Sunday, June 17, 2012

Make your own compost tea!

Come on, it's easy!!

Here's my recipe for vermicompost tea:
Tip of my hat to my collaborator Bruce Deuly from Texas of Deuly's Own Organics for helping me scale the recipe down to 5 gallon bucket size.

You can substitute any compost for my vermicompost.

By the way, I now routinely add 1T Neptune's Harvest and/or 1-2T seaweed (dried & pulverized by putting in a bag and running over with my car) from Scarborough beach along with unsulfured molasses or barley malt syrup. 

More information on making and using compost tea or vermicompost tea can be found here:

All the supplies you need for making tea can be found in my Amazon store. Every view and purchase made supports WormMainea. Thank you!



Saturday, June 16, 2012

My reluctance to scaling up vermicomposting operations

In the past year or so I have had many people ask me one of the following questions:

"Why can't you sell me worms this week (how can you be out of worms until next week)?"

"Can you supply me with 10# next week or tomorrow?"

"Why don't you make this your business?"

The specific answers to these questions differs, but they all have a common element: vermicomposting is my hobby. I do it when I want and spend only as long as I want on it. That way it is still enjoyable to me. My low-pressure attitude does take a few hits as I must keep my herd fed and plan for my annual trip to the Common Ground Fair, but otherwise I tell people that my scale of operations (FMI see Virtual Tour of WormMainea) only permits me to sell so many pounds per week (a number that varies depending on how much I did a few months ago and how much I was selling in the past few weeks). 

My personal reasons for not “expanding my worm operation” is deeply rooted in my desire to retain this as an enjoyable hobby. To expand to a commercial level operation (or to consider this as my business) would require changes in the way I grow, because as it stands I don't really track my labor by it can't be more than minimum wage. I would also need more space which would come at a price either outside the home [rent $] or taking over more of the basement [peace in my home life]. Also, to be commercially viable I would probably need to exploit efficiencies of scale (to make my time investment worthwhile) by investing in better equipment: a food shredder, grow mats or heated tables, etc. 

For me to operate WormMainea as a hobby limits my production to 3-6 pounds of worms per week (as I said earlier temperature, previous sales, and past attentiveness influence this). With sufficient notice I can supply perhaps as much as 10#, but when I sell more to a single person, I have to compromise and sell to fewer individuals. This generally works out and customers are typically very understanding and reasonable. But this brings me to my point: a better alternative to scaling up is for me to continue to encourage other growers in Maine (and elsewhere) to replicate my operation. No, I don't feel that it is necessary for me to ship worms outside of New England

Some people are naturally inclined towards business, and vermicomposting is a hobby with potential. If you like growing worms and have the space to accommodate multiple bins, why not give some to your friends and/or put some up for sale on Craigslist (or elsewhere)? The compromises one would have to make to sell on an economically viable scale may not be major obstacles for everyone. I suggest you start small and figure out if you want to expand.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Air source heat pump

Our energy auditor saw this on Green Building Advisor and forwarded it to me (Thanks Erik!). 

The article discusses using solar electric and grid-tied air source heat pumps (like our GeoSpring) for hot water supply.

Read the article at



Saturday, June 9, 2012

Taking Soil Samples for Soil Test

Since I posted my blog on interpreting soil sample results, several people have asked me about collecting soil samples. 

Collecting soil samples for your soil test is easy. Here is how I do it.

Make sure that you follow the directions exactly included with either type of test kits as it will affect the results of the test. Always make sure to use clean tools and bucket.

When you take the sample, make sure the soil is not too wet from any recent rain or prolonged watering. To get the best results take the sample before any fertilizer has been applied or at least not recently applied.

To begin you will need a clean pail or mixing container. Unless it is brand new then make sure that is well cleaned (rinsed out & dry). By not washing the pail out carefully any remnants of prior use could register in the soil test.

Use a shovel to dig a small hole 3 to 6 inches deep. With the shovel, after the hole is dug, take a sample of the turf and soil plug from top to bottom. I shoot for a sample that is about 1" down from green part of the grass (where the dirt is). That is the sample you will use for the test. Once you have the sample, place it into the pail.

Taking a soil sample from the 3-6" depth of a soil plug
To make a composite sample that is representative of the whole yard (or area you want to have analyzed), take samples from various parts of the yard. You want a total of 30 samples (this year I collected 15 from front and 15 from rear). I use my rake (shown in the photo above on the left) to take samples every 1.5 meters in a crisscross pattern. From each area try to put approximately the same amount of soil into the bucket.

Avoid areas that are near the drip line (especially if you have lead-based paint). If the soil is not dry, then put the pail aside in a sheltered, dry location and let the soil dry overnight.

Boxing up my dry mixed soil sample
Combine the soil thoroughly in the pail and remove the amount the lab requires for the test. Put the sample in the container approved for the test and mail it as directed or return it to the testing office. By mixing the soil you will be providing a typical sample. This way the sample is representative of the areas sampled and the corrective measures recommended (e.g., fertilizer) can be done evenly over all those areas the yard.



Friday, June 8, 2012

Gypsum for Lawns

If you have a lot of dandelions (often an indicator of imbalance in magnesium-calcium ratio) or if your soil test (see related blog entry) suggests your lawn needs more calcium (in our area this is probably likely), one of the best ways to correct the imbalance it is by spreading gypsum on your lawn. Correcting the calcium-magnesium balance also helps to prevent soil compaction.

Gypsum (instead of lime) also increases pH (in 2010 my soil test told me my pH is still a bit to acidic for the grasses I was growing.

According to the results of my soil test and the recommended target calcium level for soil, I applied 5# of pelleted gypsum per 1000 square feet (about half what I estimated I would need to add per year for 3 years) . For my approx 5000 square feet of turf lawn area that meant I'd use a little more than half a bag each application and need a bag a year for 3 years. Will use the last of my bag this fall and should be finished with gypsum amendments.

In the past I purchased my gypsum at ACE or Broadway (I prefer the Organic Traditions brand), depending on where I have a coupon. It comes in 40# bags, and I prefer pelleted gypsum because it is easy for me to spread it by hand (I don't own a drop spreader).

FMI see related posts:



Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Soil Testing: results and interpretation

The image below shows the results of my spring 2012 soil test for my lawn areas. This was the $33 test from University of Maine Cooperative Extension. While the test may seem a bit expensive, the information provided is well worth the price.

2012 Soil Test Results

Previous years' tests had suggested I needed to add more compost (hence my earlier blog showing overspreading compost), and this test shows that I can still use a bit more compost. 

My calcium and pH levels are shown as above optimal, but the levels shown better suit my grass strain (see photo below). I achieved these higher levels through the addition of gypsum (gypsum raises pH, makes soil nitrogen more available, and prevents compaction and salt damage) over a four-year period (I used approximately 80 pounds per year on my lawn area). I will have a blog later this month devoted entirely to gypsum.

Photo of lawn-- look at that beautiful clover!

Interpretation of Soil Test Results

Macronutrients (N-P-K)
 These are all in the reasonable range. Some may say that my nitrogen level is low. I would not argue that the reading is low, but I expected as much. This is before any work on my lawn and my addition of compost and vermicompost tea will get the microorganisms fired up to start making nitrogen available. Also, I have clover in my lawn to pull nitrogen out of the air and fix it in the soil. I will not “fertilize” my lawn with nitrogen based fertilizer because it is not really needed. If you read the fine print, I would use 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet, but only ½ that in late August (because I mulch my clippings) and because of organic program I would use only ½ of that. That takes me to ¼ pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet. My compost overspreading this spring should supply my needed nitrogen as well as any sulfur and potash.

Soil Life (Microorganisms)
My microbial biomass index is 44ppm, which is on a 1-100 scale. I am trying to get closer to 60ppm (optimal range). As I add more compost to the lawn (recall that I took these samples before my spring 2012 compost overspreading) the level will increase.

The decrease in micronutrient availability to plants as pH increases is not a great concern to me because it is a balancing act (given my increased pH and additions of humus-rich compost to the yard). Also, I plan to supplement my vermicompost tea with sea weed this year to boost the level of micronutrients that are available to the grass plants.

Long View
My long-term goal is to have no external inputs to my lawn (just aeration, overseeding as needed, and vermicompost tea), so everything I do is a step in that direction. It is important to remember that small steps are the best approach. Make sure your additions are based on the recommendations in the soil test. You don’t want to overshoot—that would waste both money and time. Remember that I am mulching my lawn clippings, so there is no net loss of anything (macro or micronutrients).

Early in your organic switch, you should test your soil annually to check your additions. After that you can back off to once every three to five years-- preventive lawn maintenance. If lawn problems develop more frequent testing may be necessary. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Saving Water and Money-- Low Flow Shower Head

For a gift a few years ago Bert gave me an EPA Water Sense approved low-flow shower head. I recently purchased one that has a much lower flow rate (1.5 gallons per minute, compared with older shower heads that use as much as 8 gallons per minute), while still delivering a comfortable and large non-aerated spray.

Even more money is saved by some shower heads, as they automatically turn off the flow of water once the water gets warm, until you're ready to use it!

If anyone would like to know the specific product that I purchased, please message me and I can provide the details.

An example description from the manufacturer/model I chose is shown below:The features offered by this shower head include a maximum flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute, a pressure compensating flow regulator (insuring consistent performance from 40 to 80 psi of water pressure), a non-aerated rain style spray pattern to deliver better water coverage and showering comfort, along with reduced diameter spray nozzles to improve the shower feel. The most unique feature, however, is the ShowerStart technology. When the shower is initially turned on the ShowerStart device monitors the water temperature. When the water temperature reaches bathing temperature, (95° F / 35° C), the conservation mode is activated and the device “triggers a trickle”. This prevents your hot water from running down the drain before you're ready to get in the shower. Not only have you eliminated the water and energy waste, but the sound of the trickle tells you that your shower’s ready. The water for your shower is now warm and waiting instead of warm and wasted. Turn the valve on the shower head, the water flow will resume, and enjoy your shower. After each shower the ShowerStart device will automatically reset.

These shower heads cost more, but the return on investment is as little as 1 year, while saving hundreds of gallons of water in that same amount of time.