Monday, July 30, 2018

Air Layering - The New Awesomeness

Air Layering - The New Awesomeness

The trees are maturing around the border of my kitchen garden. And they are shading out my grow beds.

I have a choice - cut them down or start transitioning the space to a more mature, perennial based food production system.

Since the most shaded beds run along the transition zone between urban savanna and urban forest, I decided that transition perennials like low shrubs would be a suitable place to start.

The fastest way to establish this food system is to take a trip to the local nursery with a credit card. In my case, someone else's credit card...

Alternatively, I could take my time and start with seedlings or cuttings that I can obtain for free or barter. And that's what I'm doing.

So I got to reading and researching not only for local plant material donors who are acclimatized to the Northern environment, but to also learn techniques for cloning and propagation. And I just discovered this technique called air layering which I think is just awesome. Expect to see plastic bags on tree branches everywhere!

So What is Air Layering?

Here is a basic video introducing the concept:

There are two main techniques involved. One is ringing the branch as shown in the video above, while the other involved cutting a notch like in the video below:

Some people just make longitudinal cuts along the branch and it seems to work. The point is that it's not a precise science. Whatever works best for you works best!

Sphagnum moss seems to be the most common packing medium, but coco coir works equally well.

Instead of using rooting hormone, I'm experimenting with willow water I made at home to see how well it works.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Growing Seabuckthorn from Seed

Growing Seabuckthorn from Seed

Last fall I became aware of some seabuckthorn bushes growing on the Lakehead University campus grounds.

Apparently they had been planted on the lower edge of a car parking area to help control erosion, and because seabuckthorn is salt tolerant, they were likely to survive the spring runoff.

Not only have they survived, but they're thriving in their position.

Here is a street view image of the bushes and I have circled them in red. If you look closely you can just make out the distinctive berries!

Some time back, I showcased seabuckthorn in a plant of the weekish post. The most common way to propagate the plant is via cuttings. But it was late fall, and so I decided to see if these plants were producing viable seed.

So one evening, in the freezing drizzle I stopped by and picked some berries. We had been experiencing hard nighttime frosts and warm days, so the berries were extremely ripe and mushy.

I put the into a plastic bag, and then drove home still covered in the powerful smelling juice that lingered in my car for days. Since I'm looking for genetic diversity, I made sure I collected berries from as many different bushes as possible.

Once home, I mashed up the berries and separated the seeds. It was a pretty easy job as the seeds have a waxy coating similar to flax seeds, and they slip out of the fleshy sheath they reside in.

I then counted out 150 seeds and soaked them for 48 hours, during which time almost all the seeds had sunk to the bottom. The few that remained floating I discarded as per the literature I could find (the floating seeds are apparently not viable).

I then placed the seeds into a plastic bag with some wet perlite, and placed them into the refrigerator for 3 months...

Next, I removed the plastic bag from the cold store, and placed it in a sunny position since the seeds require exposure to light for germination.

If all goes well, the seeds should begin sprouting with a week or two.

5 days later and I spotted the first germinated seed, and the day after that I potted the first 4 seedlings.

Despite my initial optimism, these 4 seedlings were the only ones to germinate from the 150 seed sample. And to add insult to injury, the 4 seedlings all died within a few weeks of germination.

So this experiment was a total bust folks. Was it the way I stratified and propagate them? Maybe. But I think that my next adventure in Seabuckthorn propagation will be harvesting the abundant suckers that are popping up.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Domestic Vermicomposting

Domestic Vermicomposting

A few years ago I started vermicomposting and only just now realized that I never wrote about it, so here we are.

I wanted to have compost worms, and I needed a system that would operate all year round even when it was 20 below outside.

This meant a system that was capable of being moved indoors during the winter months. And that meant a clean and odor free system.

After some research I arrived at a stacking 5 gallon pail system like in the video below:

That worked for a few months and then I discovered some fatal flaws in the system advocated in that video. The weight of the worms and bedding and castings forced the pails into each other to the point that I couldn't get them apart when the lower one became full of leachate. I eventually did separate them, but it was a huge stinking mess. I also found that there was not enough air getting into the composting chamber and things were getting a little anaerobic.

My solution was to drill a lot more holes not only in the bottom of the pails, but in the sides as well. That fixed the smell issue, but it introduced a new problem. When I cleaned out the system, I couldn't line up all the holes again so that the airflow was maintained.

After a lot of trial and error I present to you MkIII of my worm tower. It is dialed in and problem free.

The system uses 5 pails. Two of these are actual composting compartments (one for active composting and the other for finishing off), but you can add more as desired.
One pail (the bottom one) is the sump which collects leachate, and I have a spigot (a tap) mounted in the bottom so I can drain it off without disassembling the system. This is a huge improvement.

I also added a sighting tube to the sump, and drew a line around the outside with a permanent marker at the point where the bottom of the upper pail is positioned. This means I can tell at a glance if the sump needs emptying. It is another huge improvement and it prevents stinky leakage / overflows.
Two of the pails are used as spacers. This prevents the pails from jamming together when there is weight in them. 

A spacer is made by cutting the bottom of a pail off like shown in the image on the left.

A spacer goes between every composting pail you have in the system, and also between the lowest composting pail and the sump.
Once all the pails are stacked together in order, I then drilled the breathing holes so that there is a clear path for air to travel into the composting chambers through multiple pail sides. 

Since these pails stack inside each other, the hole has to pass through the wall of two pails, and also a spacer depending on where the hole is.
I then drilled some larger holes that will be used to align and lock the pails together. In the image, you can see I use a piece of scrap coaxial cable for the job, but it can be anything really. 

The important thing to note here is that the two holes are bigger than the ventilation holes so they can be easily identified during reassembly.

Since these holes go all the way through the pails, alignment and reassembly is simple.

The locking mechanism also prevents the pails from separating when you go to move the system, since we now have these spacers that prevent the pails from fusing together. If you don't have the locking pins, then the pails will separate during transport and make a huge mess.

It's probably worth mentioning that these locking pins are installed at every spacer, and there are two locking pins per spacer - on opposite sides from each other.

When it comes time for cleaning and removing castings, simply remove the locking pins and everything lifts out. It's as simple as that!

Cider Time - Crushing

Cider Time - Crushing

Fall means apples, and apples mean apple juice.

Our primary use of apple juice around here is apple cider vinegar (ACV) due to its many uses and health giving qualities.

To make ACV, a good starting point is apple cider. And to make apple cider, you need apple juice.

And of course, if you need apple juice then you need some equipment...

I spend a lot of time scouring the internet for solutions to extracting apple juice from apples that is both economical and efficient.

During this search, I found the Whizbang Cider system that involves the use of a garbage disposal unit to turn apples into pulp.

There are lots of videos on Youtube showing how a continuous use garbage disposal unit is a great solution for grinding apples. But they cost about $200 to purchase new, so I went to the restore and bought a standard second hand disposal for $20 and gave it a thorough clean.

I found an old solid oak coffee table at a second hand store for $20, and so I bought that and cut a hole in it so I could mount the disposal unit into.

I did not modify the disposal unit, and it did get hot. I found that if I pulped only enough apples at one time to fill the press then the grinder had just enough time to cool while I processed the juice. If I was going to be processing more than 5 gallons of juice, then I would seriously consider investing in an upgrade. But for $50 I'm personally OK with doing things a little bit slower.

Mycelium in the Garden - Part 1 Update 1

Mycelium in the Garden - Part 1 Update 1

It's been roughly 3 weeks since the first mycelium in the garden experiment was conducted.

In Part 1 of this series, I show how the experiment using newspaper, hay, and oyster mushroom substrate was used as a sheet mulch to see how the introduction of mycelium might enhance the biodiversity in the garden.

So yesterday I pushed back the hay in a few spots to see if anything was happening. In the image below, you can clearly see that the newspaper is starting to become less distinguishable as newspaper. What might be more difficult to see is that the reason why this is happening is because of a white growth beginning on the surface. That would be mycelium establishing itself. Yay!

An even keener eye may spot the odd green patch on the newspaper. This is seed from the hay that has germinated and is growing. This was expected. Stay tuned to see if it turns into pasture.

The next photo shows a different area I uncovered at random. You can see the grass seedlings much better in this shot, and you can also see that the mycelium are colonizing the newspaper much faster. You might also be able to spot white patches on the hay, which means that the mycelium are advancing into the upper mulch layer.

So far so good. Stay tuned for more updates!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mycelium in the Garden - Part 2

Mycelium in the Garden - Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I talked about my intentions for introducing mycelium into the garden and documented the first experiment which involved newspaper, used coffee grounds, and hay (not straw) in a shady spot in the garden.

In this post, I'm going to talk about my second experiment. This one involves utilizing the space beneath my bean and pea frames which gets too shady to grow much of anything as the summer advances.

This experiment will be making use of newspaper, used coffee grounds, and straw (not hay) as I want to see if there really is a difference between the two mulches.
The space under the climbing frame has grown thick with weeds, so I simply piled the newspaper over the top of them. 

I did pull a few of the weeds from around the newspaper edges, and stuffed them under to make it look neat and tidy.

Once I had a good thick layer of newspaper down, I covered it with 15 gallons of used coffee grounds. This is much thicker than with the first experiment, and I decided to do this after taking a peak under the mulch in experiment 1, and saw the mycelium really infiltrating the coffee grounds, and to my surprise, no mold!

Next I sliced the used mushroom log into disks and placed them directly on top of the used coffee grounds just like in the previous experiment.

Next, I covered the disks with a single sheet of newspaper just to help with moisture retention and wet it down so it would stay put while I collected the straw.
Finally, I covered everything with a generous layer of straw, being careful to ensure that there was no newspaper sticking out.
So that's it! Now all there is to do is sit back, let the peas grow, and see if the mycelium processes all that used coffee grounds before the freeze comes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Mycelium in the Garden - Part 1

Mycelium in the Garden - Part 1

Gardeners often freak out when they see toadstools growing in their garden.

But it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, if we replace "toadstools" with edible mushrooms then we have created another stream of productivity while at the same time fill a decomposition function within the landscape.

This post is about my experiments with mycelium not just as a source of tasty mushrooms, but as a decomposition accelerator in my sheet mulching system.

But doesn't accelerating sheet mulch decomposition mean you have to replace it more often I hear you ask? Well, yes it does. But the reason I sheet mulch is keep plant competition down, regulate soil moisture, and encourage soil biodiversity.

I actually want my soil to eat the sheet mulch and incorporate all those nutrients and organic matter into the humus. Since my sheet mulch contains a lot of woody material it makes sense that a wood eating organism will do the job for me.

I started with a used straw log that commercial mushroom growers use to grow primary decomposers like oyster mushrooms in. I could have used spawn, or a slurry, but this is what I had available to me locally.

Since the log contained oyster mushroom mycelium, I decided to incorporate used coffee grounds into the sheet mulch bed. I collected a week's worth of used coffee grounds from a local coffee shop and stored them in sealed 5 gallon pails to prevent molding.

The 4ft wide garden bed I was working with had about 6ft of available space. It had some old newspaper and straw from last season on top of the soil, and I spread out the 15 gallons of used coffee grounds as my base layer directly on top.

Next, I cut the plastic off the straw log, and sliced it up into disks about 2 inches thick. These I placed on top of the coffee grounds as shown in the images below:
After this, I layered newspaper over the top of the disks and gave it a good watering:
Finally, I covered everything up with a deep layer of hay and gave it a final watering.
Stay tuned to see how this experiment in active sheet mulching turns out!