Calli's Conundrums

Discussion in 'Gardening' started by calliandra, Mar 21, 2017.


    ttystikk Well-Known Member

    This is sooooooo cool!
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    DonBrennon Well-Known Member

    You've shamed me into buying a compost thermometer, I now realise that sticking a cane in for a few minutes and feeling how hot it is with my hand, just isn't accurate enough, LOL

    Here's my 'tip' for your compost tea conundrum....................get yourself a diaphragm/piston air pump .......................

    I've used air pumps for years and found that unless you spend a lot of money on those silent dual outlet 'fish tank' ones, they're very inconsistent in output and unreliable. I bought one of these and never looked back, they're quite noisy, but even the cheapest one here has 1500L/hr air output and they're built to last.

    You'll definitely need one if your going to increase the size of your tea's
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Aw lol, who knows, that cane is definitely failproof :razz: I'm a big fan of genius lowtech haha

    Thanks for the tip with the pump - sounds like you've gone through a few!
    That's up next, as I can already see how I'll be chronically low on compost. This stuff is worse than money, not even made yet and already allocated multiply LOL

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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    So I was pondering leaving the pile till this morning, as temperatures were stable at around 66-70°C throughout the pile AND hotter in the center than on that damned ring :D

    But last night, the actinobacteria had started expanding a LOT, plus humindity was getting pretty low (per squeeze test, still around 45%, but going drier), so I decided to turn anyway.

    2017-06-10 19.27.01.jpg

    Top of pile taken off to the left and just starting to take the center out to the right, it got turned into the water mist and then became the new bottom of the pile.
    WITH aeration branches in the bottom this time :mrgreen:
    Then the top went into the middle, and the rest got added around the edges and to the top.
    The bottom wasn't stinky this time btw!

    The actinobacteria turned out to be worse than I thought, and there were a few pitchforksful that distinctly smelled of ammonia. So good decision, even though turning in the evening, with the watering up with water that was colder due to the recent snowfalls, then made the temps plummet to 35-40°C in the new pile.
    But moisture is back up to 50%
    2017-06-10 20.30.14.jpg

    So I've gone out of composting mode for a bit there and this compost couldnt be sold as such per US regulations. What bothers me more, is that I suspect this compost will be of median quality, if it even gets there, because of the many episodes of falling out of grace it's gone through.
    I have yet to learn how to extract a useful sample from the compost while it's cooking, but will give it a try when I go measure temps later, I'm so curious!

    Because while there are still smells of all sorts (I even caught a whiff of the kelp while turning), the consistency is becoming kind of springy, and what was slimy sheepshit coating is feeling more like the gooey stickiness of worm compost.

    Now, I just hope the pile gets back up to composting temps - and does it again after the next turn.
    I don't think it will have the umph for yet another turn after that.

    And the reason, again, lies in my choice of materials. I misguidedly calculated hi N content of my greens instead of physically adding the percentages of explicitly hi N materials to fire the pile up....:rolleyes:

    I'm already getting all excited about my next pile!! haha :bigjoint:
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2017

    ttystikk Well-Known Member

    I'm curious as to why you're turning the pile so often, instead of letting it cook and then start to cool before turning it?
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Well, as we could see, bad things can start happening - like the actinobacteria acting up. Then, while the material will certainly compost, as that is the way of the world, we won't know HOW it composted, and won't know what kind of microbial spectrum is actually in there.
    If it went too hot/anaerobic over a longer period, the beneficials may have gotten killed off and the compost won't be worthy of its name.

    If you don't turn, the water will get used up by the action going on in there, and as said, when the moisture gets below 30%, microbial action will stop, so composting will stop, so you'll just have a pile of half-composted mess.

    Also, if you wait for the temps to start sinking, you're never going to get them back up, as the hi N kick will have gotten spent. So you want to turn every part of that pile into the middle whilst the composting process is at its peak, because otherwise you won't get that benefit of pathogen-free, seed-free, aerobic microbiology, which is the whole point of composting in the first place ;)

    Maybe I should take another step back and make a distinction here.
    There are different kinds of composting, pretty much dividable into 3 groups: thermal, static and worms, with many varieties of each in between. The basic principles (C:N, moisture, aeration) apply to all, but the paths leading to good results are many.

    Interestingly, Ingham recommends mastering the themal way first, as the easiest.
    I think she actually means: the way you have the best chances for success with if you don't have any experience. The way you can gather that experience (like: is this greens material chunky enough? too fine?) the quickest too ;)
    Kind of how I learned alot about the cannabis life cycle watching DWC grows and growing autos myself.

    Because when someone like da Greasemonkeymann goes and sets up his piles and says it's easy, I'm pretty sure he's accessing years of experience unconsciously as he seemingly casually casts whatever he's adding into his pile, doing intuitively what I have to painstakingly calculate, measure, and then correct when it went wrong anyway. lol

    When you then move into static composting, you have to add the materials in a way that every new bit of the pile will do its thing correctly, and you're not going to get to measure anything, but will have to freestyle it intuitively. Advanced stuff, if you want to get the GOOD results!
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    In the composting course, Ingham starts by citing one of (or even THE) first composting manual, written by a Sir Albert Howard in the 1800's.
    Step one, whatever you're up to, is to address the pile.

    So, hello compost pile :D

    2017-06-11 11.45.37.jpg

    And the five billion flies living on it at the mo.
    Wow. All the more reason to check whether this pile is actually anaerobic after all.

    I'd be really worried if the smells weren't abating as they are - apart from that touch of sheep, it's starting to smell agreeably earthy.
    Temps haven't come back up, BUT they're pretty homogeneous throughout the pile, hottest in the middle as they're supposed to be, ranging from 51-53°C.
    Except for a cold side (interestingly on the south side and getting the most sun) which has temps ranging from 38-43°C.

    I took my samples like 20cm into the pile and in the homogeneous area.
    And what a surprise, checking it with the microscope!
    My guess was it was going to be mainly bacterial, but no!
    Despite all the turning, there were pieces of fungal hyphae in almost every field of view, which is a pretty good omen for a future fungal population.

    Fungal hyphae of two different beneficial species.
    Note the grainy appearance of their surfaces, those are oxalates which bind nutrients to the fungus (so they won't get washed out, as they would be in the form of soluble nutes), their pantry so to speak :mrgreen:
    2017-06-11_1st-turn (15).jpg

    And here, a sprouting one
    along with something that clearly is multiplying - not sure it's a fungus, but tapping the cover slip didn't unentangle that clump there, so hard for me to say what is what.

    2017-06-11_1st-turn (9) 400x.jpg

    Also, I saw tons of protozoans.
    The most active ones were 3 ciliates, the anaerobic guys -- considering what the pile has been through, I wondered more that there weren't more ;) On the anaerobic side, I also saw a larva (possibly dead), also unsurprising, thinking of all those flies on the pile :rolleyes:
    But a surprising amount of testate amoebae, and the whole sample specked with cysts (=protozoan dormant stages).

    Next pic: not sure what that cystlike thing with the blob sticking out to its left is, could be a fungal spore too. But below that, a testate amoeba, and above it and to the right, all those larger rounds are very probably flagellates.
    Another thing that was nice: there's quite some bacterial diversity in there - rods (=bacilli) and rounds (=cocci) of different forms, single, double, commashaped, and a few flagellate bacteria (probably)

    2017-06-11_1st-turn (3) 400x.jpg

    No nematodes, but I wasn't expecting any, as they go into flight mode and/or get squished during turns, especially the large predatory ones.

    a bacteria multiplies in 20 mins
    a fungus in 1 hour
    a protozoan in ~ 8 hrs
    a nematode in 2 weeks.

    So when we're composting and turning, the fungi get sliced and diced, the nematodes flee or die (not sure about their eggs) in the order of their size and goodness:
    predators are the largest and go first
    fungal and bacterial go next
    but the freaking rootfeeders, they don't mind it haha

    And that's one of the reasons we have to let the pile rest after it's done heating up, so processes can calm down, and the more fragile of the critters have time to regenerate, grow, or come back (like the worms and microarthropods). It is then that any unbalance from the crazy orgy those composting days were is balanced out.

    So composting begins with the trusty bacteria, which are everywhere in this earth, in the ice, in the volcano lava.
    They are the ones that start things going.
    Then the fungi join in, followed by the predators, protozoa and bacterial nematodes first, then fungal nems, then predator nems, microarthropods, earthworms.
    It's just like in succession, just immensely sped up! :bigjoint:
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2017
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    DonBrennon Well-Known Member

    "Hello compost pile", LMFAO, hope those microbes are talking back to ya, LOL:bigjoint:
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    Mohican Well-Known Member

    Look at how quickly it is turning black! Bravo!
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    I said, hello compost pile, how are you doing today? (with a sprinkling of a curtsey at the end)
    I thought I heard the pile go hmhm :P
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Well, it seems the party's petering out. Awww....
    ..maybe I shouldn't have curtseyed :shock:

    2017-06-13 19.01.51.jpg

    While the pile heated up nicely to 60°C by yesterday morning, having already reached 55° the evening before, by this evening it's begun slowly to cool (and the day was hot!), easing down to 58° in the center and 55° in all of the pile that had gotten heated back up. Because on one side, temps initally stayed around 40°, though they are now up to 50°C.
    Moisture down to a little less than 45%.
    If it had done this after the third turn, I wouldn't mind and just let it go, perhaps leaving it to finish for a while longer.

    But smellwise, the hotter side does have a slight ammonia smell, and spots of actinobacteria (I'm starting to get the impression this whole process was actino-driven and not proper composting at all lol). It's going to need turning soon if it gets worse.
    And the cooler side smells of the roots of these floaty water plants we used to fish out of a lake as kids... so algae, eh? Would match up with the fact that I had swamped the pile when I set it up. I keep getting confirmation for that :mrgreen:

    I just learned one could add further hi nitrogen to get temps back up, but it has to be sterile, stuff like blood meal which would have to be sourced first and there are soooo many if's attached to that material! Can't remember the other options off the top of my head, but they all sounded like a headache if you don't already have them at hand.
    And I already have a headache as is haha

    The other option is to recompost. I was actually doing that with this pile already :rolleyes:
    But I've seen it's also discussed in the course webinars, so I'm going to go study those first this time. The good thing is, now I have a pretty clear idea of what my questions are! :-P

    For starts, I'll have to turn it (hey who knows, maybe it'll stay over 55 for another day and be a real turn?), then we'll see.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2017
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    DonBrennon Well-Known Member

    What about alfalfa? Have you got any feed stores for pets or horses locally?
    Pelletized alfalfa is pretty cheap and gotta be better than using blood meal

    Another option would be fish meal which is quite reasonably priced from bait shops for anglers

    Get some comfrey growing! !!!!!!
    LOL, I'm sure you're already working on that one?
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    haha I sure am!! -- in fact, in that week you weeded out yours and I was all protesting like? that's when I got 3 new plants, explicitly of the regular kind, and they're doing well and are already putting out more leaves than the Bocking I've had for years.:mrgreen:

    Ah and there's the fish, again! :eyesmoke:
    You've made hydrolysate, haven't you? did you post about it in your thread? I should read up on that....

    Yeah alfalfa! I want alfalfa! :D
    But has the problem that we can't be sure it's hi N unless we know the place it came from, if it was fixing nitrogen, or if it got inorganic ferts, if it was harvested before bloom (though one may be able to see that in the hay at least? the leaves all tend to crumble off though, don't they..). Why I started my own.
    Ingham mentioned she has 3 alfalfa plants that keep her backyard composting hi N supplied - really just three?! Trying to imagine those lol

    Of course, we can make out a source and test that material in a little pile (I just need to find out how small it can be, much easier for test rounds!)... so if I can source those pellets hereabouts, I could test them in such a little pile, with otherwise good materials (so not the failed compost) and find out whether I can really use them. Or do a few little piles next to each other, containing the same greens:woodies base but with different hi N sources :bigjoint:

    Actually, Ingham does stress over and over that C:N ratio lists aren't reliable, because there are always lots of factors involved in how hi that N is going to be. So end of the day, we need to gather our own experience with all the materials we use, since every source will be a bit different.
    Thing is, with the greens and woodies it's not so tragic give or take a few, but if my hi N is low potency, I won't be getting hot enough. again. lol

    Oops, I'm currently rethinking materials, seems that kind of spilled out there :oops:
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2017
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    DonBrennon Well-Known Member

    I've made a couple of batches of the fish hydrolysate now and although it's simple enough, it's a messy affair and you do need a source of lacto to break it down. Can't remember if I documented the process, but doubt it due to the mess. Unless you've got access to free or very cheap fish waste, it'd also be expensive to produce enough for your needs.

    I've deleted more of this post than is left here and after much deliberating and toing and throwing, can only come up with chicken shit, LOL, which is probably as bad as blood meal :?
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    Mohican Well-Known Member

    Rabbit manure can go directly in without any processing. Adding worms will speed the process also.
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Aw, thanks for racking your brain like that! It really is time for me to redress, and to go gather all the information about everything systematically. I hope I don't get lost and will then report back haha :bigjoint:

    Many thanks also for the heads up regarding the hydrolysate, and for reminding me to use stuff that can be sourced locally. :rolleyes: Though there are a few trout ponds hereabouts I could check out, I sense sourcing from the sea food chain we have here could throw up all sorts of questions regarding quality...

    Ah yes I have heard so much good about the rabbit manures!
    From my current point of view, I'm starting to understand that rabbit shit may be so "benign" not lastly due to the fact that they really just eat greens...

    Manures are a whole world of their own and do have an internal logic too.
    Ingham always asks what the animals were eating, and that we can think it through ourselves what kind of shit we're getting haha
    Take dog shit - if that dog is being fed lots of meat - hi N for sure. But if the dog is getting grain/veggie based feeds, it will be weaker, and maybe even not hi N at all... then we'd have to test whether we can really use that shit as hi N or will be badly disappointed.
    Or cow manure, if they're eating grass, it could be a green, depending on the grass, or whether it was fertilized inorganically, then more hi N (this beside the question of salts and antibiotics and all that, whereby the antibiotics, if I got that right, aren't so much a concern as any de-worming meds...)

    I'll probably want to un-know all that once I have it, as it will make everything more complicated for a while haha

    Cheers!! :bigjoint:

    calliandra Well-Known Member

    So I really need to do a roundup of my other various conundrums, but it's gotten so much I need to be in a really good synthesizing mood not to get lost in all that haha

    So meanwhile, in lieu of intermission music, a peek into my kitchen cabinet veg space, where Honeypie, my Pineapple Express runtling, was at day 44 yesterday and got a celebratory smoothie of this
    2017-06-16 (8).JPG

    In part because while I was happy she wasn't smelling (yup, vent/filter still not in place - and there are people who say I'm impatient?! bah! lol), I then saw she didn't really have any trichs o_O
    And she had begun cannibalizing her lowest leaves too.

    I admit I pretty much forgot about her whilst the composting was hot, so she would get watered like once a week, randomly kelp or comfrey juice or just water, and, seeing how there apparently weren't the microbes needed to cycle nutes to her satisfaction, amended with a handful of fresh vermicompost a day or two ago. Oh, and all this in a 10L pot.

    Sadly, I then learned a new way to assess the quality of compost and saw my VC is pretty much bacterial :(
    Microscope confirmed that, and even beginnings of anaerobic growths.
    Storage problem, it had been better shortly after harvest.
    I also remembered having screened this batch, which is likely to slice and dice any fungi, setting them back a ways. Seems the former diaper bucket (aeration built into lid) I've been using isn't as great as I'd thought. The previous batch having contained way more aeration in the form of woody debris, it just didn't show to now, is what I figure.

    Yeah. Juuust enough aeration and humidity for good storage, yet another thing to get a feel for :rolleyes:

    So the idea was to harness the cycle of living matter to help her get back on track more quickly (while I ponder "fungal foods"), following the like with like principle and making the smoothie contain lots of hormones and enzymes needed in flowering.

    Here she was, yesterday.
    I always think she looks dry, and she kind of is, to the touch.
    Also, do those white spots on her leaves ring any bells? Not killing her, but it's unsightly and sure to detract some of her attention that otherwise could go into developing those buds!

    2017-06-16 (5).JPG

    Oh and if you look closely enough, she does have trichs :rolleyes:
    main cola
    2017-06-16 (2).JPG

    I checked and my last grow of PE also had this late appearance of trichs.
    Wondering if that's strain-specific or those cases of seedlings already having them on their leaves come from some extraordinarily good set of environmental conditions... probably a bit of both eh

    Either way, when I checked on her this morning, the first whiff of pineapple yumminess :blsmoke:

    ttystikk Well-Known Member

    Not sure what those leaf spots are, didn't look like pests. Had she gotten moved around a bunch a month ago or so?
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    My nemesis this year, now the spanish slugs have finally receded.
    These little "salad slugs" as people hereabouts call them, are veritable pests, nothing distracts them from those fresh greens - no beer, no nothing.
    2017-06-05 08.26.13.jpg

    So I've begun to remove them physically, singly lol
    to take pressure off the system, as they have successfully killed off 2 rounds of sowed beans, the lentils, the potato clones, the first batch of carrots, and now have found the salad - which they had left alone before...

    And building physical barriers
    2017-06-16 18.44.19.jpg

    2017-06-16 18.47.17.jpg

    Also, I've begun taking off the mulch (ahh it hurts, bare soil, but no other choice), breaking up the surface with a rake, and leaving it exposed to the sun for a day or so befiore I try planting yet another batch of plantlings.
    They hadn't found the chard babies after 24 hrs, and I'm heading to the garden now to pluck anyone chewing on them off, evening time is just the best for that! :bigjoint:

    calliandra Well-Known Member

    hm no, I did do a foliar a while back with lights on though.... not sure waterdrop-burn looks like that though?
    Thing is, I don't see any critters either (but I just may be blind or unfocused :shock: lol)
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