As the title suggests, my journey into sustainability began with a series of problems: Power is expensive, waste is problematic, media is costly, chemical fertilizers are unappealing, pesticides are dangerous & gross, and water management in the desert presents its own series of challenges. Plus, for some inexplicable reason, there’s always a heaping pile of root balls following me like the dark cloud that follows Charlie Brown. I did not solve these problems overnight; becoming a “sustainable” grower took a lifetime. I hope to encourage other growers to take to heart the hard-won lessons herein. The only question I want to ask is this: “What does it mean to be truly sustainable?”
A primary goal of every sustainable grower is to close-loop various processes within the cultivation environment. With that concept in mind, I will attempt to explain my methodology for close-looping those systems in my own cultivation practices. The first topic that I want to discuss is composting. It represents one of the most challenging systems to close-loop because of the literal mass of media and waste. Both media and waste can be close-looped by effective composting or vermiposting.
We want to banish our old foe, the black trash bag. In the past, I simply removed all of my waste in not-so-discreet black trash bags. The multitudes of black trash bags that left my Chicago apartment must have raised the suspicions of neighbors, wandering passersby, and, in all likelihood, local law enforcement. Flash-forward a few years, and my eco-conscious girlfriend and I both hated throwing away kitchen scraps, paper towel tubes, and more.
My first solution was my first attempt at vermiposting: two Rubbermaid containers, one nestled inside the other. We filled the interior container with kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, newspaper, egg shells, plain brown cardboard scraps, iguana poop and finally, worms. Everything with this design concept was perfect except for one small detail: we foolishly placed the whole contraption, worms and all, on our balcony in the full Arizona sun. Needless to say, we were surprised when we discovered that the dark black containers had cooked the poor little worms to slimy husks of their former selves. My first attempt at vermiposting was an abject failure. I would later make another, much more successful attempt at worms a few years in the future.
We scrapped vermiposting at the time, opting to manually compost the material in our Rubbermaid bins. Without the ability to physically tumble the content of the bins, I manually worked in kitchen scraps and other materials with a small shovel. Although successful, this method was physically taxing. If you want to pursue this method of composting, my recommendation is to get a small tumbling system. This can ease a lot of the physical stress brought on by tumbling. I hope readers might have some helpful recommendations as well.
After years of trying many different mixes and blends, I have moved to building a coco-based super soil. I use coco coir as the inert substrate upon which I build the mix. I add a mix of inputs into the coco, including trace minerals, worm castings, perlite, alfalfa, fish, shrimp, crab meals, oyster shell, and a few other goodies. I mix in an aerated mix of low pH water and some enzymes, and then let that sit with occasional mixing for at least three months. I have found that plants benefit from this mix because they take up only the nutrients they need. The coco provides excellent water retention and drainage properties. The perlite offers excellent oxygenation to the plants’ roots. The worm castings offer nutrients and microbes that the plants utilize as food. Thanks to composting and vermiposting, I am able to take my trash and turn it into plant food.
So whether it’s your kitchen scraps in a small compost pile in the backyard, or industrial-scale vermiposting, composting offers a path to a sustainable future. It just feels good for your your soul! Happy growing!