What I’ve Been Up To

Posted Sunday, May 16th, 2010 at 9:13 pm

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Of Mycelium and Men

Posted Sunday, February 28th, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Yesterday I came home and was ecstatic to find my Gourmet Oyster Mushroom kit had arrived from Funghi Perfecti!

Funghi Perfecti, the company founded by a genius mycologist I’ve recently discovered , Paul Stamets, proudly purports to be “the leaders in a new wave of technologies harnessing the inherent power of mushrooms and fungal mycelium worldwide.” Amen, brother.  Think of Stamets as leading the Department of Diplomacy between the fungal world and ours. Considering the huge gap in our understanding of fungus, and our disdain for it, we’re very lucky to have such an ambassador.

I opened the box to discover an adorably ugly plastic bag stuffed thick with an soft brown substance.  It had a stink my husband thought offensive, but which I found charming. Reading the instruction book, I learned that it was pasteurized wheat straw “impregnated with pure mushroom mycelium.” And that it was “in a state of suspended animation until you receive it.”

Sounded like 2010: A Spore Odyssey.


As a Mushroom Caretaker, the book told me, it’s simply my job to give the patch a good home.  Funghi Perfecti suggests putting it on the kitchen countertop beside the sink. However, my husband immediately objected to that. Alright, I agree, it is probably a little too unsightly and malodorous for keeping in such close quarters. It’s quite the science experiment. So we’re going to keep it on our shady porch, next to the worms, and see how it does.

Keeping mushrooms next to the worms. My how my life has changed since embarking on Farm Apartment. I’ve become increasingly sensitive to the intricate workings of the ground beneath our feet. Without fungi and worms to break things down, earth would suffocate under a blanket of organic stuff. That’s why some people call mushrooms the “lungs” of the earth.

To activate the patch, I misted the surface with de-chlorinated water. This is important: do not use chlorinated water from the tap! Chlorine will kill the growth of the mycelium. Also, don’t use distilled or filtered water as it lacks the nutrients needed for growth.

The easiest method is to simply boil tap water and let it cool. Well or spring water works the best. If you have access to one, I’d like to move into your building! Rainwater also works well.

After misting, I placed  the “humidity tent,” a plastic bag perforated with little holes, over the top.  To prop up the tent, I followed instructions for making a little wire frame, by bending two coat hangers and tying them together with twistees.


Now I just have to keep the whole thing damp. The mushrooms want high humidity in order to grow. So seeing condensation droplets on the inside of the bag is a good sign. Means it’s working.

Within 14 days, bumpy knobs will begin to form. These are primordia. They will grow and blossom into bouquets of Oyster mushrooms. 3-5 days later, the Oyster Mushrooms will reach maturity and they’re ready to harvest. Once harvested, a new “flourish” will grow within 2 weeks, as long as you keep it nice and moist.

Each kit produces two flourishes. After that, you can break up your kit and create an outdoor mushroom patch which should produce for years to come.

Many kinds of edible mushrooms are available in these kits – including shitake, my next project!  The magic kind are unfortunately not sold here. But hey, these Oysters have already altered the reality of my porch and expanded my mind.

Who knew it was so easy to grow shrooms?

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Walk A Mile In My Carbon Footprint

Posted Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 at 11:24 am

Want to score some green stuff?  Then enroll in the life-changing, six-week program organized by the kind and knowledgeable folks at Sustainable WorksThe Green Living Workshop covers in detail the seven major concepts in living a sustainable lifestyle: Water, Energy, Waste, Chemicals, Transportation, Shopping and Food.

After all, we all need a planet to plant on.

This program is free for Santa Monica residents, though a 25$ donation is gladly accepted.  For LA residents it’s $50.

On the first day of class, you’ll get the WorksBook, a comprehensive primer, almost 300 pages long, filled with information, resources, and support tools for greening your life.  If you go to every class, you’ll be rewarded with a swag bag full of goodies that will help you put solutions into practice.

Lucky for you there is still space in the upcoming March Workshops. If you can’t make the workshop, be sure and check out their blog which is updated with the latest information.

Looking back, I was more ego than eco when I first began the class.  I thought that I was already pretty environmentally aware: I recycle, shop at a co-op, belong to a CSA, carry canvas bags, and can’t remember the last time I bought a plastic water bottle. Yet, after taking the quiz on ecofoot.org and discovering that if everyone lived like me, it would take 4.6 earths to sustain my lifestyle,  I realized that there were tons more changes I could make.  There were so many everyday choices  I wasn’t even thinking about.

It was powerful to have all of the issues put on the table in a organized fashion.  Usually I’m just getting bits and pieces from random news articles.  The Green Living Workshop left me with comprehensive knowledge of the environmental issues we face.  And as we all know, it ain’t pretty.

That’s why I so appreciated their practical solutions on how to take responsibility for the way we treat our Earth.

I’ve compiled a list of the easy, small changes I made so you can walk a mile in my carbon footprint.

Water

Even with the recent rainstorms, California is still in the throes of a devastating, three-year drought.  1/3 of the energy consumed in California, and billions of dollars in our very stressed budget, is used just to move water around the state!

- Install low-flow aerators on your kitchen and bathroom faucets to greatly reduce water flow.  These cost about a buck at any local hardware store and will save thousands of gallons of water annually.

- Eat lower on the food chain. One pound of beef takes 2,464 gallons of water to raise!  In comparison, 1 pound of chicken needs 660 gallons and 1 pound of lettuce, 24 gallons.  You get the picture.

- Go to bewaterwise.com to find out all the tips you need on how to preserve our water supply.

Here is a great article by Andy Lipkis, founder of  TreePeople, on his project to retrofit Los Angeles with a system to collect and use rainwater.  This would create thousands of green collar jobs, save billions of dollars and make a significant environmental impact.

Energy

Most of our electricity is powered by coal.  Coal is cheap – which means we’re destroying our planet for just pennies on the dollar!  Not such a good bargain.  Coal-fired plants are the largest emitter of carbon-dioxide, the primary global warming gas.  The waste from coal is put into unlined pools, which go directly into the ground, poisoning the soil and water.  Outrageously, 75% of coal waste dumps are not regulated by the EPA!

To support our need for cheap non-renewable energy, coal companies actually blast the tops of off entire mountains, mine the coal, and then dump all the waste into neighboring valleys.  Mountaintop Removal is devastating the Appalachian Mountains, creating increased flooding and polluting drinking water for millions of Americans. In 2000, more than 300 million gallons of toxic coal sludge went into river tributaries, causing what the EPA called, “The biggest environmental disaster ever east of the Mississippi.”  Visit ilovethemountains.org for more info and to find out how to get involved.

Here’s Steven Colbert’s take on this absolutely hilarious practice:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Coal Comfort – Margaret Palmer
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Skate Expectations


What you can do:

- Replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs).  They use 1/4 of the energy and last 10 X longer.  Each bulb will save 1500 lbs of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere over a lifetime.  The technology has evolved so that they now emit a soft white light. Try these.


- Buy a Smart Strip.  These are amazing!  An energy strip that automatically turns appliances off completely when not in use, while allowing you to maintain power in the stuff that can’t be turned off (like the TiVo).  Saves tons of money on the electric bill.


- Purchase Green Power from LADWP.  LA Country residents have the option of purchasing renewable energy from LADWP. For a small premium—currently, three cents per kilowatt hour—you can support small energy companies working toward a cleaner environment, and a greener Los Angeles. Click here to learn more about Green Power.

- If you’re hot, open the window.   If you’re cold, put on a sweater.

- Shut down your computer at night.

- Turn off the lights!

Waste

The U.S. has 5% of world’s population, yet we create a whopping 30% of the world’s waste.  That’s gross.

- Compost!  If you put food scraps in the garbage, they turn into toxic methane gas.  If you compost them, they feed the soil and replenish the Earth.  I got a cute lil compost bin and some Biobags, and now separate all my compostable food.  Some of it I feed to my worms, but they can only eat so much.  The rest, I put in the city green bins.  If you want to start your own bin, go to www.smartgardening.com to find out how you can get one real cheap.

- Start a worm bin!

- Paper of plastic?  One of life’s most persistent questions.  Here’s the answer, “Neither.  I brought my own bag, dude.”  Americans use 100 million bags every year.  Plastic bags will probably take about a millennium to decompose.  Paper’s not much better.  According to the EPA, they generate 70% more air pollutants and 50% more water pollutants than plastic bags.  Here is one of my favorite accessories.

- Recycle – duh.

- Use Freecylcle.org to give away stuff you don’t want instead of letting it end up in a landfill.  I actually had 8 responses from people who wanted the stuffing from my old pillows!

- Replace paper towels with a bin of rags

- Create a Household Hazardous waste bin and dispose of them at the LA hazardous waste Center www.888cleanla.com

- Eliminate Junk Mail.  This is a big one for me. It drives me insane to get postmarked garbage in my mailbox.  Uuugh.  I signed up with Precycle http://precycle.tonic.com/.  However, you can take yourself off the Direct Mail list (www.dmachoice.org) and http://www.catalogchoice.org/ to stop catalogs coming to your door.  100 million trees are destroyed each year so that you have something to feed your shredder.  Stop the madness.

Chemicals

This was the most eye-opening class for me. I was shocked to learn that the EU has banned 11,000 chemicals while the US has only banned 10! When I stopped to think about how many chemicals I use every day, especially in beauty products like shampoo and hair dye, I felt like Meryl Streep in Silkwood.

- If you dye your hair, use a vegetable based dye.  Aubrey Organics makes a good product.

- Switch to natural deodorant.  This took a bit of experimentation on my part.  Luckily I have an understanding husband! This works well for me.

- Consult Skindeep.org to see just how toxic the crap they’re selling really is.  This is an amazing resource I’ve been visiting on an almost daily basis.

- Recycle your Teflon pans and never look back.  Teflon is bioaccumulative in your body.  In other words, you ain’t gettin’ rid of it.  Invest in good quality, long lasting cookware.  Enameled coated cast iron, plain cast iron or stainless steel are your best bet.  You deserve it!

- Start using Baking Soda and White Vinegar to clean just about everything. Mix them together into a white paste, and the reaction is powerful.  It got the worst gunk off my stove top and my pans – without any chemical usage. I even unclogged my shower drain using just these two wonder ingredients.  My jug of Drano is scheduled to be taken to the Hazardous Waste Dump!


- There are all kinds of resources on how to make your own cleaning concoctions.  Here is one of them. http://greenlivingideas.com/topics/eco-home-living/housecleaning/natural-cleaning-recipes

- When gardening, go organic.  Seriously, Mother Earth has got it all figured out.

- When shopping, consider not buying toxic waste.

- Use a stainless steel water bottle to avoid BPAs in plastic bottles.  Also, there’s no need to contribute to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is already twice the size of Texas.

Transportation

This is pretty obvious.  Don’t get in your car if you don’t have to.  Run, walk, bike, bus, carpool, wheelchair, pogo stick, barrel-roll, skip, slip n’ slide, roller skate, skateboard, and my personal favorite: telecommute.

This is a cool website that tells you the walkability of your ‘hood: http://www.walkscore.com

Shopping

- First ask yourself: um, is this really necessary?

- Buy second-hand.  If you need it, I guarantee you it has already been manufactured and discarded by someone, somewhere else.

- The main thing is to think about how a product was made, how you will use it, maintain it and get rid of it.  Be conscious and pay attention to labels.   When possible, buy products made with recycled materials.

- Boycott and let the companies you are boycotting know about it.

Food

- We all know the mantra.  Come on, and say it with me: Shop local, buy organic.

- Join a CSA!  There’s a list right here on the sidebar.

- Go to localharvest.org to find your nearest farmer’s market.

- GMO’s – hell no!

- Buy fish approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  They even have an iPhone app which comes in real handy!

- Buy from local dairies that humanely raise their cows.  This is an incredible resource.

Please take note that Horizon, the milk with the “happy cow” on the carton got a big fat ZERO rating on a scale from 1-5.  Other dairies to avoid: Trader Joe’s, Alta Dena, Good Heart Organics.

Phew!  That was a lot.  Yet, these are just a smattering of the hundreds of suggestions in the Sustainable Works Workbook.   If everyone of us even implemented just one of these solutions, it would make a huge impact.  Small shifts make a big difference.

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Things I’ve Done To Limes

Posted Friday, February 12th, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Yellow Limes

One of the advantages of gardening at Purdue Ave. Farms is the abundant lime tree that is, at this very moment, pregnant with fruit.  Last weekend, Judith sent me home with a huge basket of citrus, leaving me to my own devices as to how to use them all.

And yes, I was determined to use them all.

A quick look in the Ball Home Preserving recipe book gave me my first answer: Lime Ginger Marmalade.  Luckily, my friend Angelique was already on her way over to FarmApartment the night I brought the limes home, so I had my labor force all lined up.  I told her it would be a relatively simple affair. Perhaps because the recipe was called “Quick Lemon Ginger Marmalade.”

Well, anyone who has made marmalade is probably chuckling right now. Any recipe that touts a “Simple” “Quick” or “Easy” process, I’ve now learned, should be taken with a grain of salt. It could mean it “only” takes two hours instead of the usual three!

Much more than just citrus and sugar, marmalade requires quite a bit of time – and patience.  The first step is to remove the skin with a paring knife or vegetable peeler, leaving behind the “albedo,” or “pith” –  the bitter white stuff between the rind and fruit.  As I was attempting to make double the recipe, this took forever, even with two people.

Next, the pith has to be removed from the fruit.  I had no idea how to do this efficiently, and managed to settle on the slowest, most  tedious method, patiently scraping the pith away with a knife.

Luckily, Angelique and I had a bottle of wine open and loads of gossip to catch up on, so we barely noticed the time passing. This mixture of industry and socializing seemed wonderfully old-fashioned and made us both feel like we were “home on the farm.” Neighbors and friends coming together to help each other in the labor intensive chores of keeping house – isn’t that how our grandmothers got by?

Canning, I’ve come to realize, is both a method of preserving food, and a way of preserving time. As the world speeds up and becomes ever more efficient, so many opportunities for these slow, sweet moments of camaraderie and connection, i.e. gettin’ drunk with friends, are lost in the advance of progress.

But, of course, we don’t always have hours to dawdle away. I’ve since discovered – thanks to Kevin West – a much easier way to remove the albedo and pulp the fruit. I used it on my second batch (of tangerine marmalade!), when I didn’t have Angelique’s help to rely on.

Here are Kevin’s instructions:

The technique is to take a peeled fruit and slice a round off both ends, deep enough to reveal the pulp beneath the albedo. Then stand the fruit on one of its flat ends and slice downwards along the fruit’s outside edge to cut away the albedo. Work your way around the perimeter of the entire fruit until you’re left with the beautiful “heart” of the fruit.

Next, once you’ve got your pith – you turn your focus to the pulp. Kevin continues:

Cut the heart crosswise into round 1/2″ slices, and finally quarter each slice. Remove whatever seeds you find. And put the chunked pulp in the preserving pan with the peel

(Click here for Kevin’s full “Time To Kill Marmalade” recipe.

After doing all of that, it’s time to put everything in a pot with water, sugar and any other flavors you fancy: ginger, flavored vodka or liqueur, a swirl of fresh herbs.  This is where you can add your own personal flair to the mix.

Did I say sugar?  I mean, lots of sugar.  As in, my sweet husband had to run out and buy a 5 pound bag of it.  Since I was making double, I used (gasp) 13 cups!  I think in the future I won’t double the recipe.  I ended up with way too much syrup in relation to the fruit, and frankly it turned out just a little too sweet. (Although, Joshua didn’t seem to mind!)

Next, I added pectin.  I finally understood why the recipe was called “Quick.” The pectin makes the gel set faster, reducing the cooking time – but I found this to be unnecessary.  When I made my second batch, I simply boiled the whole thing down for about 40 minutes, which was easy enough.

All in all, the Lime-Ginger Marmalade was a huge hit. The two cups of grated ginger really packed a punch.  The jam had an adventurous mixture of spicy, sour and sweet. I loved delivering little jars to all of my friends I visited the next week. And my husband – who winced at the marmalade’s sweet-tartness on first taste – ended up eating it on his toast every morning.


But, of course, that was only Lime Recipe No. 1. – I still had a whole bowl of limes to go!  My husband pitched in with a Key Lime Pie, and I discovered two more simple but wonderful recipes that will leave you lovin’ lime season this year.

I found this concoction on All Recipes.

Lime Basil Sorbet

And this recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks The Golden Door Cooks Light And Easy.

Lime-Miso Dipping Sauce

Enjoy!



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Farm Fresh Weekend Events

Categories: Events , Workshops | 1 Comment
Posted Friday, February 12th, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Check the Farm Apartment Calender for more details.

Tomorrow is jam packed with classes.  Take your pick. I’m going to be at David King’s workshop “What To Do And When To Do It” at The Learning Garden (This class is $25 with a discount if you buy a series of five classes).  He’ll be going over everything you need to do plan your summer garden.  On the East Side, Solano Community Garden is having a fundraiser garden sale starting at 8:30 AM.  Also, there are two free Fruit Tree Pruning Workshops: one in Westchester put on by The Environmental Change Makers, and other other in Highland Park at the Milagro Allegro Garden.

I don’t think anything says Valentine’s Day like “mold.”  That’s why on Sunday Joshua and I will be at The Wild Mushroom Festival at the LA Arboretum.  We even got tickets to see the Paul Stamets lecture “How Mushrooms Can Save The Planet.”  He’s not kidding either.  Stamets is currently working on a pesticidal fungi that trick insects into eating them, and mushrooms that can break down the neurotoxins used in nerve gas, as well as a new set of new powerful antiviral medicines.  If you can’t make the lecture, you can download an MP3 of one of his most recent talks at http://www.bioneers.org which I highly recommend.


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Harvest The Storm

Categories: Greywater | 5 Comments
Posted Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I've collected about 5 gallons of water so far!

Farm Apartment’s Rainwater-Collection System

Step One: Place pot on porch.

Step Two: Let it rain.

Step Three: You’ve got a bucket of rainwater now.  Let your imaginations go wild!

After a four year drought in California, no one should underestimate the value of all this water falling from the sky.  Rainwater is free of cost, chlorine, pesticides and other contaminants.  Collect it, use it, love it.

Update:

Homeowners – rebates are available for qualified toilets, clothes washer, and irrigation products. For more information, visit www.socalwatersmart.com or call (888) 376-3314. Don’t wait – these rebates are limited!

More rain predicted. Did you get a rain barrel or cistern yet? It’s not too late to get up to $500 for rain harvest products and installation. Rebates available for Santa Monica residents only. Call (310) 458-8972 or visit www.sustainablesm.org/rebates


If you want to go beyond the pot-on-the-porch method, check out the Home Greywater Use And Design workshop at EcoWorkshops.com

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Agents of Oranges

Categories: Events | 5 Comments
Posted Monday, February 8th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

On Sunday, I went to check out the kick-off event for EATLACMA, a year-long series of exhibits that examine the connection between food, society and culture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The events are curated by Fallen Fruit founders Matias Viegener, David Burns, and Austin Young.

If you don’t know, Fallen Fruit is an “art collaboration” that began by making maps of public fruit – fruit trees growing on or over public property. Like culinary treasure maps, they guide city residents to forage their own edibles in the urban jungle.


The project is a lot of fun. But, it also challenges people to see and interact with their neighborhoods in a new way: not merely as residents, but as the hunter-gatherers we all are at heart. (You know you feel it!)

For Apartment Farmers, this is a perfect way to live off the land. When my husband and I realized there was no Fallen Fruit map for Santa Monica, we spent one weekend beginning to make our own – carefully walking the alleys and byways of our hood. It was amazing how the sudden attention to detail changed the way we see our familiar landscape. Take a close look around, and the jewel tones of trees heavy with fruit start popping out of the landscape, like some Peter Max cartoon. But you’ll also start to notice how many trees are painfully out of reach, deep within the confines of private property – and simply going to waste un-harvested.


Fallen Fruit is seeking to change this with their “Plant The Perimeter” campaign. They ask us to imagine a neighborhood in which we could simply walk outside and pick all the fruit we need. What if the average distance to get a piece of fruit shrunk from the current 1,000 miles, to 100 feet? By growing fruit trees on the edges of property lines, instead of pointless ornamental shrubs, we could transform our city into an urban Eden.


So, to kick-off EATLACMA on Sunday morning, Fallen Fruit sponsored a fruit tree give-away. They started at noon, and had a huge turnout. By the time I arrived at 12:30, all the trees were already spoken for. (So sad!) But all the lucky early birds got a baby tree – complete with adoption papers. In these official-looking forms, the new “parents” promised to care for their tree and plant it in a publicly accessible spot. After all, the trees will still be here long after we’re gone.

People waiting to adopt a tree

Frankly, I found it odd, at first, to see fruit trees at the museum. Fruit and art seem to me like, well, apples and oranges. The museum is a place where objects are often taken out of their natural environment, stripped of context, and placed in a vacuum. And we all know how nature feels about vacuums. The museum is the antithesis of a thriving eco-system.

EATLACMA is trying to bridge this gap between art and nature, seeking to frame a new relationship between the museum’s permanent collection and the ever-changing natural cycle of growth in this exhibit. By bringing the outside in, these fruit trees represented a nexus between food, art, culture and politics. The trees create a new context in which to see the artwork, and force us to see the oranges-to-be through a new lens – as edible art.

I was finally able to make the connections: Art is fruit, fruit is food, art is food, eat art: EATLACMA.

Now that’s a sweet idea.


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Farm Fresh Events

Categories: Events , Workshops | No Comments
Posted Friday, February 5th, 2010 at 11:02 am

As always, there’s lots of fun/free stuff goin’ on this weekend.

Go to the Farm Apartment Calender for more details.  Please let me know of any events or classes you’d like me to post.


Saturday, 2/6


Free Biodynamic Composting Class

23273 RED ROCK ROAD, TOPANGA, CA 90290

Another demonstration of how to make a biodynamic compost pile.  You can read about my experience at the the last demo here.

PLEASE RSVP via email to ecocentricliving@aol.com and I will send you the address more info.or  call 310.463.5323

“Eating food grown in Biodynamic compost will slow aging and heal the Earth.”

http://www.biodynamics.in/compost.htm

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Seed Swap at Venice Learning Garden

3000 Venice Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90066

Annual Seed Swap, in conjunction with Environmental Change Makers, The Learning Garden will host a seeds swap!  Swap out those seeds you didn’t use last year for something new and different! The Learning Garden will sponsor our first seed swap on our patio February 6th. Email the Gardenmaster, greenteach@gmail.com, if you have questions.

Sunday, 2/7


EATLACMA begins

LACMA – 5905 Wilshire Blvd,90036

What began as the mapping of fruit trees in LA neighborhoods grew into Fallen Fruit, a full-fledged activist art project and collaboration among David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young. Rooted in the notion that all of us deserve to have access to “public fruit,” Fallen Fruit holds a pair of public fruit-tree adoptions, officially launching EATLACMA, the museum’s year-long series of food-related talks, performances, exhibitions, and other events on culture, art, politics, and eatables. February 6, TreePeople Los Angeles sponsors the public fruit-tree adoption at Watts Towers, and on February 7, it moves to LACMA. Potential adoptive fruit parents are encouraged to arrive early for the best selection.  – Tanja Laden

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Thursday, 2/11


Immoveable Feast – Fruit Tree Discussion

601 Santa Monica Blvd., 90401

SM Main Library – MLK Auditorium

Fruit trees can produce well into their eighties, but their permanence can also be a liability when the effects of drought, insect invasion, changing customer demand and delayed innovation combine to decrease production. This panel of experienced tree fruit growers and experts will discuss how they protect flavor and quality by applying age-old growing practices to bold innovation in their search to grow “the perfect fruit.”

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Worm Digs

Categories: Compost | 7 Comments
Posted Thursday, February 4th, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Part II of II:

“Of all the animals, the worm has played the most important part in the world’s history.”  – Charles Darwin

Worms.  Check.  Bin.  Check.  Food waste.  Check.  I had everything I needed to set up my very first worm farm.  Opening up the guide book that came with the bin I read, “The Wriggly Wranch™ harnesses the amazing power of earthworms, natures perfect recycler!”  Well, alright then.  Let’s get it on!


If there was a Dwell Magazine for the vermin set, The Wranch would be in it.  With a sleek, black modernist architectural design, it offers Red Wrigglers the finest in contemporary living.

Two plastic boxes, approximately the same size, fit snuggly together, leaving a gap of a few inches inside the bottom box. The top box, which has a screened bottom, is where food scraps go and where the worms live and eat.  Their precious tea, a powerful organic fertilizer and natural pest repellent, drips down to the bottom box which has a spigot, allowing you to easily collect it.

When the top box is 3/4 full of castings, you slide a third box on top of it, and start adding your scraps. Over a period of about three months, the worms crawl up into their new box, and you can harvest their castings in the old box and start again.

You’re supposed to start with 1 lb., or 1000 worms.  I think I brought home about 500, though honestly it’s hard to tell.  I’m not about to lay them out side by side to count (although, I think my husband kinda wanted to). Anyway, they mate like crazy, so  if all goes well, there  should be about 15,000-20,000 worms in a year’s time!

Considering all the rampant worm-sex going on under the lid, they probably should have called it The Bunny Ranch. But, yeah, maybe that would have been too confusing.



To create the initial bedding for the worms, the Wranch provides a block of coconut coir.  When you soak the block in a bucket of water, it expands and breaks up until it becomes a deep mass of mossy, primo worm-grade goodness that looks and feels like moist soil.

We spread the coir in the bin and then dumped our little recyclers in.  I’ve never been so  excited to open a can of worms.  (Sorry, had to make that joke.)


To encourage them to dig themselves into their new digs, we left the cover off and exposed them to light, which they hate. Then we put  a few pieces of lettuce in to start them off slow.

Finally, we covered them with a piece of wet newspaper to hold the moisture in.  Worms only survive in moist environments, so the bedding should always stay damp – not too wet, not too dry.

And that was it. Time to let nature do the rest.

In fact, getting them eating in the beginning is proving to be a little tricky.  It’s been a week now since setting up the Wranch, and the few torn up pieces of lettuce I scattered over their bed haven’t been touched. A little research told me this was normal, and could be due to a number of factors.

First, they need to get used to their new home.  I actually felt a little bit guilty about taking them away from their Vermi-Palace at SMC. But I think they’ll get used to slummin’ it on the porch soon enough.  Also, they are likely eating their coir bedding, so may not be interested in other food yet. Additionally, I may not have gotten a big enough worm-population to start.  Another trip to the Vemitech may be needed if I don’t have enough patience for the worms to get-it-on and let nature to take its course.

I also discovered that the worms don’t actually eat the food, but the micro-beasties that grow on the food as it decomposes. So, following advice from the Wranch manual’s troubleshooting section, I put some of the lettuce through the food processor.  Hopefully, the smaller pieces will biodegrade a little bit faster for them to consume.

I will keep you updated on their progress.  Until then, I leave you with this:

“The early bird catches the worm.  But the late worm doesn’t get eaten.” – Evangeline Heath

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One woman. 1000 worms. Endless possibilities.

Categories: Compost | 9 Comments
Posted Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Ever since learning that food scraps in landfills actually turn into methane gas – one of the leading pollutants responsible for global warming – I’ve been on a tear to figure out how to compost in my apartment.

My research pointed to one answer, and a most unfortunate new word: vermicomposting. I have to say, I was pretty grossed out even saying it. For me, it evoked images of voracious rats chomping through fetid food waste.

In reality, it’s the process by which worms eat garbage and transform it into fertilizer, which can then be returned to the earth.

Okay, that’s beautiful.  But still, the idea of hundreds of slimy, dirty worms having their way with my garbage in my own home gave me the creeps.

Yet the more I read about it, the more it started to make sense.  First, worm bins are compact so they are a perfect choice for small-space living.  Also, worms can turn garbage into compost in about three months, as opposed to up to a year with garden composting.

And of course, as I’ve written about here recently, worm castings (or poop) and tea (worm pee) are a rich source of nitrogen, making them an excellent organic fertilizer.

More importantly, if properly maintained, the worm bin will not smell.  If it starts to stink, then you’ve got a problem: either it’s too wet, too dry or too full.

When my mother-in-law sent me this video, my mind was made up.  The worms were moving in.

Both Los Angeles County and The City of Santa Monica subsidize composting containers, so residents can get them at a reduced price. For $33 bucks, I picked up my cute lil’ worm bin which even had a name: “Wriggly Wranch.”  Darling!

It turned out to be the size of a large file box with legs, so it couldn’t fit under the sink, as I’d hoped at first. But with my husband’s reminder that worms were used to being outside, I found it fit nicely on my small back porch. They can actually stand temperatures between 50-90 degrees, I learned.

Now I had the bin, but no worms. My first discovery was that there are, in fact, two species: Earthworkers and Composters.  The first are found in the garden and live on topsoil and hummus.  Nightcrawlers are one example, of many.  As for Composters, there are only a few kinds, the most common of which is the Red Wriggler.  This is the one you want for your bin.

A quick Google search turned up a list of companies that will airmail Red Wrigglers to your door for about $25 a pound, not including shipping.  But the idea of leaving such a huge carbon footprint in an effort to recycle struck me as a little absurd.

So I put an ad up on Freecycle and got seven or eight responses in pretty short order.  Worm farmers are a supportive bunch, it turns out.  One woman called my attention to Santa Monica City College’s Recycling program.

They have a giant machine called the Vermitech, one of a few in the state.  It holds over one million worms in a 16 ft. long, temperature-controlled environment. SMC feeds all the scraps the cafeteria creates in food preparation to the worms, and then use the castings to fertilize their grounds.  Brilliant.

I arranged to meet with Madeline Brody, the woman who runs the recycling program.  My husband and I walked over to her office at SMC with a bag of empty yogurt containers (with holes poked in the lid so the little guys could breathe).  Madeline drove us across campus in a golf cart to the Vermitech – and it was clear that this was my husband’s favorite part of the outing.


She opened the enormous lid, revealing a flat expanse of brown dirt. No worms in sight.  But when Madeline put on some rubber gloves and scooped her hands into the soil,  she pulled up a huge clump of hundreds of Red Wrigglers. They were all intricately tangled together like the massive biological network of neurons in the brain, busily transforming garbage into compost.


Nature’s perfect, closed-looped systems never cease to amaze me. This planet has a perfect built-in process for returning waste back to the earth, developed over billions of years.  There simply is no better way to do it.

The American solution, clumping trash into huge brick cubes that send noxious fumes into the atmosphere, is insanely destructive.  Did you know that the Fresh Kills landfill in New Jersey is responsible for a whopping 2% of the methane gas pollution for the entire world?

And you thought Jersey only produced trash TV!

Check in tomorrow to see how I set up Wriggley Wranch.


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