Poopaculture Zero

gardening in Clevetown

First time scopin’

Photo on 11-12-15 at 8.22 PM

Some kind of spore or cyst from the oldest “compost” pile at 400x total magnification and 1-5 dilution

Photo on 11-12-15 at 11.03 PM

Fungal hyphae showing septa at 400x total mag, 1-50 dilution of clay soil from the strawberry patch

Photo on 11-12-15 at 10.23 PM

Looks to be a fungal feeding nematode from the around the roots of the apricot tree at 100x total magnification, 1-5 dilution

Photo on 11-12-15 at 10.26 PM

400x total magnification of the fungal feeder

Photo on 11-12-15 at 8.32 PM

segmented funal hyphae from the “compost” at 400x, 1-5 dilution


First time making a sample and looking at it with the microscope and taking a picture! Totally neato.


Getting composting so so wrong – end of the beginning

This season – not that productive

This season’s garden hasn’t been as productive as last year’s. There have been quite a few more weeds and my starts didn’t take off very well. The perennial plants seem to be doing fairly well though

strawberries – this year the strawberry hugulbed produced a crazy amount of growth of leaves and new plants and a decent crop of strawberries, and they choked out most weeds. I think I’ll need to rip many of them out and replace them after the next season to maintain fruit production

asparagus – these are planted in a hugulbed and continue to grow, I didn’t cut them at all this year

apricot tree – this tree has grown like crazy, I don’t know exactly why, but it’s doing nicely

hardy kiwi – all vines continue to mature

raspberries – original canes have grown and sprouted new ones – I need to learn how raspberry fruits actually grow, because it seems like it might not make sense to just let the canes keep growing, I know Aunt Judy who I got them from cuts them back every year

Hazelnut bushes – one of them still has leaves on it that are beautifully red now, the other lost its leaves early. The one that lost its leaves early is in my “compost” area…….

Learning online

I started listening to some podcasts from Permaculture Voices. It’s a decent show, I think the intros are WAY too long and uninformative but the interviews are good. One lecture in particular taken from a conference really stood out to me, by Dr. Elaine Ingham.

Dr. Ingham quickly and simply explains the soil food web. It rang of truth to me, so I looked up her work and more lectures and videos. After talking with my brother, I eventually decided to pay up for the pricey but quality online courses she offers.

I’m through the first in the series, the Life in the Soil class, now in the compost class.

For the last 2ish years I’ve been collecting coffee grounds from a few coffee shops and intending to compost them. In my mind, compost was to be a fertility amendment, that is a natural way to get nutrients into the garden. I’ve looked at quite a lot of carbon to nitrogen charts and have seen in many places that an ideal C:N ratio for compost piles is 30:1.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think a common assumption among gardeners and home composters and maybe even farmers is that we really need to worry about how much nitrogen we have, that we’re always on the low end of what we need.

So reading that coffee grounds are about 20:1 and paper (coffee filters) is somewhere between 120-400:1, and that both of these things are wet when you get them, I assumed coffee and filters from coffee shops came in essentially ideal ratios for composting. I was totally wrong.

Dr. Ingham explains that a nice home compost pile that won’t need to be turned all that much should be about 10% high nitrogen material (~10:1), 30% green plant material (~30:1) and 60% woody (60+:1). Until today I’d never actually looked at how much of each is in a bucket of coffee grounds.

coffee buckwts

In this picture the top bucket is a full bucket of grounds from the shop. The not completely visible bucket at the bottom is an empty bucket I split into the two middle buckets. The one on the left is all the filters with as little gunk still on them as I could manage. The right one is all coffee grounds.

woody part

I improvised a measurement tool with this stick I broke off at the height of the bucket, since Dr. Elaine suggests not being too adamant about precision in backyard compost settings. I pushed down the volume of the filters and stuck the stick in and found that about 1/3 of the bucket was full of filters or, my “woody” material.


high n part

The coffee grounds or high N material was 2/3 of the stick. So this gives me a terrible ratio of 33% woody and 66% high N. When you have a super skewed ratio like this it’s going to be almost impossible for the pile to not go anaerobic. That is, to run out of oxygen, create conditions for actinobacteria, and the even worse really stinky truly anaerobic bacteria.

When you smell a yucky compost pile, you’re smelling the nutrients in the materials blowing away in gaseous forms. Boooo.

And here’s a bad picture of an ever worse compost pile:

bad compost

That white ashy layer is a layer of actinobacteria that indicates that the oxygen levels are dropping to nearly anaerobic levels… and further inside the pile it’s certainly anaerobic. I get the smell of hot soy sauce, like some kind of gross umami thing going on.

So, all those times Sam has complained about the smell of my compost covered boots or hands, she’s been right. Joel Salatin says that if a farm stinks you’re smelling mismanagement. It took me way too long to understand that I’ve been severely mismanaging my compost. I’ve made 2 years worth of heavily bacterial putrefied organic matter, not compost. Rats.

Next up: finishing the compost class, doing the compost tea, and microscope classes. Once I do those and begin making truly good compost, I hope to rename this blog Poopaculture One. I’ve learned that even more than I knew, healthy sustainable fertility is all about poop.


Hey! I got bored with posts for like 6 months I guess. So here goes a bunch of thoughts and goings on! Late Summer Fall I think some of the above pictures qualify for actually being in fall. Oh well. Garlic Planting I dug 36 cloves of garlic into the existing beds. This garden is […]

High summer: party time

Everything’s growing!


That includes compost piles…

compost piles


The front strip faces west and gets blasted with sunlight in the afternoon. The soil there is extremely sandy. None of the cosmos I transplanted survived, but for some reason this direct seeded on totally kicked butt:





A few nasturtiums and poppies have survived too:


But the front is now mostly covered by this short succulent “weed” whose name I don’t know. I like it.

little succulents

In the back stuff is doing quite nicely, like this fatso:

fat kohlrabi


Nightshade overload should be happening any minute:

green maters ground cherry harvst ground cherry


tomatotillo thicket


Leafy stuff is big and happy too


kale lettuce and chard  nasturtiums popcorn  squish strawberry weedy hill   Turkish rockett younger kales


Overall I’m pretty happy with how things are growing this year. I think some of the tomatoes could be in sunnier spots, and some of the leafier things could be in less sunny spots. Some things are too close together. Most everything is doing fine without me watering it at all. Next year they should be even better with the addition of lots of finished compost and worm poop.

I did have one permaculturey design idea that happened by accident – plant ground cherries on steep slopes so they’ll self harvest when the fruit falls off. They’ll just roll down the hill!

ground cherry hill


Early summer

Early summer and life is busy!

Things are growing pretty well and challenges are popping up and being dealt with as I have time and energy, and lots of ideas growing about how next year’s planning and planting could be much improved!

little green worms

I’ve been checking my kale and kohlrabi leaves every morning and evening for these little turd burglars. I chop ’em in half every time I see them and squish them into the ground. It’s not very nice I suppose but I don’t feel bad for killing bugs eating the stuff I planted for me to eat.


The tomato-squash-snap pea thicket is rocking and rolling, the snap peas are rather tall and really producing nice fat peas. There are green tomatoes growing and the squash leaves are getting huge!

snap pea tomao thicket

This is probably my favorite part of the garden at this point because it’s a combination of luck and intentional planting that this thick tangle of glory is happening. The tomatoes I planted there were out “too” early, before the frost date back in April. They were looking so strong and hearty under the grow light I chucked em out in the world. The snap peas were direct seeded and have done really nicely. I could probably have sewn them earlier than I did, which I think was mid May. The squash seeds must have been in some compost, but now they’re looking mighty fine.

Most parts of the garden don’t have this variety. I didn’t do a good job of planting many different varieties together in the same area, and some parts of the hugul beds are really spare.

I turned my older compost pile recently and I think some kind of spores or dust must annoy my lungs. I started getting winded and coughing, so I stopped.

I really ought to split off and turn the other pile too because it’s getting too big to manage.

The lettuces are getting nice and big and should be seeded much earlier next year:
happy lettuce


There are lots of weeds in the strawberry hugul and I’m not sure what to do about that, I should have pictures of it next time.

And I continue to have lots of delightful slime mold

Slime mold

Actual Poop

I finally have some actual poop for this blog!!

horse poo pile 1

But first a few other things:

1. Aw come on Food Forest Farm

2. Hot, warm, and unusable

3. Old crap


Aw come one Food Forest Farm

I ordered some interesting plants from Food Forest Farm, of Paradise Lot fame. Jostaberry, sunchoke, American groundnut, hog peanut, Turkish Rocket, Russian Comfrey, and good king Henry. Unfortunately they seem to pack things poorly, everything was covered in tape.  The plants look a little spindly and weak, in comparison to the gloriously rooted plants from Fedco. Also, the blasted sunchoke plant they sent me is just a single sunchoke. I paid $8.95 for something that would have cost 25 cents at my local Asian grocery.

food forest farm plants

Hot, warm, and unusable

I was preparing for the arrival of my Food Forest Farm plants and wanting to start more seeds outside (yeah yeah it’s really late shut up) and was planning on using my older compost pile mostly made of coffee to amend my lousy purchased soil.

I stopped adding to the older pile in February, but it didn’t do much of anything until the world began to thaw in mid-March. It was really hot and seems to be less hot now, but as I dug in it was still pretty warm. I had some misgivings about using it, but had decided to anyway. In one last bout of doubt, I called Andrew Needham formerly of Needham Gardens in Cleveland.  He told me to definitely not use half finished compost because it can inhibit plant growth and get some old horse manure for free from some Craigslist horse person.

I mostly followed his instructions. Since I’d already partially dug out the old compost pile I spread a little bit on my annuals hugul bed and put two seedlings and several seeds just to see what’ll happen.

Anyhow, I finally decided to stick my brewing thermometer in the compost piles, the newer one I continue to add to is quite hot at 138F:

hot new pile


The older one is indeed cooler, but definitely still active at 126F:

warm older pile

Old Crap

Turns out there are some nice folks with horses that give away 1 year+ manure away for free just down in Valley View, only about 25 minutes from me. Valley View is really interesting – it’s a suburb that feels really rural but is closer to downtown than the suburban hells of Westlake and Avon.

The turds looked pretty darn decroted, so I went for it.

horse poo pile 2


I filled 9 bags, which was almost enough.

crap in my car

This horse came to say goodbye as I rolled out

Thanks horse

Spring dangit!

Heyoo it’s been almost a month and stuff has happened. I’ve been out of town and busy quite a lot, but have managed to do a bunch of planting in the last few days. Let’s see here, there are a few things I want to cover in this post:

1. Destroying evil bugs

2. Starting seeds too close together

3. Soil conditions and composting

4. Planting and growing!

Tent caterpillars

One morning on my daily check out of the garden I saw some weird spider webby caterpillar things on one of my juneberries:

tent worms

They’re kinda cool looking, their webby cocoon looks soft and silky



I didn’t know what they were so I took to facebook and promptly heard that they’re evil and should be annihilated, soon, and with fire:





kill tent worms

Not having ready access to a blowtorch and not regularly building fires, I decided to crush them with the heel of my boot against my cement driveway

squished tent worms

They haven’t been back since.

I think they must have been hiding out somewhere on the plant from the nursery, because there aren’t anymore popping up anywhere else, thank goodness!


Starting seeds indoors

In an earlier post I’ve got pictures of happy little seedlings inside under a fluorescent light. I planting into two different media, expanding peat pellets and potting mix. The plants (mostly tomatoes and their relatives) in peat pellets grew like crazy. The peat pellets retain moisture really nicely. Unfortunately I put two or three seeds in each peat pellet. I thought that more seeds would be duds, but almost all of them sprouted.

I never transferred the growing plants out of their peat pellets out of laziness, so they ended up getting rather splindly and thin and kinda sick looking:

spindly tomato

They were also very crowded and have thin stems. I won’t make this mistake again.

The potting mix I used dries out pretty fast. I definitely did not water the plants in the potting mix thoroughly enough for them to thrive, and I also put too many seeds in each one.

Hopefully the tomatoes, tomatillos, and ground cherries will forgive me by growing lots of strong new roots since I planted them deeply up to their leaves – apparently all the little hairs on tomato stems can turn into roots.


My leaded soil is so nice, my purchased soil is so eh

It’s a total bummer that I have lead in my soil. My tomatoes and other fruiting things are in it anyway. Hopefully I live. Maybe there’s somewhere that can test the body of my fruits for toxics?

The leaded soil in my back yard is really nice, outside of the industrial pollution. It’s black and crumbly and full of worms. Just look at it!!

fokin tomatoes

These worms are in an old, overly leafy partially digested compost pile, but trust me they’re all up in the normal soil too:

worm closeup

The soil I bought really needs amendment, it’s hard and clay-ey and water runs off of it. I’m excited for the older of my two compost piles to be finished soon – I stopped adding to it in March or early April, and the heat has definitely dropped in the last week, it’s visibly shrunk too.

Meanwhile, I’ve started another pile that is accumulating quickly, and is too hot to keep my hand in at about 4 inches deep. The older pile is on the right, insulated with wood chips and debris. Both piles are largely composed of coffee grounds.

both coffee piles


They’re growing!!!

Even though not everything is growing marvelously – some of the strawberries are clearly struggling, and some of the kales may never thrive, I’m really excited to see things leafing out and flowering:

A tomatoey key hole bed:

strawed keyhole


tomato ground

Happy hardy snap peas direct seeded:

snap pea closeup


Female hardy kiwi leafed out!

hardy kiwi

Male hardy kiwi

male hardy kiwi

Asparagus hill with a cover crop of red clover popping up!

asparagus hill

Berry hill – strawberries, blueberries, honey berries

strawberry hill

oh hey girl:

strawberry closeup

strawb hill 2



one of six hops

cascade hops

honey berry

honey berry

tomato & ground cherry bed

strawed tomato bed

teeny tiny kales in the deepening evening

night kales


I’m happy with how it’s all coming, looking forward to more starts (and getting it more right), another shipment of plants finally arriving sometime soon I hope, and continuing growth!

The regular steel Fokin hoe has been extremely useful for all kinds of tasks, especially bed preparation.

goofy hoe

Signs of life

Lots more plantings have happened since the last post, when a few strawberries were planted when it was too dark to really see what we were doing. All 100 strawberry plants are now in the tallest and furthest back hugul bed.I planted them on the hugul bed because I figure they’ll help stabilize the soil on the bed quickly and being raised up will keep the strawberries from being in leaded soil.

The strawberries are starting to leaf out and it’s really exciting every time it rains because they get happy and grow more.

little strawb1


All of the plants from FedCo are finally in the ground – hardy kiwi, blueberry, honey berry, juneberry, hazelnut, sour cherry, apricot, and asparagus.

hardy kiwi

I transplanted a few little kalies into the shortest hugul to see how they do outside:

outdoor little kales

Chard and lettuce and more kale have been direct seeded next to the existing kale. There’ s lots more that needs to be direct seeded yet.

I’d like to start more things indoors and the tomatoes are getting big! ground cherries tomatillos and tomatos

They’re lookin mighty fine and robust. The national weather service says that the last frost date is safely May 10 here, but looking at the weather forecast I don’t see any lows below 45F. I think I’m going to take a chance and plant half of them outside today.

The shipment from New Forest Farm is delayed until late May now, so I have plenty of time to figure out where the heck I’m going to plant that stuff…

Heavy lifting


Unleaded soil

I bought 10 cubic yards of “top soil” from Three-Z supply which is allegedly “60% topsoil, 20% organic compost or humus, 20% coarse sand.  Shredded, pulverized and screened through a 3/4 inch screen.

What I got was full of heavy clay, definitely not screened through a 3/4 inch screen, definitely not 20% compost. It had a fair amount of trash in it. I’ve just called and it seems like they may give me some free leaf humus, which would be nice.

This is what it looked like just before it was delivered, after I moved the pile of woodchips:

wood chips before dump

It was delivered about 8:45am on Monday 4/7. I will say it was delivered very quickly and the dump truck driver was good.

dump truck

dump pile

In this picture it looks nice and black but don’t let it fool you. You can see a giant clump of clay in the front there.

Since the pile blocked Carmita’s entrance, I shoveled and wheel barrowed dirt for about 3 hours that morning and partially covered the back hugul-bed.



Fedco Trees won’t tell you exactly when your plants will be shipped. I called them and they said they would be shipped the first week of April. This made me nervous to get soil early, which is why I got it delivered on 4/7. Sam and I had wonderful vacation long weekend in Asheville NC, 4/11-4/15. Unfortunately I heard from UPS that my plants were on the way on Friday 4/11.

They attempted to deliver them on Tuesday 4/15, and were actually delivered 4/16.

Open box of plants

They were nicely hidden in plastic and damp newspaper.

With the plants having arrived I scrambled to get folks over to help me move dirt and get some plants in the ground!


Garden Party

Here’s the pile before we started:

partial pile


Sam got a good workout shoveling and wheel-barrowing all evening

Sam shovelin 2

Paul broke up clods with a pickaxe and Fokin hoe

paul dual wield 2

Molly shoveled and wheel-barrowed

Molly wheel barrow

Carla went nuts with the pickaxe

Carla pickaxe

Brian and Aaron came a little later and my hands were too filthy to take pictures.

We worked from about 4pm until is was very dark and then had pizza and homebrew


We couldn’t really see what we accomplished in the darkness, but this morning I went out and it’s great!

covered huguls

Hopefully my smallish compost pile will provide enough goodness for the plants for now… Hopefully Three-Z will be nice and help me out with a load of compost since the dirt I bought was definitely not 20% organic material.


Good times with mistakes and misfortune

Soil test results

I got my soil test results back from UMass Amherst. Apparently there’s a fair amount of metal in my soil, including the ever-despised lead:

Soil analysis

UMass Amherst’s website says that my soil is on the low end of “high” leadlead scale

They have really sad recommendations for highly lead soil:

High – In addition to following good gardening practices:

  • Do not grow food crops in this soil and do not allow children access to it.
  • Keep soil covered and take steps described above to reduce lead availability.
  • Grow food crops in containers filled with growing media or clean topsoil; or create lined, raised beds filled with non-contaminated soil and organic amendments.

In a previous post I wondered if I should buy soil. I now have my answer – YES.

I sent this immediately to my brother Jacob, who is a senior in soil science at North Carolina State. He said

On a positive note, you SOM looks really good! 4.2% is average for the midwest, but for a city soil I’m impressed as a baseline. Also, you may have been an inadvertent genius by not digging deep trenches for the huguls….less soil put back on top = less lead in the bed. Always making the right choice by bein a dunce.

But I think the heavy metal problem is surmountable given your composting regiment, perennials, focus on fruits and fact about how lead actually gets into plants or not…more to come on that.

In the mean time, I challenge you to find a report or news article that shows an actual lead poisoning occurring, not just fears that it could due to soil tests.

Other folks suggested that I could plant fruits and nuts and eat those, but avoid eating vegetables like lettuce and kale out of the lead soil.

Earlier I opined that I made a mistake by not digging trenches for my hugul beds – thank goodness I didn’t! If I were to do this all again I would have gotten a soil test done last year and upon finding out about my high lead levels I would have deeply sheet mulched the whole yard.

Previously I calculated that I’d need about 11.33 cubic yards of soil to cover my 3 hugul beds. It turns out that most top-soil sellers don’t have trucks that can fit on a residential driveway that have capacity to deliver that much. I settled on getting 10 cubic yards from Three-Z supply in Valley View, whose prices are a bit lower than Kurtz Brothers and they have a bigger capacity truck (10 vs 8 cubic yards, with a ~$50 delivery charge I don’t want to pay for 2 trips).

I’m going to use one of the hugul beds for vegetable annuals and perhaps herbs in light of the lead. I’ll also get some fungal inoculant as I hear that it can help keep lead from being able to be taken up by plants.


Seed starting party time

I started a bunch of seeds a few weeks ago and had a good time doing it. I need to start more, actually. I got tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries, sweet peppers, thyme, rosemary, 3 types of kale, cat nip, and a few kohlrabis started. I used two types of starting media I bought from Grace Brothers on W 65th in Cleveland.

One is this interesting “just add water” peat stuff that expands like crazy. It was fun to add water and watch them miraculously expand:

peat-based paper wrapped expanding tomato planters

peat-based paper wrapped expanding tomato planters


The peat things are marketed for use in starting tomatoes. I put the tomatillos, ground cherries, tomatoes, and sweet peppers in these. I bought a tomato mixture from Bountiful Gardens. Their seeds have food coloring on them to distinguish types, rainbow seeds are fun.

tomato seeds

I have a bunch of plastic container starters from a few years ago and started kales and herbs in them.labelled kale


I stuck these on some ugly old plastic shelves in a south facing window:

starts in the window

It turns out even a south facing window really doesn’t provide enough light for plants to be really happy about growing, so they started growing and are all spindly and thin and sick looking:

spindly 2

So I called up my old friend Jon Wales who has a really fine garden in Cincinnati. He told me I need light. So I got some a rigged up my own low-dough gro-op:


grow op 3

bright gro-op

Hopefully now they’ll be more robust and happy.

Tonight I’m moving a huge pile of wet wood chips in preparation for a dump truck full of top soil tomorrow.

Hopefully Oedipuss won’t want to eat these baby plants…

Oedipuss and the grow op