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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cold Frames

Lettuces this end, beets on
the other end
Monday night's low was predicted to be 37F, with Tuesday night's low being 32F, so Monday afternoon I got the covers for the cold frames (called 'lights') covered in greenhouse plastic and Steve helped me get them onto the cold frames themselves.

I'm really glad I got that done, because Monday night wound up being 31F,  and Tuesday was 34; last night we finally had our first frost of the season.  This means that the kale and parsnips will now be sweeter, and it means that I won't lose my beets, because they're covered!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Putting the Squirrels on Notice!

I got the garlic planted on October 25, and felt pretty smug about it, which was a mistake.  Some few weeks later I noticed a squirrel roaming around the garlic bed, and then the next day, saw regular little divots where the little fucker had dug up all my cloves.

And I know he got all of them because they should have been up by now and not a one came up.

So this week, I got them planted again, only this time I put in the squirrel-deterrent, otherwise known as half a compost plastic with a trellis planted over it. And a brick, for good measure.

I'm putting all the squirrels on notice that I've just learned how to easily kill a bunch of them, and from what I've read, squirrel is delicious; somewhat nutty and sweeter than chicken.

I wonder how it tastes with garlic.

Friday, December 1, 2017

We Fired Our ISP and Here's Why

We were Comcast customers up until yesterday, but their rates had gone up.  Again.  

We were already on the lowest tier for services, being the frugal people that we are (our internet and cable were bundled together), but somehow just having the bill go up again and not getting anything extra for it really irritated me. Then I happened to see a click bait ad that said, "Fire your cable company- get an antenna!", which got me to thinking.

We really needed to look into replacing what we had with a cheaper option, so I pitched it to Steve.  Couldn't we make it work? There weren't that many broadcast shows that we watch. We mainly use other services for most of our entertainment, including borrowing a lot of movies for free from our very good public library.

Steve already has a different ISP for working from home for which his employer is paying. So he looked into the antenna and he looked into getting another line run to his office.  The antenna was around $50, and a separate, dedicated line for our internet would cost us $45 a month, plus the incidental, egregiously unwarranted surcharges, so say $52 a month when all is said and done. For life. No more rate increases.  Now granted, we'll be stuck at the speed for which we signed up, but we can always change later if that's what we decide we need to do.  So I reckon we'll be saving fifty-eight dollars a month, which is $696 a year, or, if you think like Mr. Money Mustache does, $6,960 over the course of ten years.

That's a lot of money.

From everything I've read about canceling your service with Comcast, the way to avoid a long, tedious, frustrating, and ultimately un-successful conversation with one of their customer retention employees is to tell them you are moving out of the country.  If you tell them you're moving in with someone with internet service, they'll evidently ask you who the service is with and then they'll verify it. If you tell them you're moving to an area that doesn't have Comcast coverage, they'll ask you where and then verify that it doesn't. If you tell them you're moving, they'll ask if there will be anyone else staying there that would need internet service.  We had our story straight- we were moving to Germany and if Steve got any flak, he could 'lose it' in German in their office for added believability.  He never did get the expected blow-back, and I can't account for it. Maybe the customer retention dude wasn't in that day...I dunno.  But we were relieved to be let off so easily, after reading item after item about what a nightmare canceling your service with Comcast is.  We have the receipt for returning the cable box scanned and saved, and Steve received an acknowledgment for its return in his email, which is also parked in a safe place.  And prior to going into the office, he took our account off automatic payment, so we can expect a pro-rated bill toward the end of the month, according to the Comcast employee Steve talked to.  It won't be just for the six or so days since the start of the billing period because there is a base rate, but it should be around $25 or so.

We've been using the new ISP and antenna since Monday, and so far everything seems to be okay (although there have been a couple of times that Steve has cried,"what have you done to us woman?").  There are admittedly a couple of adjustments we'll have to make, and I'll have to learn the new remote, but I figure that these are small prices to pay for the savings we'll be reaping over the course of, oh, the rest of our lives, but in the long run, any bumps we hit now will be quickly forgotten.

I can't but help wish that we'd done this a long time ago.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanksgiving

Today we leave town for Thanksgiving with friends in Seattle. I am greatly looking forward to a change of scenery and hanging out with fun and interesting people.  Oh yeah- and the food. Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where if you have to spend it alone, it helps to remember that even though any holiday is better spent with other people, this one really isn't about being with a crowd.  It's about being grateful for what you have, whatever it is. Obviously, some people have more to be grateful for than others, but a sincere spirit of gratitude applied to every circumstance makes even that disparity disappear.  It also plays nicely with that difficult child- the idea of 'enough'.

I have found over the years that keeping a grateful frame of mind is the best balm for a stormy spirit, and there have been many times when my spirit has been less than chipper and gratitude put everything back into perspective for me.  It's hard to stay worked up about things gone wrong when you're bearing in mind all the little wonderful elements that make up your life. You could be grateful for people, things, achievements, experiences, even things you don't think about like your native intelligence or the fact that both your legs meet the ground at the same time, if indeed, your legs do meet the ground at the same time. Fortunately, mine do, and yes, I'm grateful for that.  I especially like to remember to be grateful for all the blessings that I don't even know about. The behind-the-scenes stuff that works to help me get on with life. I even frequently take a moment to be grateful when I just have a good idea. I'm not lying.

In any case, gratitude is not just for Thanksgiving. It's nice to have this holiday, but anyone can reap the simple benefits of gratitude at anytime.

Wherever your Thanksgiving holiday takes you, and however you spend it, my sincerest hearty good wishes for peace and plenty.




Thursday, November 2, 2017

Squeaking By

Are you tracking everything you spend?

I am. I even note down my library fines.  This is why I know that out of the thirty thousand dollars that I have every year with which to manage the household, I am probably not going to bring in the end of the year on budget. If I did, it would be a book-cooking miracle. But I know that it ain’t gonna happen. 

At this point, I’m just trying to see how close to thirty thousand I can get. The first year I started this particular stat was 2014, and that year came in at a little over thirty-one thousand.  Thank goodness for savings accounts. 2015 came in six percent higher than 2014, and 2016 came in two percent higher than 2015.  Since I’m trying to get our expenditures down to where we can take care of them with interest income (hah! I say), this is 180 degrees in the wrong direction.  I can’t tell if it’s because stuff is higher than it was two years ago or if I just suck at it, but I will cop to not doing a  good job. I know it's mostly my failure. So yeah, I suck.

The sad part is, we don’t have mortgage or rent to pay. We don’t have kids. Our electric bill is only $11.82 every month, which allows us connection to the grid which we currently use as a big battery (no pun intended). So why is it taking so much money to get through the month? We only go out to shop for food like once a week, and between that and sporadic trips for lumber or something, we hardly ever have to fill the vehicles. I think we buy gas for each vehicle only once a month.  

How are people with kids and mortgages and commutes managing?

Beets, rutabagas, carrots,
a kohlrabi,
and a very large parsnip
This morning I was mentally preparing myself for an unwanted trip to the grocery store but figured  I should go see if anything was ready in the garden instead, just in case.  That was a good move, because I think I got enough out of it today to last a few more days, in which time maybe something else will be ready enough to harvest. If I can get most of our vegetables from it, it will really help.  We only eat twice a day, but we eat vegetables with every meal, so we go through them pretty fast.
Rutabaga, beet, and kohlrabi greens,
kale and collards


The winter garden will in all likelihood not last beyond the end of the year if it even lasts that long, but if it helps me squeak out the rest of this year, it will still have been a very good thing. And it is helping. This morning proved it.




Wednesday, October 25, 2017

It Was Time

I got the garlic in today and I am patting myself soundly on the back. Last year I procrastinated so long that I didn't get any in at all. Which is bad because that means I wasted money on the seed garlic. Sometimes you fuck up.

Which is why I decided not to waste a lot of money on seed garlic this year.  I bought the cheapest garlic I could find because it was likely to be California White, California Early, or California Late, all of which are softneck garlic and is what I want anyway because it stores longer than hardneck.  Not exactly a fancy variety, and not exactly the safest thing to do, because I could be introducing some sort of garlic plague to my soils, but the heads I chose looked pretty clean and fresh and sound, so I gambled on them.

I planted them in the compost that I had the melons in this summer and spaced them about nine or so inches apart. 

I'm kind of excited because I haven't had home grown garlic in a couple years.  

I just hope I didn't fuck up again.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Winter Garden is Proving to be Worth the Effort

I’ve been harvesting out of our winter garden as much as I can as the meals go along.  Yesterday morning I harvested a few carrots, a kohlrabi, and a rutabaga.  The roots I chopped up for breakfast, and the kohlrabi and rutabaga greens went into the fridge. I would have cooked them last night, but Steve was brewing yesterday after his work day was over. This usually means he doesn’t finish until 6:30 or 7:00 PM and because he’s taking up my burners, an oven dinner is usually the ticket.  Instead of cooking greens on the stove, I pulled a frozen pan of leftover eggplant parmigiana out of the freezer and served it with a salad.  The eggplants came from the garden, but the lettuce for the salad came from the store; my lettuces are not ready yet.  So this morning we had the greens. Not everything in the garden is ready yet, and some things are still quite small; I’m hoping that by harvesting and making more room for things, the garden will keep up with my needs. 

Autumn flowers
Usually by the end of the billing period of our most used credit card, I am champing at the bit to get to the grocery store to start the next month’s burden on the card. I’m out of fresh vegetables by that time, and there are other various things that come up.  We put nearly everything on our master card in order to take advantage of that two percent cash back deal, and it makes us money as long as we pay it off in full every month, which I do. But lately, it's been getting a lot harder to do that. Managing our finances has been truly difficult this year (almost as difficult as managing the garden), what with medical bills that keep rolling in after my many lab tests this summer. That, and infrastructure investments we made in the garden have certainly made things interesting, for lack of a better adjective. I am still bound and determined to bring us in at or under budget this year, but after looking at what we have left in the budget to spend and we what we have left to spend it on, I told Steve that we have to introduce and adhere to our own austerity measures. I have two months' worth of budget left and three calendar months over which to stretch it, plain and simple. And I’m not a coupon clipper; Steve and I don’t (I can’t, for one) eat that kind of food. I’m not exactly worried about starving- we still have most of half of a very large grass fed steer in the freezer after all- but I am trying to reign in our trips to the grocery store, because that’s where we tend to spend the most money. I really need to bring our monthly credit card bill down under $1000 every month- if I could do that, we’d probably be in good shape. It’s not impossible; looking back over the records I see that I’ve done it three times this year already, but that was in the beginning of the year when it's easier to accomplish. Usually by June the expenditures pick up starting with the annual house and vehicle insurance premiums, and it doesn't seem to stop until the end of the year. This year's timing on the large bills got all boogered up when someone stole our previous credit card number; getting all our auto-paid stuff back up and running took several attempts to get right. May the fleas of a thousand camels plague this individual for life.

The billing cut off for the MasterCard is the thirteenth of the month, and as I’d mentioned before, I’m usually out the next day putting groceries back on it, at minimum.  Here it is the 20th of the month, and I’ve still to do that. Not that we haven’t used the card, though.  Tuesday we took advantage of my senior discount at Coastal Farm and Ranch and bought the girls a feather formula feed to see if it will help them put feathers on faster (the last bag the store had was broken and although most of it was still there, I asked for a fifty percent discount on it and got it, so nearly forty pounds of feed was only $8.50! Ask for the deal!), and a new maul handle so Steve can get back to splitting the enormous deodar cedar we got from the neighbors. I’ve also purchased PVC clips for the hoop house (more on that on a different post), paid a monthly insurance premium, and paid a portion of several medical bills. A word on that last item: at least in the US, as long as you’re paying something and on time, a creditor can’t report you to the credit reporting agencies.  And as long as they don’t charge me a finance charge, and so far, nobody has, I’ll continue to make partial payments until the bills are gone. I am still putting them on the MC in order to rake in as much cash as I can with it, because we always pay it off every month so that we’re not hit with a finance charge.  But some of these lab bills are ridiculous, even after our medical insurance company has had their way with them, and paying the whole bill at once is just not feasible. So they get partial payments because that’s what works for me right now.  

Honestly, it feels kind of funny to finally be behaving with money as though we don’t have it.  I was never this careful with money when I had a job.  We have savings, of course, but the dictum has always been to save it, not spend it, and that’s still the challenge. Last year when the fence blew down and it took several thousand dollars to fix it (I’ll never do that again), we thankfully had plenty in our savings account to cover it, but I haven’t recovered the account from that time and we don’t have that cushion anymore.  September’s MC bill was rather large because of house and vehicle insurance premiums that arrived on the same bill due to the aforementioned timing issues, so I had to rob savings to help pay it off. Now, I’ll just be able to pay this month’s bills off the first of next month, but I may have to get money from our brokerage account, which is where much of our money is, just to be able to pay the property taxes next month when they come due, and for which I can take a three percent discount if I pay it off all at once.  Do you think I’ll do that? I’m gonna try. Steve will get paid again mid-month and I may be able to squeak by in time (I can’t for the life of me remember when they’re due- only that the county mails the statement to us in November), but that will leave a little less money for the next credit card payments in December, so I really, really, really need to bring the total spend for each of these last months of 2017 down as much as possible.

So far, my first winter garden really seems to be helping with that. I might be out of veg by the first of December, but if it keeps me out of the store until then, it might still be okay.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

At Last! I Managed A Fall And Winter Garden This Year!

Garden late September
It was really hard, but I finally did it.  I got a fall and winter garden planted this year, my most challenging gardening year to date. It's been so challenging that I broke down and bought some winter starts last week at Home Depot. 

New kale bed next to
rutabagas and coon-
proofed melon
I was in there after fasteners and thought, you know? Why don't you just wander over to the nursery and see if they have any, by chance. And they did! I bought arugula, kale and pac choi starts. I'd have purchased lettuces starts as well, but they were a little old. 

When it comes to growing for the winter months, when they tell you to start in mid-July, well for some things, they really do mean mid-July.  So that's what I did. This summer was also one of our hotter summers, so there was that challenge. How do you keep cool weather crop seedlings cool in the hottest part of the year?

Kohlrabi, onions,
carrots, broccoli,
collards, and kale
When I built the beds in late spring, I included frames around the tops with the intention of covering them in greenhouse plastic for the winter.  It turned out the frames were also a great support for laying reed fencing across to create some dappled shade for the seedlings.  It actually worked really well, and I think the results speak for themselves. Next year I want to see about cutting down the fences so that they don't take up so much room over the pathways.

Beets
I planned one bed to be covered in plastic this winter and one bed to be exposed. Maybe next year when I have more growing space I'll be able to devote more area outside the winter beds to plants that handle frost, like kale and parsnips. But I only had so much room, and I did what I did, so we'll see how long the food lasts.  In any case, the bed that gets covered has beets and lettuce seedlings. 

How long the food lasts will be the ultimate test of how well I did.  I'm hoping that by growing copious quantities of greens of various kinds, I'll be able to make the root vegetables last longer. And, I'm hoping that each of my sections has enough to last at least a month.  This is going to be very hard to do if we eat vegetables with every meal, and we do.  Fortunately, a few of the root vegetables have tops that can be eaten as well, like beets, kohlrabi, and rutabagas, so that will help.  I do not recommend eating carrot tops, no matter what that irresponsible idiot you see on the internet or TV who says you can. Carrot tops contain alkaloids and if you get enough of them you can poison yourself. Not a good idea.

We've started eating some of the greens already. I have a few more store bought vegetables in the fridge and I'm trying to put off both going back to the grocery store and harvesting stuff out of the garden.  But where I can make the store bought stuff last a little longer by helping it out with some homegrown, I am.  At some point, I'll dig up the volunteer Italian chard (actually Verde de Taglio from Franchi) and replant it in the hoop house, with the hope that it survives the transplanting. If I don't, it'll die in the first frost anyway, so I may as well try it.

If you've been struggling with getting a winter garden in, I hope my success and methods give you more hope and some solid ideas for getting around the heat in summer so that you can make it happen for yourself. 

I have to say though, that finally getting one going is a really huge step for us in the quest for a year-round garden. Maybe eventually, I really will learn how to feed us from the back yard.  

That is the goal, after all.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Grapes Are Ripe

The birds were telling me for days that the grapes are ripe.  Then a week ago Thursday around midnight I was awakened by a racket on the deck. At first I wasn't so keen to get up and investigate because we have a resident skunk that uses our backyard for a thoroughfare, traversing it first by walking calmly across the deck. Actually, I'm not sure where he lives exactly, but he's intermittently regular, so I was wary that it might be him. But the racket persisted, so I grabbed my headlamp and went out there and peered up into the pergola and who do I see amid my grapes? Raccoons!! Three of them!

I quickly grabbed my critter gitter, AKA my spading fork, and start jabbing at them. A few minutes later the yard was free of raccoons and I was amped on adrenaline.  Fighting raccoons always stimulates my fight or flight response and I was absolutely jangling. So sleep was out for awhile, but it was obvious I had to get the grapes in if I was going to get any wine made this year.

So that's what we did.  We made a quick trip into Portland the next day to get yeast and an acid test kit plus a couple other items from F. H. Steinbart, and then came home and started picking grapes.  We de-stemmed them by hand.  Don't let anyone fool you. De-stemming grapes by hand is a LOT of work. And crushing them by hand to get the juices going (so you can put a campden tablet in the juice to kill all the nasties before you go to pitch the yeast) is hard on your hands also, particularly if you have a touch of arthritis in them. Which I do.

Eventually over a couple of days we got enough grapes crushed and juiced to make up a full fermenter of wine must.  I have to thank Steve (and did) for all his help because he knows what he's doing with a fermenter and with the sanitation of all things fermenting-related.  We finally pitched the yeast, and are now on the way to having somewhere around five gallons of wine in the near future. Or wine vinegar. We could be making a lifetime supply of wine vinegar.

The grape I chose to grow is called Marechal Foch, and I chose it because it handles cold really well. It's grown in upstate New York and Canada, so that should give you some idea of the kind of cold they can handle. What I didn't know when I bought them was that the grapes themselves are very small, and are subject to bird pressure. Nuts.  Then it occurred to me that I didn't know what the wine was supposed to taste like.  I looked online for where I could either taste some or buy some nearby and luckily there were two wineries fairly close by that had it, so one day early this summer Steve drove me out to Newberg, Oregon to the Purple Cow Winery where I had my first taste of Marechal Foch wine. Which I did not like. Double nuts.  Didn't stop me from buying a bottle to put down; the vintner said that it would be much better in eight years, which puts us at 2025.  Then Steve drove me to August Cellars, where the Marechal Foch I tried there was a little better, but that was because it was older.  I bought a bottle that was ready to drink now, but it is lying under the dresser in my bedroom with the Purple Cow because I am not opening the August Cellars until I've lost ten pounds.  Which means by the time I get to it, it will probably be a LOT better.

So it looked like I was going to have to find a place to store a bunch of wine while it sat awhile becoming drinkable.  The only person I know with a basement and plenty of room is my sister-in-law, and she lives five hours away.  That would certainly keep me out of the wine while it aged.   Fortunately, I ran across a PDF on how to make wine with Marechal Foch and Millot grapes, and it said that you can make a blush with them.  I really like a dry rose, so I researched making blush wines, which sounded like a lot less trouble than a red, so that's what we did.

The must is happily bubbling away in one of Steve's stainless steel fermenters in the kitchen.  It's been bubbling pretty steadily at the same pace for a few days now, so it's not slowing down yet. Once the bubbling has stopped, the fermenting is over, and we'll let it sit in there for another month before we go to bottle.

Whether we bottle wine or vinegar remains to be seen.



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Soil Building 101

I have honestly never had a book spur me to so much action.  For years I’ve been saying I gotta do something about my soil fertility, I gotta do something about my soil fertility, but I haven’t been able to get my arms around how to do it on the scale or speed I need to.  My soil is essentially dead.  Not completely dead, but pretty darn sick. But now I have a start and it's all because of this book and a perfect storm of information coming to the fore at roughly the same time.  I have to admit here that it's probably because I was so frustrated that I asked for Help.  And I got it. It all pretty much happened within ten days or so.

The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health is a great read that deals with microbes: fungi, bacteria, and viruses, and their critical part in how life on the planet works. Starting with a backyard full of dead soil in Seattle, David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé are drawn into the world of microbes when they notice that the mulch they’ve been applying to their yard keeps disappearing and yet the almost gray dirt is being replaced by dark, friable soil that is making their yard the envy of the neighborhood. When Anne has a bout with cancer, they are drawn into the fascinating world of the microbiome that is the human body*.  We are nothing but a vessel for holding billions upon billions of microbiota without which we can’t digest food or fend off pathogens. Betcha didn’t know that.

In the book I learned that soil microbes act as middlemen between the soil and plant roots.  When they tell you ‘feed the soil’, what they really mean is ‘feed the microbes’.  Plants can’t take up soil minerals on their own, so their roots exude compounds that attract soil microbes. The soil microbes are attracted to the exudates and hang out very, very close to the roots (so close they create what is called the rhizosphere) and sip on exudates and eat soil minerals and dead things. Then they poop and the roots absorb what’s in their poop.  The plants can’t live without the microbes because they can’t digest what’s in the soil without them.  Plants also count on soil microbes to help them ward off disease and even in some instances, insect attacks. They talk to each other via chemical pathways.

I also learned that fertilizing your soil with chemical fertilizers will kill the soil over time, because it removes the dependence on soil microbes, and in some cases, just plain poisons the microbes. Plants manage by the sheer amount of minerals and substances that get dumped into the soil, but the upshot is that as the microbes die off, the plants require more and more fertilizer until the point that the soil is dead.  And once the soil is really dead, nothing will grow in it. I’m certain that’s what happened to our soil because when we moved in here there were a half dozen or so sacks of the same kind of fertilizer stacked up in the garage.  The previous owner, Mr. Hunt, came late to the organic growing party, but that was well after he’d killed his soil.  I didn’t know that I haven’t been doing the soil any more favors by adding organic rock phosphate and cotton meal and other types of organic fertilizers.  The only way to improve soil is to add organic matter. It truly is. 

However, it’s not the only thing you can do if you can’t wait for nature to take her sweet time turning it into good soil. David and Anne mentioned in their book that in addition to mulch, Anne also applied ‘soil soup’.  I emailed her to find out what she used for mulch and asked if could she give me the recipe for soil soup (this was after I looked all over the internet to see if it was posted anywhere- on their website, in any talks or seminars they’d given, but I couldn’t find anything).  The mulch is a combination of wood chips and leaves, and she agreed that it was kind of like composting in situ, minus the kitchen scraps.  The soil soup is a combination of vermicompost, water, molasses and kelp powder and in looking for an exact recipe and method, I’ve since discovered why this breaks down the mulch so quickly, but we’ll get to that later.

The immediate problem for me was how to get my hands on the wood chips.  Years ago I read in the Mother Earth News that they had discovered that wood made the best soil after reviewing the results of the test they ran specifically to see what makes the best soil.  And after watching the film Back To Eden, I knew that to get this soil, you needed wood chips on a large scale. Paul Gautschi gets his from arborists.  Somewhere along the line I learned that what you really want are ramial wood chips. Ramial wood chips come from the branches of deciduous trees that are no larger than two and a half inches in diameter (less than seven centimeters).  The reason for this kind of specificity is twofold. One is that you want the branches to be of a certain size to ensure that the wood itself is still full of soluble lignins; this means that they will break down quickly.  The second is that you only want wood from deciduous trees because they encourage white rot.  Evergreens, particularly conifers, encourage brown rot.  White rot is good because it encourages growth; brown rot is bad because it discourages growth.  So when I asked about wood chips from the arborists who were taking down the neighbor’s deodar cedar, they told me about ChipDrop.in.

ChipDrop.in is a terrific internet service that matches arborists with folks who need wood chips.  Specifically free wood chips. You can’t specify what species of wood you want your chips to be from, but you can specify what wood species you are not willing to take.  They’re quick to caution you that because these chips are coming straight from a job, there will be needles or leaves or both mixed in, depending on what you’ve specified.  A mix of wood chips and leaves is ideal.  You can also tell them if you’re willing to take some logs off their hands, which I will probably be doing this coming fall sometime when I’m ready to spread conifer chips over my pathways (remember: conifers encourage brown rot which discourages growth- perfect for a pathway).  To increase your chances of getting a drop, you can agree to let them charge you twenty dollars or more; this takes away the fee that the arborists would have had to pay to dump their chips elsewhere.  I decided to opt for this because I was being picky about the kind of chips I wanted.  Two really important things you should know about ChipDrop.in is that you will in all likelihood NOT get a notification when they are coming; they will come when it’s convenient and leave the chips where you specified in your instructions.  In our case, we were lucky enough to follow the guy into our neighborhood after coming back from grocery shopping and I knew right away those were my chips!  We just had to beat him in or at least be right behind him because my instructions were to dump them in the driveway.  I had Steve stop the car so that I go get out and run up to the driver’s window so I could ask if he could wait a minute while my husband put the car away.  I don’t know if I was more excited to get the car in the garage before he’d dumped the load or if I was just excited because I was getting a load!  

The other important thing you should know is that once you get a drop, you fall off their system, so if you need more, you have to sign back on, which is a really good feature. No more surprises.  But for free or nearly free wood chips, this service can’t be beat. As far as I’m concerned, my wood chip sourcing problem is solved.

The load they dropped was from a giant ash tree a few blocks over, which was perfect. There are probably some chips in there from branches larger than an inch and a half, but I’m not really concerned about it because the soil soup I am making will help them break down quickly.  

Soil soup is made by growing the number of microbes in a quart of vermicompost in five gallons of aerated water, with the addition of an ounce of organic, unsulphured, blackstrap molasses and an ounce of kelp meal or fish emulsion.  Here is a picture of the batch I started yesterday.  Before starting, I drilled a one-inch hole near the bottom of the bucket and installed a bottling spigot, which I also got from Amazon. If you're going to do this, do yourself a favor and drill the hole using a one-inch hole saw- it does a much better and neater job of it than a one inch spade bit.  Trust me on this.  Then I ran the air through the water for a few hours to blow off the chlorine in the water. It also makes sure there is plenty of air in the water before you start. I also lined the bucket with a five gallon paint strainer, which will keep the large pieces of vermicompost from clogging the spigot.

Aeration is important for making soil soup because it keeps the microbes from using up all the oxygen in the water and dying off, which would defeat the purpose. You want to add live microbes to the soil and wood chips.  I purchased an inexpensive aquarium kit off Amazon which contained the air pump, tubing, and two aeration stones. The addition of molasses to the mixture encourages the growth of soil bacteria and the addition of the protein-based kelp powder or fish emulsion encourages the growth of soil fungi. It’s easy to be tempted to focus on the fungi because they do the heavy lifting in wood deconstruction but you need the bacteria as well because they have a job to do, too.  Leave the concoction to aerate and grow for three days and then water it into your wood chips and soil.  I didn’t see anywhere how often to do this but I hope to be able to get through the whole yard in a three week period and then start over and keep doing that until the rainy season sets in. So maybe two or three times over.  

If I’m good and stay on top of this, I expect that with just the wood chips and soil soup alone it will take a good four or five years to build the soil, but I’m not expecting that this method will be the only thing I do.  Since the wood chips and leaves will be composted in situ, I’m considering making a worm composter and keeping it under the kitchen sink.  I’ve never been crazy about having to take the compost out to the compost pile in the winter time and this would be a good way to avoid that. I would also be growing my own source of vermicompost which is probably the best reason for doing it.  The other soil input that I’m counting on is rabbit poop, which I’ll probably compost along with the muckings from the chickens.  However, rabbit poop is one chicken I’m not going to count until it’s hatched. The nearly free wood chips and soil soup will be the major constituent of my soil building. 

Now that I have it underway I am quite frankly, relieved.


*Did you know that there are more microbial cells in your body than there are cells that actually make up your body? And that the human gut actually talks to the brain via the vagus nerve? And that the microbiota in your gut are more responsible for your mood and personality than your brain is?  If you want to see something really fascinating, watch The Gut on Amazon Prime.