Dream Seed Farms

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our blog has a new permanent home

We are transplanting all three of our blogs to our own newly sprouted website: www.dreamseedfarms.com 

Dreaming Big in Japan, Dream Seed Yoga and Dream Seed Farms blogs will all now take root at: www.dreamseedfarms.com/blog

Our fields, accommodations and the website are all a work in progress...

Please check out our blog, photos and other content as more becomes available.

Come plant your own Dream Seed with us! 

Rick and Michie
 on Ajishima

Sunday, September 4, 2011

3-week Compost

Actually, from the research I did, it should only take 18 days to turn kitchen scraps and yard trimmings into nutritious and delicious compost.

We already have our gigantic pallet compost bin, which we will fill up all year and empty out next spring. However, we have a few projects that we would like to start feeding soon with our own homemade compost.

There are all kinds of compost bins, compost tumblers and even electric counter top compost cookers on the market that claim to be able to emulate and accelerate the natural decomposition processes. While a host of bugs, bacteria, fungi, worms, etc., will do this all for free, these products all promise even better results for the bargain basement price of: more than I care to spend! 

Plus I do not like plastic junk that will ostensibly stay around forever. If I end up not liking my big o' pallet compost bin, I can tear it down and build something else, compost the materials or have a nice little bonfire. But I digress...18 day compost you say?

There is an idea called the Berkeley method that requires no special equipment or know how. It basically has you layer brown (dry and carbon rich) and green (wet and nitrogen rich) materials at a ratio of 30:1, C:N. The bigger the pile the better. It sits for four days, then gets flipped on the fourth day and every other day after that for 18 days total.

I started with two week's worth of kitchen scraps (N), dry susuki, a wild straw-like grass (C), freshly cut weeds (N), a pile of dried leaves (C), a bag of my homemade wood chips (C) and some rain water.

Just like baking a cake

A deliciously decomposing layer cake


After layer

After layer

Topped off with a nice electric blue frosting

I watered the ground first and every couple layers so the compost would not dry out. The blue tarpaulin is not necessary but it also keeps the pile from drying out, as well as from being soaked by rain. 

Four days and a road trip (read: once a month shopping spree!) to our Permaculture class later it was time to flip the pile. I had just bought my first ever pitchfork, and while I could have used a shovel or my hands, I really wanted to jab those five shiny metal tines into something!

There is a method to my jabbiness

Basically peel off the outer and upper layers

And make sure they end up on the bottom and inside of the next pile

Water with a blue elephant like a professional farmer

Situate the bottom and middle of the old pile around the sides

And on top of the new pile

My jab here is done

Cover and repeat seven more times

The idea is to create a thermophilic condition that allows certain organisms to metabolize the carbon and nitrogen. The pile can and will get hot. My pile was steaming every time I flipped it. The heat also helps to kill weed seeds and pathogens. A couple times it got white and moldy so I added some more Carbon, and I checked the moisture and watered accordingly. Now it is like black gold.

There are much more detailed resources online, but this one seemed to work on my first batch. I have a second trial going on now that I layered but haven't flipped at all. We will see how that works out. The great thing is that you can't really screw it up. It will all decompose and become nice compost in the end, even if it takes more than three weeks.

Another idea that has been popping up lately is water heating with stationary compost piles. Some folks are running plastic piping through gigantic piles they don't flip and getting scalding hot water out the other end. They have to temper it with cold water for bathing, and one guy on youtube claimed six month's of showers for himself and his farm hands. Down the line, we are hopping to add a spa to our B&B setup. Since there are no natural hot springs on the island, we would have to go solar, wood fired, or, possibly even now, compost heated. Could it work with a humanure compost pile as well?

After mucking around all day in the fields, a nice hot bath would hit the spot, even if it was poo heated!

A Sound Investment

About two month's ago, we made, perhaps, the best investment since we have been on the island. 

On the return leg of one of our road trips to our Permaculture class in Nagano, we stopped at a hardware store with a sizable shopping list in hand. Scribbled in at the bottom was an item I had been dreaming about: a wood chipper! I fantasized about gathering up everyone's Christmas trees (not that they have them here!), lawn clippings and even pruning random trees myself just to run them through the machine. I never actually expected to get one, but in case we ever saw one I had already made a pro/con ledger for the two types we would likely encounter.

Currently our garden is about a five minute walk from our house, in the middle of a couple other folks' gardens. The distance from our house is key because the main types of chippers available are either gas powered or electric. We could get a can and some gasoline too, but there is no practical way we could run an extension cord from our house to the field. The long term practicality of an electric version would be that we could plug it into any solar/wind system we might build in the future on our own land, thereby saving the need for expensive and dwindling fossil fuels.

It was a tough decision, and I still hadn't made up my mind, but fate intervened and made the choice a whole lot easier. Michie was strolling around the gardening center when she stumbled across a dusty little machine pushed into a back corner. She found me in the power tool aisle and we tracked down a sales associate. This gentleman did some research and told us that it was marked half off because it was a floor model and had no box. Plus, as it was a little dusty they knocked another 10% off! We even got to turn it on, and it hummed like a charm. It had never been used, and despite the lack of box it came with all kinds accessories that were packaged up and ready to go.

The decision was made and for about a hundred dollars we walked away with this baby:

Plug and Play

It is electric, and although the cord is only a couple meters long, it squeezes neatly along side our house where the only external power outlet happens to be. The only draw back is that, with the exception of the two big piles of brush in the picture above that some aesthetically-challenged nincompoop randomly dumped in our yard, most of the stuff I needed to chip was nearer our field.

So nearly every sunny day for three weeks, I would spend a few hours in the morning chipping whatever I could scrounge up, then take those chips to the field and use them for compost or as much needed mulch between our garden beds. Then on the return trip from the field I would haul back home a gigantic bundle of twigs and branches some other aesthetically-challenged nincompoop randomly dumped in our field.

A bundle a day keeps the nincompoops away!

Actually, the more I chip, the more they are likely to keep dumping.

That's fine, I do not want to buy a chainsaw until next year!

Besides, I will gladly take all the wood chips I can get my hands on. By adding layer upon layer of organic material to our gardens, we are actually helping to build the soil. The more green and brown matter we add the more food the bugs and worms have to eat and the more nutrients they poop out into the soil. It's a win win win win win win situation, for the nincompoops, me, the bugs, the soil, our veggies and our taste buds!

The best thing is that the chipper takes just about anything that once grew and that will fit into the feed slot. Thankfully, it has a non-removable cover that won't allow anything thicker than a golf ball's diameter through it. This is a good thing, because I would surely try to jam everything up to the trunk of a tree inside, and likely seize up the motor. Bamboo, weeds, branches and even sukanpo root (it smells like dill pickles when it is getting chipped!) just get chewed up and spit out.

I got a lot of long uncomfortable glares from the old folks around the neighborhood. Why was I carrying those over-sized bundles of branches they not-very-surreptitiously had dumped in my field earlier on!?! Thankfully, I heard from a friendly neighbor that many of the folks around here had seen a recent TV program about natural and organic gardening. They recognized a lot of the techniques that we were employing and came to the conclusion that it must be alright for us to do, because, after all, it was on TV.

In the end, this was indeed the best model for us to procure. We don't and won't need to buy and burn gasoline to run it, and later on we can tie it into any renewable energy system we build. And, right now it is a little extra work to haul everything whole from the field, chip it at our house, then haul it back to the field, but it is worth it. This is the first and only power tool we have put to use (with the exception of my indispensable cordless drill I brought from the US), so the human energy saved in not having to personally chip all that wood can easily be redirected into carrying said chips to the field. Plus, while I am vegan and eat only twigs and berries, I do not think I could gnaw my through a bundle of branches all that quickly!