25 February 2012

Urban Farm Handbook Challenge - Soil Building

Sustainable Eats' first Urban Farm Handbook Challenge is soil building, and it's a three-part challenge.

Step one is to plan for compost. I already had a backyard bin, so I decided to investigate how it was doing. Previously, I had been composting in 5-gallon buckets, but last year I "splurged" on a $40 compost bin.  It ain't pretty, but it's 9 sq. ft., which is the minimum space needed for hot composting, although I suspect the bin may need to be a bit bigger to really do its thing. I've been adding vegetable scraps, dried leaves, shredded newspaper, and spent potting soil to the pile. Since I'm currently taking a woodworking class, I also have access to sawdust. Living in the city means I don't have an abundant source of carbon materials (with the exception of newspaper), but nitrogen-rich materials are never a problem. I don't bother shredding the few leaves I do get or cutting up my food scraps. This means everything will take a bit longer to compost, but it will do so all the same.  When I finally turned the pile (which was long overdue), I was thrilled to see lots of rich, dark compost and that numerous fat worms have made their way inside. I think I'll be able to use quite a bit of the compost in my garden beds this spring.
outdoor compost bin with fresh sawdust 

Compost after turning - can you see the fat, happy worms?

I must admit, I haven't gotten to step 2 of the challenge: buy fertilizer in bulk or make your own. I'm terrible with fertilizer - meaning I tend to neglect it.  I use lots of compost and also worm castings, and my plants seem to do ok. I know this is not good gardening practice, and I occasionally supplement with an organic fertilizer from Dr. Earth. I don't have anything growing yet, but I do plan to fertilize more often this year, especially after reading the comments section. Who knows, I may get an abundance of tomatoes because of it!

The third part of the soil building challenge is to build a worm bin. Again, I got off easy because I already have a worm bin, though I bought it rather than building it. I started out with a large tub, but last year I made another splurge (this time, it really was a splurge) on a stackable bin. It was pricey but well worth it, since it makes harvesting so much easier. I harvested the first castings this weekend, and got 7 quarts out of one tray. Not bad! 
Harvesting bottom tray of worm bin.  A lot of the egg shells, but they'll decompose eventually, so I don't mind.

An expensive investment, but well worth it. 7 quart-size bags of castings harvested from 1 tray!

06 February 2012

I'm taking the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge


When Sustainable Eats posted the above challenge, I knew I had to sign on. I have several reasons. First, this will be the first full growing season at Landlocked Farm, a former parking lot soon-to-be urban farm. Second, I'm trying to transform my small backyard into a flower and food garden. Third, I want to become as self-reliant as possible, and this challenge will be a great motivation.

So, stay tuned!