FECO Water Conservation Grant – Step One

January 21, 201820171231_sm-the-lift-3-step-two-all-161258_hdr

Our newest cistern is in place, poised to capture 1,000 gallons of water every winter. A volunteer found it used on Craig’s List and donated it to FECO.

On the last day of 2017, nine volunteers worked 2.5 hours to set a bamboo structure in place and to build and attach a 6′ x 10′ roof over the bamboo.

171219-sm-jeff-bamboo-wp_20171209_002The bamboo structure had been preassembled by Jeff. He called it advanced fort building. We had previously cut the bamboo from the yard of Judy Scheinuk, a member of the Seattle Tree Fruit Society. She was delighted to have her bamboo thinned.

The roof is located to the side of the cistern and serves a dual purpose; it not only captures water for the cistern but also keeps organic materials (waiting to be composted) dry so microbial decomposition is minimized.

By early summer, we should have all three cisterns full, even though the new cistern missed the fall rain. Nancy did some number crunching, with the knowledge that we catch more rain each winter than can fit the in two older cisterns. She figures we can play catch-up by stealing 500 gallons from the two older cisterns and transfering that water now to the new one.final-sm-crop-plumbing-wp_20180105_001

But, how to transfer the water? Stay tuned for Step 2 – installation of our new treadle pump.

Sat, Feb 17, 1-3, Pruning Class
Sun, Feb 18, 2-4, Work Party
Sun, Mar 18, 2-4, Work Party
Sun, Apr 15, 2-4, Work Party

FECO is the recent recipient of a third City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Matching Grant, related to water conservation and experimental watering methods. We need to volunteers to work 300 hours and the City will match with $10,000 toward our expenses.

We have three goals for the water conservation grant: 1) to use less or no City water, 2) to improve our system so we spend less time watering, and 3) make watering an easier task physically.

Ruth

Good Soil Biology – The Perfect Recipe For Plants

December 19, 2017sm-171119-big-nema-400x-worm-bin-tc_7

It’s time to honor our important volunteers who live in the soil – the nematodes, protozoa, microarthropods, fungi and bacteria. All these fellows work tirelessly underground, decomposing organic matter and pooping out the nutrients in the form that plants can use.

In fact, organic matter is the only food we have supplied for the orchard trees and shrubs over the last six years. And, now that we are using the thermal compost process (see Nov. 2017 blog), we will be regularly cooking up tasty treats our plants enjoy.

rc-plant-succession-slide-elaine-ingham-life-in-the-soil-oxford-keynote-2014Plants put out sugars in their root zones to attract the critters they most desire. Early succession plants, like weeds, desire soil with more bacteria (see Ingham slide). Late succession plants, such as deciduous and conifer trees, prefer fungal dominated soils.

When we make our compost, the types of inputs we use will determine whether the compost will also be bacterial or fungal dominated.

How do we test the characteristics of our compost? We can put the finished product under the microscope and actually count how many bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes we have and then convert the counts to biomass.

Sun, Dec 31, 2-4, Roof Work Party
Sun, Jan 21, 2-4, Work Party
Sat, Feb 17, 1-3, Pruning Class

Dr Elaine Ingham offers very accessible online classes in soil biology, making compost, compost tea the-soil-food-web-nrcs142p2_049822and using microscopes to test soil life. She discounts classes at various times of the year. If you take these classes, you will learn how to be a good land steward (see Ingham’s soil food web slide).

You won’t remember but, when seed plants arrived over 360 million years ago, good soil biology was already in place. Plants know what they need from the soil and how to get it. We can all play a part to improve soil quality by minimizing soil compaction and avoiding use of inorganic fertilizers. The importance of soil is the subject of this recent article from the New York Times.

Ruth

Hot! Hot! Hot!

November 6, 2017

Last week, three of us poured our energy into designing a proper thermal compost pile. Today was the critical third day after the initial turning of the pile. Did the center stay above 131 degrees F? Drum roll. Both thermometers read 155. We did it!

A proper thermal compost includes the following procedures:

All parts of the compost must have adequate moisture and reach threshold temperatures,
either:
160 F for one day
150 F for two days, or
131 F for three days.

These temperature requirements are necessary to kill human and plant pathogens, insect pests, and weed seeds. If your pile does not heat up or, it does not heat after turning, the problem is often due to lack of nitrogen in the recipe and/or the pile cooling down too much from turning.

During our first try last May, the pile did not heat up enough after we laboriously turned the insides to the outsides and the outside materials to the inside with garden forks. What an effort. No wonder no one turns a compost pile.

the-turn-w-steam-20171103_091219_hdrWe came up with a new trick this time and it worked. Welcome to the stage … mesh onion bags!

Kate and Ruth carefully mixed all of the ingredients and then stuffed them in the red bags. The bags that would be in the hot center of the pile were laid inside the chicken wire frame standing straight up. In contrast, the other half of the bags, those that filled the cooler perimeter, were laid in horizontally. From the bag orientation, we could tell which compost had been in the hot center and which had not.

Sun, Nov 19, 2-4, Work Party
Sun, Dec 17, 2-4, Work Party
Sun, Jan 21, 2-4, Work Party

The center bags heated up in no time and remained at 150 F for two days. Time to turn the pile. All the bags surrounding those hot bags went to the middle of the pile and the hot bags came out to surround those new center bags. The turn took two volunteers 10 minutes and was not the least bit backbreaking.

What we accomplished:watering-after-turn-sm-20171103_091801_hdr
1) the surety that all parts of the compost heated up adequately,
2) only one turn was necessary, and
3) anyone could help turn the compost pile without needing to be strong as an ox.

The whole process took seven days. Now the pile will cool to ambient temperature and evolve over the next several months. We will make good use of the finished compost next spring.

tarp-is-last-sm-20171103_092558_hdrHow can we improve upon our new idea? We would like to work with bags made from natural material instead of polypropylene. Let us know if you have an idea.

Ruth