June 2011

Vermicompost Growth Experiments

Yes, these are the marigolds I chose for my vermicompost experiment – read below to find out why.

I decided to start up a couple of preliminary growth trials using the 1/4″ screened vermicompost I’ve been harvesting from my backyard wooden worm bin. Nothing scientific here – mostly just for fun, but if there seems to be fairly significant differences among treatments, I’ll likely try again with more reps per treatment.

I am testing the growth of plants in three different mixes: 1) Pro-Mix potting soil 2) Pro-Mix with ~33% (by volume) vermicompost, and 3) Pro-Mix with ~33% (by volume) specialty vermicompost mix (vermicompost + rock dust + coffee grounds). I had a bunch of marigolds on-hand so I decided to try growing some of them. As you can see in the first picture, I selected two plants that were rather pitiful in appearance. In a sense this is my attempt at giving the vermicompost treatments a slight disadvantage right off the bat – I’ll be curious to see how successfully they can bounce back (assuming they can). Again, certainly not scientific – but I think it will be fun anyway!

The other experiment I set up is basically the same except for the fact that I am germinating and growing chia seeds instead of marigolds. These seeds are so small and annoying to try and count that I ended up using a little bottle cap in an attempt to semi-standardize the quantity of seeds going into each pot.

As you can see, LOTS of seeds in each pot – but hey, they’re chia seeds so almost mandatory to grow a little green carpet of them, right?? Haha

Anyway – nothing super fancy, but will certainly pave the way to some more serious trials.
Stay tuned!

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Lasagna Gardening-06-07-11

I decided to make yesterday “planting day” for my vermi lasagna garden. I’ve been a tad frustrated with the slow growth of my seedlings in their starter pots so far, and figured I might as well just get them growing in the garden (normally I’d let them grow a little more before doing so).

I really want these plants to do well, so rather than trying to push the envelope with my usual cramped spacing approach, I am only putting two of them in the lasagna garden – one “Italian Ribbed Zucchini” and one “Vegetable Marrow Squash”. These are both summer bush varieties so I think they will be well suited for this bed.

My planting approach was pretty straight-forward. Being a little concerned about all the bulky waste materials in the bed, I decided to create a decent sized zone with rich compost for the young squash to grow in. I started by creating a hole down almost to the soil level.

Next, I filled it up with coarse (but quality) vermicompost from my wooden backyard worm bin.

For kicks and giggles I decided to try mixing in some of my new rock dust as well.

Then I simply planted each squash, topping up with more compost for good measure.

It looked as though there were plenty of worms down below in the bed when I was excavating the planting holes so I think that’s a pretty good sign! I will start adding some more food wastes (likely in the middle) now that the plants are in so they have a nice rich zone to draw nutrients from once they get bigger (and their root system is more extensive).

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Fun with Rock Dust

It’s weird – for whatever reason, as of late I seem to be connecting with a variety of really interesting people and being presented with unexpected opportunities! This past Friday was a prime example.

Back in February I received an email from Klaas Baan of Agricultural Mineral Prospectors Inc (AMP), asking if I might be interested in testing a refined agro-mineral product his company sells. It sounded reasonably interesting, but for some reason I had it in my mind that it was a coarse gravel, with limited potential for anything composting related (I thought maybe I could test it out as a vermiponics growing medium) – looking back at our first exchange now I see that it was simply a matter of me not reading closely enough (DOH!).

Well, a few months went by with no further communication with Klaas and, as per usual, I completely forgot about it – until this week when he sent me an email asking if I was still interested in testing the material out. Long-story-short we set up a meeting time on Friday and he drove to my place for the drop-off and chat.

The material in question is called “Spanish River Carbonatite” (links to AMP website), and it’s a calcium-rich mineral mix of ancient volcanic origin. Not only is it not a “gravel” – screening leaves a very fine particulate matter (first picture below) – but they’ve even micronized it (the material in the second picture below) to greatly reduce the particle size (on par with the size of bacteria if I remember correctly).

Once I saw how fine even the unrefined product was, and learned about the various agricultural/composting applications it’s been used in, my head started to spin with possibilities! For quite some time I’ve been meaning to see if I could track down some “rock dust” to test as a worm bed conditioner (alternative to ag lime) and compost tea additive – so this stuff certainly fits the bill with flying colors (especially considering the impressive suite of plant nutrients and micronutrients it contains). Vermicompost is pretty impressive in its own right, but I have a sneaking suspicion it will be even more potent with some rock dust mixed in!

Here are some things I want to test out:

1) Effect of rock dusts on worm growth/reproduction
2) Effect of rock dusts on composting process in general (does it help speed it up? slow it down? no effect?)
3) Effect of rock dusts on plant growth – I’ll be testing it out in my gardening efforts this year, but I have plans for some actual experiments. I’m interested to compare growth in: 1) potting soil 2) vermicompost and potting soil 3) rock dust and potting soil 4) vermicompost and rock dust in potting soil and 5) solely vermicompost.

I also want to add some of the micronized dust to compost teas and test these out as well!

So much to test, so little time! Haha

Whatever I end up doing – rest assured, I’ll keep everyone posted!

If you want to learn more about the benefits of using rock dust and other agro-mineral products, apart from checking out the AMP website (linked above), be sure to spend some time on Remineralize The Earth.

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