Saturday, June 1, 2013

Lawn to garden conversion - a big mess

The garden as I imagine it
In past postings I've started to outline our ambitious plans for turning the front yard into a meandering hillside of fruit trees and trellised vines.

In my mind, it would be Xanadu, with sunny pleasure domes and sinuous rills and so forth.

My medium term vision was less grandiose but still ambitious. I envisioned 3000 square feet of worm farms.

The yard is a long hill, which we have turned into three long terraced rows with raised walls of cut sod on the downhill side.

We wanted to fill the area uphill of the sod walls with good soil, made by worms.

Grow yummy food

Rows of shredded paper judiciously mixed with food waste and inoculated with red wigglers would break down into crumbly, fluffy, dynamic, live soil that would nourish plums, cherries, flowers, and the body and soul of all who live here.

I dream of reaching out the kitchen window to pick a bucket full of ripe Italian plums.

Reality is a little different right now. 
I have turned our front yard into a pile of garbage.

Worms need several components to thrive. First, they need bedding. This must be something that resist compacting, lets the worms crawl around, and holds moisture even in the dry summer. Our first plan was to scavenge shredded paper, but we have a surprisingly hard time finding enough.

Companies that shred large numbers of documents have confidentiality issues and cannot give the paper to anyone. Bags of paper from individual simply weren't enough.

So we added shredded cardboard. A bale of it - close to a ton.

Once the cardboard was distributed, the place looked like a dump.

It had taken the better part of a day to spread it out, but I knew we had to get it covered before a wind blew through.

Shredded cardboard is heavier than shredded paper, but it's by no means going to stay put without some effort on our part.

Endless seas of trashy cardboard

So - on with the burlap bags.

Next I pulled out the soaker hose and wetted down the whole mess. It helped the cardboard settle in so it is less likely to get blown around.
More fun way of watering

Next I added food waste. Worms nibble at their bedding, but it's not really food for them. They eat the same things we do - only they are content with the parts of our food that we consider inedible - stalks, cores, bruised and moldy pieces. Worms only ask that their food remain moist but not wet.

I started out modestly with our kitchen scraps. Then a buddy of David's, who owns a juice bar, gave us six garbage bags of vegetable pulp, and I got twenty gallons of spent coffee grounds.

                                                                                                                                                                       I spread it all out over one section of the cardboard, forming a layer 1" deep. I mixed it all up. Then I transferred the entire content of two worm bins - about 100 pounds of combined worms, worm cocoons, and worm castings, on top of the mixture. Over that I sprinkled two bags of shredded paper, then pulled on the burlap again.

Three weeks later, I went to check. The worms had made no progress whatever. They huddled near the original places where I had set them. They had an earthy, worm poopy smell.

The coffee grounds had formed dense, granular clumps. The juicer waste had degraded into slimy, smelly, impenetrable paste that gobbed and glued onto the cardboard. That stuff smelled really bad.

I tossed in more shredded paper and fluffed everything up as well as I could.

This is my garden glove after mixing the food waste with the paper shreds. The gluey vegetable matter literally pasted the paper shreds on to the glove.

And back on went the burlap.

Then I went into the house and hid my head under a blanket while rocking back and forth. Figuratively anyway. Really, I took a long shower.

What have I done?

I got rid of a perfectly good lawn for this?

Because I saw some documentary on how organic farmers in Cuba have these gorgeous worm farms that are restoring soil tilth, I had the overweening pride to think I was going to do the same?!? How dumb can I be?

I am faced with the choice of either removing the mess and putting in new grass seed, or slogging forward with my experiment.

You can probably guess which. I can never walk away from an experiment.

Several Gardens Farm will persevere. I know the power of worms to turn things into soil. I have been keeping a worm bin for years.

I need to have faith in these little, segmented, soft bodied creatures to do their job.

As long as I can keep them covered, keep them smelling OK and keep the neighbors placated, this project will continue.

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