Our New Guinea Pigs Arrive

Our new guinea pigs arrived today.

I’ve steadily been patching up some old hutches and we were ready to start bringing in the animals as part of our garden set-up.

This is exciting to me because as far as kitchen scraps go, we have some pretty decent ones in my opinion. Given that we eat a lot of vegetables and they come to us either home grown, from the farmers market or locally grown. I know they are just scraps, but it was hard to hand them over to the compost bin and worm farms without being able to stretch out that inherent usefulness that is intrinsic in fresh produce.

So here are the boys, newly arrived from 100 k’s out of town. After having several guinea pig varieties over the years I have really leaned towards shorter haired breeds (to match our climate and practicality), dark eyes (not red/pink eyes, again for matching our climate and also appearance), and enough whorls or rosettes to give some character to the g-pig. These are Abyssinian types and they are from a working family who live in an orchard and keep the grass down. Fantastic!

These will take up residence in our Zone1 that is close to the back door where we can access them easily to feed and check them. Or more specifically, where the Little Fellas can get access to them to care for them! Over time we will add to our numbers with some girls, but this will get us started with the alchemy of turning our kitchen scraps into many of the wonderful sources of nutrition we can feed our garden soil.

Any ideas for names?

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More Tales from the Rusty Nail

I’ve been cranking out projects recently.

New nails, old nails. Each has been more than capable of doing the job.

All manner of irritating descriptions on my To Do List have been getting a working over.

I’ve nearly finished the rabbit hutch with a worm farm underneath to catch droppings and food scraps. I moved the old guinea pig hutch that was claimed by Little Fella No. 1 as a potting bench – and on further inspection decided to patch and mend rather than dismantle. So I worked on that also.

The rabbit hutch taking shape. Even the wire I just managed to have enough!

I’ve whittled down the excess timber that was hanging around and used it to complete these jobs along with a heap of old nails that Pa Prof had laying around in his shed. So far I’ve not had to go near the big green shed to purchase anything. Even down to the cage wire. I’ve done the rabbit hutch and also replaced a frame of the guinea pig hutch with newer wire.

In using all of these resources that have been kicking around for quite some time now I have gradually been making more space around the patio, garden and under the house. Even some of the scrap off-cuts I’ve made into biochar which has gone into the banana gardens, the bioreactor, buckets with worm castings to inoculate it, and bagged up for later use in planting fruit trees or other uses.

Whilst working on these projects I’ve spotted both Red and White tail Cockatoos flying around. I’ve spotted the Red Wattlebirds nest high in a gum up on a neighbour’s front yard. They must be onto their second clutch for the Spring. I’ve noticed the Hoyas are coming into flower so the honeyeaters will be delighted with those syrupy flowers.

The Guinea Pig hutch getting a strip down and make-over.

I’ve seen how incredibly fertile the soil is in the banana gardens. They were filled with cardboard, timber off-cuts from building the Little Fella’s cubby house, mulch, soil, more cardboard, more mulch, kitchen scraps. The soil now, under its mulched cover, is like a jungle floor. The worms are active very close to the surface given that it is very well shaded most times of the day by the thick cover of banana leaves. Today I took some of the soil off and scattered a layer of biochar, placing the mulch back over the top. I am expecting some settling of the soil as the timber that is buried near the bottom begins to break down and the air pockets collapse. In adding mulch during the year however, I have noticed that it does break down pretty quickly and the bananas are starting to really kick in and give some decent growth this Spring.

Luckily I posted about this whole garden filling exercise with photos of exactly the sort of stuff I was throwing into them. You can find it here it your are interested. Reclaimed Timber, Bananas and Cubbies

I’m using mainly old pieces of Jarrah timber for these projects. The main timber left over (salvaged!) from our house renovation. There is the stray piece of pine, but mostly it is Jarrah and so there is a decent weight and solidness to the timber projects. Not too heavy, but reassuring compared to the very light weight timber usually used to manufacture the store bought hutches. Serendipity has still be on my side with my managing to find just the right lengths of timber required, or wire mesh for that matter. Fantastic. Like finding a piece of the jig-saw that has been bothering you for some time.

Speaking of which, Gran has finally finished the Eiffel Tower jigsaw which was taking her months. She is working on a lovely picture of a male Peacock now. Something which I’ll be happy to look at for a couple of months, if that is how long she manages to make it last.

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Ringtail Possums

In the darkness I watched the silhouette of the possum as it stared back watching me.

It was a young Ring-tailed Possum. I’m thrilled to have them around the garden, though I’m sure they are eating our strawberries. In designing our garden, I am having to make allowances for those creatures that the neighbours said would be around. For example – Ringtail Possums and rats.

Common Ringtail Possum distribution

I’ve not seen rats for quite some months, but I have found baited mice around the place and see the odd one in the vege garden making a quick scurry for shelter. The sighting of the possum in our garden some months back was a welcome sign however as I’m sure they went away once our trees were cut down for the renovation. I remember the neighbour’s dog being found with one.

Ironically I started this post about possums the other week and then last Friday came across a young Ringtail possum that had been bailed up by our friends cat as we called in to visit. I looked around for possible dreys in the nearby trees. Large stick nests that the possums build to sleep in during the day, being nocturnal in nature.

The rescued male baby Ringtail Possum

On returning home we gave it some water and got a warm towel and basket for it to curl up in. It is hard to know what age it was. We phoned a wildlife carer who suggested that if it survived the night (not likely if it had been attacked by the cat in any way due to disease) that we should get some milk for it.

We did this on Saturday morning and were given the number of a wildlife carer who may take the male possum. Given that they are native animals (and endangered at that) it is technically illegal for anyone to care for these animals unless registered as a wildlife carer. I fed the baby some of the milk formula when we got home. Sadly it did not make it much longer after that. It is hard to know how it died, or from what cause exactly. It also had two Kangaroo ticks on its hind foot which we managed to remove when we got home Friday evening with it. It was such a beautiful little creature and I am remined once again of how fortunate we are to have these animals around us here.

I am sure we will have them frequenting our garden more often as our tree cover grows and we have fruiting trees and natives growing.

Further information:

Australian Museum

Animal Diversity.org

Wikipedia

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Filling the Bioreactor

I was out in the garden early this morning. 5 am.

The Cuckoo shrike was about as were Purple-crowned Lorikeets wheeling about high in the sky while the gums are blooming.

As I stood on a ladder to get a shot of the garden a magpie flew in at close range and sat on the roof top. Wattlebirds were busy catching insects and turtledoves were courting up on the neighbour’s shed.

I weeded the front garden a little and made preparations for finishing the bioreactor compost bin. Just after 10am I was starting to fill it. I could not believe the volume of green waste it took. I had two large piles of material, plus cardboard boxes, egg cartons, some biochar, scrap paper and a little sheep manure. It took it all, which substantially cleaned up the patio area so I can begin working on the rabbit hutch and other projects. I also managed to trim branches from the wattles up the back and mulch them, which also fit into the composter. I even grabbed some branches from the vacant block nearby where neighbours had dumped tree branches. These got mulched up also.

The day was really quite warm and as I filled the compost bin up I was surrounded by insects of all varieties. Blue-banded bees, hoverflies, bees, Diadegma wasps, flies and march flies. I’m not sure why they were attracted, perhaps it was the smell of the freshly mulched parsley stalks.

With warmer weather on the way I made sure to give the garden a good water early in the day and in the afternoon.

The last few days of hotter temperatures has boosted the growth on the tomatoes. Many are now flowering and some even have fruit forming – mainly the plants that over-wintered. The beans are flowering, though the snake beans are incredibly slow to grow for some reason. I’ll watch to see what the hotter days do with them.

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Bioreactors

Some luck in the garden today.

I have been looking into worm farming as a way of composting larger amounts of garden waste material and kitchen scraps and creating the worm castings that are so valuable to the garden. I’ve more recently come across the Johnson-Su Bioreactor and was impressed by:

  1. the large quantity of material it can take
  2. not having to turn it once set up
  3. how it benefits from the addition of worms
  4. breeds worms and mycorrhizal fungi at the same time
  5. aerobically fueled, so no nasty anaerobic smells
  6. has an initial heating process to destroy seeds and grass runners

Most of the projects I have managed to research on-line have featured woodchips, straw, grass clippings, cardboard and even some additives such as rock minerals or a little manure. After the materials heat up over a period of hours and extend over a couple of days, once the compost begins to cool compost worms can be introduced.

I began to wonder whether such a set-up might also be able to deal with kitchen scraps given that it relies on aerobic activity to break down the materials. It so happens that the Gods of Compost were at play and I came across Diego Footer’s video of a smaller bioreactor in which he puts kitchen scraps.

In a moment of serendipitous glory I located in my garden a bin which I was wanting to use for compost tea, but which had a split in it. This would be perfect. I would riddle it with holes anyway. I also found just the right size length of plumbing pipe left over from the renovation which I would use to put through the middle of the bin. Further to this I also happened to have a length of stainless steel rod which I later placed through the bin and the pipe which would keep the pipe in position whilst we filled it.

The damaged bin had a small split in the side which rendered it useless for holding liquid. The finished pipe.

Diego’s video was quite thorough and he answered all of the questions I have started to accumulate in my mind. The Johnson-Su Bioreactor method fills the body of the bin in one go to give the initial bulk and heat required to sustain a good temperature. However, Diego adds to his mini-composter as required. If it sinks a little, he adds more until the bin is full. He also has multiple bins active so there is usually a bin to add waste into and he can rotate through as he empties them.

Now the split has quite a number of holes to hang out with also. Note the holes in the bottom centre, where the pipe will fit.

I am hoping that such a technique will also work with a larger bioreactor model. My guess at this point is that there would have to be enough reduction in the materials to accommodate a decent amount of additional material so that the fresher stuff generated enough heat on top of the older material. As yet I have not seen or heard of anyone using the compost bioreactor in such a way, so it may be that it just doesn’t work as well. A fill and leave method seems to be the accepted protocol.

A steel rod holds the pipe in place.

Further to completing this project I also found under the house all the necessary materials for building a large bioreactor. I started that project today also, as a matter of urgency really as there is a lot of green matter and cardboard building up out the back. I managed to finish the outer shell and to locate all the parts I will need so that I can complete it and finish it within the next few days. In anticipation of this I also lopped a few limbs off the wattle tree up the back. It is not doing that well after some storm damage and after a few days of partially drying out it will be easy to mulch and put into the compost mix.

On completion of the kitchen waste bioreactor I placed it over a damaged bucket. I will leave it here for now until we begin to get some waste in it. I figured that it might make for a good experiment to see if the extra air flow from underneath assists the process. It will likely also capture any liquid nutrients that may seep from the bottom. Once I am comfortable with the process I will sit it somewhere out of the way to rest whilst we top it up a little more. At present it has a layer of dried plant stems left over from seed collecting. They are dry, hollow and fibrous so I figured they would make a great base on top of which to put the higher water content scraps and greens.

More soon on the large bioreactor assembly and how this smaller compost bin is doing.

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