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.

We’re Not Wasting Watermelon (Or How to Make Watermelon Margaritas)


“You don’t have margarita glasses?” The horror in my mother’s voice was palpable. You’d think I had just told her I ran naked through the streets of Hollywood for fun. It was day two of her visit and my self-esteem had already suffered some crippling blows.

“Well, no,” I replied sheepishly. My mother continued to inspect my cupboards in the skeptical and judgmental manner only a mother can muster.

I did have martini glasses, white wine glasses, red wine glasses, stemless wine glass…. My barware was not entirely deficient.  Never mind the fact that as a single woman, I have never registered at Bloomie’s, forcing my parents’ friends to begrudgingly stock my cabinets with china, gravy boats, and overpriced crystal platters! I have been slowly building my kitchen despite paying crippling student loans for the last ten years. With the debt I’m carrying from my spare master’s degree it’s a wonder I have any plates – let alone twelve that actually match!

“I probably shouldn’t bring that up,” I thought, remembering the encouraging words my mother spoke at my USC graduation.

“With your debt, no one will want to marry you….”

I digress.

Anyway, I returned home from work that evening to find my mother brandishing a Crate and Barrel bag full of margarita glasses. (God bless my mother. She means well.)

Maybe I should tell her I don’t have any highball glasses either….

So now I own margarita glasses, and they only cost me a bit of my dignity. Tonight I’m going to use them for my watermelon margarita experiment. There’s a lot of watermelon left over after my pirate skiff carving, and I can’t let it go to waste… or straight into the compost bin.

The recipe is below.

Watermelon Margaritas

1 C Tequila
1 C Sliced watermelon
4 oz Triple sec
4 oz Freshly squeezed lime juice
Splash of Midori (Optional)

Soak the watermelon in tequila for at least twelve hours. Once the watermelon is saturated with tequila, place the watermelon in the freezer for at least four hours.

Strain the watermelon-infused tequila through a strainer to remove any seeds in the liquid. Pour 6 oz of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice into the blender. Add ice cubes and ¾ C of frozen watermelon. Blend.

You can add a splash of Midori for a little extra melon flavor and a bit of sweetness. It will affect the pink color slightly, but the taste is divine.

Garnish the glass with a piece of the tequila-soaked watermelon.


A Note to My Readers (Particularly if the Reader is my Mother): All stories need “villains.” The villain in this particular story happens to be a lovely and fabulous woman who sends birthday cards to my dogs with checks enclosed. She just happens to be critical at times. We at Dogs, Dishes, and Decor love her very much, but we find her funny. 

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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