After building my Air lift Mini Microbulator, I checked out these compost tea recipes. At the aforementioned candy store I bought some Coast of Maine Stonington Blend Growers Mix, a complex “super soil” nutrient blend with mycorrhizal fungi, kelp, fish bone and alfalfa meal, as well as worm castings, peat, coir and lobster compost. Yum! But I didn’t use it, yet. Instead I went with Mr. Tim Wilson’s recipe for a fungal brew.

For 1/2 gallon of water, the recipe is:

Fungal dominated compost 1.5 fluid oz
Black strap molasses 1 tsp
Fish hydrolysate 1 tsp
Alfalfa meal 2 tsp

So for my 5 gallons of tap water that stood around for a couple of days to dechlorinate, and some greenish rain water from the barrel, that made:

Fungal dominated compost (1/2 cups from deep down underneath my leaf mulch pile,and 1/cup from a garden bed I haven’t planted into yet) 15 fl.oz  = about 2 cups
Black strap molasses 10 tsp = 1/8 cup
Home made FAA 10 tsp
Alfalfa meal 20 tsp = 1/4 cup

I also added 1/4 cup of worm castings (also Coast of Maine). Couldn’t help myself.

I turned on the pump at 9:45 am. It’s not too loud. The splashing and gurgling is actually louder than the pump.

This is my first ever real ACT – Aerated Compost Tea. I’ve made brews with a tiny little aquarium bubbler before – those would have been pretty anaerobic brews. I can’t wait to try different recipes. How to judge them, without a microscope, though?

In the meantime, here is some further reading on humates, another great resource, and info on spray equipment that won’t shred your fungal hyphae and larger micro-organisms, and a PDF on foliar applications.

{IMPORTANT UPDATE 6/9} The pump cannot handle the difference between the intake/output ratio if you eliminate the brass adapter. It becomes MUCH louder and the short-circuit-like noises it makes indicate it’s not working properly. At first I thought it was the pump malfunctioning, but when the second one also did this, the store cleared up the mystery for me (thanks, guys!). So, the brass nipple went back in, and I went back to the hardware store for the 3/8″ ID hose…

I had ordered the KIS aeration compost tea brewer ($290 + $30 shipping), having read the glowing recommendations by Dr. Elaine Ingham and Jeff Lowenfells of Teaming-with fame, but unfortunately something is up with their manufacturing process and they’re on back order until July (or indefinitely?).  I cancelled my order and settled on Mr. Tim J. Wilson’s new and improved Mini Microbulator. Also check out his website, full to the brim with info on brewers, brewing, complete with microscope assays (this one for the mini microbulator).

Here is his Mini Microbulator – love that name! – at work.

This one is also for sale, but I just bought the plans ($7 – thanks Mr. Tim!). I got the Elemental O2 Commercial Air Pump (951 gph) from my local hydroponic store – this cool place, it’s like a candy store! In the end it cost me: $7 for plans, $33.43 for the pump, $38.08 for the fittings and hose (and tax) = $78.51.

Though in his plans Mr. Tim uses a 3/8″ ID (inner dimension) hose (with a 3/8″ barb) I followed the advice he gave in a comment on this video:

Your airlift will run with extreme more efficiency if you use a larger diameter airline. Just eliminate the little brass nipple which screws into the pump and use an airline which goes over the nub on the pump, * score the nub with a hacksaw to create something for the airline to grip * clamp the airline securely,  * use a similar size air input nipple into the base of the airlift. This way you will get full efficiency and higher capacity dissolved oxygen from the bioreactor.

So I used a 1/2″ ID vinyl hose (and a 1/2″ barb) instead. I didn’t score the nub on the pump because it probably voids the warranty. I clamped it tightly and will keep an eye on whether it pops out.  HOWEVER

{IMPORTANT UPDATE 6/9} The pump cannot handle the difference between the intake/output ratio if you eliminate the brass adapter. It becomes MUCH louder and the short-circuit-like noises it makes indicate it’s not working properly. At first I thought it was the pump malfunctioning, but when the second one also did this, the store cleared up the mystery for me (thanks, guys!). So, the brass nipple went back in, and I went back to the hardware store for the 3/8″ ID hose…

The base of the airlift fits very tightly (almost not) into my bucket, but it’s a good thing. It makes it super stable and wedges everything together, which means I don’t have to glue any of the fittings together and will make for more through cleanup after each brew.

The riser sits in the middle of the bucket, which prohibits the formation of that vortex everyone likes (Mr. Tim’s 50 gallon microbulator does create a vortex). From what I could see from my first test runs, a lot of air gets pumped into the water/tea, though. Mr. Tim writes that “the dissolved oxygen (DO2) of a finished batch has been over 7 ppm for us with water TDS at around 75 ppm but as high as 9 ppm DO2.” Elaine Ingham writes (here for  a pdf of the best scientific primer on compost tea ever) that the tea should remain in the aerobic range at all times, that is, above 6 ppm or 70 to 80% dissolved oxygen. At some point I’d love to buy an oxygen probe to do my own tests. After I get my microscope!

But first, I can’t wait to make my first brew {UPDATE: I did!}. But I’ll have to find a good place to locate this operation first. The pump is pretty loud, as well as all the splashing, and as a brew usually take over 24 hours, preferably 36 hours, I’m not sure I can get away with it in the basement under our small, one-story, house…

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Any day when I walk into my kitchen and come upon a scene like this, is a good day. In the morning my friend A and her family picked me up for a couple of hours pulling carrots at Siena Farm. Every Fall the farm invites their shareholders to come and help pull the carrots for the root cellars and the winter CSA boxes (which both A and I get). It always draws a crowd, and it was no different today in the sun-drenched field. The carrots came up willingly after being  harrowed up with their tractor. We pulled and snapped off the tops, filled boxes and boxes, and boxes.

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It’s the kind of thing you can just happily, mindlessly keep doing as long you don’t get chilled, or have to pee, or are reminded by a teenager that they have a friend coming over. I brought home a bag full of gleaned carrots (broken, nibbled on carrots or carrots that were just too plain funky) and a bag of carrot tops for the chickens. I also put some in a big pot of vegetable broth.

After washing all those carrots I decided to also wash the last apples and make some apple pie – I’ll bake up, sauce and dehydrate the rest tomorrow. My basement is just too warm for apples to keep well, so I’d better get them all in.

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Orphan pumpkins have started arriving at my mailbox. Here’s the first one – in the meantime I’ve brought up twelve, some massive ones among them. With the coffee grounds from the local roaster’s, pumpkins make for the best compost.

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After a couple of unseasonably cold and gray days that warranted warm socks and a sweater, we’ve returned to hot (+90F) and sunny again. I return to monitoring my one barrel of rain water, which is about 1/5 full (empty). The couple of rain storms we’ve had and the one night of drizzle failed to fill the bin, let alone my array of four 275 gallon bins. One can have all the storage one wants, but one can’t make the rain fall.

DSCF8121The garden was getting on parched yesterday so I watered with the precious rain water, adding a half cup of fish emulsion and a cup and a half of compost and comfrey tea to each watering can. The tea I had started four days ago: dropping comfrey leaves into the bottom half of a five gallon bucket, adding about two gallons of rain water, then putting about ten cups of fresh compost into a cloth bag and submersing it. Put lid on, put in dark shed, let bubble away. It smelled sweat, going on yeasty, with the typical comfrey smell that I’ve not been able to describe – something like molten rubber? Anyway, it was ready. Though even hotter today, the plants, even the usually droopy tomatoes, look great. I hope the calcium rich comfrey will combat the blossom end rot I’ve spotted on some of the squashes.

Looking west of the garden, here’s an update of what’s going on with the front of our property.

DSCF7053_smallIn February we had a landscaper come with a track hoe to excavate the weeds, brambles and vines that we had combated year in year out – pulling, digging up, covering with cardboard and wood chips – losing the battle. In four hours he had dug them up with the big scoop and put them on one big pile. Then he churned up the massive leaf and wood chips piles that my neighbor had been depositing on our property for years. It looked like a lot of fun, like stirring a massive pot of soup with a massive ladle. This mix he deposited on the newly bared earth, at about a foot deep.

DSCF8032On the slope I sowed white clover, which took really well and is now feeding the rabbit population. I am not sure this is a good idea, but on the other hand, I haven’t had rabbit herbivory in my garden at all this season. Also, it is fixing nitrogen, out-competing most weeds and stopping erosion very well.

Down at the bottom, the hardiest weeds returned slowly, but our neighbor keeps dropping off wood chips and every other weekend or so DH and I go down and pull and cover, pull and cover. The excavation wasn’t a silver bullet that took care of it once and for all, and we never expected that, but our work now is much more manageable, and pleasant. It looks like this now:

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Notice the new pile of wood chips in the center.

The idea is that the micro-organisms need all the nitrogen available to burn up the carbon in the wood chips – leaving less or even no nitrogen for the weeds. That’s how woodsy mulch works. An extra weapon in our arsenal is the deployment of fungi. Most of the weeds we’re fighting are invasive greenies. I’m hoping that aggressively running mycelium in the wood chips mulch will suppress them even more. So I started wood chip fermenting. I learned about it from Paul Stametz in this short and informational video:

It’s an intriguing idea: you basically cultivate a herd of anaerobic bacteria, then you harvest them by killing them by exposing them to oxygen, then give them to the (aerobic) fungi as a meal. It’s like growing fodder for your livestock, only your fodder is bacteria and your livestock is fungi!

Here are my barrels, filled to the brim with a mix of soft and hard woods and tap water that sat out in open buckets in the sun for several days to dechlorinate. I’ll drain the barrels in a couple of weeks and we’ll spread the fermented chips and start a new batch. Hopefully, we’ll have great mycelium running soon!

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After a month of consistently, sometimes brutally freezing temperatures, we had a thaw today. It reached 40 degrees! I dumped all indoor plans and got suited up – necessary because the snow is still above my knees, and up to my waist in certain places. I slipped into the trusty muck boots and the thick gloves, but skipped the hat after a while, for the sun beat hard and warm, and there was no wind.

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First up: a trip to the compost bin. We had been collecting our food scraps in buckets on the porch – which is fine as long as they’re frozen, but not so good when they defrost. I plowed my way over there, then dug out the top of the bin. In the image I’m standing on top of the snow. The black rim behind me is my Earth Machine. Looking down into it afforded a new point of view. 2 five gallon buckets of food scraps went in. I didn’t close up the bin just yet.
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Next up, the coop. I took the picture above standing on top of the snow again. Those first layers really pack down. The heat in the deep bedding that worked so well last year could not keep up with the bitter cold, so all the chicken poop sat piled up in stalacmites, frozen. I opened the back of the coop, hacked away at the mess, collected four 5 gallon buckets. These too had to be dragged to the compost pile. Then I had to play some heavy tetris with chairs and tables and bikes and the lawn mower in my shed, all to get to the bag with clean wood shavings. But the hens can be happy with their clean coop. They’re laying about three eggs a day now. Thank you, Ladies! As soon as I can conceivable get to the snowed-in hay, I’ll spread it over the muck and mud in your run!
Here’s some of our fire wood:
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It’ll be for spring.

Homeschooling is going even better than I had expected. We are sticking to a strict schedule in the mornings, with a steady core curriculum in math and language arts. In the afternoons we do Latin and, after that, we launch into our history/science module. I’d say the last one is our favorite along with logic, Latin and word roots. This is the pile of books accumulating in the subjects we’ve chosen for our science/history module:
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Yes, I know. But Amie and I both agreed we couldn’t start “History” with written history, or with the first humans, or the first life, or even the formation of our planet and so… we began with the Big Bang. And obviously we can’t do history apart from science. So: wonderful stuff!

Our first home school field trip was to the NOFA Mass Winter Conference. During lunch Amie went shopping at the stalls, all by herself. She had $5. After chatting with each farmer and herbalist and activist and whatnot, she got some fancy lip balm. We also bought bumper stickers. This one is her favorite and ended up on her cello case:

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On Friday we had our next field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, which has a great homeschool program. I got to walk the halls for an hour and a half, and located this poster:

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Soon we’ll have to open those seed catalogs and start planning the garden. At the NOFA conference I picked up a lot of information on trace minerals. We went with a group and divvied up the workshops among us. Next week we meet to discuss the many gardens now in play: our personal gardens (about four, some of them quite large), three large Community Garden Plots, and some School Gardens as well. These come with town-wide compost systems that take in scraps from the schools’ lunchrooms, pounds and pounds of coffee grounds from a local coffee shop, and now, also, kitchen scraps from the local Whole Foods. Lastly, the surplus goes to Food Pantries and shelters in the neighborhood.

I’ve not had time to write much here, but please stay tuned!

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It’s geology! Layer after layer of compost.

This pile had gone cold. I lifted up the Earth Machine, which you can see in the background. I love the design of the Earth Machine: as it tapers up, it’s easy to lift off while keeping the shape, making it easy to fork up. It took two heaped wheelbarrows, because it had compacted so much (cause of its going cold), to move to an open compost bin in the back.  The top stuff, which had just been added, ended up at the bottom and so I’m fairly confident the critter won’t even know there’s raw egg and some meat in there.