Category Archives: Experiments

Expenses, Other Drawbacks, Attempts at Solutions

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Expenses

Today I realized I’ve spent ~$105 on start-up stuff. I didn’t keep the receipts (going to start doing that), but here’s what I have so far:

  • 1lb European earthworms
  • spinach seeds
  • garden bean seeds
  • summer squash seeds
  • cabbage seeds
  • lettuce seeds
  • pea seeds
  • parsley seeds
  • cilantro seeds
  • oregano seeds
  • basil seeds
  • a small-well flat-sized planter set up
  • 2 medium-well planter set-ups
  • 2-ten inch diameter pots
  • 1-fourteen inch pot
  • starter soil
  • potting soil
  • liquid fertilizer

The soil alone has cost $10 so far and the pots have come out to be about $20.

Main Drawbacks and Possible Solutions

  • The cost of starter soil. I can’t find starter soil in anything larger than a small bag for $3. This is not feasible in the long term. One bag starts about 36 plants, which will be transferred into larger pots. This means that the soil cannot be used for starting again. To solve this problem, I’m going to experiment with making starter soil from potting soil and worm castings.
  • The price of pots. The starter pots aren’t that bad in terms of how many plants you can produce for the price, considering they are reusable. However, the larger growing containers are too expensive for a very low-income person to be able to budget for. I think the only solution here is going to be to find junk parts and figure out how to create planters that don’t drip all over the living room and meet the vegetable’s needs.
Update 4/8/2012: Okay, the solution is shown above- reuse old yogurt containers and any type of container you buy from the store (the lids can be put underneath to collect excess water.) Old baking sheets can also be used under the plants. Instead of transplanting into the store-bought containers I showed, you can transplant into plastic cups bought in bulk with holes cup into the bottom. For larger plants, you can turn old storage crates into garden beds by hammering holes into the bottom with nails and putting the container lid underneath to collect water. I will get a better picture of this and post it below when I transplant the lettuce into their largest container. You can also use a regular box with a garbage bag liner with holes poked in it for a couple plantings. When the box starts falling apart, you can transfer the liner into another box and use the worn one for worm food.
  • Space. I knew this was going to be a problem. I cannot, realistically, grow 15 heads of lettuce at once in my living room if I use normal planting methods because I wont have room for anything else. I *think* the solution to this is to plant multiple things per container; to go for a total soil-cover instead of, say, just having a pot of garlic by itself. Instead, I’ll have garlic and herbs. I’ll grow cabbage surrounded by carrots. THIS is where experience is going to come into play. I have to figure out what can be grown with what to maximize soil space
  • The cost of starting a “fertilizer maker” (worm bin). After researching the issue of worm purchase and maintenence expenses, I’ve concluded that this actually should be counted as a capital investment , rather than an expense.  It turns out that the European Nightcrawler is a relatively new species with a previously unseen combination of attractive traits. It’s the hardiest worm used for composting, a prolific breeder, consumes the most food per worm, and reaches large sizes desirable for a bait worm. I will be able to sell the worm castings and the worms to a public that’s never even heard of this species. This investment alone may pay back more than I’ve spent on the entire operation so far. One pound of these worms is currently selling for a minimum of $20 over the internet. Locally, no one near me is breeding these worms and those that do breed other species are selling them for $40/lb. These same people are selling worm tea for $14 per quart. They should prepare to be put out of business.
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Worms for Making Your Own Compost

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Much thanks to The Soulsby Farm for offering a free tutorial about how to start a worm farm! I was wondering how I would afford enough fertilizer to keep a year-round, complete, indoor vegetable garden running. In the last day, I’ve spent a great deal of time researching worm tea and discovered that youtube is a wonderful resource for how-to information about making it .

Worm tea is a concoction made from worm castings. These are obtained via a type of composing where worms digest your food/paper scraps and essentially convert them into fertilizer/amazing soil. You can order worms online or obtain them from a local dealer. Unfortunately, those near me want to rip my arm and possibly a leg off with their prices. My next project: grow worms and sell them for prices that put these suckers out of business.

I ordered mine from this site and I decided to buy the European Nightcrawler as opposed to the more common Redworm. The reason for this is that my family enjoys fishing and the red worm is a bit too small and fragile to conveniently double as our bate. European Nightcrawlers are the larger cousin of the red worm and thus perform just as well for composting purposes while also being the most hardy and conveniently sized bait worm. In addition, they can be sold to local pet owners as live food.

After reading and watching a lot of good advice about worm composting, I became extremely curious about the validity of their claims about worm tea being the best fertilizer available. I am not the touchy-feely-tree-hugging-earth-lover type who immediately becomes enamored with every “natural” idea and believes everything anyone says about it. I want to test these claims. Hopefully, they are true, as that would save me a ton of money.

So, upon establishing a good colony of “fertilizer makers”, I’m going to start an experiment comparing the growth rates of plants provided just water (which will be left out overnight to let the flourine evaporate), plants provided a common store-bought fertilizer, and those given compost tea + the scraps from the bottom of the tea jug. I will start the same type of seeds from the same supplier in the same container types and measure their weekly growth  (both height, width, and largest leaf size). All of the plants will be rotated daily so differing amounts of light are not a factor.

I will compare the growth rates of 50 plants of each group (150 total) from planting to maturity, calculate the means (averages) for each group, and run a t-test to see if there are any statistically significant differences between the groups. This way, when I tell you that worm tea is the best, I will have actual data to back it up!

Update: I thought this video was pretty amazing!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEwB23uhBGY&feature=related