Compost regulation in California

Posted below is a really excellent paper that James O’Claire did for the Environmental Studies class at UCLA in Winter 2013. James is a 2013 Asian Languages and Cultures grad currently living in Beijing. The paper captures what a class on experiential learning should be all about: toggling between “fieldwork”–in this case literally building and maintaining a garden–as well as research resources available through the course, and allied resources at UCLA, both textual and human.

Here is James’ basic research question and recommendation. You can download and read the paper below (scroll to the bottom of this post). He finds that, “The most striking aspect of the California compost regulations is that they are solely focused on keeping contaminants out and make no effort to regulate beneficial nutrients.” And he goes on to compare California’s state regulations to two other models, Minnesota and Oregon, and finds that these models both have strengths, including lists of specific definitions for the surprisingly ethereal stuff of compost.

If you find the research useful, it would be great if you could leave a note in the contact form below. It would help us demonstrate the real-world effect this course has, and help establish it permanently on the books. (At present it is a “topics” class, which means it has to be specially approved each year.) Please note that the paper is posted and shared under specific Creative Commons guidelines.

By examining other states’ requirements for composting I seek to understand how the California model compares and what possible ways it could be improved.  Currently, the standards which have been set have no legal consequences for those whose compost is mislabeled which misleads consumers on the quality and nutritional makeup of the composted soil.  California could most benefit from minimum nutrient requirements as well as a more specific ingredients list that includes percentages.

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o-claire-compost

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Book Review: Grow More Vegetables (Grow Biointensive) By John Jeavons

John Jeavon’s How to Grow More Vegetables is not just a detailed manual for gardeners but an exposition of a style of gardening which breaks the norm from organized gardening.  Jeavons uses soil science to explain how plants can benefit from being grown in closer proximity than is usually accepted.  He points out that by growing plants close together you can reduce the amount of water and soil lost by evaporation and wind as well as being able to use less land for agriculture.  Jeavons acknowledges that some soil and nutrients will always be lost though while gardening and thus a gardener must be constantly building up his soil by composting items which are grown in the garden (as well as compost from outside).  In this way a plant which drew up nutrients from the soil will be broken down during composting and it’s nutrients released back into the soil for other plants to absorb.

The book contains many easy to replicate methods for different types of composting for different environments.  He also provides information on compost makeup as well as dos and don’ts of composting.  In the back of the book are extensive lists of pant rotation charts, plants which benefit each other when grown near each other and other companion planting advice.

Jeavons calls his methods Grow Biointenstive, and claims that they are more sustainable than most current gardening practices.  One of the methods he claims to have invented is a method of double digging in compost to soil.  In this method the compost is easily interspersed into the soil by use of a shovel with the least amount of digging necessary, something that anyone who has dug holes can appreciate.  I recieved this book a few months ago and have very much appreciated looking through it and have learned a lot of useful information.


2/22 Garden Check-In

I wandered up to the garden this afternoon (after having come back from Garden Mentorship in Santa Monica that morning) looking forward to tending to our plants. Since they had already been watered, I walked around and weeded a bit in between beds and removed debris inside the beds.

Red Lettuce

Red Lettuce

After listening to our Seed Library guest lecture on Tuesday, I am excited to gather our lettuce seeds once they become ready.

I noticed something that I found odd in the gardens as well. There were a lot (at least six) bees walking around on our melon/tomato seedling containers. I don’t know what it is about them that attracted the bees…they have no flowers, and barely have risen above the soil line…but alas the bees liked them!

Bees hanging out on our seedling containers

Bees hanging out on our seedling containers

After going around to the beds and checking in on our seedlings and compost, I took a nap in the sun….then got woken up by frisbee throwers and decided to doodle on the compost containers. (I also had to re-attach Blaise’s head because it had been knocked to the floor!)

My attempt at an eggshell and radish

My attempt at an eggshell and radish

the newly decorated compost bin

the newly decorated compost bin

 

I encourage others to add some art to the garden! I’d like to make some bird feeders and signs for the garden…maybe we can have a weekend workday for garden beautification!


A Makeover for Blaise

Today, during class, I decided to give Blaise the scarecrow a makeover. S/he was looking pretty drab (see previous posts), and was missing a head, so I took one of the large mystery fruits from our citrus tree and sharpied on a face! Isn’t s/he stunning??

a new day, a new face

Blaise adds a touch of whimsy to our garden, and is now standing at the front entrance, ready to greet all new visitors with a smile!

'Blaise'

 

Today we worked on our compost. We added water and stirred (aerated) it, making sure it was the right consistency. I identified a banana tree next to the compost and am intrigued to watch for its progress.

 

compost bin and banana tree

 

I also brought over two potatoes from home, which I hadn’t used quickly enough! They started to sprout ‘eyes’, so I googled how to plant potatoes. According to a website, you simply cut them into chunks (making sure that each segment has at least one eye, or sprout) let those segments dry out, forming a callous over the skin to prevent rotting, and then plant them 6 in. deep in soil. I think they need one more day to properly dry out, so they are sitting on one of the work stations. Later this week they will be ready to plant!

 

It would be great to learn about other ways we can use kitchen scraps to grow our garden.

 

potatoes

 

The garden needs a new soil test kit! We need to test out soil pH levels to determine if we need to add any substances for our blueberry bushes. Blueberries like a very alkaline environment (5.0-6.0 pH) in order to thrive. Unfortunately, the kit I found in the shed was old and missing parts.

 

old soil test kit

 

The limes are doing well, continuing to flower and produce more fruit!

limes

 

 

James had planted some watermelon seeds, which have sprouted! I am very excited to plant them and have watermelon in a few months! These Dixie Queen Watermelon will need a lot of room to grow, however, so we must plant wisely and anticipate their growth.

 

watermelon


Tuesday Garden Activities

Tuesday was a super busy day for our garden! We watered, trimmed, tasted, planted, transplanted, and composted!

The day started by tasting a few of our plants, noticing that the texture was a little chalky and the taste a little bitter. We think that some of the plants may have been in too small of a container while they grew, so the normal taste may have been lost. At the same time, the cabbage wasn’t “bad” necessarily, but it simply tasted different than what we may have come to know as “normal” for cabbage. We realized that it was probably a good idea to collect the plants that seemed to be outgrowing their current potting situation.

Cabbage!

Cabbage!

Our collection of plants that needed transplanting!

Our collection of plants that needed transplanting!

We went around and collected a number of the plants that were definitely beginning to burst out of their improvised pots. Unfortunately we weren’t able to transplant everything, but I think that we were able to salvage a few plants.

Some of the cabbage found a new home!

Some of the cabbage found a new home!

Due to the strange weather patterns, some of the cabbage began to grow tall and woody, signs that it would not be very productive, but that we would be able to collect seeds from them. Perhaps we can start up our own small version of a seed bank in the near future!

We also noted that while the radish growing in one of the beds was doing super well, it was time to thin out the crop to ensure that each plant had enough space to grow. In the same bed, Professor explained that buckwheat, while growing, is generally a plant to regenerate soil, which is not totally necessary for our new environment. We were able to replant seeds in that area, though I’m unsure what we ended up placing there.

Radish and Buckwheat are growing! They might be a little hard to see...

Radish and Buckwheat are growing! They might be a little hard to see…

Of course we had to water! Most of the plants are looking fairly healthy, so we must be doing something right!

Watering like a boss!

Watering like a boss!

After the build this past weekend, we have a few more beds in the garden, which is super exciting. We planted all sorts of seeds within our new bed, but had to transplant some plants on top of some of the seeds, we’ll see if they sprout anyways.

Planting some new seeds!

Planting some new seeds!

We had a great opportunity to help develop some of our compost as well, adding in some less than vibrant plant material, and mixing everything around. It was hard work!

Compost!

Compost!

 

Make sure it's like a damp sponge!

Make sure it’s like a damp sponge!

A major project throughout the day revolved around the very successful blueberry plants growing in pots all around the garden. We decided to plant them near the front fence by the pomelo tree, and it was no easy task. Collectively we dug out 6 spots for the plants, and transplanted them into the ground, being sure to provide plenty of water so that they could continue to flourish. Hopefully we’ll have some blueberries to eat soon!

Extracting the plants from their pots...

Extracting the plants from their pots…

Planning for the operation...

Planning for the operation…

Digging!

Digging!

More digging!

More digging!

Even more digging!

Even more digging!

All planted! Time to water!

All planted! Time to water!

Mission accomplished.

Mission accomplished.

Last, but not least, James mentioned the plans for a new bed with an attached bench, currently being stained to match the other redwood. The garden is shaping up to be a great place to relax and enjoy!

Looking good!!

Looking good!!