The Caped Crusaders of Compost (Or Black Soldier Flies Aren’t the Bad Guys)

You know that fabulous speech at the end of The Dark Knight where Commissioner Gordon says, “Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So, we’ll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dark Knight.”? Well, I love that speech. And that movie.

And apparently Woodley has seen the movie so many times, she has taken that speech to heart.

My dog thinks she’s the silent guardian of the second floor.

Because every night she stands guard at our window, waiting for feral cats to feed on the kibble left in the church parking lot below. My little red dog is convinced it’s her job to protect us from stray cats. She takes this job so seriously, in fact, that I often wake to find her at the window at 4 am, her watchful eye on the scene below. Every once in a while she sounds the canine alarm to alert us that feline danger is near, but mostly she just sits silently watching with cat murder on her mind.

So anyway, that’s all very much like Batman to me….

Do you know what else is like Batman? Me. (Just go with me here for a moment.) And my compost bin is like the crime-ridden city of Gotham.

I’m like the silent guardian of my compost bin, and apparently, I’m not very good at my job.

Today I went outside to stir the soil and noticed I had an abundance of maggoty looking things in my bin.

See? Maggoty things infesting my compost.

They first started to appear after my watermelon incident, and now they have multiplied at an alarming rate. I was initially troubled by their presence, but after some research, I learned they’re actually awesome.

These gross things are black soldier fly larvae, or Hermetia illucens, and they’re terribly efficient at breaking down nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps. What’s more, it turns out they fare well in extremely hot bins (which mine is due to the southern sun exposure on my balcony and the 45 straight days of temperatures in the 90’s).

Not only are the larvae good for my bin, but the black soldier flies themselves do not bother humans, are easy to catch, and they keep away other insects. AND you can feed the larvae to chickens. Not that I have chickens yet, but I desperately want them. I mean, I covet chickens. Los Angeles is zoned for them, so as soon as I have a yard, I will have chickens.

So, anyway, this black soldier fly situation is actually awesome. Though I initially set out to find out ways to hunt them and eradicate them, now I’m like the good people of Gotham realizing these flying black things only seem like the enemy. And they’re actually what my bin needs. So maybe my black soldier flies are really the Batman of my bin, and I’m just a simple city dwelling fool.

True, their presence sort of means bad news for my red worm population, but the red worms weren’t faring well in the first place due to the heat (and that whole drowning in watermelon incident).

So, now I’m embracing my new black soldier fly friends. If you want to read more about composting with black soldier flies, check out Steamy Kitchen here.

Now if only Woodley would realize the homeless kitties mean her no harm….

I Begin My Birthday Week with a Flesh Wound (Or Here’s the Compost Update Because I Can’t Do Anything Else)

So, I think it’s a great idea to begin my birthday week by slicing my thumb open. Yeah, that happened Saturday night….

There I was, having a picnic on the lawn of the Academy (as in, “I want to thank the Academy”), enjoying truffle popcorn, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and good company when I decided to partake in the salami sitting in front of me. Now, being a moron who is generally used to rather dull and ineffectual paring knives, I thought nothing of holding the salami in my hand and slicing toward my thumb. See, when I do this with my own knives, it doesn’t slice through my finger — the knife just sort of bounces off my flesh without incident. I was not using my own knife, however, but a viciously sharp one instead.

Um, yeah…

I’ll spare you the rest of the gory details (and the bloody, bloody photos) and just say I should have gotten stitches instead of sitting on a blanket sipping wine and watching the movie introduced by Frank Oz himself. (Sorry to be a name-dropping starfucker-type, but I really like Miss Piggy. And Yoda.) I made a makeshift tourniquet out of many, many (SO many) paper towels and my hair tie so that I’d make it through the evening – and also so I didn’t bleed all over the nice picnic spread out in front of me.

Now, I know from my last thumb carving incident 6 years ago that one needs to get stitches within eight hours of an injury or it’s too late. (That particular incident involved a dinner party of 25 people, a new Shun knife, an eggplant, and me nearly passing out twice throughout the course of the evening.) Even though I probably could have made it to the ER in time, I decided to skip it all together, because I’m dumb like that.

I did a bit of internet research last night in an attempt to find out how long the tetanus booster is effective, and it looks like it’s about ten years. There is some information indicating that one should get another booster within five years if one is in a tetanus-infested area (whatever that is, I doubt it’s Hollywood), and if one has a particularly gory wound. I have deemed this wound un-gory, though very painful despite heavy wine consumption, so I am skipping the tetanus shot.

I would like to take this moment, however, and ask any medical types out there – particularly any of you I tutored in calculus (you know who you are, and you owe me) — if my last booster of 6 years ago will be sufficient to prevent me from dying or whatever.

So, anyway, now I’m trying to figure out how one makes sixteen owl sachets, a papier mache tree, and about 152 cupcakes with only one thumb. Oh, and just in case you don’t think I’m a complete lunatic yet, I’ll show you how I fixed up my thumb when I got home. (I’m out of actual medical tape.)

Apparently, I think it’s OK to use painters tape to adhere sterile bandages to my person.

It should come as no surprise that my father thinks it’s appropriate to make a tourniquet out of a dishtowel and duct tape. He also doesn’t bother to go to the ER when he slices his forearm open – despite being on blood thinners. Oh, and he gets fillings without anesthesia because he’s actually insane. So, yeah, that’s my gene pool. (This explains a lot.)

Anyway… my thumb hurts and I’m not in the mood to make the skull and crossbones cookies I had planned to make today. I think it’s because I’m exhausted from five and a half hours of grocery shopping for two parties this afternoon — and also from a trip to the USC Credit Union to sort out an issue involving credit card fraud with my check card and some jambonie who tried to buy $102 worth of cigars in Spain. (As my friend put it, “They didn’t even try to buy good cigars!” So, yeah, my credit card thieves have poor taste in tobacco in addition to being general thieving asshats.) Also, I think I just need to unwind by watching shirtless Americans dive into a pool. (God Bless America. And the Olympics.)

Woodley is judging me for slacking on the sugar cookie front.

In other news, my balcony no longer smells like it’s hosting a rotting raccoon. My plan to dry out the compost in buckets actually worked. Today I put the liner back in the bin, along with a bunch of soil. I placed the soil from the smaller buckets back into the bin because that soil had dried properly. I transferred some of the soil from the larger buckets into the smaller buckets so that it would dry as well. I also added more paper to the bin and stirred it for an hour. (No lie; it was cathartic and whatnot.)

My soil dries in buckets. That’s the situation.

I think it’s probably time to start a second bin. It turns out I generate a lot of kitchen waste.

My Dog May be Clean, but My Balcony is a Mess (Or I Update You on the State of My Composting Disaster)

Some days composting is not for the faint of heart. This was one of those days. After dropping Woodley off at the groomer and taking Albus on a hike, I went outside to examine the progress from last week’s watermelon disaster. Things had only marginally improved. The bin was no longer leaking loathsome ooze but it was still far too wet, and a nasty brown bilge had collected between the liner and the bin. Also, it still smelled. Vile.

I decided to remove the muck and transfer it to aerated buckets hoping to dry it out a bit in the sun. Of course I ran out of buckets midway through the task, so I had to leave a bit of the soil in the liner, but it wasn’t the end of the world. I was able to transfer enough soil that I was able to lift the liner out of the bin. Of course the dog groomer called when I was elbow deep in bilge to inform me that her majesty’s haircut and blow out had been completed. Poor Woodley would have to wait until the project was over, however, because there was no way I was going to get in the car covered with rotting veggies and smelling like I had just rolled around in a pile of monkey poo at the zoo.

Undaunted (well, sort of undaunted), I hauled the bin to my bathtub and scrubbed. As I watched the nastiness swirl around the tub it occurred to me I’d have wash that as well. (Shit.)

All of this because I feel guilty throwing away a few kitchen scraps….

I decided to add a few extra holes to the bin for aeration and then I set it out in the sun to dry.

I’m going to wait until the muck dries a bit in the sun before putting it back in the bin, so my balcony is presently littered with buckets filled to the brim with filth. I should mention, the breeze is blowing the smell into my bedroom, compelling me to light every gardenia-scented candle I own in a vain attempt to mask the smell.

This is just a disgusting mess. I’m really sorry you had to see it.

At least Woodley no longer looks or smells mangey —and Albus is thrilled to have her home. (He was a bit distressed when we dropped her off this morning. I had to stop him from bashing open the gate to follow her into the grooming area.) I think she was actually happy to see him when we arrived because she let him hit her a few times. It was unprecedented.

Woodley with tennis ball

Woodley’s first homecoming gesture involved stealing her brother’s ball. Don’t let her tiny frame fool you. This bitch means business.

They’re finally sleeping and I can get back to my papier mache tree centerpiece for my party next week. More on that later….

This is the start of the tree centerpiece for my Peter Pan Party next weekend.

My Rotting Veggies Reek (Or How to Fix a Wet Compost Bin)

So, I know a compost bin is basically an oozing mess by definition, but my bin has sort of gone beyond an acceptable amount of nasty bilgy-ness lately.

If you remember my watermelon carving incident, you know I essentially created a rabid alien instead of a shark. Not only was the beast rather hideous, but the watermelon itself was a mealy, inedible disaster. It wasn’t even fit for flavoring tequila, so I hacked it into pieces and rather unceremoniously hurled it into my compost bin.

A few days later when I was outside watering my plants, I noticed my cilantro plant was looking rather sickly.

Please don’t die, cilantro. I love you. And I need you to make salsa verde for my birthday party.

As I knelt down to inspect the wilting cilantro more closely, I noticed a repugnant ooze leaking out of the compost bin beside the plant.

Oozing Filth

I’m really sorry I made you look at that.

Upon opening the bin, I discoverd it was far too wet, and it also smelled rather foul. A bin that is too wet (or too dry) will not break down the waste efficiently. A smelly bin is also a hint you have a problem on your hands. It can mean the bin is not getting enough air and is therefore producing anaerobic bacteria (which smell worse than their aerobic friends).

It can also mean your carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N) is off. For those of you who weren’t insane enough to take as much chemistry as I did in college, this is nerd for “there’s too much green shit in your bin and not enough brown.” (The greens are the kitchen scraps and the brown stuff would be paper, dry leaves, and whatnot.) Given the size of the watermelon, I figured the problem was the C:N ratio and not a lack of oxygen. I figured the best way to fix both the stench and the ooze would be to add dry carbon-rich materials, so I consulted the internet to confirm my hypothesis. It seems I was on the right track because the internet confirmed my suspicion. (I love you internet. Almost as much as I love cilantro.)

I was saving newspaper ads to make a papier mache pirate ship centerpiece for my Peter Pan birthday party, but my bin problem was a little more pressing. I mean I can’t have brown sticky ooze all over my balcony, so Captain Hook will have to wait for his Jolly Roger centerpiece for another day. I ripped up a lot of Ralph’s advertisements for baby wipes and Bacardi, and put the paper strips in my bin.

We don’t care about your carbon ratio. Wake us up when you start mixing drinks.

I stirred the bin and distributed the newspaper strips throughout the bog.

Hopefully it won’t be as foul in a few days. If you want to know how I made the bin in the first place, the instructions are here.

And now that we’ve covered ooze and filth, it’s time for me to wash my hands, put on something pink, and crank up the Carly Rae Jepsen because my geeky tomboy to girly girl ratio is getting out of whack up in here.

Do you have any other compost bin suggestions for me? Oh, and if you know how to not kill cilantro, please tell me! If this plant dies, it will be my second one in two months. I am starting to feel like a cilantro serial killer!

We’re Happy Puppies! (Or We Received the Illuminating Blogger Award)

 

Albus, Woodley, and I were very proud puppies when we were awarded the Illuminating Blogger Award by Kenley of Beyond the Green Door. If you don’t know about Kenley’s blog, you should check it out. She writes about great stuff! Also, she lives north of Austin, Texas where I long to live.

Seriously.

I have spent nearly 11 years in LA, slowly growing apart from the city I once loved. It’s still home, but I desperately want to escape. Daily.

I sometimes think I’m still here out of inertia – or the delusion that I will one day meet a single guy in this city who doesn’t drink white wine at bars and owns at least one hammer.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the sunshine and the sushi, but I miss humidity and affordable real estate. Before I quit my job in the entertainment industry, I was considering buying a home. Rat-infested crack houses on my side of the hill run around half a million, so I was looking at places deep in the San Fernando Valley where none of my remaining single friends would ever venture. Ever.

SO, anyway, I quit my job (long story), threw away my real estate dream, and started redecorating my apartment instead.

I have always suffered from the condition of don’t-bother-to-do-anything-unless-you-can-do-it-big syndrome, but I was determined to change that.

I started decorating my tiny apartment because I couldn’t rip down the walls in a new home. I took a three-day ski trip with my dogs because I couldn’t afford to go to Aspen for a week. I drove up the coast and hit dog beaches from Santa Barbara to San Francisco and stayed in the Motel 6 instead of the Four Seasons. I made my own small compost bin because I didn’t have room on my tiny balcony for a bigger one….

And that was sort of the birth of this blog.

By returning to writing and my childhood love of art and design, I feel inspired each morning. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who reads my posts, and I hope you all find inspiration to follow your heart the way I did.

Below are five blogs I enjoy. They are all worthy of the Illuminating Blogger Award, and I’m pleased to nominate each of them.

LindO Designs: Angela is an incredibly talented artist, architect, and designer. Her blog includes DIY projects and lots of informative links. You can also visit her Etsy stores to purchase the objects she refinishes and designs!

Southern Secrets Carolina Style: Not only does Jen have a great eye, but she also conveys a strong sense of Carolina pride. She makes her readers feel like they have just visited North Carolina without leaving their living rooms. Her blog features great recipes and party planning ideas.

346 Living: This blog is full of fabulous photos and fantastic step-by-step instructions for DIY projects that anyone can tackle. I adore the blog, and the photos of the precious pups are an added bonus!

Parlour Home Blog: Nichole is an interior designer with a great eye. Her blog includes inspiring design ideas and DIY projects!

You Are My Fave: Melanie’s blog is full of delicious recipes, fabulous DIY projects, and inspiring event-planning ideas.

Somebody’s Having a Baby Spritzer (Or how to entertain pregnant friends)

Tonight I’m experimenting with alcohol-free fizzy drinks. No, I’m not on the wagon. I have pregnant friends, and I’m contemplating throwing a baby shower or three. I’m not above waving champagne punch in pregnant ladies’ faces, but I’d be a lousy host (not to mention a bad friend) if I didn’t serve something sweet they could sip as well.

Looking at my herb garden I see that my cilantro plant has committed suicide, so that herb won’t be making an appearance in my glass this evening. I put the withered leaves into my compost bin and swear under my breath. So much for making salsa on Saturday….

I decide to pluck some fresh mint and basil and mix up a tasty mojito-inspired spritzer while blasting Maroon 5’s Moves like Jagger. (It’s essential to dance in the kitchen while making drinks — even if they don’t contain vodka.)

The recipe is below.

Somebody’s Having a Baby Spritzer

1 Lime*
3 Sliced strawberries, plus 1 whole strawberry for garnish
4 Fresh basil leaves
4 Fresh mint leaves
2-3 T of sugar, plus extra for the rim of the glass
8 oz of soda water

Squeeze the juice of one lime into a tall glass or a cocktail shaker. Add the mint, basil, and sugar. (I like my drinks a little sweeter, so I go with 3 T.) Use a muddler to macerate the sugar and herbs. Add the sliced strawberries and mash a little more. Add soda water.

Slice one strawberry beginning at the pointed tip, but do not slice it all of the way through. Rub the strawberry around the rim of the serving glass.

Pour a few tablespoons of sugar onto a small plate and invert the glass onto the plate, rimmed side down. The strawberry juice will help the sugar adhere to the rim.

Put the strawberry on the rim as garnish, and then place a few ice cubes in the glass.

Pour the spritzer into the decorated glass. If you don’t want the bits floating in the glass, you can use a strainer. I like chunks, so I skip this step.

Consume.

Repeat.

Dance while you’re drinking your sweet little libation. Show off your moves like Jagger, even if the only one watching is your disapproving dog.

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*Lime Composting Note: There’s quite a debate about including citrus in your compost bin. Discussions range from the pH impact on soil to worms’ predilection (or lack, thereof) for citrus.

I decide to use the smashed lime to wipe out the inside of my sink before disposing of it. Lemons and limes offer a green way to clean your sink (plus they make the stainless steel look all shiny).

Chopped citrus peel can also be used in your garbage disposal to prevent it from smelling like the Bog of Eternal Stench.

If you’re looking for a shopping guide for some of the products I dig, I have included the links below:

Citrus Juicer

Soda Stream

Muddler

Rotting Veggies Rule (Or How to Make a Compost Bin on Your Balcony)

My whole family is into rotting garbage. We all compost. We always have. OK, I didn’t do it in college. I was too busy buying fifty pairs of bad Steve Madden platforms that ripped up my feet as I staggered home from the bar with my sorority sisters. If I’m being honest with myself (and you), I didn’t do it in grad school either. Now that I’m an adult (hush, Mom), I’m having anxiety about throwing away potato peels. It’s time to compost.

The city of Los Angeles provides free bins, but they’re enormous — like the size of a Smart Car — enormous. I wouldn’t have room on my tiny balcony for my contraband grill or my herb garden if I used the free bin. There wouldn’t be much point in making soil if I didn’t have an herb garden to put it in, so I need the herb harden. And I need the grill for the one day a year I feel grilling steak for someone.

The solution? Make my own compost bin.

Here’s how I did it:

I bought a Rubbermaid container from Home Depot and set to work. I can’t do anything halfway, so I made mine decorative. I drew a pattern in Sharpie to serve as the template for the design. I then used a sharp screw to pierce the plastic. For extra aeration, I created circular holes with an x-acto knife. Oxygen is essential for decomposition, so you need to make sure to properly aerate the bin. This means creating holes on the top, bottom and sides of the bin.

Frankly, I would recommend wearing gloves for such an endeavor. I managed to get blisters and break them open during my art project, but I did have a hell of a good time anyway. I opened a few cheap beers and blasted some lively tunes as I cranked away on the screws. I recommend some James Brown or the Spencer Davis Group. Nothing gives you energy like Bud Light, Mother Popcorn, and Gimme Me Some Lovin’.

For the inside lining, I bought WeedBlock because it’s durable despite being filled with holes. I sewed the lining together with a needle and thread. (The lining keeps the soil from falling through the large holes on the bottom of the bin.) I then set the box on two bricks to increase the airflow. In total, I think I spent $30 on the project.

A large bin from a gardening supply companies can run you $100. Plus, I had fun. Minus the blisters, of course.

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