Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Good Day Ruined

The other day was one of ups and downs. The first good thing to happen to me was commencement on a project that I had been putting off for quite some time. I am building a work bench. Sounds simple but it has proven not so. Most of the difficulty comes from the importance of the project; once I get the work bench built, then I can effectively use my planer and router, allowing me to build my gates to the south courtyard. Once the gates are built, it will be winter so I can focus on making and eventually installing my recycled pine flooring. I determined that I can work on the bench in the morning before I go to work. The garage is far enough away from sleeping quarters that the noise won't disturb the sleeping members of my family. But I digress.
So I got to the compost site feeling satisfied with a good mornings' work already. I haven't figured out how to work in the morning on the building projects and still keep up with work on the garden but I wasn't letting that bother me just then.
A good cup of coffee and an extra spirited future planning meeting at the office bode well for the day.
I should have known things were brewing, but we never do, do we?
"The boys" showed up to work. On their way in they had hit a hawk by car. Evidently the bird swooped down in front of the vehicle leaving no time to avoid it. It was a beautiful bird, one that we had all watched grow up with his siblings over the last couple of years.
Then, we decided that Misch should do some meet-and-greets while the weather was hot and business was slow. So we plotted his route and sent him on his way. (With some trepidation, I might add. Everytime Misch leaves, some piece of equipment goes on the fritz.) Without much phone traffic in the office, and the computer tied up, I decided to tour the ditch that borders our property. We battle thieves down here routinely and like to monitor suspicious activity when we can. Driving down the ditch, I noticed some large tractor tires, used to build up the ditch bankas a barrier, had been moved to create a passageway for a small vehicle. It looked like there were tire tracks going into the yard. I determined which company was affected and went over to notify them. (As a side note: have you ever noticed the reaction of people when confronted with someone that wants nothing from them, just to help them out, unasked?)Once they realized I wasn't trying to sell them land in Florida, they were very appreciative and had the breach repaired by the end of the day.
But by the time I got half way down the return road, things started to unravel.
I got a call from the office asking about a commercial tipper; what's their billing routine, etc. I thought they were a reliable customer, and explained it as such, but by the time I pulled in they had tipped and gone with out payment. The driver was not able to communicate with our office, so we were left holding the bag until I track down someone with authorization to pay.
While dealing with that, Phillip comes into the office to state that the our delivery truck is broken. "What do you mean broken?" I ask. Apparently, they broke the clutch (or the transmission, or the axle) trying to pull a full load out of the loading pit.
Within the following hour, our water pump quit. Just stopped. It had been leaking oil and we've had issues with the pull-cord but we could always nurse it back to operational. Not so today.
Before noon that day, we were completely incapacitated, dead in the water. Without our screen (down for regularly scheduled maintenance) we can't process product for sale. Without our delivery truck we can't deliver our products. Without our pump, we can't make product.
I like to say that in the compost business, if it gets done in six month, it is fast-tracked. Small hiccups here and ther are not really a problem in the long term scheme of things. If we can't get to it today, then we'll find something else to do and get back at it next week. Equipment fails, that's a fact of materials production. But there is something unnerving about being stopped suddenly on so many fronts.
So we all had a long lunch and will look forward to a better week forthcoming.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Garden Pests du Jour

Here are a couple of little guys currently in my garden.

Quite lovely really.

This one was resting in the tomatoes one morning (look closely). I left him because I was hunting a much bigger critter, i.e.,...

Then there are these creepy crawlers. They are very similar to the squash bugs: same shape, size, and ability to reproduce alarmingly quickly. They are on the Brussel Sprouts, though, and do not kill the plant nor ruin the fruit.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Devil Wears Green

The last couple of years I have been having problems with my tomatoes; no wilt or other viruses, just poor growth and minimal fruit. It was bad enough that this year I decided not to grow any tomatoes (all the neighbors grow them anyway and always have enough to share). But my child brought home a bunch of seedlings grown in a Dixie cup for a class project. As I am a sucker for any plants, I could not let them wither no matter that decision. We planted them and, lo and behold, about three took root. This crop has been big, lush, and setting fruit like crazy. Tomatoes seem to be the bell weather for a garden and I was watching them anxiously. Yesterday afternoon I decided the first cherry tomatoes were ready to pick.

So this morning out I go with my coffee and dogs as companions. The air was cool, the ground dewy--perfect for a ceremonial harvest. You can probably see what's coming; the top half of the bushes were completely defoliated! I've seen this before. I expect it in fact. Tomato Horn Worm. Able to strip a plant in a single day. The only caterpillar to eat so voraciously it's audible. Perfectly camouflaged to be nearly invisible.

It is so big and fleshy that it borders the grotesque.

Yet beautiful and almost elegant; apt, as it is the larva of the swallowtail butterfly.

As with all of my garden nemeses, it does have an Achilles heel. I have learned that by following the large black droppings, and by practicing patience and stillness, I can discover them clamped to a branch. This morning I found five resting peacefully. I composted them. And still got my ceremonial harvest.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fun with Recycling-- part 2

Although not nearly as easy to make as the swing set in the previous post, here is a beautiful garden bell made from an used acetylene tank. After cutting off the bottom with a torch, the artist sanded the inside and out. If you look closely, southwestern icons are welded to the outside. A professional powder coat of paint was then applied for durability.

This bell has no clanger; a deep rich tone is achieved by rapping it with a wooden mallet.

This bell is a valuable piece to our garden puzzle, all the more so because the material was diverted from the landfill. We ring ours to summon the kids to dinner, to summon the spirits to tea, to welcome the sun and to bid the day goodbye. We whack it when we're angry, we rub it when we're pensive.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Improvements at the Site

We are always trying to offer our clients a better product. In the early days that meant perfecting our process. Then we had electricity installed. After 13 years we have picked the low hanging fruit and are now able to work on some of the minutiae.

One of the ongoing issues for us is trash. From day one, we have worked to educate people what constitutes contamination. Whether through ignorance or maliciousness, we battle trash every day. Part of the problem comes from our permits: we are registered with the NMED as a composting facility, not a solid wasted facility. Technically, if we accept trash, we are in violation of our permit to operate. But the more realistic reason for curtailing trash is that it presents visual, and to an extent, actual evidence that we don't take the care that we claim to take. And lastly, trash pisses me off. This is my home away from home and to have people not see that and treat the site like a dump bums me out.

So, Misch has been working on a trash vacuum to remove trash from the product as it goes over the screens. The screening process is the last piece of the puzzle for our finished Premium Compost. But screening is the just the beginning for other products: Forest Floor Mulch, Topsoil Blend, Screened Mulch, new piles of Premium Compost, etc.

Basically what we have now is a vacuum, connected on one side to a vent, and on the other side to a cyclone that separates air from trash. The vent side is located below the conveyor so that just as the "overs" shoot off the conveyor, the vacuum sucks the lighter stuff, i.e. plastic, out of the stream. Plastic then goes into the cyclone where air is jettisoned out the top and the captured contaminates drop out the bottom to be disposed of in a conventional fashion.

A very simple concept really. But it has taken aver a year to design and build, countless man- hours and thousands of hard earned dollars. It is one way of reducing our costs so that we don't have to raise our prices. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Lillies in Bloom

Down here at the compost facility, we are near many empty lots, junkyards, equipment yards. There is an former meat packing plant for sale. I drive by it every day and ponder the destination of all the crap that has collected over the years. It depresses me really. So much good stuff once upon a time. But after years of neglect and disuse, it has become unsightly, dangerous, and worthless.

But there is also a lot on the way home that makes me smile. Nine months of the year it looks like all the other lots around here: cluttered, junky, a hodgepodge of dusty disorderliness. Around the end of March somebody starts tilling rows and I get to thinking that it's going to be a vegetable garden. Looking at the place, why would anybody plant anything else but something to eat. About mid May, what looks like corn is sprouting and I nod in recognition. Corn: stable, sure-fire, useful. I am always a little jealous about how high it is so early on.

But in June, it hits me. It never creeps up, it is never subtle, it always hits. This lot is growing daylillies! Row and rows of daylillies. It is so incongruous to me. The blooms aren't harvested as far as I can tell. I 've never seen them at the local farmer's markets.

When I see it enough times to get over that disconnect, it dawns on me: flowers feed the soul like corn feeds the stomach, or some such. I think if I lived in squalor, I would need something beautiful to drag me through each day. Heck, I've got it made and I need something beautiful to drag me through each day!

Insectophile's Dilemma

Here's a dilemma: I was out pulling weeds this morning and came across a ladybug. It was cruising for breakfast on a tumbleweed. Permaculture says quite a few things about weeds. One suggestion applicable here is to consider them as pioneer plants helping to control erosion while adding to soil tilth. I am a lazy gardener and don't mind weeds around so I like that idea. But another suggestion is to pull them when green and use the nitrogen to fire up a compost pile. That sounds good, too; I am all about composting.

So I got to work late this morning because I couldn't decide what to do. Do I pull the weed and move the ladybug to another plant? or do I keep the tumbleweed because it obviously is attractive to both the aphids and their predator?

A favorite joke around the campfire had the punchline, "Patience, Jackass." So I'll wait and see what the ladybugs do, what the seedheads on the weeds do, and what I feel like doing manana.