistics have improved each year since the U.S. started recycling in earnest but they still have a long way to go. 
This information is from the EPA latest numbers in 2005; which gives mixed results about household MSW-municipal solid waste.
Even the US is showing a sustained improvement in waste reduction, the municipal solid waste the US creates is still on the up and rising. From 1980 to 2005 the municipal solid waste increased 60%, and since the 1960s the amount of waste produces doubled.
 I think these are really shameful numbers. It is just utter gluttony!
There was a grand total of 246 million tons of trash created in 2005.
The good news in that is that figure is 2 million tons smaller then from 2004. According to the EPA.

I don't really think this is something we should applaud each other for. Because the news I am reading here is.
Americans still don't get it, the US manufacturers still don't get it and the Politicians are definitely not getting it.

The proof that the US is not really getting it shows clearly in the statement from the EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson who released these numbers. Don't forget this is during the Bush administration.
This what he said: "We are turning a throw-away culture into a recycling culture," Johnson said. "By encouraging smart use of resources, we can hand down a more sustainable planet to future generations."

Excuse me if I have to laugh

According to Johnson nearly 40 percent of containers and packaging material was recycled in 2005. It is an improvement, but not enough of an improvement.

Here is the breakdown of these numbers by packaging material
Recycling numbers for the US          in 2005 from the EPA                         
Glass                                                                        25 %
Paper and paperboard containers                           58.8 % 
Plastic containers                                                         9 %
Steel                                                                       63.3 % 
All aluminum packaging, including aluminum foil        36.3 %
Aluminum cans                                                           45 %
Wood (mostly pallets)                                                 15 %

Are you proud now seeing these numbers? We surely can do better.
We have a lot of catch up to do in the US.
As long people are not taking the responsibility for how they shop and what they buy, I don't believe much will change. As long the industry is not forced to reduce their waste, we always will be on the top in the comparison with the rest of the other countries how we deal with trash. On the top of being the greatest trash producing country in the world.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Planting chart

I am finally back on the computer. It took a while to get my new computer running by then the garden season was over for us. We had some very cold nights here, the coldest I have seen since we have moved to Oregon, so almost all my winter garden was frozen to death. No more vegetables for me until the new season.
Also Christmas season happened. So I was way to busy to be posting on my blog.
Being German, baking lot's of Christmas cookies is part of the Christmas season. Many people start baking in mid November starting with their Christ Stollen our traditional sweet Christmas bread and then soon after you start baking cookies. First the Lebkuchen which need to be baked early because they soften in storage, then all the other cookies made with butter and eggs and last come the Macaroons. They come last because you use all the leftover egg whites from the cookies made only with the yolks of the eggs.
I usually don't get started as early as my mother in Germany, Thanksgiving gets in the way but anyway I manage to bake about 3-4 kind of cookies a day and fill about 25 cookie tins, each with it's own kind of cookie.

So now my Christmas craziness is over I finally had time to work on my garden planning.

I always have trouble getting my vegetable plants started indoors at the right time. I always seem to get started too late and then when I finally got the seeds in the pots I kind off go on my instincts when the seedlings should be transferred to larger pots or transplanted into the garden. It is hard to get good information for this garden planning, especially for the North West. There sure is a lot of information out there, but almost all of it seem to differ from the next.
I needed some concise information with which I could make my own planner. So I found this great book which was a great tool for finding all this information.
The Kitchen Garden Grower's Guide: A practical vegetable and herb garden encyclopedia
It is mainly a data information book for all you need to know about the most common and some uncommon vegetable garden plants. A Encyclopedia for Vegetable and Garden Herbs.
There are only black and white pictures of each vegetable but for each vegetable it gives you first all the common names in different languages, then a brief profile for the plant, it's kitchen use, basic planting information, the planting situation it needs, very detailed information about it's planting, growing and care, and then it finishes off the plant profile with harvest information and varietal information.
This book gives you so much info about when to start and transplant each plant according to your frost dates it was easy to use this information to make a spread sheet for garden planning, designed to go with my freeze dates for the Eugene, Oregon location. This is a great book. So often you find in garden books the important information you need is hidden in long elaborate chapters for the plants, makes it so difficult to find what you need.
Now with the date added to this spread sheet I have all the important information  in one place, I can print it out and hang it on my wall and it will be easy to figure out when to start each vegetable.

It will be a work in progress as I will be adding more plants and growing information into this chart. Even it is not completely done, I like to share it with you. The new garden season is just around the corner and this might be just the tool you could use.
Please leave me comments about how you like this planting chart. Tell me if you like it, and where it could be improved.
disclaimer: Not to be shared with the Dervaes Family of Path to Freedom Website. Thank You