Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Urban Homestead Project

The BF and I have been on this projects kick as the weather starts to get warmer. Mainly we've focused on projects that fall into the realm of the recently hip Urban Homesteading craze. In general this movement involves growing more of your own food, keeping small livestock, finding creative ways to reduce waste, and adding back where civilization has done nothing but take for so long.

Like any movement there are the conservatives and the radicals when it comes to trying to make a change. There are more radical aspects of this that I'm not so interested in: Kombucha Mushroom Tea for health (may make you really sick if you do it wrong and reportedly tastes awful), and yes Humanure (No. Effing. Way. Ever.)

Still, there are quite a few things that I am willing to try. Container gardening , for instance. It's true, I was completely and utterly way too excited about buying plants in March, and some of them have not fared so well. I've been bringing them inside when the temperature dips below 50 degrees, and it's worked...somewhat. So far, lost the basil, then the dill, then thyme, and finally one of the lavender plants. The tomato, mint, sage, parsley, chives, and oregano are still kicking though.

I've also worked on sprouting some native wildflowers to plant as groundcover in some areas where the grass is thin on the edges of the yard to prevent soil erosion, and help out the birds and bugs. They're doing ok so far, the tiny green shoots reaching up toward the sunny window I've placed them next to.

The best, and craziest, so far though: vermicomposting. Simplified, you come up with a 2 cubic foot container (I'm using a rubbermaid bin), fill it about half way with damp bedding (plain newsprint, leaves, hay, peat moss, etc), create some ventilation (I drilled some 1/4" holes in the sides of my bin and added a drain to the bottom), toss in some Red Wigglers (yep, worms) and let them go to town on your kitchen scraps.

To keep the worms and the bin healthy and not smelly, you want to refrain from using fats, oils, bones, meats, citrus (too acidic) and cheese. The worms love veggie and fruit pieces and peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds, and tea bags. If kept up appropriately (using only plant based food, odor absorbing bedding, and not overfeeding) the bin can easily be kept indoors with no gross smells. In fact, this is ideal as the worms thrive between temperatures of 50 and 80 degrees F. The benefit of this is that you reduce the amount of waste you're sending to the landfill, and in just a couple of months when the worms have munched through your scraps, you've got nutrient rich compost for your plants.

So far my vermicomposting venture has gone well. I used dampened, shredded newspaper and dampened peat moss as bedding. The worms arrived in the mail and I poured them into the bin, letting them rest for the first evening. It was fairly creepy seeing this big pile of wiggling worms laying on top of all the bedding, but soon they'd made their way down into it, and I put the lid on for the night. The next day I added about a cup of old lettuce I had in the fridge, burying it under the bedding.

The thing I was not expecting: worm escapees. When I went to check on them the next morning I discovered worms hanging outside the bin, worms crawling out from under the carefully closed lid, worms on the ground around the bin, worms emerging from the carefully drilled ventilation holes. Umm...I stared dumfounded for a few seconds. Worms don't particularly gross me out, but the thought of scooping about twenty writhing, damp worms off the floor at 6:30am in my bathrobe wasn't exactly pleasant. Again, that night I checked, and more marauding worms. The next morning I decided to add some apple scraps, thinking that I wouldn't want to survive solely on wilted lettuce either. I brainstormed all kinds of ideas to keep the worms inside the bin: screen over the holes, weatherstripping around the lid of the bin, but magically the apples seemed to do the trick.

I'm one week in today. I've been checking every so often for the last few days and they seem to be pretty happy. No more runaways, no nasty smells, and I feel like I'm doing something good. I may even be better about eating my fruits and vegetables so I've got the leftovers for worm food.

Crazy? Possibly. Bored? Probably. Wanting to think that even in small ways I'm making my little corner of the city better? Definitely.

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