Saturday, January 31, 2009

How to Make Bokashi

I'm buying my bokashi flakes from a swedish retailer, and I'll go on doing this for a while. In the same time I'm pondering making some myself; I mean, there can't be a too complicated process behind. A little searching on YouTube and I found Podchef showing us the basics. Bingo!

I'm going to make some more research on which microbes needed before I start to making some, but anyone who is impatient can take a look at The recipe gives a culture with fewer kinds of microbes than in a bag of bought cereals, but it may still be worth a try.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Green leaves gives green leaves

Comfrey and nettles are both known as weeds, but they do have one thing of value: it's possible to make liquid fertilizer out of their leaves. I won't keep the fact that it smells bad, but experienced gardeners swears on it, so it's worth a try making it.

Making fertilizer out of comfrey has to be one of the most easiest thing in the garden. Make a hole in the bottom of a bucket and put it on a stand to make it possible to put a can under it. Then pack the bucket with comfrey leaves and leave it for a couple of days. A blackbrownish liquid will start dripping into the can and that's your concentrated natural fertilizer. To use it you dilute it with 10 to 20 parts of water. Rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Nettle water is well known for its rancid smell. You make it by putting nettles in a bucket of water and leave them to soak for some days. Filter the liquid and dilute it to the colour of tea before you water it out. A mild fertilizer with good credentials.

Comfrey and nettles can be dried for future use. In that case you use the recipe for nettle water for comfrey too.

And then another kind of green fertilizer:

Grass klippings
Grass klippings are easy to handle and full of nitrogen. You mulch around the needing plant with it and the nutrition is released through nature's processes. Appart from feeding the plant it keeps water in the ground and may even reduce weeds. The back side is that it's a dream environment for slugs and snails, so if you have a slugproblem you should probably look for other fertilizers.

I have yet to try comfrey and nettle water indoors, these are the two fertilizers I'd like to try in my containers. Outdoors I could use all three, but I have to make some extra arrengements for the green mulch; we do have a slug problem in Uppsala right now. What I'd do is to use it in raised beds with a slug barrier.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Oh well

The CSN (the swedish authority granting student loans in Sweden) is as I remember; kind but overworked staff and a set of regulations disobliging enough to make the Evil One green with envy. The last part has grown worse over the years (I've studied on and off since 1993 and can compare). Right now my studies, our home and my gardens are hanging in limbo. Frustrating. I do have some plans to save the situation, but I'm not the only one despairing these days, so be prepared that the Indoor Gardener blog may change drastically the next coming weeks.

Could you pray for a miracle for me? I'll return to this subject when I have something new to tell, untill then I'll return to my miniseries on natural fertilizers. Tomorrow it'll be comfrey and nettles.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


...I'm battling authorities.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Permaculture is IT

The Good Life was a brittish sitcom recorded and aired during the seventies. A couple in the brittish suburbs decides to live on the produce of their garden. Not only do they plow their turfs into oblivion to grow vegetables, they buy some hens, pigs and a goat.

Hmm, I'll buy the dvds if I get rich. If I get REALLY rich I'll buy a city villa and do just like Tom and Barbara Good :)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ecosan Part deux- toilet in Bangalore

This is a composting toilet in India. The model is not far from the composting toilets I've visited in Sweden, although the construction is a bit simpler. It doesn't smell as much as you can think as long as you keep the room clean. And clean it is; appart from a few drops of spilled ash and that the wall has been chafed at some places I can't find a speck of dirt anywhere.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Night soil

(Part two in my series on natural fertilizers. I hope you can stand some poop.)

Let's start with the basics. Manure is always contaminated. The bacteria of the body is disposed of this way, some are alien to it, and some are friendly that works well in one area of the body, but only that area. E. coli is one of those. In Europe the authorities are monitoring communal bathing places and any trace of E. coli will shut the entire beach, since E. coli are causing infections when it turns up in places in the body where it shouldn't be - which happens if you're accidentally swallowing the bathing water.

To kill of the germs it's common to compost the material. The easiest way is to heat compost (or whatever the term is in english, my dictionary is failing me on this one) the manure for a few months. During that time the temperature is rising to about 60¤C (140¤F) (or above) which kills most dangerous microbes. To be on the safe side you can then put it in an ordinary compost for some months - in that case the entire process takes about a year.

Contaminations or not, manure is a popular and wellspread fertilizer. Fact is there are lots of different kinds to use, all with slightly different features due to their source. Most of them do not contain as much nourishment as urin, but have the advantage of adding soil material to the ground.

Farmyard manure (horse, cow, pig, sheep)

Can be used fresh, but keep edible vegetable parts away from it (horses, cows, pigs and sheep carry E. coli too). Normally you use single composted (in Sweden we say that the manure is "burnt" - apparently my dictionary was written by a citydweller, he doesn't know the correct english word for this one) or doubble composted manure since it smells less. Fresh manure, on the other hand, is good to use if you want to make an outdoor hot bed, and on the hole I think farmpoop is best used outdoors - where it's great! Indoor gardeners may have less use for the product.

If you want cheap farmyard manure you can call in on your local stables and see if they want to get rid of some. In Sweden stables are more than happy to give it away since this solves a garbageproblem. You may need to pick litter out of the mound you get, but otherwise the quality is alright.

Guano/chicken manure

Contains a lot of nitrogen and may need something rich in potassium as a complement, ash for exemple. Decomposes fast and is used if you want to "overfeed" some plants or give the garden a quick meal. You can buy this one in pellet form and advanced indoor gardeners who makes their own soil may have some for special plants.


If you've been adopted by a cat it may be tempting to pick the poop out of the litterbox and use it as fertilizer. Don't do that. Cats are the major host for a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii which may cause spontaneous abortions, adult eye injuries in surviving fetuses and infected adults may get encephalities if the immune defence is weak. The infection may be dormant, but if it breaks out you need expert medical care, there are no easy medication. (Wild animals can contract the disease too. Otters, for exemple, gets something that looks like a perpetual epileptic attac. In this case the parasite has entered the water they live in via badly constructed toilet sewers where people dump their kitty litter.)

Again: don't use kitten manure, and don't put it in you compost.

Human manure

Yes, you can use your own products, but be extra careful in redusing contagiums. When using animal manure you have the advantage that not all illnesses carried by the beasts are compatible with humans. In human manure they are. Many county authorities in Sweden ask for double composting of the end product before they admit anyone to install a composting toilet for that reason.

Is it difficult?

I've spent quite a lot of time discussing contagiums and different kinds of composts. This may make it seem like using manure is an overly difficult process demanding protective clothes similar to those used in nuclear power plants. The fact is that handling manure is easy, you only need space and patience. I have a few friends with a composting toilet, when the compartment is full they exchange it for an empty one. The full one is taken outside, a small amount of soil is poured into the bucket and then they put on (and fasten) a lid. During half a year the container is left on its own while the microlife of the soil does its work. That's easy, isn't it? If you want to double compost the products you can pour them into a normal compost when the six months are up (if you have a small one I suspect you should mix the manure with other stuff) and leave it to mature.

Farmyard manure is best handled by putting in a big heap untill the burning phase (the single composting phase) is over. If you are buying from a farmer it's possible that she or he already have done that for you.

And finally...

Worm manure

This is the ideal natural fertilizer for the indoor gardener. Odour less and surprisingly devoid of contagiums, and in addition it's easy to keep the producing 'beasts' at home. The product smells like earth and keeps moist well. A vermicompost gives you the right amount of fertilizer for your indoor gardens, while it can be hard to make it stretch over your outdoor beds. This is my first choice for small scale and indoor farming - get a vermicompost ;)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Liquid Gold

Ceridwen asked me if I could wrote some more about the natural fertilizers I wrote briefly about in the last post. And who am I to turn down a chance to learn as well as write? Here is the first post in a miniseries on free and natural fertilizers.

Urin is one of the best fertilizers known to humanity; in liquid form, concentrated, clean and freely available. The fluid is better than many synthetic ferts and simple calculation shows that you flush away 20-30 kronas (1,5-2,5£ or 2.5 - 3.5$) every time you go to the toilet.


it sometimes smells. I remember the smell around the house on the allotment were my parents emptied the potty. It is possible to create odourless garden beds if you handle the piss right. I haven't tried yet, but the rules are simple; use fresh urin and dilute it. If you want to be extra sure you can cover the fert with soil. If smell does occur anuhow it should go away after a day.

If you're using your own pee you don't have to worry about contagions. The urin in itself is sterile. The bacteria of the body are disposed of via the faeces (poop). If the urin has been in contact with poop (or if you are harvesting the fluid from a cluster of separator toilets) you should take the precaution to store the urin for up to six months before using. If you're on some kind of medication you should think a bit, especially if you had to cure any kind of worm infection - this kind of chemicals affects the worms in the ground too, and we want to keep them. Personally I'd refrain from using my urin if I'd been on heavy painkillers or something against parasites, and I'd use it if I was on common painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen.

So, exactly how do you use urin. Well, the recipe for "gold water" is as follows

1 part uring
9-10 parts water

Water it out close to the soil to avoid stains and burns on the vegetables. This is also a method to avoid smell. At least a month before harvest you switch to another fertilizer to be on the safe side - this is especially important if you are growing sallads.

I've mentioned the smell, and if you are growing edible stuff outdoors it isn't necessarily a bad thing. The odour is said to scare off roedeers. You can allow yourself to some slack in the handling of the fluid. Indoors you have to be more careful, not only because the smell is annoying, but it has a habit of klinging to the walls. Good thing is it's possible to use it without releasing any odour, I've found two examples of this.

The sum of it all is that urin is an excellent fertilizer that is possbible to use indoor, but is perhaps best in outdoor gardens.

Some more on the subject:
Guidelines on the Use of Urin and Faeces in Crop Production from EcoSanRes

Monday, January 19, 2009

Embarassment of riches

The way from scarcity to abundance is sometimes a fastlane. The first year I grew vegetables indoors I used synthetizised fertiliser since it was easy to buy and handle. Later, when I felt more secure as an indoor gardener, I turned my attention to "natural" fertilizers, ie. poop, piss or rotten plants. You may understand why I hesitated to start this part of the experiment. Using my own urin from the start would have been an easy solution, but I didn't want my containers to start smelling.

When I had built my first vermicompost I eagerly awaited the famous worm liquid that would pour from it, odourless and a great 'food' for my plants.

It came. Drip by drip it came, and several times I hadn't enough to all my plants.

Do you believe me if I say this was a few weeks ago? Yesterday I poured of another half a liter (two cups) of the fluid - I have more than a litre (four cups) of it in the fridge. In addition I have the wondrous bokashi fluid, a great fertilizer in its own. I really have to sow more plants to get rid of the stuff!

The good news is I can do exactly that. Yesterday I sawed the pallets that blocked the access to my study window to pieces and sent them off. Today I'll go on a shopping spree to buy the items needed for my two new grow windows (plus a few rolls of flowery wall papers - of course I need a study with flowery wall paper). Things are progressing!


If you remember my goals for 2009 I have a small update; since the seventh of january I've lost a kilo (~two pounds)! Jay, and if I hadn't managed to throw my pants in the dryer I'd feel a lot thinner now :) Sparkpeople is good stuff.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Every grain is sacred...

I understand why you make city kids literally make their bread from ear to loaf, but sometimes I can marvel at this need to teach city dwellers where their food comes from. Imagine it was the other way around; once a year you gathered all country kids and made them build an escalator from scratch, or make an edition of New York Times starting out with cutting the trees that will make the pulp in the paper and then working through every moment in the process that ends with a newspaper in the mailbox (or on the lawn).

After hearing Ian Lai I felt a song coming on:

Every grain is sacred,
every grain is great.
If a grain is wasted,
God gets quite irate.

Which, of course, is my humble travesty of Monthy Python:

Children's choirs, dancing nuns, fireworks and a dragon. These guys knew humour!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Growing Herbs : How to Grow Thyme

A small vid on how to grow thyme outdoors, so I'll just add that the plant will do fine indoors in a pot. To us occasional waterers it's a dream herb since it can stand to dry out. For my own part I'm convinced that lemon thyme is the only one that tastes well, but don't let my opinions keep you from making culinary experiments :)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cloister Gardens Heavenly Places on Earth (Klosterträdgårdar Himmelska platser på jorden)

This is book only available in swedish so far. I've decided to post the review here anyhow, since a few gardening links are included. And, of course, you can pester your local publishing company to make a translation :) Don't worry, I have a few english books coming up for reviews too. For those of you who are language buffs I can reveal that swedish doesn't separate cloisters and convents - the same word are usually used for both, and I've stuck with "cloister" in my translation since I've not memorised which orders that uses what - I'm a lousy theologian that way ;)

This is a book for the dark winter months; it combines garden dreams with travelogues and gardening tips. I finished my copy the same day I got it.

Lena Isralesson has studied the cloisters' role in gardening history and the modern cloister gardens. She invites us to a journey both to the oldest christian monk community as well as modern day cloisters in Sweden and internationally. In addition to that we got some gardening history spiced up with illuminations and the cloister plan of st Gallen. You don't have to be a gardening, illuminating medieval junky and theologian (like me) to fall for this, liking beautiful photoes and good writing is enough.

You get less gardening tips than you usually get in a book by Lena Israelsson, and that's because the cloisters in general don't take the lead in gardening techniques any more. After all prayer is the main 'product' and when cultivation isn't necessary for survival the knowledge has evaporated. (Nowadays they don't sit on the collected knowledge of the world either, like they did in the early middle ages.) Having said that we can note that Lena Israelsson have found several interesting gardens and cultivation methods. You can't keep from planning a cloister tour while you are reading, and for anyone interested a chapter on how to behave and what to expect when visiting a community is included. An added plus for her remark that it's a sacrifice for nuns and monks to have guests (they have promised to live in seclusion to meet God).

In an earlier post I said that this is a dangerous book. You may wonder why. Well, because persons with really interesting gardening methods are presented within, and when Lena Israelsson describes them it sounds so easy. I've spent nights trying to convert brother Birger's dynamite cultivation to my small allotments. In Fulda in Germany, a place known for illuminations too, sister Christa of the benedicti nun cloister (link in german) passes mother Laurentia's methods for natural gardening on. They are well known among german natural gardeners. I've never studied german, but now I'm all for subscribing to syster Christa's Winka - and if I'm suddenly starting to blog from Fulda you'll know what happened (and should send a sympathetic thought to my aching wallet).

I'm giving this book five terracotta pots out of five. Buy it as a warm up for the gardening season.

Himmelska platser på jorden
Lena Israelsson
Wahlström & Widstrand
Italien 2008
ISBN 978-91-46-21840-1

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bottle neck problems

That's what I got. The seedlings should've been replanted weeks ago, but I don't have any terracotta pots big enough. And if I had pots big enough I still haven't arranged the two new grow windows I've been writing about. If I'd try to make the windows I'd soon get stranded since I haven't bought the lamps, fluorescent tubes and what else that's needed for the project.

This has been my limbo for the last weeks since I've been broke. Fate has now granted me a bigger sum of money (thanks mother in law!) and even if other needs are competing for them I think I'll be able to reserve some of it for indoor gardening. If I should buy terracotta pots? In that case I won't have any place for my repotted plants. If I should buy lamps and everything else needed for the windows? But that's a boring shopping spree (unfortunately that's how I work sometimes). To be strictly logical is a help; it's better to create some new grow windows since my seedlings can grow in containers not made from terra cotta.

I'll go for the flourescent light. But it's boring. Dead boring!

On the other hand I can find some confort in the fact that I managed to do something on the big scale; this Sunday I'll finally get rid of those pallets under the window in my study. Friends with an abundance of tile stoves will get them to use as fire wood. Hooray!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Time your recycling

Soon I've had my bokashibins for a week. Did I mention that the buckets were bigger than I thought? I didn't read the measurements and since it was said that it would "fit under the sink" I assumed that it was a small ten litre (~three gallon) bucket.

Well, it does fit under the sink, but it's closer fit than I imagined - the buckets can swallow about twenty litres (~six gallons) and are made with a pedestal to make it easy to drain of the bokashi fluid. When I'd unpacked my bokashi set, that came with two of these giants, I could only think of how cluttered that space was. An once ordered collection of recyclable items had run amok and threatened to bury anyone daring to open the doors. It was time to clear this out.

Come to think of it; the fridge needed some clearing too. Even if I had a full worm feed tin that could go in the bokashi some extra stuff couldn't hurt. Out with the old vegetables, fruitsallad, minced meat sauce and those small sweet bellpeppers that turned out to be peppers. That was enough for a first try, so the worms got to keep their food. Ceremoniously I put everything into the bin, poured some bokashi flakes over them, flattened it out with the special flattener, put on the lid and shoved it in...

I still needed to clear the space under the sink. My hubby and I have made a small chest with wheels and the plan was to fill it with recyclables for transport to the recycling station. That chest was full too. I dressed for the cold outside, put as many bags with trash on top of it, the hubby gave me some string to pull it along and off I went.

It was below minus ten degrees when I walked to the station with my sprightly companion. Eventhough we didn't build the chest from sapient pearwood it had a mind of its own, going where it wanted to, dropping some bags along the way. At the recycling station I did what I should and went back to my house.

On the first floor one of my neighbours where hanging on another neighbour's door for a small chat. They do so quite often and I said 'Hi' while I was waiting for the elevator to arrive. One of them turned around and pointed to the chest.
"WHAT is this?"
"It's our recycling chest - we put wheels on it to make it easier to take out the trash."

The chest was very much admired, and only when I stood in the elevator did I realise two things. A: It clappers. A lot. B: The time was 22.30. When I thought I took a quiet walk to throw out some stuff I probably woke the entire first floor.

Well, the space under the sink is cleared and today I used bokashi fluid as fertilizer for the first time. Everythings seems to work as it should, eventhough I've put the bins in the staircase cupboard. Was the easiest solution to the problem.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The seeds has arrived!

And I'm all excited! Of course my allotments will be the best looking plots in the entire allotment area, and let's not forget my living wall to be! I'm always like that before I get the seeds into soil...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Pope and Michaelangelo (Monty Python)

Heh, eh, heh. When I'm planning my gardening projects on the allotment and indoors I tend to reason in the same way as Michaelangelo in this skit; the twentyfour hours of a day becomes thirtysix and my budget of three crowns becomes four milions (ie from less than half of an US dollar to about half a milion). I've stayed away from cangaroos though...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

What I did on my holiday

Not much really. In essence we filled the fridge with christmas food and ate for the fun of it. Since Uppsala have a rare layer of winter snow we brought the son out for some sledge rides, but in most we rested. Christmas is a good time for resting.

I couldn't let go of indoor gardening entirely, though. I purchased some seeds from Impecta (swedish seed mail order company specialising in exotic and swedish heritage seeds) and perhaps it was unwise to do so without a proper plan. According to my notes I've ordered two kinds of melon, oil pumpkin, blackberries and a kind of cabbage that grows to a two meter tall "palm". I don't think any of them would do good indoors, but I do have my allotment gardens - and motivation to really make those raised beds.

This year I made it easy for the indoor hubby and wished for a book easy to get since it was released a few months ago. The title translates as "Cloister gardens Heavenly places on earth", it's Lena Israelsson, my favourite swedish garden writer who's travelled to cloisters and convents around the world studying their gardens and the monks' and nuns' gardening techniques. An absolutely beautiful book, but somewhat dangerous - I'll take a post to explain why. In the meantime you could pester your local publishing firm to make a translation, it (and her other books) is worth it.

And I've finally bought my bokashi starter set! My mother in law is kind enough to give her kids, daughters in law and grandkids a good amount of money for christmas. My share was quickly sent to the swedish bokashi seller. The receit was sent by email, and included the line
"Are you the one who writes Parkettodlaren (Indoor Gardener's swedish motherblog)?"
which made me feel like a celebrity for a few minutes. I picked up the parcel yesterday, and now have both worms and microbes eating our leftovers.


Since my only new years resolution was Stick to the plan I've sterilised soil today. Thus I've checked another point on the list I made before Christmas, together with the point on ordering seeds. Now I only got these left:

  • Mix new potting soil (jay for home made worm fertiliser!)
  • Repot seedlings
  • Buy sills, consoles, lamps, chains and flourescent lights
  • Paint sills
  • Put up sills and added light
  • Move the mound of pallets under the window in the study
  • Put the potted plants in their new places

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

My goals for 2009

I found the blog A posse ad esse during the holidays and was impressed by one of the blogposts. Not only did Paul Gardener list a bunch of goals in the beginning of 2008, he showed us the results in the end of the year. I've never been a person of New Years Resolutions (the are too much of New Year Wishes), but a list of goals where you can track success or failure - now that speaks to my inner project manager. Thus I'm making a similar list for 2009 - and I'm even including a new years resolution (consider this an unique event).

My New Years Resolution for 2009 is to

stick to the plan

I've never done that before, so this will be an interesting experience - and I'm counting of a two month learing period.

And my goals for 2009 are

  • To fully furnish two more 'cultivation windows'
  • Build nine raised beds on my allotment gardens
  • Clear and put up wallpapers in my study
  • Put up a living wall in my study using aquaponics

This should be doable, even if some of the projects lags in time (anyone else hearing drums of fate with this sentence?). And last, but not least, a classic:

2009 I'll loose weight; five kilos for every tenth week during the year. Since I start at 87,5 kilos (192.9lb) we can deduce that I should weigh 62,5 (137.8lb) the 23rd of December, and that the first milestone is the 18th of March. Keep your fingers crossed; I dearly need to loose those twentyfive kilos (55lb).

Now, if you'll excuse me I'm off to play with my new bokashi bins. Thanks, dear mother in law!