Tips, tricks, and gardening misadventures with the Renaissance Caveman. I try to grow as much as I can with little to no chemical enhancements.

How to Prevent Fruit Flies in Your Worm Bins

Preventing Fruit Flies in Your Worm Bins

Well howdy, fellow worm farmers! I’ve been a worm rancher for a few years now. They’re great for fishing. They’re good for your garden. And they tear into kitchen scraps like a pack of wild hogs.  Very tiny, very numerous, wild hogs. But worm bins can develop problems.

One problem that creeps up from time-to-time in the life of a worm farmer is fruit flies. If you keep your bins outdoors flies are no big deal, but if you keep them inside they can beproblematic. Here’s how to prevent and eliminate fruit fly infestation in your work bins.

Add a digestible bedding material to the top of your bins! I like to use sawdust or shredded paper, as I have both in abundance. You can use pieces of cardboard to the same affect. What I do is fill a five-gallon bucket halfway with bedding material. Then I start adding water, and mix until the material is soft and fully saturated.  I cover the top of the bin with about a half inch of bedding material.  Fruit flies won’t dig for their food, so this layer will discourage them from making your worm farm their forever-home, laying eggs, and making your worm bins the family estate. Over time your worms will eat the bedding, turning more trash into black gold for your garden.

Bonus Tip: Already have flies in your worm bins?  Not to worry! Grab your Shop-Vac and go to town.  You can easily suck up the majority of your fruit flies by popping open the kid of your bin and sucking them up in mid-air.

How to Save Kale Seeds Featured Image

How to Save Kale Seeds

 

Kale is a biennial green-leafed plant that has come to be known as a modern super food both for it’s nutritional properties, it’s hardiness, and ease of growth.  It’s also a plant that’s easy to propagate year-after-year by saving kale seeds, and it takes very little time.

Step 1: Grow Kale!

It’s hard to save kale seeds if you don’t have plants.

Grow some kale. Alternatively you can befriend another gardener that already grows kale and–once you’ve lured them into a false sense of security–chloroform them, huck their body into a wood chipper, them assume their identity and ownership of their kale plants. Mwahahaha!

Don’t be shy about harvesting leaves from the plant throughout the growing season, but as you approach the fall season select the plants you feel had the best production, and let them run wild and “go to seed.”

Step 2: Collect the Pods

As your kale matures it will form pods called siliques: structures that holds the seed until they  become viable. That’s fancy-talk for “capable of growing a new plant.” At the end of the season the pods become brittle and eventually break open, allowing the the seeds to escape and find a new space to grow in.

The pods are ready to remove after they’ve become brown, dry, and brittle but before they’ve cracked open and lost their seeds.  Basically if the pods are still green it’s too early, but if the pods no longer exist it’s too late.

When the seeds are ready to harvest, just snip them off with scissors or shears and catch them in a bowl as you go.

Step 3: Separate the Seeds from the Chaff

We need to separate the seeds from the chaff, or seed casings. There are a lot of ways to do this step, but I’ve found that winnowing works very with kale seeds.

Crush the Pods

First locate a pillowcase, an old sheet, or any other thin cloth. Dump the pods you collected into the center of the cloth and fold it in half.

Next you need to crush the pods, and there are a lot of ways you can do this.  You can use a rolling pin, a wine bottle, or anything else round and heavy and just roll it over the pods until the crushing sound stops being so obvious.  You can also just walk back and forth over the cloth full of pods and eventually achieve the same result.

Winnow the Seeds

Winnowing is the process of blowing air over across the seeds to separate them from chaff.  It works because the chaff is larger and easily caught by the air, while the seeds are too small and aerodynamic for a light breeze to have much affect.

Move your crushed-up pods from the cloth into a bowl. Shake the bowl in a circular motion. The seeds will naturally start to separate to the bottom. As you shake the bowl, blow a light current of air into it. Start very lightly and gradually increase the air pressure until the broken pods begin to take flight and leave the bowl.  Eventually you’ll be left with what is almost entirely kale seeds!

Step 4: Cleaning and Storage

You can clean your kale seeds but it’s not necessary.  If you’re concerned you might also be saving garden germs or plant viruses from year-to-year, soak your seeds for about 20 minutes in 120 degree water. You’ll probably render some of your seeds no longer viable, but you’ll also kill off most of the  nasties that could be clinging to them.

Once your seeds are dry, store them in an air-tight glass or plastic container and save them in the freezer until next year. I like to label a paper envelope, put the seeds within it, and then put the envelope in an air and water-tight plastic container.

 

Propagating Raspberries, Part 1: Digging out Suckers

If there’s one thing I love, it’s cheeseburgers.  But if there are two things I love, it’s cheeseburgers and fresh fruit! I can’t raise cows in town, but the good news is I’m pretty sure I can grow raspberries.  And if I can’t well… who wants to live in town anyway?

Last year I planted raspberries around one of the sides of my picket fence.  They’ve really taken off and the fence looks great covered in vegetation, so I’d like to extend that look around the rest of it, but I’d like to propagate the plants that I already have rather than drop a bunch of cash at a nursery. I did some research, and I found that there are a number of ways to grow/popagate/duplicate your raspberry plants, and today we’re going to talk about the easiest of those options.

Propagating Raspberries

Propagating raspberries can be accomplished a number of ways .  If you’ve got the patience of a saint, it’s possible to propagate raspberries from seed. But those of us with things like jobs who just want to nosh on some fruit need a better way. So let’s talk about suckers.

There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute

Well, if there were, we’d be eating a lot more raspberries.  A sucker is a shoot that grows from the base of a plant.  Raspberries propagate just fine on their own by sending out suckers a few inches or more from the base.

So let the plant do the work for you! The simplest and least labor intensive way to grow more raspberry plants is to either let the suckers mature into fruit-bearing plants, or dig them up and plant them in a more desirable location. Just be sure to include enough root to get them started in their new home!

Smashing Pumpkins

Living with Garden Vandalism

Living in town definitely poses some gardening challenges.  You run into space constraints.  You have to get creative about doing it in a way that doesn’t annoy the neighbors and of course, you’ll have to deal with pests of the upright hominid variety. In the past week someone stole and smashed all but one of the pumpkins in my garden, winning them the award for Most Destructive Garden Pest of 2014. Garden vandalism stinks.  It’s pointless destruction. It’s not funny, and if you’re friends think it’s funny you need better friends with better senses of humor.

I’m pretty livid but I’m doing my best to stay positive.  I collected one of the smashed pumpkins from the alley behind my house and I’m offering seeds to anyone in town who wants to grow them next year.  I’m sure it sounds silly given the cost of pumpkins or even your own retail pumpkin seeds, but this is the best idea I can come up with to keep the bastards from getting me down.

A Lesson About Growing Plants from Seeds

Last summer I saved seeds from just about every fruit or vegetable that crossed my path. I have grape seeds, peach seeds, okra seeds, five different varieties of peppers, long-necked pumpkins, cucumbers, and snow peas just to name a few.

The past month I decided to get them started in the house so they’re ready to transplant when Pennsylvania’s unpredictable seasons finally decide it’s time for warms.  The hard lesson I’ve learned is this: patience!

It seems so obvious.  But just when I was ready to give up on my grapes and peaches, I began to see sprouts fighting to the surface.  Some I had already given up on and used the container to start some store-bought seeds, but right now I have three grapes and two peach trees looking very, very promising.

The One-Straw Revolution

It’s fair to say that I don’t know what Amazon was thinking when it recommended I read The One-Straw Revolution.  I bought a beginner’s book on gardening once and some biodegradable dog poop bags, and I can only assume that from those purchases the Almighty Amazon Marketing Algorithm labeled me a militant environmentalist Hell-bent on removing the influence of science from that greasy mess I shove down my gullet on a daily basis.  I am not.  But I’m glad it assumed I was.

That's what we call "breakfast" around these parts.

That’s what we call “breakfast” around these parts.

Background

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is a manifesto on farming, not a guide.  Fukuoka was educated as a biologist and worked as an agricultural customs inspector for several years.  During his brief government career he witnessed one of the tragic failings of man which Mark Twain described as thus:

Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.

Fukuoka -san watched as experts kept searching for scientific solutions to problems created by other scientists, the farming industry, and the whims of consumers.  But it wasn’t until he experienced a philosophical awakening after a bout with pneumonia that he returned to the orchards from whence he came.

I suppose in the 1940’s that pneumonia was a more serious deal than it is today, and this is where Fukuoka’s story gets a bit “emo.” His hospital stay left him in a depression and facing serious metaphysical questions.  He eventually concluded that

Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything at all, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort.

Truly inspiring words from a man who went on to write a passionate book meant to spark a food revolution, right? (He actually jokes about it in the final chapter.) This realization led him to leave his career and return to the family orange grove where he began to experiment with what he would call “Do-Nothing Farming.”

Fukuoka's little-known Nihilism and marmut-farming stage.

Fukuoka’s little-known Nihilism and marmut-farming stage.

Do-Nothing Farming

Fukuoka began to experiment with “doing less” with his trees and vegetables and more with his awesome facial hair.  This process often led to failure but what he soon discovered was that his failures were caused by the damage done to the land by modern agriculture.

He soon realized that Mother Earth, much like Daryl Hanna,  was doing just fine before science came around and thought he could improve her. Once the soil is farmed using modern methods that include chemical fertilizers and herbicides, the land becomes dependent on them.  But once the soil returns to it’s natural state crops grow just fine with very little help from mankind.

Do-Nothing Farming isn’t about being lazy:  It’s about approaching agriculture in a way that works with nature instead of relentlessly trying to tame her. He used no fertilizer, no herbicides, very little compost, yet continually produced rice yields that compared with the rest of the farms in his area.

Fukuoka gives plenty of specific advice about his farming methods: plant summer and winter crops, utilize cover crops, cover the fields with the straw leftover from your crops to protect the seeds and replenish nutrients.  His instructions are pretty specific to Japanese agriculture but I’m excited to research and adapt them to my own gardening here in Pennsylvania.

100% FDA Approved, Organically-Grown Face Forest

100% FDA Approved, Organically-Grown Face Forest

Modern Agriculture: It’s the Consumer’s Fault

Much of this book is philosophical in nature, and considerable effort is spent discussing what good food actually is. (Depending on my mood it’s either food from my garden or a #13 from McDonalds)  Fukuoka’s definition is, loosely translated,  food you can enjoy eating which keeps you healthy without having to think too hard about it.  Basically he means local, in-season, organically grown food, and if you have to obsess over nutrition too much you’re probably doing it wrong.

The problem is that this isn’t what the consumer wants.  Like Hollywood has sold a false ideal of female beauty, so we’ve also been sold a false idea of what good food looks like.

The FDA tells us we need specific amounts of specific food groups ( these amounts often vary based on which agricultural lobby is throwing the most money around).  We think our foods have to be the perfect color, the perfect size, and the perfect texture. On top of all that, we want the perfect produce even when it’s not in-season. Consumers demand these qualities that don’t occur naturally, and if farmers want to sell their produce they’ll have to use unnatural methods to attain them.

Furthermore organically-grown produce is sold at a premium whether the growing process warrants it or not, pricing it right out of the hands of working men and women who need it the most.

consumer_whore

A Problem in Need of a Solution

I have one issue with Fukuoka’s philosophy of farming: in order for “Do-Nothing” farming to succeed on a global scale, society would have to change in a big way.  His ideas work in a world where the farmer grows for himself and sells to the local village.  On this scale the farmer can produce high yields in a natural way and still have leisure time leftover. However reality tells us that 9 out of 10 people world-wide depend on others to grow their food because they busy themselves with what Fukouka sees as meaningless human industry.  While I don’t necessarily disagree with him, those billions of people that would either starve to death or give up the convenience of modern living to pursue subsistence farming might.

Summary

What I loved most about The One-Straw Revolution is that it was philosophical in nature, but unlike so much philosophy it had energy, passion, and a goal driving every word. The author’s direct, common-sense approach to natural farming was refreshing in a world filled with the false hopes of science and technology making our lives simpler.

Use a vise grips to make quick work of peach pits.

How to Remove Seeds from Peach Pits

In the words of Nicholas Cage, I could eat a peach for hours.  But unlike that dirty pervert Nick Cage I’m talking about fruit. So it seems logical that Mr. Cheapskate Do It Yourself Caveman might want a couple of peach trees some day.  Last night after cutting up peaches at my girlfriend’s parents house I saved the pits, cleaned them, and brought them home to get them started.  Peach pits don’t crack easily with a nutcracker. A hammer certainly works but you risk breaking the seed too.  I found the easiest way to remove the seed from the peach pit is to use a s grips, and I provided a little video below.

Bokashi Anaerobic Composting, Part 1

Earlier tonight I was perusing an issue of The New Pioneer and ran into an article about manure and the role it plays in composting.  This article led me to a movement (ha! a cleverly disguised pooh joke!) from Great Falls, Montana called Gardens from Garbage which uses anaerobic composting to turn food waste from local schools and restaurants into compost used to grow food and feed those in need.

Monsturd: Awful Straight-to-DVD Horror, or Composting Tutorial?

Monsturd: Awful Straight-to-DVD Horror, or Composting Tutorial?

The anaerobic compost process, called Bokashi, has existed for centuries but a Dr. Teruo Higa improved on the process in the mid-eighties .  Do not under any circumstances confuse Bokashi with a similar-sounding Japanese sex act.  One will turn your kitchen waste into plant food.  The other will have your wife turning you into plant food when she stumbles upon your Internet history. But I digress.

I’m new to this process, but from what I gather Bokashi composting involves creating a mixture full of helpful microorganisms and binders that you sprinkle on top of successive layers of organic waste you add to your composting container.  The process is well-suited to town-dwellers like me because you don’t need much space and, because your compost isn’t breaking down the same way it would in more tradition composting methods, it doesn’t offend the neighbor’s nose-holes.

You can find the Bokashi formula online.  It begins with something called EM, also known as  Effective Microorganisms. EM contains microbes that will help break down your waste.  Apparently this concoction is not in the public domain, but you can still find it on several websites, or you can make life easy and just buy it online. But we don’t do this stuff because we like easy, do we?

You create the Bokashi mixture by combining EM, water, molasses, and some sort of “carbon-based binder.”  Most videos and instructions are recommending wheat bran, but I’m also seeing reports of success using sawdust.

As you can see below I began making my EM and provided a few pictures of the first part of the process (I’ll post more as they come). I just purchased a bottle of the official product as well.  When it arrives and my mixture is complete I’m going to make identical batches of Bokashi and see which one prevails. I’ll post a video of the results.

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