Erik Talks Straw Bales on C-Realm Radio

13077057_10153541420324249_5509899896586080300_n

KMO with his new straw bale garden.

Instead of producing our own podcast this week, I had the honor of being on C-Realm Radio in Vermont, hosted by my favorite podcaster (and, as of last month, radio host) KMO. The topic is straw bale gardening. KMO talks first to straw bale garden expert Joel Karsten. Then I chime in enthusiastically on the topic. I’m followed by gardener and artist Lauren Blair. We’re all sort of an opening act for an entertaining 1990s era recording of Terrance McKenna thoughtstyling about “linguistic objects”.

One interesting point that Karsten raises is the issue of persistent herbicides in straw bales. He says its not a problem to worry about. I suggest doing an bioassay to rule out the possibility so, in a way, we contradict each other. Karsten may be right, but I need to do some more research on the subject. If any of you know if persistent herbicides, such as Clopyralid, Aminopyralid, Aminocyclopyrachlor and Picloram, are still an issue for gardeners, please let me know in the comments.

Should I Put Coffee Grounds in a Worm Bin?

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 4.10.01 PM
First off, in my post on using coffee grounds in your garden I linked to the wrong article. The correct, and very useful publication by Linda Chalker-Scott, “Using Coffee Grounds in Gardens and Landscapes” can be found here.

There were a number of questions and emails about the pamphlet’s recommendation not to add coffee grounds to your worm bin. Why might coffee grounds not be good for worms? Chalker-Scott cites a study, “Evaluation of three composting systems for the management of spent coffee grounds” that looked at using worms to compost coffee waste. The study showed high worm fatality in spent coffee grounds due, the authors speculate, to the acidic pH of coffee and harmful organic compounds. The addition of cardboard reduced fatality. They go on to suggest pre-composting coffee grounds for three weeks before adding to a vermicomposting bin.

It should be noted that the study was looking at worm bins where the feedstock was entirely made up of spent coffee grounds. Adding a few coffee grounds to a home bin made up of a diversity of feedstocks is probably not going to kill the worms.

But, in a discussion thread on the Garden Professor’s Facebook group speculating about what percentage of coffee grounds would be safe to use, I found myself agreeing with Raymond Eckhart who says,

In the absence of peer reviewed literature as to what percentage is acceptable, the cautious approach is to avoid it altogether, is my takeaway. If and when someone studies the issue to determine a safe percentage, it would be unwise to recommend the practice, given the results of the referenced paper.

Coffee grounds also form large anaerobic clumps worms don’t like. Clearly, they prefer vegetable scraps and large amounts of fluffy carbon material like cardboard and wood shavings.

Now wouldn’t it be great if Elon Musk would fund local Extension Service home gardening research rather than trying to figure out ways to blast rich people into space? We need definitive worm bin advice!

083 Kris De Decker of Low Tech Magazine

6a00e0099229e8883301bb08ba6377970d-580wi

Our guest this week is journalist Kris De Decker, the creator of Low Tech Magazine, a blog published in English, Dutch and Spanish that covers low tech solutions in great depth and detail. Without exaggeration, I think it’s safe to say it’s my favorite blog. On the podcast we discuss high tech problems, Catalan vaulting, fruit walls, Chinese wheelbarrows, open modular hardware, fireless cookers and alternate forms of the internet.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Coffee Grounds in the Garden

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 4.10.01 PM

According to a handy fact sheet from Washington State University, Coffee grounds will buzz your garden. Coffee grounds build humus, boost nitrogen, phosphorus and zinc, bind pesticides and toxins, prevent bacterial and fungal infections and feed earthworms. Authored by Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, Extension Urban Horticulturist and Associate Professor, this peer-reviewed pamphlet also provides a set of suggestions for using coffee grounds in the garden:

  • Coffee grounds should be composted before used as a soil amendment but can be used fresh as a mulch.
  • Fresh grounds are phytotoxic, so keep them away from direct contact with roots.
  • Coffee grounds will not necessarily make your soil more acidic.
  • Don’t use coffee grounds where you are starting seeds.
  • Despite rumors, coffee grounds do not repel pests.
  • Let coffee grounds cool before adding to compost bin so you don’t kill beneficial microbes. And don’t let coffee grounds amount to more than 20% of your compost pile.
  • Don’t add coffee grounds to vermicomposting bins.

If you’re using coffee grounds as a mulch Chalker-Scott has two suggestions:

  • Apply a thin layer (no more than half an inch) of coffee grounds. Cover with a thicker layer (four inches) of coarse organic mulch like wood chips (Chalker-Scott 2015). This will protect the coffee grounds from compaction.
  • Don’t apply thick layers of coffee grounds as a standalone mulch. Because they are finely textured and easily compacted, coffee grounds can interfere with moisture and air movement in soils.

I picked a peck of pickled peaches

IMG_7181Each year I thin our peach tree to assure that, in a month, the squirrel population will access only the largest and most succulent peaches. The other reason to thin a peach tree is that if you don’t it will collapse of its own weight, like those industrial broiler chickens that can’t stand up if you let them live past the eating stage.

But what to do with all those immature peaches? Yes, you can pickle them. This I learned from Kevin West’s bible of food preservation, Saving the Season. In the introduction to his pickled green almond recipe (p. 103) West notes that immature stone fruit such as peaches and nectarines can be pickled in the same way as green almonds (almonds are a stone fruit too).

If you don't thin this branch it will break off.

If you don’t thin this branch it will break off.

I’d share Kevin’s recipe with you but he’s a fellow author and you really should own his book, Saving the Season. It’s the classiest food preservation book out there. Plus Kevin could have me killed and pickled (just kidding). What I can tell you is that this is a quick, vinegar powered refrigerator pickle. Any similar vinegar pickle recipe will work. West’s recipe calls for white wine vinegar. I ran out and substituted the vinegar you clean floors with. Nevertheless, they came out fine and resemble large olives.

Should you want to try pickling green almonds, by the way, you can sometimes find them in Middle Eastern grocery stores and some farmers markets (our local Armenian supermarket Super King sometimes has them if you can survive the infamous parking lot).