Thursday, November 8, 2012

Funky Bugs: composting with Black Soldier Fly

Life as a bug in our garden must be pretty good. there would be no shortage of friends and parties to attend, and no nasty chemicals to make you feel unwell. Life would be darned good, in fact, so long as you were the kind of bug that was willing to pull your weight in the garden and do your bit!

Not so, however, for the slugs and snails whom we introduce frequently to our chookens, nor the uncouth stink beetles that N and G sucked off our citrus trees with the vacuum cleaner (simply the most enjoyable way to get rid of them), nor the white cabbage moth that we use for practicing our backhand,  but there are many bugs that we do appreciate in the patch. Worms, bees and lady beetles are always welcome in our garden, doing their bit to pollinate, cultivate and eradicate pests, but we have recently become acquainted with a new creepy crawly of the good kind, known as the Black soldier fly (BSF).

black soldier fly (pleased to meet you)
Black soldierfly have a rather short and desperate adult life, with the sole purpose of finding a mate, a pile of rotting compost, and a good pick up line before dropping dead. Somehow they seem to manage. But before this fatally frantic paced lifestyle as an adult fly, they leisurely spend their childhood and teens as ravenous compost devouring larve!

BSF larvae eat just about any kitchen scraps including meat and dairy, as well as the usual fruit and vegetable leftovers, and can be cultivated in much the same way as composting worms, to break down food waste.  A BSF composting unit can be easily built from materials found at your local hardware, and once a colony has been established they can consume food waste at an incredible rate (much faster than worms), but best of all, they make a fantastic feed for chickens and even fish. BSF larvae are high in both protein and calcium, which is perfect for chooks. they are non invasive and do not enter houses or spread disease like other flies.

Once we got acquainted to this new bug on the block, we realised it was time for us to try our hand at making our very own BSF Composting unit!

Our black soldierfly composter

TA DA!!!! Our Black Soldier fly composter

Here is how it works. Food scraps go inside and the female BSF are attracted by the scraps. They fly in through the pipe at the top and down into the bin where they lay their eggs (in the hundreds). They like to lay their eggs in crevasses, so some sheets of corrugated cardboard attached to the inside make great maternity wards. the eggs hatch and the larvae fall on the food scraps, and get to work munching it up.

the larvae crawl up the pipes and into Jo's Tupperware container... thanks darling...sorry
 Like all good teenagers they eat just about anything until it is time to finally leave home, at which point, the larvae develop the instinct to climb to higher ground. The larvae find their way to the pipes and climb up them, then slide down into the separate storage container, where they are unwittingly trapped to be fed to the chooks.

the larvae hard at work on one of our defiant choko's and watermelon rind
But does the composter work?

In a nut shell, yes. but getting started can call for some weeks of patience. Its best to start a colony in warmer weather when the adult fly is most active. Every few days we have been checking the tub, and after many weeks, we finally discovered some young soldierfly larvae munching away under the scraps. As the weeks progressed and the temperature rose, so too has our colony and the rate at which they are breaking down our food scraps is quite impressive.

Make your own
there are a number of DIY designs on the net. we made ours using a clip lock tub, some PVC pipe parts, , some hessian and fly screen, a saw and a drill. The key is to angle the pipes at 35 degrees so that it is not too steep for them to climb.include some ventilation holes and cover with fly screen, and some drainage holes in the bottom, which you can cover with hessian.  It takes less than half a leisurely hour to put together and cost us about $40 or you could buy one of the fancy ones online for about $200.

the main benefits are:
1. a very efficient method of waste disposal
2. meat and dairy waste can be added to established colonies, unlike regular composting methods, reducing your waste output.
3. the larvae make an excellent source of food for poultry and fish, and can be frozen for later use.
4. they don't spread disease like other flies, and rarely enter the home.
5. they emit a natural repellent to other flies once the colony has been established.

The smell can be an issue if you add more waste than they can consume. Sawdust or coffee can help here too. This said, ours does not smell.

Initially, we had a problem with fruit fly gate crashing the party. but as the weeks have gone on, there numbers have decreased dramatically as the BSF colony has increased. AHa, dear potential BSF composters, do not be dismayed by these minor downsides. we have an organic, effective and easy solution to manage fruit flies in the patch... read on!

Bug eyes and beer goggles - a simple and effective fruit fly trap

With the onset of day light saving and the Spring evenings becoming more balmy, there’s nothing quite like kicking back on the front porch with a home brewed beer or a chilled wine and watching the sunset. But it seems that we aren’t the only one’s who love a beer to celebrate the start of spring.
We have been using some of our beer in our fruit fly traps, and we have noticed that they are more than happy to exchange their bug eyes for beer goggles, which is great, seeing as our nectarine tree is laden with new fruit to be.

got ya succers!

The trap is simple. All you need is a plastic soda bottle, some scissors, and a beer on the balcony. Simply cut the bottle cross ways about a third of the way down from the top. Turn the top upside down and insert it into the lower part of the bottle, like a funnel. Pour an inch of beer (or wine) into the bottle, and if necessary, run some tape around the edge of the rim to keep the trap together. Place the traps around your fruit trees and compost bin, or any other place that fruit flies are being a nuisance. then drink the rest of your beer.
The fruit flies fly down the funnel and get stuck. "Oh save me! Save me! I've accidentally flown into a giant pool of beer. what ever shall I do???". After an initial panic attack, they come to their senses and drink themselves to death. What a way to go. It works surprisingly well, as fruit fly are naturally attracted to anything that is fermenting. We have tried a few variations, such as sour dough starter, orange juice, and vinegar, but beer seems to win hands down.

So if you're concerned about fruit fly this spring, relax, have a shandy, and make yourself a beer trap or two.

Our New chook pen

Talking about grubs and chooks, we decided recently that it was time to make a proper enclosure for our lovely ladies. Up until recently, their pen has been a makeshift tangle of old chicken wire and odd posts. It was a shabby-chic chook pen (but with more shabby and less chic), and so it was time for an upgrade.

We decided to build their enclosure around the fruit trees, to give them shade and also to fertilise the trees. The trees have since gone mad with a flush of blossoms, which have smelled divine this spring. the combination makes a lot of sense. The trees are robust enough to handle the chooks digging around, and the poop makes a much appreciated fertilizer for the trees. Meanwhile the hens can rest in the shade and help keep pests under control, such as fruit fly.

the whole enclosure cost under $250 (about $10 per square metre) . First we dug and cemented in the posts, making sure they were level...most of the time, then connected the cross beams. the wire was fastened into place, and last of all, added the gate.

Next blog, its time to go foraging, dabble in some heirloom guerrilla gardening, as well as try our hand at some simple home made wines from our foraging finds.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

wild yeast and lavender jelly

This October the Crop & Swap began its 2nd season, with over 80 swappers attending, spirits were high and produce was bountiful. Rhubarb champagne, home-baked triple choc cookies, raspberries, broad beans, oranges, lemons, home-made calico print bags, muesli, sourdough and heaps of seedlings were on show. In the lead up to the opening of season 2 we wanted to kick off the swap with a bang. As well as our regular garden produce we decided to try our hand at lavender jelly and sourdough. They were a hit!

our crop & swap produce, silver beet, broad beans,seedlings, potatoes, eggs, sourdough and lavender jelly

A few weeks ago, on an otherwise busy Thursday, I ignored the breakfast dishes with half eaten bowls of porridge, I strode over the unswept morning tea picnic left overs under the kitchen table and confidently donned my martha stewart-esqe apron, declaring to my 4 month old "mummy is making lavveeeennnndeerr jellyyyyy! That's right, you heard me, now don't interrupt, its all in the timing!"

Lavender Jelly Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dried lavender flowers
1 50g box powdered pectin
4 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

I successfully started the process using the lavender from our garden that I had dried out and stirred it into boiling water to get the oils and colour out of it. Then I left it to steep for some time, strained it and then added the lemon juice and pectin and continued to stir. Bringing the mixture to the boil and I then added sugar,  and when it reached a hard, 'rolling' boil, I left it for 3 mins, stirring occasionally.

The way to tell if your jam is going to set is to have a glass of iced water, place a metal spoon in it, then put it in your jam mixture and let it cool. If it is thick when cool, it is ready.

Pour your jelly mixture into prepared hot and sterilised jars.

our lavender jelly

I thoroughly enjoyed making lavender jelly but have to say I was disappointed with the lack of lavender colour. Other lavender jellies that I had seen were shades of lilac, deep purple and even a gorgeous pink. The initial mixture after steeping the flowers is quite greyish, it is after adding the lemon all of a sudden your greyish mix turns a brilliant .... orangey pink...not quite the purple hues I was planning.
After a little more research I have discovered that ppl sometimes put other ingredients in their lavender jelly to provide the colour, or they use a really rich long dried lavender that must retain its colour much better... either way I have a plan for making more and adding a mulberry or two next time, I figure that will do the trick, Martha and I and even bub (who did interrupt me a lot by the way, thank goodness I have mastered the art of stirring a pot, burping a baby, singing to a toddler, chatting on the phone, making vegemite sandwiches and monitoring glass jars in the oven, all at once ;)...go make some lavender jelly, you'll love it!

Chasing Wild Yeast

after our first season at the Crop & Swap, we came to know a couple who made the most amazing sour dough bread. the crust was crunchy, the inside was soft and the flavor kept us coming back for another slice. We realised that making our own sour dough was something worth doing, and so, we made our own sour dough starter.

date, caramel and coffee sour dough

Making your own Sour dough starter

Sour dough starter is used instead of regular bakers yeast to make the bread rise. It is simply  a mixture of flour, water and wild yeast. The process is very simple. mix together about 200g of flour with 300 ml of water and take it for a walk while whisking, for a couple of minutes. We took ours for a walk in the front garden to make it a truly home made sour dough starter. As you whisk the mix, wild yeast from the atmosphere settles on the mix and begins the fermentation process. As a result, every starter will be unique.

once you have finished whisking, cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave on the kitchen bench over night. By morning, you should notice some bubbles on the surface of the mix. If so, give yourself a pat on the shoulder, you've successfully started your own sour dough starter. for the following week, feed your starter with a cup of flour mixed with water each day. After a week, the yeast culture is strong enough to be used in bread making.

Each day or two, feed your starter with a cup of flour mixed with water to keep it healthy. store it at room temperature, or in the fridge if you are going on holidays... some psycho's take it with them. by the way, yes, you can pour some out when you have too much... you don't have to keep it all.

Making Sour Dough

You can make it as fancy or as simple as you like by adding other ingredients to spice up your bread.

Step 1
add 250g of flour, 350ml of water and one cup of your sourdough maker, mix, cover with cling wrap and leave overnight. Alternatively, you could make it in the morning and leave it until the afternoon.

Step 2
add 300g of flour and a teaspoon of salt. kneed the mixture for 15minutes, sprinkling flour on it as you go if its too sticky. there should be enough dough for 2 loaves. split the dough, shape it, slash the top with a very sharp knife, and leave to rest on a baking tray for an hour or more. we cover ours with a plastic bag. Somewhere warmish is best. If its freeing cold, heat some water in a pot and lay the tray on top of the pot. Just make sure its warm, rather than boiling hot.

Step 3
place in a hot oven (160 - 180 c) for about 45 minutes. to make the crust nice and crusty, place a bowl of water inside the oven also. once cooked, allow the loaves to air, so that they don't sweat.... or, just eat them hot out of the oven. deeeeelicious!

olive sour dough...mmm...mmm

So there you have it, our top secrets for lavender jelly and home-made sourdough. In our next blog we will get grubby with our composting and give the ladies (with feathers) a new chateau...