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Let's make potting soil!
August 8, 2008

Notice the pile of cow poop in the background.

Lucky me lives only 1/4 mile from a dairy farm. The guy has a cool old dump truck and is really friendly.

That pile is aging, sort of rotting down. I water it from time to time to keep it moist enough for the microorganism to live productive lives.

The Shaker Screen
The thing on the saw horses is a 24" X 48" screen box with 1/2" hardware cloth on the bottom. See those white strips under the 2" x 2" supports? They're from a polyethylene cutting board I found at Cactus Kate's place after she died. Her nursery was like a ghost town. I even found the knife she had used to take cuttings. It lay on the ground almost invisible among the weeds. It's an 8" stainless steel German chef's knife that costs $75. Now I use it to harvest my cuttings.

Anyway, I cut up her old cutting board with a circular saw into strips that are screwed into the supports. The polyethylene provides a low friction, durable surface when shaking the screen back and forth on the saw horses. Those vertical 2" x 2" end pieces are stop bumpers, a very necessary detail.
Yeah, cow poop breeds some flies when its fresh. Keep it far enough from the house...

Once the top layer is depleted of whatever it is flies find fun they die down.

 

Worm composting is easy
I bought this plywood box with worms in it for $20 from a guy back in 2004. He was giving up worm farming. Sold his California real estate to retire and move to Idaho.

(right) I had just harvested most of the worm poop, so this is the box in the empty phase. To get the worm stuff I shake it through a 1/2" a screen.

Professional worm guys use a 1/16" screen to hold back the worm eggs. But I mix the worm poop, eggs, worms & all with cow poop & compost. This inoculates it with all the microorganism to thoroughly compost.
 
Composting
This is about a cubic yard pile made by screening cow poop, worm compost, and soil. The water is necessary to activate the process; a dry pile won't heat up. Microbes get thirsty I suppose.

My digital thermometer is an indoor/outdoor type with a probe on a long wire. It was 153 degrees, but the next day was off scale (display = HHH).

After 1-week the temp. was 143 degrees.

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Old potting soil is re-composted
When I re-pot plants, the used soil is dumped out here in this pile. It just sits around until mixed with fresh compost. Then that pile has to age for a while to let the beneficial aerobic microbes war it out with any bad ones.

The good guys always win so in the end the compost-soil is anti-disease.

Bad compost that doesn't get sufficiently aerated (anaerobic) will smell bad and contain harmful microbes. You don't want that.

So give it air, turn it, screen it, let it age. Nature will stabilize everything.
Mixing & screening
A grain scoop is the best shovel for this work. A metal dogs water bowl (not shown) is used as a measure to add coir and peat moss. Don't use a lot of peat moss as it supports some diseases. I only use about 10% plus 10% coir (coconut husk fiber).

Coir is touted as a safe, disease sterile media that, like peat moss, helps form fine root hairs. Coir is sold in little bags at Lowes, etc. But I get it compressed in bales that are a real hassle to un-compress so I now drop hunks of it into a chipper/shredder to make that job easier.

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