Tag Archives: Compost

Summertime and the livin’s easy?

It was a long hot summer here in Vegas. Back in June I took an excursion to Reno to meet my Granddaughter

Avery

Avery

and come back to find a fried Pluot Tree and my favorite Golden Cockoo Marans rooster keeled over. Friday morning everything was dandy, when I got back Sunday POOF! It got to 117 degrees that Saturday and just knocked the bejeezus straight outta that tree and roo.

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble?

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble?

The ferment buckets really got going strong by August. 24 hours and there would be a good strong ferment going on, by September the amount of hooch being produced was remarkable. Ferment2

It got to where every Saturday I would empty all of the hooch out of one of the two ferment buckets and they both still stayed nice and sour. All of that Lacto-Baccilus inoculated highly acidic fluid went straight into my greywater collection tank to be distributed throughout the orchard. One bucketful did go into the latest compost pile and boy did it heat up fast!  Glop

 

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This lovely looking Glop had collected in the bottom of the buckets, it is very viscous sorta like a sourdough sponge, Mother? I win sure. The chickens gobbled it up though.

 

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That’s just my bucket of Comfrey Tea

When asked by my granddaughter, Lexi, “what died in here!” what do you think my answer was? Last month I made FPE (fermented plant extract) with some of my comfrey, my post Comfrey Fermentation outlined the procedure. The result was a greenish liquids that smelled a bit like canned green beans with a slight alcoholic edge. This month I decided to try making just straight comfrey tea. Not the kind you drink but basically broken down (rotted) comfrey leaves.

Comfrey Plant ready to be harvested

Comfrey Plant ready to be harvested

This past Monday I went around to all of my comfrey plants and cut out all of the flower stalks then pulled off about half of the leaves from each plant.ComfreyI ended up with a good 5 gallon bucket of comfrey which I then firmly compressed by liberal application of my foot, I stood one-legged in the bucket.Comfrey3After filling with water to the level of the compressed leaves I added a second bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. Comfrey5 Comfrey4This bucket was then weighted down with a large brick. Not much happened the first day, I had read that due to its low fiber content comfrey breaks down amazingly fast, so I was wondering when something was gonna happen. When I checked on it yesterday (day 2) there was a couple of inches of oily looking brownish muck in the upper bucket but no smell that I noticed. Everything I had read also talked about the stink and I was thinking “yeah right” then I kicked the bucket a bit. Oh Lordy!!!! what a vile disgusting reek emanated from the tiny drops that landed on my hand! I ain’t talking anaerobic compost pile stink, Lexi hit the nail on the head. This stuff smells like DEATH! Now I’m kinda scared to load it up in the backpack sprayer and dose my orchard with it, the cops might come over looking for dead bodies. I’m thinking this stuff is gonna be a soil drench application possibly followed by a lacto spray to try to neutralize the stench before the neighbors call the authorities.

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Mulching for Max

Gardening in the harsh desert climate of Las Vegas really brings to the forefront the necessity of utilizing every drop of moisture as efficiently as possible. The Fruity Chicken orchard/garden utilizes several techniques to help maximize this utilization. My baseline moisture is supplied by a sub-surface irrigation system over the entire area whose primary source of water is greywater from laundry. This system does have a supplemental input of fresh water of approximately 35 gallons every other day during the height of the summer which I estimate to be about 1/3 of the total input. This freshwater input tapers down to 35 gallons a week in the fall and 35 gallons a month through the winter months. My orchard/garden area is currently 20′ x 40′, due to the 6″ to 12″ layer of mulch over the general area the soil stays reasonably moist year round. On the the other hand my raised beds are above this moisture source necessitating a drip system to keep seedlings and shallow rooted veggies thriving.

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The drip system in my main 4’x12′ beds is 3 laterals running the length of the bed with .9 GPH emitters spaced @ 12″ intervals, this system runs 1 hour a day early in the morning applying roughly 35 gallons a day. Up to this point in the season this system has thoroughly watered those beds and resulted in enough seepage coming out of the downhill end to keep the comfrey planted there to scavenge nutrients flourishing. With the recent increase in heat the moist area has been noticeably receding, rather than increasing the run time on the drip system I have been focusing on mulching to reduce loss through evaporation. In the picture above the green mulch that was planted initially can be seen, this is primarily red wheat which has really exceeded my expectations.

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That green mulch gets cut down about every other week and laid between the crop plantings. Now that the heat is coming on that mulch just isn’t enough so I have started supplementing it with straw.

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My experience with trying to mulch with straw hasn’t been positive but this time appears to be different. In the past I had done things the traditional way, spreading straw over the whole bed then pulling that mulch aside to do my plantings. This method always resulted in straw blown around everywhere except where it was needed, due to already being used to cutting and placing small amounts of green mulch I just kinda kept up the same process. Rather than throwing down a big ole flake off the bale I have been sitting down next to my beds with a pile of straw, picking up a handful, tearing it in half and then sorta weaving in between the established plants. This method has resulted in the mulch being where it is really needed and staying in place, a side benefit is that I am spending quality time up close and personal with my garden. Pests get spotted sooner and so far have been able to be controlled by manual means rather than using chemicals. Additionally it is right in my face when a plant is struggling a bit allowing me to either adjust my spray mixture or do some spot amendments such as a leaf or two of comfrey smushed up and pushed under the mulch for a bit of boost.

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Comfrey Fermentation

My next venture into Korean Natural Farming techniques is FPJ aka Fermented Plant Juice. Comfrey01 Comfrey02 Comfrey03 Comfrey04 Comfrey05 Comfrey06 Comfrey

The Comfrey I got from Coe’s Comfrey last fall are really doing well this year. In fact I should have paid more attention to where I had planted it, apparently I missed some when transplanting them out before tilling the area for the first of my new 4’x12′ beds and now there are little comfrey plants coming up all over. Those little plants are going to be allowed to get a little bigger before they get potted up and either transplanted or given to one of the Master Gardeners at the UNCE orchard. Comfrey Comfrey09

The first harvest of leaves resulted in a 1 gallon bucketful weighing a pound and a half. Four days later you can’t even tell anything was cut from the plants, this stuff grows like mad and thrives on high nitrogen sources like raw chicken manure and straight urine! Comfrey11Comfrey12

After mixing/macerating the comfrey at a rate of 2/1 with brown sugar the volume was greatly reduced. Comfrey14 Comfrey13

Four days later and the mix has started to funk up a bit but hasn’t gotten stinky….yet. Comfrey15

While not strictly according to the procedure laid out by Bryan McGrath in this excellent FPJ outline:  I added 3 cups of  dechlorinated water because it seemed like the right thing to do. At this point my Comfrey concoction smells sorta like canned spinach.

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Then it was back into my newest hidey-hole to ferment until next weekend. If my brew starts developing the dreaded hydrogen-sulfide rotten egg smell it’s going to have to move up to the orchard to escape detection by my sweety Karen.

 

 

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New and old beds

Last year I decided to redo the raised beds that run between my orchard rows. I now have two 4’x12′ beds along with my three original 4’x4′ ones.

4'x12' raised bed between the first 2 rows in my orchard

4’x12′ raised bed between the first 2 rows in my orchard

The bed above was whacked together in late fall/early winter. After filling the bed up with a bunch of stuff I called compost (really just partially decayed wood chips), litter from the hen-house, and some good old poopy dirt from the chicken run I heavily sowed it with oats, barley, and red wheat. The idea being to suck up some of that nitrogen from the raw chicken manure and mellow the bed a bit before spring. Red Wheat is all that came up and then not until about a month and half ago. It is hard to see but there are 5 tomatoes spaced about 18″ apart down the center of the bed with an artichoke anchoring the end in the foreground. Outside of the maters there is some spinach up at the top end with 10 chicory plants below that. My sweety Karen and Lexi picked out the pretty flowers to liven it up a bit and attract bees. Weekly I have been chopping and dropping the wheat forming the basis of a planned heavy mulch layer that should be in place by June.

This raised bed is between rows 2 and 3 in the orchard

This raised bed is between rows 2 and 3 in the orchard

This bed didn’t get setup until a little over a month ago and it shows. The fill is composed mostly of my compost/mulch piles that washed under the oleander during last summers floods. Mixed into this is another big batch of litter from the hen-house made up mostly of partly broken down star and chicken shit. As you can see the bottom end is similar to the previous bed in that there is an artichoke plant but only one tomato. Above that I am trying a “three sisters” planting. Down the center of the bed is a double row of sweet corn with 6″ separation between the rows and seeds spaced 8″ along the 8′ long rows. Six inches outside of the corn on either side is a row of pole beans again spaced 8″ apart but offset 4″ to give a little more room. Finally 6″ outside the beans is a row of yellow and green summer squash spaced 12″ apart. As before the women in my life have claimed the perimeter for “pretty” flowers and herbs. This bed didn’t get any mellowing time and I am beginning to see a bit of chlorosis, probably from the raw wood chips scavenging up the nitrogen. Hopefully an extra spraying of cold processed liquid fish will help get this bed on track.

What a mess!

What a mess!

This was the first bed I put in last year. It has a lot of scrap wood and coffee grounds under the soil(my half-assed attempt at hugelkulture) I’m going to chop and drop all the mess then plant a couple of pumpkins or squash plants and see what happens.

Bed #2 from last year

Bed #2 from last year

It is probably hard to tell but this half-assed hugel bed has already been chopped and dropped from an overwintering of cereal plants. There are four roma tomatoes in here that will be mulched with straw as the get bigger.

Hugel Bed #3

Hugel Bed #3

This final bed is again a sorta kinda hugelkulture bed with scrap wood, wood chips, and coffee covered with a load of compost from the UNCE orchard. It did OK growing broccoli and cabbage over the winter, I am going to chop the rest down and toss it to the chickens then plant peppers in here.

 

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Fall Fun?

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The days are finally cooling off a bit and it is back to being pleasurable working in the garden. It is so pleasing to see that the girls are finally getting back to business after 3 floods and a molt.

Todays Haul

It had gotten to where I was lucky to get 2 or 3 eggs a day and now I’m back up to averaging 7 or 8. Last week on craigslist I found a 10’x10′ chain link dog kennel for a very good price that only got better when I picked it up and found that it was brand new! Maybe tomorrow I will start on separating my Chicken Run into three sections. The plan is to have a central area with the Coop, Duck Pond, Feeders, and Waterers with a large foraging section on either side. What I am envisioning is the flock only having access to one flanking section at a time while the unoccupied section has some type of pasture recovering/growing in it.

Pumpkin Patch?

Will they eat it?

Today I started cleaning up the tangled mess of Pumpkin vines between the Orchard rows. In the Upper picture you can see that I found quite a few pumpkins that the girls are sure to like come winter. The Comfrey that I planted earlier in the year is doing quite well and I even found a Swiss Chard plant that I had forgotten still plugging along.

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Blechy

My Sweety Karen has been on a top secret mission helping train some kind of birds for the last week, it involves getting up early (6:30 is early?) and being gone for a couple hours. Alexa helped her yesterday but I still haven’t been granted Top Secret Clearance, maybe next week she says. Anyway what’s this got to do with me? well it meant that I had to get my butt outta bed to load some seed in the truck for a delivery Karen had to make after todays secret mission. Not bein the type who goes back to bed very readily after getting moving I decided to have a cup of coffee and read a bit. Just yesterday the Library received my interlibrary loan request for The Monster War by Dave Duncan an omnibus book incorporating three previously published novels from Duncan’s The King’s Blades series that my local library didn’t have. Duncan’s books are great reads, not a lot of meat, but fast paced character driven plots with plenty of twists across the series to keep you interested. The book started off great but I wasn’t doing to well staying focused.

Pat over at growsoeasyorganic.com had replied to my post “What to do”, where I was whining about lack of motivation with a referral to her similar post “Fall Garden Clean Up”. She expressed some of the same sentiments but instead of just whining created a common sense approach to getting stuff done. Those ideas kept spinning in my head and interrupting my reading to the point that Cammie and I got up and headed up to the homestead to get some work done.

The focus of our plan was cleaning up the chicken run. So much mulch and other debris had been washed into the run during the flood 3 weeks ago that combined with this past weeks rain I had one blechy mess. Cammie’s project was seeking out possible escape routes from the newly fenced backyard. Michone, my sons Husky puppy, keeps finding weakness’s in the security system so the services of an expert were deemed necessary. As you can probably tell from her picture when it comes to “pointing” out things Cammie is truly an expert.

My little Honda Tiller made short work of breaking up the compacted mulch, soil, chicken crap, and straw. It also did an excellent job of mixing all of those components so that they should cook up really nice in the compost bins. Tied into the chicken run cleanup was the duck pond mucking out job. The process was that I would run the tiller over an approximately 4 square foot area, shovel all of the loosened stuff into a bin with my flat nosed shovel, then wet it all down with pond water. When the pond got low enough I scooped all of the blechy gunk out of the bottom and spread it evenly in both bins. In no time at all I had two full compost bins and a spic and span area in my chicken run! Then it was breakfast time for all the Chickens and Ducks. As I was bringing in their rice Cammie found a weakness in the backyard fencing, before I knew what had happened she was in the chicken run grabbing up a red hen in order to tell me she had a red alert situation over in the backyard! She had found a 6″ gap under one of the gates that Tommy thought was secure, not for an expert like Cammie! She made it through it without a scratch.

The next project was going to be relocating the “lockdown” pen. It sets in the shade and had never really dried out from the flood 3 weeks ago. That along with the rain earlier this week and the overflow from the watering system has combined to make the area not just blechy but smelly and slimy to boot. First thing upon arriving I had propped open the door and let all of the chickens in lockdown out to mingle with the general population. The purpose of the chickens in the lockdown pen had been to isolate my 2 BCM, 3 EE, and 3 GCM hens with one of my BCM roosters so that I could get some hatching eggs for my incubator that would give me more dark brown and olive egg laying hens. Today was going to be my first day of a week of egg collecting out of that pen, wouldn’t you know it I caught one of the supposed EE hens fighting with another Rooster! Guess who’s going to the SantaRia priest! Turns out Tommy, who I was counting on to help move the pen, wasn’t at the Gym he had already gone into work. Oh well that gives me something to do next week.

Cammie and I had stopped by Star Nursery and bought some fall plants, Mustard Greens, Napa Cabbage, and Cauliflower. To make room for these I focused on clearing out one of three 4’x4′ raised beds. Tuesday I had cleared one bed and replanted it with broccoli and collard greens, all it had in it was buckwheat, soybeans and wheat so I chopped and dropped the existing plants then planted the new ones through the newly created mulch. Todays bed had zucchini and squash in it which made me think of Pat’s caution about overwintering pests in her fall clean up post, so I cut all of the plants off at ground level and through them in the chicken run. Leaving the roots in place should help build structure in the soil of my bed and the chickens will gobble up any pests or eggs hiding out on the plants.

All in all Cammie and I had a productive morning up at The Fruity Chicken orchard and fowl ranch. Now I can go back to my book and Cammie can take a well earned nap.

I think she’s braggin about how good that red hen’s tail tasted!

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What to do?

Humidity is dropping, temperature is moderating, and sadly motivation is waning bit. Shoulda got up and got a load of mulch but didn’t, coulda headed up bright and early to clear out vegetation but just veged. I did make it up to the homestead kinda later in the afternoon and found 10 eggs, woo-hoo. Yeah it’s kinda like that but it won’t last, motivation is right around the corner. I can feel it bearing down on me like……….well I don’t know like what, but it’s comin! Mother Nature took another swing at the Orchard/Chicken Ranch but thanks to my sweety Karen & daughter in law to be Shanda it was a swing and a miss. They braved raging flood waters (4″of rain in an hour) to clean out the grate on the storm drain and narrowly diverted a repeat of the Great Flood of 012! I still have a soggy stinky mess in the chicken run though, primarily in the juvenile pen so my goal tomorrow is to relocate it. The chickens have done a great job of turning the compost piles and I need to get all of that mess back in to the bins.

I need that compost to amend the back-fill for the raised beds/boxes I am going to create for the replacement trees in the orchard. It would be nice to get those made, hung and filled so that I can put some winter crops in them to condition the soil before planting new trees next February. By hung I mean that the plan is to build 3’x3′ boxes out of 2″x6″‘s then hang them from 3’ T type fence posts on each corner so that I drastically reduce the relative slope of the orchard. The hanging boxes which will probably end up about 6″ above the existing ground in the lowest area then be filled with amended soil and surrounded with a heavy layer of mulch. Will this plan work? Hell if I know but it sure aughta.

Did I mention I got a 22 lb watermelon out of all that mess of vegetation? I’m pretty sure there’s at least on more in there along with some punkins and zucchini. So really it’s not a matter of “What to do” it’s more a matter of getting my butt up and doin it! Tomorrow, yeah tomorrow.

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Wipe the slate clean!

OK not quite but sorta. Last week 2 things conspired to try to wipe the slate clean at my orchard/garden/chicken ranch.

  1. Mother Nature decided to toss a whompin thunderstorm at the East side of the valley
  2. Somebodies palm frond decided to plug up the brand spankin new storm drain just uphill from me

The Chickens are bouncing back nicely, I never did find my two Barnevelder babies but all of the others are present and accounted for.

A couple Black Copper Marans Roosters trying to figure who is the boss of the Juvenile Pen

The adolescent Golden Cuckoo Marans Rooster staking out his claim in the coop

Little Chickadee Alexa posing like a dork, oops I mean stork

The dominant Black Copper Marans Rooster tending to his girls

Karen had some of the perimeter fencing repaired which has freed up some chain-link gates that I am now planning how to use to divide my chicken run into three separate “paddocks”.The chicken run is approximately 15’x 55′, bouncing around in my noggin currently is a central 15’x15′ enclosure encompassing the coop with a 15’x20′ yard to either side. A Mulberry tree planted in the center of each of the three enclosures would provide shade & food in the summer along with leaves for the compost pile in the fall. We’ll see how those ideas develop, there is a lot of time for modifications as it is still to hot and humid to start on any major projects.

The Orchard came through fine, the flood waters beat up the trees a bit but didn’t rip any out and they don’t seem to be suffering from being waterlogged. Of the 7 comfrey plants I set out along the chicken-run fence only two have sprouted, there was a third before the flood but I can’t find any trace of it now. This whole area was mulched 6″ deep, it is back to bare soil now, just to the right of that bunch of what I think is Milo in the center of the picture was a good sized clump of comfrey that pulled a disappearing act like the one by the chicken-run. As soon as I harvest a couple watermelons and pumpkins that are hiding back under those leaves this area is going to cleared. If you look closely you can see a rebar stake on either side of the picture about the center up & down, they are 10′ apart and define the tree rows of my orchard. You can sorta see to the left lower center area of the picture how the soil looks kinda damp, this is a week after the flood and that section hasn’t dried out. Coincidentally I lost all of the trees on this end of the orchard to what I believe was wet feet. I’m not ambitious enough to haul in enough soil to raise the entire end but I am going to build 3’x3′ raised beds for each of the trees that will be planted this winter and a 2’x 16′ raised bed running down the center of that 10′ wide lane between the trees. I plan on hanging the “boxes” from 3′ T fencing posts driven in at each corner and then filling the raised beds with compost, sand, and native yucky clay soil. There will still be some fall from the North to the South end of the orchard but not as much which should  allow for better drainage. Rather than filling in the area between the “hanging” beds with soil I’m going to fill it in with mulch to create a large sheet composting system which over time will create a great area for the roots of my fruit trees to expand into.I’ve found over the years that if you just sit down and chill out for a bit you can usually turn most anything around. This flood that seemed so horrible last week is the spark that got my fire going for the fall season to come! A couple more weeks of yucky heat to research and refine my plans and I’ll hit the ground running and come next summer have an even better Orchard/Garden/Chicken Ranch. Who knows I might even find time to figure out a way to divert next monsoon seasons storm water!

 

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Starbucks Rewards and the Outriders of the Alien Invasion

The goal this weekend was to get the Comfrey plants in the ground, if they showed up that is.My nephew Steven called Friday to see if he could come over and hangout, the term “slave” instantly popped into my head. Steven is 15 and a great guy, he is a born cat person and loves to come over to play with Annabelle, Lola, Oscar, and sometimes even the devil incarnate Salem. His motivation this time was that I had posted some new pictures of Tri-pod on Facebook, commenting on how far he has come in 3 months. Tri-pod does come out from under the bed regularly now but his trust is centered mostly around me. He came out and let Steven pet him but only for a few minutes at a time. With me Tri-pod will come out and sit on my lap for quite a while making a general nuisance of himself by trying to swat my fingers while typing my blog posts. Now all I have to do is figure out how to broker a peace treaty between Annabelle and Tri-pod, the office had always been Annabelle’s domain and she is very bitchy about somebody else taking over her territory. The other cats come in the office, munch on Tri-pods food, use his litter box and just kinda hang out, Annabelle though goes into attack mode whenever Tri-pod shows his face. Hopefully I’ll figure out some way to ease this situation but I’m fresh outta ideas, if anyone has advice it would sure be appreciated.

Steven “volunteered” Saturday morning to help out at the Orchard. After going to breakfast with Sweety #1 & #2 we didn’t get a very early start. By the time we made it to the Orchard it was 10am and extremely hot & humid. We did get the seed for my custom fermenting mix and the GP poultry pellets unloaded and stored in the coop. Screening the compost didn’t work out so well and we moved on to the hole portion of the “fertile holes” I needed for my Comfrey. After 3 holes we both cried UNCLE and cleaned up and headed out. Usually I slip Steven $10 or so for helping out, work kept calling and I got distracted and forgot. Hopefully seeing as how he is 15, just got his learners permit and I let him drive my Jeep we may be even.

Tom over at Coes Comfrey exceeded my expectations! When I got home there was a nice little box waiting with 12 healthy looking comfrey plants inside along with a very informative planting and use guide. I had tried sending Tom several e-mails and had convinced myself he was like everyone else and out of stock for the season, not so! Tom means it when he says he prefers doing business by phone, his number is 828-321-4913 and he is a great guy to talk to. A bit of cloud cover crept into the valley during the afternoon so I ran back up to the Orchard and finished digging holes. Seven plants are going in along the fence that separates the chicken run from the orchard area with the remaining five going into my sunken beds interspersed between the fruit trees. The plants are spaced about 3′ apart along the fence and the plan is to put mulberry trees or some kind of chicken friendly shrub between each comfrey plant. What the hell is a chicken friendly shrub? something that produces leaves or fruit that my chickens can eat. Do you have any suggestions? The plants need to be somewhat drought and heat tolerant but other than that I am wide open to suggestions.

This mornings efforts focused on the fertile part of fertile holes. Before leaving last night I had filled all seven holes with water so that I wouldn’t have dry thirsty ground sucking all of the moisture away from my new plants. Then 5# of used coffee grounds from Starbucks went into each hole along with another filling of H2O. While emptying Starbucks bags I found another of their secret prizes! A couple of months ago I found a nifty stainless frothing cup in a bag of grounds that my middle son Thomas stole. Yeah I know he looks like a “Pretty Boy” but if you look closely at his eyes you can see a spark of deviousness. Until today I had thought this find was just a random occurrence precipitated by poor employee motivation at a particular Starbucks, but then third bag in this morning I find another heavy duty frothing mug! This is no coincidence caused by lazy employees. Obviously Starbucks has instituted some sort of “Starbucks Rewards” program for their eco-minded customers. I thoroughly searched Starbucks Rewards website and can find no mention of this innovative and intriguing program. The program must have been inspired by the “secret menu” at In-n-Out Burger. Let me know if you’re one of the lucky recipients of a Starbucks Rewards frothing mug and please keep this on the QT, we don’t want those not in the know running out and grabbing up all of those valuable grounds just trying to get one!

After the coffee grounds-slurry was in the holes I filled them up with a mixture of the unscreened compost, that I had let the chickens scratch through last night, and bagged cow manure from the home store. I do plan on developing a supply chain for manure in my local area but I aint quite there yet. After mixing well, the resultant slop made an excellent medium to plant my new Comfrey crowns into. All that is left is to extend my Greywater irrigation system down to that area. I think that project is going to wait for fall though, the combination of Vegas heat and Monsoon humidity is stifling. Overall this has been a productive weekend and who knows if the clouds roll in the work may not be finished. I would like to get my middle half-assed-hugel bed surrounded by fencing to keep the pigeons out.

By the way does anyone know an effective way to keep them demon spawned outriders of the alien invasion out of your garden?

 

This last picture is an update. When I removed my Starbucks Rewards frothing mug from the dishwasher I noticed a very disturbing thing: They personalized it! My name is embossed in high relief on both sides of the spout. How did they accomplish this remarkable feat of personalized marketing? I am confused and if truth be told just a little spooked!

 

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