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150222-1040

There she is! I call her the compost beast. She lives on a tarpaulin on the upstairs deck. How beautiful she is, basking in the morning sun.

Let’s open it up and see more of her.

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The right end of the beast is the input end, AKA her “mouth.” This is where the new “compost food” (kitchen scraps, mostly) goes in. The left end is the output end, AKA her (well, you can figure it out).

150222-1050At right is a close-up of part of the input end. There are moldy fruits, egg shells, various other food debris, and you might also notice some bits of shredded paper.

A few chicken bones are allowed into the stream to add more phosphorus and calcium as they slowly break down. There are also a few twigs and stems of garden cuttings, but not the ones that have lots of viable seeds.

In the past I used to take the time to carefully break up the compost food into bite-size chunks, as a way of “pre-chewing” it so the beast could digest it better. But nowadays I don’t bother to pre-chew her food, because she does a very good job of it as the food decays inside of her.

Time to get to work!

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Before I can add any new compost food I need to do a bit of “grooming” using a soft-tined garden rake. With this type of composting one must act as a sorting agent, bringing the largest bits of undecomposed material back to the input end from the output end. They get re-cycled through the beast until they either break down or are removed during an operation I call “slimming down” that will be described in another post.

To accomplish this debris-sorting the rear end is groomed up toward the front end, bringing those larger bits back for re-digestion. Even though this grooming is only done to the surface layers, over time it is a very effective way to keep the beast sorted from front to back.

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Above is today’s “meal.” You can see citrus peels (often considered too acid for making good compost, but the beast can handle them). There are also avocado peels, egg shells, and a coffee filter (the grounds are there too!) and underneath are some rotting eggplant parts and much more.

150222-1112

Above: A shovel has been used to open out the input end, creating a flattish space where new food can be added. But we are not ready to do that yet.

150222-1117The kitchen scraps alone would not make good compost. They are too dense and wet, and they are chemically unbalanced. First, I have to add some absorbent, high-carbon content bulk.

That’s easy enough. Like most suburban households, we generate a fair amount of scrap newsprint. This excellent material is sliced into strips with an old-fashioned paper cutter and deposited into the beast’s open mouth.

However, we don’t just use any old paper. Fortunately, the right kind is readily available for free. It’s mostly made of local free newspapers, almost all of which (these days) use good paper and non-toxic, soy-based inks. That’s what we want.

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I’m almost done! The compost food is deposited on top of the shredded paper, and mixed around a bit with the shovel. Any really large chunks are chopped into a few smaller pieces.

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Above: The beast’s mouth is re-closed by moving debris from around the edges back up on top of the new food. Now she is ready to digest her meal. Notice how she is all humped up around the new stuff. That hump will drop down over the next day or two, as the kitchen scraps rapidly decompose.

Below: Back in her tarpaulin robe, the compost beast lies in the warm sun, peacefully digesting her new meal.

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130720-1337

You’ve probably seen the ads, even if you haven’t bought one. For about twenty bucks you get a wrinkly coil of compressed flexible hose with plastic fittings on the ends.

It’s supposed to be a wonderful new invention. Imagine, a hose that weighs less than the water inside it! Look how easy it is to handle! I had to try it.

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reason #1 not to buy one

130720-1339The one I bought is blue and 25 feet long when it is fully engorged with high-pressure water. Following the instructions I screwed it into the faucet, closed the plastic valve on the far end, and slowly turned on the water. Within a few seconds the wrinkled hose began to expand, turning into a semi-rigid cylinder and lengthening from about six feet out to the full 25 foot extent.

Cool! I screwed my trusty hand sprayer onto the end and carefully opened the valve. Then I squeezed the sprayer, to let some water out.

I expected that water would spray out with full force, since the hose appeared to be fully expanded. I got that full spray for less than a second, before the end of the hose nearest to the sprayer literally collapsed, issuing a strange moaning sound. Instantly, the flow coming out the sprayer dropped to a trickle. Huh? A little voice in my head said “Venturi effect!”

I stopped the spray and allowed the hose to re-expand. Tried again… same result.

Let’s see… maybe there needs to be more pressure? I opened up the faucet valve further, and tried again. Nope. Even more pressure! Again… nope. Still, the far end of the hose collapsed, diminishing the flow to a mere trickle.

I was not able to get a decent spray from this hose until after opening the faucet to at least two full turns of the handle. After that, it seemed to work okay. There does not seem to be any way to operate this hose with less than full pressure. That is a problem for me because I prefer to use a nice, gentle, very slow flow to water the container garden’s many new seedlings.

That in itself is enough reason for me to not buy another one. But wait… there’s more.

reason #2

One of my garden clients bought one of the longer green ones. At first it seemed like an improvement. Now we can reach distant corners of the garden without dragging a heavy, damaging object across delicate plants. The new hose can rest on top of bushes and other sturdy plants, lightly, without damaging them. Excellent!

130720-1340So my client started using it in the back garden. Then, one day, after finishing the watering, my client shut off the sprayer head, preparing to turn off the water at the faucet. Seconds later, there was a “pop” and water began spraying out of a point in the middle of the hose. Uh oh!

On examination of the rupture point it could be seen that the hose is made of an outer mesh-like layer and an inner band of plastic that spirals around the hose. That plastic band had broken, and the outer mesh layer was insufficient to hold in the water.

Why did this happen? My best guess is that the hose was left in the sun (a big no-no according to the instructions) and suffered UV damage. But this hose was less than a month old. If these hoses are so vulnerable to sun damage that they bust after just a few weeks sitting in the sun, I feel reluctant to even use them in the sun. Since most gardens receive direct sunlight, this is a problem.

reason #3

Handling hoses is always a bit of a challenge. I was hoping that the new, lightweight hose would be easier to handle, and it is in a way. It is certainly a lot lighter. But in my gardens there are places that should never have a hose running over them, places where the plants are just too delicate.

With the old-style, heavy rubber and plastic hoses, it is possible to thread the hose around sturdy hose-guides stretegically placed at important garden corners. Then if I need more hose length, I can pull from a distance, and the hose snakes around the guide, neatly staying on the path or sidewalk.

With the new hoses, not so much. The darn things are so light and rigid that they don’t stay under the hose guides. Instead, they curve up in big arcs, flopping all over the plants. Not so good!

waiting for a redesign?

These three problems are enough to keep me from buying or recommending the lightweight hoses, at least for now. But this is only the first draft of these new-design hoses. I am sure that many people are experiencing these and maybe other problems with the new hoses. No doubt the makers are receiving complaints and requests for refunds.

I will be watching for a revised version, maybe made out of slightly less UV-sensitive plastic and fabric, and maybe with just a tiny bit more heft. Maybe the low-flow problem can also be solved (but due to the laws of physics, it is arguable that no collapsible hose of this type will ever be able to run at low pressure).

If I see a redesigned lightweight hose, I’ll get one and report back in these pages. Until then, I suggest you avoid them.

what do you think of them?

Have you bought one and tried it? Please reply in the comments and let us know what you think of it.