Rain barrels

My household just upped its sustainable gardening practice with the installation of rain barrels. We had a light rain this morning that filled up two 50 gallon rain barrels! Here’s one of the barrels in our setup:

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This is a Rescue 50 gallon rain barrel with diverter propped up on four 8″ x 8″ x 16″ concrete blocks. The product came with detailed instructions to install everything. We put a second barrel next to another downspout at the opposite side of the house.

We got to test this setup thanks to a light to moderate rain today. Even just a light to moderate drizzle filled up both of these barrels within a few hours. We could even hear the excess water being diverted back into the downspouts after the barrels were full.

Now I just need some vegetable plants to water.

 

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Outdoor composting

If it’s not obvious, I love composting. So much so that in addition to composting kitchen scraps with the worm bin, I’ve started composting yard waste (leaves, grass clippings, hedge cuttings, weeds) with a simple outdoor compost bin. IMG_20160128_172315

All this greenery is typically considered part of a homeowner’s trash, but with a little help it will transform into a garden’s treasure in a few months. This heterogenous heap will look like a mound of soil when it’s all done composting, and I can use it as fertilizer and mulch for my plants.

Why do I have a separate worm bin and outdoor compost bin? The three main reasons are pests, space and convenience. I compost kitchen scraps in the worm bin rather that in an outdoor pile so as not to attract rogue critters. Also, the yard wastes are too big and bountiful to fit in my worm bin. Lastly, I can keep each compost bin closest to their food sources: worm bin near the kitchen and yard waste bin in the yard.

Here’s how I made my outdoor bin:

Materials

  • Roll of 3 ft x 25 ft welded wire
  • Metal cutters
  • Four 3 ft long U-post stakes,
  • Zip ties
  • 3 ft long plant stake or rod

Instructions

  1. Using metal cutters, cut out four 3 ft x 3 ft squares of welded wire (I used the 3 ft long U-post stakes to measure). These squares will be the sides of the compost bin.IMG_20160109_140310
  2. Mark out a 3 ft x 3 ft square on the ground where the bin will be located. Stake a U-post at each corner.
  3. Position a wire square upright between two U-posts and zip tie both sides to the posts. Do this for three of the squares, reserving the fourth square. So far, the setup should have three walls with an opening (where the “door” will be).
  4. With the last wire square (the door), weave the garden stake (or rod) through one side. This will keep the door straight for opening and closing.
  5. Position the door at the opening of the bin and tie the free side (without the stake woven through) to a U-post with zip ties. IMG_20160109_155349IMG_20160109_155322Just fill with yard waste and cover the pile with a big piece of scrap cardboard to keep it moist.

Worming my way back into the garden

It’s been a long time, but I’m back! A lot has happened since my last post that kept me away from gardening, mainly my move away from Washington back to sweet home California — San Diego, to be exact. And to sweeten the package, I have my very own yard now to transform into a vegetable playground.

I have big plans for this yard. This picture will be different once I get cracking. But I’ll elaborate later on my plot to take over this yard. First, I need to restart what I consider one of the most important gardening tasks: composting.

One of the instances that prompted my gardening hiatus was the passing of my red worms back in Richland. I made the mistake of moving my worm bin outside (where the temperatures reach over 100 F in the summer). The worms did fine until the triple digits hit. One day, I found them all clumped in an almost dry ball on the cement. They likely escaped the bin trying to find some cooler air just to get hit with hot, dry desert air and no hope for resuscitation. It was a very sad scene.

So now, I’m starting with new worms, as well as a new worm bin. I built a multi-tiered setup with “fancy new features” that could hopefully make the following tasks much easier:

  • harvesting ready vermicompost without having to sift out the worms
  • keeping the worms from crawling out when opening the lid
  • keeping fruit flies out

Here’s what the complete setup looks like:

IMG_20160104_213539 Materials used:

  • 3 plastic storage totes (10 gallon size) w/ lids
  • Wire basket reclaimed from a tossed-out shelving unit — this is the platform to keep the worm bin above the ground
  • Plastic yogurt cup — to harvest the leachate (worm bin drippings)
  • Drill with 1/2″, 1/4″, and 1/8″ hole bits
  • Red worms (bought a bag of worms with their bedding from Walter Andersen Nursery)
  • Worm bedding: shredded newspaper (not the glossy kind) and cardboard (paper towel tubes, eggshell cartons, boxes)
  • Food: fruit & veggie waste (I also add eggshells that are washed and crushed to the compost pile, but the worms don’t eat these)

Building the multi-tiered worm bin:

  • Leachate collection tray (bottom tier): Drill a 1/2″ hole at the bottom on one side of a plastic tote. Leachate will collect in this tote and drain through the 1/2″ hole into the yogurt cup for collection (commercial worm bins typically attach a spigot on the bottom tier to drain and collect the leachate, but I was too lazy to install one).IMG_20160104_212109Drill 1/8″ ventilation holes around the sides a few inches from the bottom. IMG_20160104_212304
  • Stacking trays (middle and top tiers): Drill 1/4″ holes at the bottoms of the remaining plastic totes. These holes are for drainage and for worms to travel through.IMG_20160104_212405Drill 1/8″ ventilation holes around the sides about an inch from the top. IMG_20160104_212439
  • Stacking tray liner: Take a lid for each stacking tray, cut out a large rectangular opening in the middle and trim away the outer border/lip of the lid. The liner covers the perimeter of the tray’s top opening. This will keep the worms from crawling over the edges and shelter the tray’s contents from fruit flies and other things (the tray bottoms are slightly smaller in size than the tops, so there’d be a small space that’s exposed when the next tray gets stacked on top). IMG_20160104_213002Here’s what it looks like next to an uncut lid for comparison: IMG_20160104_212939

Cover lid: Drill 1/8″ ventilation holes in one lid. IMG_20160104_212627

How to use the worm bin:

  • Place the leachate collection tray on top of the wire basket/raised platform, set the yogurt cup under 1/2″ drainage hole.
  • Set one stacking tray into the leachate collection tray (the side handles keep the stacking tray above the the leachate collection tray’s ventilation holes).
  • Set the liner right into the top of the stacking tray.
  • Fill the tray with moistened worm bedding, red worms and food. Seal with the cover lid. The worms will gradually turn the fruit & veggie scraps and bedding into compost.
  • Once this tray is full, remove the cover lid and set another stacking tray (with its liner) on top. Start filling it with fresh scraps & bedding. Seal with the cover lid. The worms will move up to this top tray where the new food source is and leave behind ready-to-use compost in the tray below — eliminating the need to manually separate the worms.
  • This setup can be expanded to include more stacking trays, if necessary.

Here we go!

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